Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Environmental groups sue over decline of steelhead, chinook

Steelhead are at the center of the FishPass controversy.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Three environmental groups sued the federal government Tuesday over the decline in wild salmon and steelhead in the Upper Willamette watershed.

The lawsuit filed in Portland alleges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service have not completed specific tasks intended to help fish overcome dams that have cut off key spawning habitat, the Statesman Journal reported .

State biologists fear the winter steelhead could go extinct in the Molalla, Santiam, McKenzie and Middle Fork rivers – four key tributaries to the Willamette River.

The plaintiffs – WildEarth Guardians, Native Fish Society and Northwest Environmental Defense Center – say dams on those tributaries block between 40 percent and 90 percent of spawning habitat.

Winter steelhead returned about 16,000 fish each year to the Upper Willamette Basin in the 1970s, according to numbers at Willamette Falls Fish Count. That number dropped to 800 fish in 2017 and 850 this year.

A legal agreement in 2008 required the corps to modify dams to improve fish habitat, and the groups say it hasn’t followed through.

Corps officials rejected that assertion and pointed to $194 million spent to improve habitat in the Upper Willamette.

In January, the corps rolled out a massive $100 to $250 million plan at Detroit Dam intended to improve conditions for fish in the Santiam River.

Corps spokesman Tom Conning said last November that the agency is committed to actions beneficial to fish but has to balance it with what’s technically feasible and cost-effective.

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