The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) and Friends of the River filed a citizen suit in federal court today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to comply with Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements to protect three species of endangered fish on the Yuba River: spring-run Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon.
“Salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened in the late 1990s and last year we learned that they are in jeopardy of extinction. They can’t afford another decade of delay and inaction,” said SYRCL Board President John Regan. “Hopefully this lawsuit will result in timely, collaborative solutions to restore healthy runs of wild salmon and steelhead that will rebuild California’s fisheries, foster economic development, and create jobs.”
In 2006, SYRCL and Friends of the River sued the federal government to demand better protection for the Yuba’s endangered fish. That effort bore fruit when, in February 2012, NMFS under court order released a formal decision, called the Biological Opinion, finding that the operation of two Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Yuba River, Englebright and Daguerre Point dams, jeopardizes the survival and recovery of the three anadromous fish species. This is due mainly to the fact that the dams block the fish from migrating upstream to adequate spawning habitat.
Earlier this month, SYRCL filed a complaint against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for improperly extending critical deadlines for the Army Corps to implement numerous measures to protect these three protected fish species given their extremely precarious status. The Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) has joined the Army Corps in opposing implementation of the Biological Opinion. YCWA recently filed its own lawsuit against NMFS seeking to have the Biological Opinion revoked.
“On the one hand, NMFS has said that Yuba salmon are in jeopardy of extinction unless timely action is taken. On the other hand, the Army Corps has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to comply even with the very reasonable incremental measures needed in the short-term,” said SYRCL’s Executive Director Caleb Dardick. “Since this stalemate has gone on for over a decade, our citizen suit is necessary to stop the foot dragging.”
Although it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to get these two federal agencies to work together, SYRCL launched a letter writing campaign to Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Congressmen Garamendi and LaMalfa urging them to lead efforts to protect California’s vital fisheries. SYRCL collected over 2,000 postcards during the 2013 Wild & Scenic Film Festival, which will be hand-delivered to federal lawmakers representing the Yuba watershed.
“Federal and state agencies and numerous private organizations are working on what will be extensive and expensive efforts to restore the San Francisco Bay Delta estuary. However, this restoration work will only succeed in promoting salmon recovery if salmon have access to healthy river and stream habitat in the Sierra foothills – where salmon can spawn and young salmon can be reared. We need to restore salmon access to waterways such as the Yuba River if Bay Delta restoration work is truly to help fisheries,” said Friends of the River’s Executive Director Bob Center.
“Although the Army Corps claims that the Biological Opinion requires actions that are outside of their authority, NMFS took care to enumerate the various laws and regulations which give the Corps the necessary authority,” said Christopher Sproul at Environmental Advocates, lead counsel for SYRCL. “NMFS’ analysis makes plain that the Corps can indeed implement the Biological Opinion.”
“The Biological Opinion, while not perfect, does base its requirements in science and an urgent need to improve conditions for species at risk of extinction. By implementing the required actions, the Army Corps could be at the forefront of a collaborative process to implement necessary habitat improvement projects and develop a fish passage project beneficial to fish and the local economy,” said SYRCL’s Science Director Gary Reedy.
Spring-run Chinook salmon were once plentiful in the Central Valley, with over 600,000 returning to their birth streams each year. But the construction of impassable dams in the 20th Century reduced the habitat available to the species by 80%, resulting in substantial population declines. In 2011, fewer than 5,000 spring Chinook returned to the Central Valley, a reduction of over 99% from historical levels. Providing fish passage at Englebright and Daguerre dams is urgently needed to halt this continuing slide toward extinction.
For more information and a copy of the Biological Opinion, SYRCL’s complaint, frequently asked questions (FAQ), timeline of key events, and YCWA’s complaint, and other documents, please visit www.yubasalmonnow.org on the resource page. For more information about SYRCL or Friends of the River, visit www.yubariver.org and www.friendsoftheriver.org.
Founded in 1983, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL, pronounced ‘circle’) is a public-benefit organization based in Nevada City, CA with a mission to unite the community to protect and restore the Yuba River watershed.
Friends of the River was founded in 1973 during the struggle to save the Stanislaus River from New Melones Dam and is California’s only statewide river conservation organization. FOR is nationally recognized as an authority on the adverse impacts of dams on rivers and ecosystems. Friends of the River protects and restores California Rivers by influencing public policy and inspiring citizen action
Caleb Dardick, Executive Director, SYRCL; 530-265-5961 x207; Caleb@syrcl.org
Christopher Sproul, Lead Attorney, Environmental Advocates; 415-533-3376; email@example.com
Bob Center, Executive Director, Friends of the River; (916) 442-3155 x212; firstname.lastname@example.org