Contact: Noah Greenwald: 406-556-1423 May 7, 2002
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS TO SUE ARMY CORPS FOR FAILING TO PROTECT ENDANGERED KOOTENAI RIVER WHITE STURGEON
LIBBY DAM LEADING TO EXTINCTION OF ANCIENT FISH
Operation of Libby Dam is driving the endangered Kootenai River White Sturgeon to extinction contends three environmental groups. The groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Ecology Center and Idaho Conservation League formally notified the Army Corps of Engineers today that they intend to sue the agency if they don't change management of the dam to recover the sturgeon.
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 reduced by more than 50% and fine sediments covered many gravel areas. As a result of these changes, the sturgeon has not successfully spawned since Libby Dam became operational. "Libby Dam is placing the Kootenai River White Sturgeon in immediate danger of extinction," concludes Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an opinion in December of 2000 ordering Army Corps to implement a water management plan called VAR-Q by January 1, 2002. The plan, which was developed by the Army Corps and is supported by the state of Montana, stores water to create spring flows that will allow the sturgeon to spawn. To date, the Army Corps has not implemented VAR-Q or taken other steps called for by the Fish and Wildlife Service to save the sturgeon. "The Army Corps' continued foot dragging is a clear violation of the law," notes Greenwald, "and one that is harming the sturgeon."
The Kootenai River White Sturgeon is one of eighteen 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 lbs 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.
Libby Dam is contributing to the decline of a number of other fish species in the Kootenai River, including Burbot, Bull Trout, Kooteney Lake Kokonee, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and Interior Redband Trout. "The collapse of the Kootenai River fisheries is symptomatic of the unraveling of the entire riverine ecosystem," concludes Greenwald, "urgent action needs to be taken to save this river and the species that depend on it."