Corps steps up efforts to save pallid sturgeon on Missouri River

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

HUNTSDALE, Mo. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ newest effort in the long fight to save the pallid sturgeon is concentrated on 10 sites in the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Louis.

The Corps is working to re-engineer and restore some of the sites to allow better habitat for the pallid sturgeon, which has been an endangered species since 1990.

For example, the Corps plans to divide a sandbar known as Airplane Island near Huntsville into two or three smaller sandbars to allow better water flow, the Columbia Missourian reported. Construction began in October 2016 and is expected to be done by next summer. The Corps received $17 million for the Missouri River Recovery Program in the current fiscal year.

But the effort has led to a lawsuit from a group of farmers, individuals and business owners, who claim the Corps’ changes have contributed to flooding, erosion and higher groundwater tables.

The Corps is required by law to help the pallid sturgeon population recover because it is endangered and the agency’s construction of dams and other engineering on the Missouri River affects the species’ continued survival.

All of the new project sites will use public land, said Mike Chapman, chief of the river engineering section for the Kansas City district of the Corps. He doesn’t expect the changes to affect private property. Chapman believes the new dike extensions and re-engineering will provide easier navigation for boats and barges.

The projects are similar to creating on and off ramps to allow pallid sturgeon to get from the deep, fast-moving current to the shallow, slower-moving water, he said.

Since 2004, the Corps, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, have spent millions of dollars to re-engineer the lower Missouri River to help the species recover. The efforts have included stocking the river with pallid sturgeon spawned in hatcheries and restoring habitat and spawning grounds.

“We’ve learned a lot since 2004,” Chapman said. “We’re using that information to change our approach to managing the Missouri River.”

The pallid sturgeon, which can live up to 100 years, used to meander 700 miles of open river before the Corps built dams and reservoirs in the river’s northern reaches.

The efforts are worth the time and expense because the pallid sturgeon is an indicator of the river’s general health, said Jane Ledwin, a biologist with of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Columbia.

“It’s important for us to be very humble when we approach these big systems and species,” Ledwin said. “If we keep the places and processes in place as much as possible, all of those interactions between thousands of species will be able to continue to take place.”


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