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Groups Amend Court Filing In Effort To End Hatchery Releases In North, South Santiam Rivers
Posted on Friday, June 29, 2018 (PST)

Willamette Riverkeeper and the Conservation Angler filed a second amended complaint in U.S. District Court that asks the court, among other things, to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop releasing hatchery produced summer steelhead and rainbow trout into the North and South Santiam rivers. The complaint was filed in the Eugene Division of the District Court June 20, 2018.

 

The first amended complaint was filed September 15, 2017. It describes in detail how hatchery produced summer steelhead and rainbow trout impact wild upper Willamette River steelhead, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, leading to the wild stock’s decline.

 

Prior to the first amended complaint, the Corps had completed contracts with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to operate four Corps hatcheries in the Willamette River basin that produced and released summer steelhead smolts and a second contract with a private company, Desert Springs Trout Farm in Summer Lake, to produce rainbow trout for planting in Oregon lakes and streams. Those actions should, in themselves, have triggered an ESA consultation with NOAA, the groups say.

 

They filed their initial brief May 22, 2017 in a suit that challenged the Corps for releasing hatchery produced summer run steelhead in upper Willamette River tributaries, saying the federal agency is in violation of the ESA. The groups asked the Court to force the Corps to stop producing the summer steelhead until the agency initiates an ESA consultation with NOAA Fisheries.

 

Consultations have yet to happen, the second amended complaint says, calling the Corps actions “irreversible and/or irretrievable commitments of resources before it completes reinitiated consultation.”

 

Willamette River wild winter steelhead were listed as threatened under the ESA in March 1999 and the two groups say the hatchery summer steelhead released from Corps-owned Marion Forks and South Santiam hatcheries and stocked for a sport fishery are contributing to the wild winter steelhead decline.

 

The Willamette Riverkeeper said it had filed much earlier a suit against the Corps and other federal agencies to force them to consult with NOAA as to the impacts of federal projects in the Willamette River basin. That consultation resulted in the 2008 biological opinion of the federal facilities.

 

However, since the BiOp was issued, “new information and data reveal that releases of summer steelhead trout into the South Santiam River basin and the North Santiam River basin harm and impede recovery of winter steelhead trout to an extent not previously considered or evaluated in the BiOp.” the groups said in the June 20 complaint.

 

Some of the new information is genetic analysis, which identified about 10 percent of the juvenile steelhead at Willamette Falls as summer x winter-run hybrids, the complaint says. Similar analyses identified 11.1 percent of the steelhead trout in the North Santiam River as summer x winter-run hybrids and about 14.8 percent of steelhead trout in the South Santiam River are summer x winter-run hybrids.

 

“Hybridization among winter steelhead trout and summer steelhead trout in the North Santiam River and the South Santiam River decreases productivity of the winter steelhead trout population,” the complaint says.

 

From 1990 to 2005, an average of 2,149 winter steelhead trout “natural spawners” returned to the South Santiam River, according to the groups. However, by 2017 just 18 winter steelhead had returned. The average on the North Santiam River for the same period was 2,109 winter steelhead, but by September 2017, the number had dropped to 168 fish.

 

One of the Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives of the 2008 BiOp is that the Corps and other federal agencies will implement Hatchery and Genetic Management Plans for, among other hatchery fish, summer steelhead, after NOAA approves of the plans. Yet, the Corps has yet to submit the HGMPs, they said.

 

As a result, the “Corps’ continued authorization, funding, or carrying out of the hatchery summer steelhead program jeopardizes the continued existence of winter steelhead.”

 

In the end, the relief the groups ask is for the court to issue declaratory judgements that the Corps has:

 

1. violated Section 7 of the ESA by jeopardizing the continued existence of winter steelhead in the upper Willamette River basin, and by failing to reinitiate consultation with NOAA as to effects on winter steelhead trout of the release of summer steelhead trout into the North and South Santiam river basins;

2. violated Section 7 of the ESA by making irreversible and/or irretrievable commitments of resources before completing reinitiation of consultation;

3. violated Section 9 of the ESA by causing take of winter steelhead trout and spring chinook salmon through release of hatchery rainbow trout upstream of Foster Dam on the South Santiam and Detroit Dam on the North Santiam.

 

In addition, the groups want the court to order the Corps to stop funding the production and release of summer steelhead trout into both North and South Santiam rivers, and to order the Corps to stop producing and releasing rainbow trout into the rivers.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Groups Amend Complaint In Wild Upper Willamette Winter Steelhead Litigation,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439597.aspx.

 

-- CBB, June 9, 2017, “Groups Sue Corps Over Upper Willamette Summer-Run Steelhead Hatchery Releases; Says Harm Wild Fish” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439056.aspx.

 

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