Plan for Yellowstone Dam and Fish Bypass “Won’t Pass” for Pallid Sturgeon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 14, 2016

 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Jennifer Witherspoon: Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0269, jwitherspoon@defenders.org

Plan for Yellowstone Dam and Fish Bypass “Won’t Pass” for Pallid Sturgeon

DENVER – Defenders of Wildlife expressed strong opposition to the action proposed in the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) Final Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam Fish Passage Project Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which calls for construction of a larger, more permanent dam and artificial fish bypass near Glendive, Montana on the Yellowstone River.

Numerous independent, state and federal agency scientists criticized the Corps and Reclamation’s approach, saying the efficacy of a fish bypass to get the pallid sturgeon around the dam is ‘unfounded’ and ‘purely theoretical’. The project could cost $57 million, wasting federal dollars and trapping the last stronghold of 125 pallid sturgeon downstream where they have been unable to spawn successfully for decades.  Instead, the conservation groups have called for an open, free-flowing Yellowstone River that will open up 165 miles of habitat for pallid sturgeon to produce a new generation of fish. Additionally, water can be provided to area irrigators through pumps.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must review the agencies’ final proposal and determine in a Biological Opinion whether it will jeopardize the pallid sturgeon. Its opinion could be published at any time. The Corps and Reclamation will review the FWS Biological Opinion and make a final decision no sooner than 30 days after the (EIS) is published in the federal register, which is scheduled for October 21.

The following statement is from Steve Forrest, Rockies and Plains senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife:

“These agencies have an obligation under the Endangered Species Act to recover endangered wildlife like the ancient pallid sturgeon. Yet they have ignored the best available science every step of the way. The federal agencies have attempted to prop up their wishful thinking about the likely success of this artificial system with more speculation, but it is not science. To argue that an artificially manufactured bypass has an equal likelihood of success as a free-flowing river is the typical hubris of the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, who always think that they can do better than nature. The clear solution is to remove the old rock weir dam, open up the Yellowstone River and install irrigation pumps. Fish passage will improve, irrigators and farms can receive water through pumps and generations of Americans will benefit from a free-flowing Yellowstone River.”

Background

The pallid sturgeon – an ancient “dinosaur fish” that dates back 78 million years – is in imminent danger of extinction in the wild due to a century of dam building. Pallid sturgeon have not successfully produced young in decades. Dams and other human modifications to the river have blocked some upstream migration and destroy the spawning and nursery habitat needed for the young to survive.

In February 2015 Defenders and NRDC filed a case in court, charging the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) with failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act in operating Intake and Fort Peck dams. Conservationists and biologists successfully blocked the agencies’ plan to build a larger, more permanent dam and artificial fish bypass channel at Intake Dam.

The Corps and Reclamation recycled their original proposal in their draft environmental impact statement, which was published in May 2016 pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Conservation groups -- including Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC, Trout Unlimited and American Rivers -- and the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society challenged the agencies’ analysis, arguing that the rationale supporting the bypass channel is scientifically unsound.  

In August 2016 the Upper Basin Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Workgroup, a part of the recovery team composed of numerous agency biologists and others, submitted comments critical of the agencies’ proposal for the bypass. These biologists agree that the best way to save the pallid sturgeon population in the Yellowstone River is to remove Intake Dam and restore a free-flowing river, giving pallid sturgeon access to an additional 165 miles of river. Scientists argue that this would provide the sturgeon with the best chance to reproduce successfully once again. One month later, an independent peer review commissioned by Reclamation was also critical of the bypass.

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org. For the latest news from Defenders, follow us at @DefendersNews

 

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