Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Release: Dec. 13, 2006

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity: 503-484-7495

Army Corps to be Sued to Save Endangered
Kootenai River White Sturgeon and Bull Trout

Corps’ Documents Admit Harming Trout by Not Following Endangered Species Rules

The Center for Biological Diversity and WildWest Institute formally notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today that they will sue the agency for condemning the endangered Kootenai River White Sturgeon to extinction, illegally harming threatened Bull Trout, and failing to follow key provisions of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinions, which detailed plans to save both fish.

Last Spring, the Corps knowingly failed to implement an alternative water storage procedure called VARQ that is designed to store enough water to allow for flows to benefit both sturgeon and listed salmon. This failure resulted in the Corps having to release large amounts of water through the spillway, resulting in harm to Bull Trout and other resident fish through gas bubble trauma, which is analogous to the “bends” in scuba divers. An “after action report” produced by the Corps, for example, concludes “no spill would have occurred in 2006 if the Corps had been operating in strict accordance with the VARQ Refill Guidance,” and that “GBT [gas bubble trauma] symptoms were detected in almost all resident species after two weeks of sustained spill.”

“Harm of Bull Trout resulting from failure to follow a biological opinion amounts to criminal activity on the part of the Corps and the top level bureaucrats that elected to ignore measures to protect the sturgeon and other fish,” stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center and WildWest are already in court challenging inadequacies in Fish and Wildlife’s most recent biological opinion, which was issued Feb. 18, 2006. The state of Montana has joined that suit supporting the Center’s position. The Kootenai Tribe has joined supporting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s position. When the new suit is filed in 60 days, the Corps will be brought into the existing suit. For the first time, all the major land and wildlife managers will be engaged in a single comprehensive suit that will determine the future management of the Kootenai River, whether the Kootenai River Sturgeon goes extinct, and whether Bull Trout will continue to be needlessly harmed.

“Army Corps’ operation of Libby Dam is causing the Kootenai River White Sturgeon’s steady decline to extinction,” stated Greenwald. “Action by the Corps is needed now to save the magnificent Kootenai River White Sturgeon, whose ancestors have been on the planet for 250 million years, and which can live 90 years and reach 350 pounds.”

Following completion of Libby Dam in 1974, spring flows were drastically reduced, forcing sturgeon to spawn downstream of Bonners Ferry in sandy stretches of the river. In this inhospitable habitat, sturgeon eggs suffocate or are left to drift and perish by the millions every year, resulting in near complete reproductive failure over the past 30 years. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game estimates that there are now fewer than 500 adult Sturgeon left and that based on a rate of decline of 9 percent per year, the population drops by half every seven-and-a-half years.
Three biological opinions and a recovery plan for the sturgeon have all called for increasing flows released from Libby Dam to more closely mimic the natural conditions of the river and to encourage sturgeon to spawn above Bonners Ferry, where there is suitable habitat. Although the Corps has increased flows in some years, they have not been sufficient to encourage sturgeon to spawn over suitable habitat.

In contrast to the first two biological opinions, which required consideration of installation of additional turbines to allow for increased flows, the most recent biological opinion exclusively calls for using the spillway to increase flows. As demonstrated by the Corps’ accidental and excessive spill last spring, the latter recommendation has disastrous consequences. Using the spillway also requires a variance from the state of Montana to violate its water quality standards, which to date, the state has been unwilling to grant.

“The current biological opinion fails to prescribe viable measures to save the Kootenai River White Sturgeon,” stated Greenwald. “In relying on the opinion, both the Corps and FWS are violating the Endangered Species Act and jeopardizing the sturgeon’s continued existence.”

Background on the Kootenai River White Sturgeon

The Kootenai River White Sturgeon is one of 18 landlocked populations of the normally anadromous white sturgeon. It is believed to have been isolated from other white sturgeon since the last Glacial Age and exhibits unique adaptations to the environment of the Kootenai River. The white sturgeon is a long-lived species that can grow to impressive size. A white sturgeon was caught in Kootenai Lake that weighed 350 pounds and was believed to be 85-90 years old. There are 24 species of sturgeon worldwide descending from a line that extends back 250 million years, most of which are threatened with extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity ( is a national non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and habitat.


more press releases. . .

Go back