by Trevor Smith
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that two environmental activist groups have filed a lawsuit early this week against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation (Lundquist 2015). The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Defenders of Wildlife’s suit claims that these agencies’ operation of dams on the Montana and Yellowstone Rivers threatens the life of pallid sturgeon. The suit hopes both to stop the agencies’ current actions, which it claims will be ineffective in helping the fish survive, and to force the agencies to create a new dam modification plan.
Pallid sturgeon have been listed as endangered since 1990, and although their population is estimated to have increased somewhat since then (Brown 2015), biologists assert that the upper Missouri River pallid sturgeon fish population rests at approximately 125 fish, almost all of whom are older—younger fish are not surviving (Lundquist 2015).
The problem comes from the way the two dams in question work. A study published by the American Fisheries Society in Fisheries last month makes the novel claim that one of the main reasons the dams threaten pallid sturgeon is not because of their difficulty passing through the dams, but because the dams slow the speed of the water, creating anoxic “dead zones” that lack enough oxygen for the fish to survive (Guy et al. 2015). The study is notable in that it focuses on the effects of dams on fish survival upriver of the dams, noting that dams make life more difficult for pallid sturgeon miles before they attempt to cross the dam.
The lawsuit cites this evidence to argue that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s current plan to aid pallid sturgeon survival—increasing the width of side channels for fish to navigate through dams—is unlikely to be particularly effective at increasing the size of the sturgeon population (Brown 2015).The lawsuit seeks both to block this current plan and to require governmental agencies overseeing the dams to make different modifications to improve the health of the rivers for the pallid sturgeon.
Pallid Sturgeon, Endangered Species, Dams, Lawsuits, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Brown, Matthew. “Advocates: Dams Put Dinosaur-Like River Fish at Risk.” ABC News. February 2, 2015. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/advocates-dams-put-dinosaur-river-fish-risk-28673490
Guy, Christopher S., Treanor, Hilary B., Kappenman, Kevin M., Scholl, Eric A., Ilgen, Jason E., Webb, Molly A. H. “Broadening the Regulated-River Management Paradigm: A Case Study of the Forgotten Dead Zone Hindering Pallid Sturgeon Recovery”. Fisheries. http://news.fisheries.org/broadening-the-regulated-river-management-paradigm-a-case-study-of-the-forgotten-dead-zone-hindering-pallid-sturgeon-recovery/
Lundquist, Laura. “Groups sue to save endangered pallid sturgeon”. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle. February 2, 2015. http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/groups-sue-to-save-endangered-pallid-sturgeon/article_38667c30-9954-5d29-83c2-18a6bff32634.html