A federal appeals court this morning upheld dam operations measures designed to help prevent extinction of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Idaho salmon advocates, the Nez Perce Tribe and a dozen others with its ruling to uphold increased spill that would assist with salmon and steelhead survival as they migrate to the Pacific Ocean. With salmon and steelhead runs at historical lows, making safe passage for baby fish is critical.
Almost a year ago U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ruled that federal dam managers on the Columbia and Snake rivers have to meet higher spill requirements in the spring. That means they must allow more water to flow over the dams between April and mid-June to help facilitate safe passage for young salmon.
“Maximizing spill is the one thing that we can do immediately to help these struggling fish survive the age of dams,” said Idaho Rivers United executive director Kevin Lewis. “Just as science has shown that spill works, science has also shown that the only path to real, long-term, sustainable recovery is removal of four dams on the lower Snake River.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service appealed Simon’s ruling. The three-judge Appeals Court panel rejected that appeal and affirmed the increased spill levels. The new spill operations will begin April 3 for dams on the Snake River and April 10 for dams on the Columbia River, bringing much needed protections for baby salmon migrating down river now.
“After more than 20 years of federal failure, salmon are in desperate need of help now,” said Earthjustice attorney Todd True, the lead attorney on the case. “The measures the court upheld will give salmon a fighting chance while the federal government catches up to the scale and urgency of what the law requires to protect these fish from extinction.”
Idaho Conservation League Water Associate Marie Kellner stressed the importance of Idaho to the salmon restoration equation.
“Idaho is one of the last remaining places in the lower 48 where high altitude, cold waters remain. Today's decision requiring increased spill operations is a step in the right direction toward protecting these fish from extinction,” she said.
Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director Brian Brooks said the decision is just the most recent of many court orders that try to ensure federal river management agencies protect and restore wild salmon.
“This is good for Idaho fish and Idaho anglers,” said Brooks, whose organization is Idaho’s oldest and largest sportsman coalition. “Tens of thousands of Idahoans eagerly await the opportunity to fish for returning anadromous species, ready to pump a lot of money into our communities. Guaranteed spill means more fish, better fishing, and more benefits for local economies.”