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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Greens Demand Scenic Rivers be Protected

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The U.S. Forest Service is six years overdue on creating boundaries and management plans for two wild and scenic rivers in Northern California and the threatened wildlife that live there, fishermen and environmentalists claim in court.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and North Coast Rivers Alliance sued the Forest Service, the Department of Agriculture and Mendocino National Forest Supervisor Ann Carlson in Federal Court on Thursday.

They claim the Forest Service violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by failing to create boundaries and management plans for the Black Butte River and its tributary, Cold Creek, by the 2009 deadline imposed by Congress.

Congress adopted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, requiring that lands and waters in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System be managed to preserve their free-flowing condition, water quality and environments "for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations."

However, "Contrary to Congress' mandate that Black Butte River and Cold Creek be managed to protect and enhance their outstandingly remarkable values, both of these rivers are in a degraded condition due to past and ongoing development within their watersheds,' the complaint states.

Congress in 2006 designated 16 miles of Black Butte as a wild river and 3.5 miles as a scenic river, triggering a 3-year deadline for the Forest Service to establish boundaries and a management plan.

As a major tributary of the Eel River's Middle Fork, Black Butte provides essential spawning habitat for Chinook salmon and winter steelhead. A segment of the Northern California steelhead population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Riparian forests there also host a number special-status species, including the Northern spotted owl, West Coast fisher, California wolverine and Northern goshawk, the groups say.

Despite federally mandated protections, the Forest Service continued to approve and undertake road grading and other projects that threaten the rivers and lands, the groups say.

"These business-as-usual activities pose harm to these values through soil erosion, discharge of sediment, removal of streamside vegetation and other watershed degradation that elevates sediment and water temperature," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment, writ of mandate and an injunction to force the defendants to designate boundaries and adopt a comprehensive management plan for the rivers within one year of judgment.

They are represented by Stephen Volker of Oakland.

The Forest Service did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

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