Oregon Fishermen Say Uncle Sam Let Them Down

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The U.S. government thinned forests and plans dam work that will harm fisheries on nine wild and scenic rivers in Oregon rather than protect them, two fishermen’s groups claim in a federal complaint.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources sued the U.S. Forest Service, its governmental parent the Department of Agriculture, and the supervisor of Mount Hood National Forest on March 14. They claim the defendants have failed to establish river corridor boundaries and comprehensive management plans for nine rivers designated for protection in 2009 under the Wild and Scenic River Act: the South Fork Clackamas River, Eagle Creek, Middle Fork Hood River, South Fork Roaring River, Zig Zag River, Fifteenmile Creek, East Fork Hood River, Collawash River and Fish Creek.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations represents a coalition of 15 fishermen’s groups that have a combined membership of about 750; the Institute for Fisheries Resources is a nonprofit that protects fisheries and the human economies that surround them.

They claim that “despite a clear mandate under the act,” the government has refused to protect the “outstandingly remarkable” rivers.

U.S. Forest Service Spokesman Byron James said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Under the 2009 designation, the defendants must protect salmon and steelhead habitat in portions of the nine rivers. Instead, the Forest Service conducted projects that imperiled fish habitat there, according to the complaint.

In 2016, the government removed trees within a quarter-mile of the South Fork Clackamas River without considering the effects on the river. And it plans to work on the Clear Branch Dam, directly upstream from the Middle Fork Hood River, without considering how the project will affect the protected river, the lawsuit states.

The Federation of Fishermen’s Associations sent a letter outlining its concerns to Mount Hood National Forest Supervisor Lisa Northrop in July last year. Northrop replied in an email that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was just one of many competing priorities she would address “as resources become available,” the complaint states.

The groups ask the court to order the government to establish river corridor boundaries and adopt comprehensive management plans for the rivers within the deadlines set by Congress.

“Obviously, they blew the deadline, and we want the court to remedy that omission as soon as possible,” attorney Stephan Volker said in an interview. “Better late than never.”

Volker said most of the environmental disputes he has litigated during his 41-year career were filed by fishermen.

“They are very concerned about protecting the long-term sustainability of watersheds to provide for their industry,” Volker said. “And having streams that sustain a fishery – with clean, cold, oxygenated water – you also protect and sustain a broad spectrum of other fauna and flora. If you protect the fish, you really protect everything.”

In addition to Volker, of Berkeley, the fisheries groups are represented by Steven Kahn, with Kahn & Kahn, in Portland.

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