08:13 PM

Record of Decision on Yellowstone River Dam and Fish Bypass a Record of Failure for Pallid Sturgeon

December 5, 2016
Steve Forrest: Defenders of Wildlife, (720) 943-0456, sforrest@defenders.org
Josh Mogerman, 312-651-7909, jmogerman@NRDC.org
DENVER – Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) oppose the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to build a larger and more permanent dam and artificial bypass on the Lower Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana that was released in a Record of Decision today.
Following are statements from Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
Steve Forrest, Rockies and Plains senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife: “The Record of Decision comes as no surprise. The Corps and Reclamation have consistently rejected science in favor of the outcome they wanted – to build a new dam. The best way to save the sturgeon is to get rid of the dam and move to another delivery system for irrigators. The agencies’ determination to build a larger concrete dam and unproven artificial fish bypass threatens the survival of the last stronghold of approximately 100 wild pallid sturgeon. We will continue to do all we can to stop this plan and save the pallid sturgeon.
“More than 50,000 comments submitted over the past year called for a free-flowing Yellowstone River in order to recover the ancient dinosaur fish while providing for a win-win solution of pumping water to nearby irrigators instead of building a bigger concrete dam. If the Corps and Reclamation won’t listen to the scientists, they ought to listen to the public who are paying the tab for this monumental fiasco.”
Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies office:
“Building a dam and artificial bypass will likely doom the pallid sturgeon to extinction. Once again, the government is ignoring the science and wasting tens of millions of dollars on an ‘unfounded’ and ‘purely theoretical’ plan that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars that won’t help save these amazing ‘dinosaur fish.’
“The way to ensure the pallid sturgeon’s survival has been plainly pointed out by state and federal biologists: remove the Intake Dam and open up the Yellowstone River, while still providing the irrigators with all of the water they need through pumps and other measures. Give these fish access to the habitat they need to spawn a new generation and keep their species going.”
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. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the pallid sturgeon as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1990. The best available science suggests that Intake Diversion Dam impedes upstream migration of pallid sturgeon and their access to potential spawning and larval drift habitat. The Lower Yellowstone River is considered to be one of the best opportunities for recovery of pallid sturgeon. Yet despite this, the agencies have continued to pursue building a larger dam on the Yellowstone and a fish bypass that is unproven for providing pallid sturgeon access to upstream spawning habitat on the Yellowstone River.  
In February 2015 Defenders and NRDC filed a case in court, charging the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of 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, 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. In October of 2016 the Corps and Reclamation issued a final Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam Fish Passage Project Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which calls for construction of the larger, more permanent dam and artificial fish.
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. 
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.