BOISE (CN) – Threatened salmon and trout in Idaho are being threatened with further harm from livestock grazing and water diversion and the species are overdue for interagency review, the Western Watersheds Project claims in Federal Court.
The group seeks consultation between four federal agencies for threatened Snake River spring/summer Chinook, Snake River steelhead and Upper Columbia River bull trout. Such consultation for these fish, in the Lemhi watershed, is required by the Endangered Species Act, the environmentalists say.
An agency status review acknowledged that the fish populations are “depressed” and “at risk,” the group says, but the feds failed to complete consultation despite a 2001 settlement agreement.
Cattle trample banks, eat vegetation and leave excrement in sensitive river areas, causing erosion and sediment that makes rivers shallower and warmer. Salmon and trout need clean, cold water, banks lined with vegetation and deep pools to live, migrate and breed.
Diversion of water from rivers in the Lemhi watershed also is harming the threatened fish, the group claims. It cites Hawley Creek as a victim of both practices: it is “completely dewatered before it reaches the Lemhi River due to water diversions used for irrigation,” and “sediment produced during the grazing season does not have a chance to flush out of the system.” At the isolated and dewatered Hawley Creek, bull trout have little chance of survival, the group says.
The Watersheds Project wants the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue biological opinions and complete the consultation process, which they abandoned in 2005. The consultation should consider new information, including the impact of wildfires, drought and global warming.
The agencies are failing to monitor the species, and their actions constitute unlawful taking under the Endangered Species Act, the environmental group says.
Represented by Lauren Rule of Advocates for the West in Boise, the Watersheds Project seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.