Center for Biological Diversity

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

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2006

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


Spokane, Wash.—Responding to an order from the court in a suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Ecology Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today designated an additional 6.9 miles of the Kootenai River above Bonner’s Ferry as critical habitat for the Kootenai River White Sturgeon.

“Designation of this additional habitat is absolutely necessary to save the Kootenai River White Sturgeon from extinction,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Critical habitat is an important tool for saving the nation’s wildlife with studies showing that species with critical habitat are nearly twice as likely to be improving.”

Kootenai River White Sturgeon, which were listed as endangered in 1994, require large spring flows and gravel riverbed to successfully spawn. Following completion of Libby Dam in 1974, spring flows were drastically reduced, and the sturgeon has not successfully spawned since. The original critical habitat, which includes 11.2 miles of river below Bonner’s Ferry and is still in place, primarily included areas that have a sandy riverbed and thus do not provide sufficient habitat for the sturgeon to successfully spawn. In determining this designation was inadequate, the court concluded:

“Whether the Kootenai River White Sturgeon will be saved from extinction is unknowable at this point. However, it is clear that if the fish do not begin to recruit young before the females reach reproductive senescence, the fish are on a very slow train to extinction. Therefore, something must change, and FWS’s habitat designation must include habitat that assists that change.”

Accordingly, FWS has designated an additional 6.9 miles of critical habitat, nearly all of which has a gravel riverbed, as required by the sturgeon. Two biological opinions and a recovery plan for the Sturgeon produced by FWS have all called for increasing flows released from Libby Dam to more closely mimic natural conditions of the river and encourage sturgeon to spawn in the newly designated critical habitat. Providing these flows will require adding additional turbines to Libby Dam. To date, however, the Army Corps has refused to install the turbines despite the fact that the dam was built to include such turbines and they have already been purchased and sit on site.

“With designation of additional critical habitat, the Army Corps can no longer ignore their responsibilities to save the Kootenai River White Sturgeon from the abyss of extinction,” states Greenwald. “It’s time for the Corps to stop dragging their feet and save the Sturgeon by installing additional turbines in Libby Dam.”

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 Kooteney 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a jeopardy biological opinion in 1995 calling for greater spring releases, but the Corps ignored it. A second jeopardy opinion was issued in 2000 again calling for greater spring releases and requiring installation of the turbines if it was determined that water could not be safely passed over the spillway. A 2002 spill test determined that use of the spillway would in fact harm bull trout, making the turbines the only viable option to save the sturgeon. The Corps, however, still refuses to install the turbines.

The Army Corps has repeatedly stated that installation of additional turbines is economically infeasible because it would cost upwards of $250 million to construct new lines to transmit the power. A Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) study, titled “Transmission Feasibility Study for the Integration of Libby Units 6 and 7”, however, details a number of options for dealing with transmission of energy from additional turbines at Libby, some of which require no expenditure of new money or as little as $4 million.

Significantly, BPA’s feasibility report assumes that the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant will not be drawing power, yet this plant is up and running and has currently requested rates that will allow it to keep operating. Some of the problems of over-generation could likely be solved by funneling power to the plant at a reduced rate, preserving both jobs and the Sturgeon


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