February 18, 2003
The Center for Biological Diversity and Ecology Center filed suit 2-18-03 against the Army Corps of Engineers for refusing to implement conservation measures established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to save the Kootenai River white sturgeon from the river killing effects of Libby Dam. We also sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for restricting the sturgeons critical habitat area to a tiny portion of the river which contains no habitat for the species.
Kootenai River white sturgeon, which were listed as endangered in 1994, require large spring flows and gravel riverbed conditions to successfully spawn. Following completion of Libby Dam in 1974, natural flooding ceased and silt covered over gravel beds in the lower portion of the river. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the Army Corps was driving the sturgeon to extinction. It established mandatory reforms to dam management, but the Army Corps ignored them. In December 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service again declared that Army Corps is jeopardizing the sturgeon, and again established mandatory dam reforms. The Army Corps are again refusing to implement them.
The Fish and Wildlife plan requires Army Corps to release at least 35,000 cubic feet of water from Libby Dam in the spring. This would mimic natural flood levels, allowing the sturgeon to swim upstream to gravel beds suitable for spawning. Army Corps, however, plans to release only 26,000 cfs from the dam and has refused to begin a mandatory study on re-engineering the dam to allow more water to pass through its turbines.
Subsequent to the Clinton era BO, the Fish and Wildlife designated critical habitat for the sturgeon. This designation, however, only included 11.5 miles of river and did not include gravelly sections despite the fact that the whole purpose of their BO was to attract sturgeon to these sections. Under the Bush administration, both agencies have retreated from sturgeon recovery efforts in order to placate agribusiness and power production interests.
The suit is being argued by Geoff Hickcox of Kenna & Hickcox.