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Salmon, Steelhead, Orca in Jeopardy of Extinction by Oregon Floodplain Development


Contact: Melanie Gade, Defenders of Wildlife: (202)772-0288, mgade@defenders.org

Date: April 14, 2016


 Salmon, Steelhead, Orca  in Jeopardy of Extinction by Oregon Floodplain Development

SALEM, Ore.— A new assessment released by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today finds that implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program in Oregon (NFIP) is  jeopardizing salmon, steelhead and southern resident orca, and adversely affecting other threatened and endangered wildlife species by incentivizing development in floodplains.

The assessment provides a roadmap for modernizing the implementation of the flood insurance program in Oregon and requires that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) work with Oregon’s cities and counties on flood mapping and data collection. The guidance in NMFS’ assessment will help protect critical habitat, promote climate change resiliency and will accommodate environmentally responsible growth in Oregon.

But H.R. 1471, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015, has passed the House of Representatives and may soon be taken up by the U.S. Senate. It includes a provision, section 311, that undermines the Endangered Species Act by exempting FEMA from complying with NMFS’s assessment.

Elizabeth Ruther, Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“NMFS’ Opinion is a big step in the right direction for restoring vital floodplain habitat for Oregon’s salmon, steelhead, orca and other endangered species. NMFS has emphasized the need for protection of existing floodplain habitat and the need for mitigation of development in floodplains.  FEMA should adhere to this guidance to modernize its National Flood Insurance Program. This modernization can serve as a blueprint for managing floodplains for wildlife habitat and for managing climate risks across the nation.

“The damaging provision inserted into H.R. 1471 would be an end-run around NMFS’ Biological Opinion and the Endangered Species Act. This inserted language, if enacted into legislation, would waste taxpayer dollars, reduce public safety and jeopardize threatened and endangered species with extinction by encouraging development in floodplains. Now is the time for more, not less, coordination and transparency in protecting and restoring the natural functions of floodplains.”


The National Flood Insurance program, managed by FEMA, was created in 1968 to improve public safety and reduce the risk and cost of flooding. In exchange for federally backed insurance, communities agree to regulate development in the floodplain. A primary purpose of the program is to encourage state and local governments to make appropriate land use adjustments to constrict development of land which is vulnerable to flooding, minimize flood damage and guide future development away from areas threatened by flood hazards. FEMA establishes minimum requirements for flood-prone communities, but encourages adoption of stronger requirements based on local knowledge in order to protect public safety.  

While the NFIP has laudable objectives, the program has an unfortunate track record of incentivizing developers to build and sell properties in flood prone areas by providing flood insurance at below cost rates, consequently damaging habitat for threatened and endangered species. FEMA is $24 billion in debt and cannot absorb the costs of additional development in floodplains, which will have to be borne by the taxpayers. FEMA must consult with other federal agencies on actions that could affect endangered species as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Floodplains, or lands bordering rivers and streams that are inundated during rainfall events, provide essential habitat for Oregon’s salmon. Floodplains also are important for hunting, fishing and boating. Commercial salmon fishing and recreation are both important to Oregon’s economy. Floodplains also serve as a natural buffer that protects communities against storm surge and increased flood heights, which is increasingly important with a changing climate.  


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