Published July 29, 2016
HOOPA, CALIFORNIA – On Thursday, the Hoopa Valley Tribe (HVT) filed its lawsuit against the federal government for violations of Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding its management actions on the Klamath River, California’s second largest river system.
“The harm caused by the Bureau of Reclamation’s and National Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to protect the Coho is driving this federally protected fish and our Tribe to extinction,” said Chairman Ryan Jackson. “These fish have been essential to our culture, religion and economy since time immemorial,” added Jackson.
Federal irrigation project and private dam operators on the Klamath River divert and store water, leaving less for fish. The water that remains is warmer than tolerable for salmon and polluted with nutrients and chemicals. Under those conditions, fish are vulnerable to diseases they ordinarily could survive. In 2002, thousands of migrating adult salmon died under those same conditions. Moreover, literally hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon have been infected with disease pathogens that have severely reduced the survival Klamath River Coho salmon.
To help prevent another die off, federal agencies set ESA standards for Klamath fish health and Klamath Project operations were bound to meet standards in the 2013 Biological Opinion issued by NMFS. Multi-year drought and project operation changes have contributed to juvenile fish infection rates in 2014 and again in 2015 that have soared past the limits established in the Biological Opinion. “Instead of reacting to the impacts on fish health caused by unforeseen circumstances, the federal agencies have proposed to lower the standards for fishery protection (e.g. increase numbers of fish that can be killed) so that damaging irrigation diversions and dam operations can continue,” said Hoopa Fisheries Director Michael Orcutt.
“The effect of these actions stands the law on its head,” said tribal attorney Thomas Schlosser. “The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s fishery, not irrigation and dam operations, has priority for Klamath River water under both federal Indian law and reclamation law,” said Schlosser.
In its suit, the Tribe is charging that the failure by federal agencies to re-consult on the 2013 Biological Opinion in light of new information is a direct violation of the ESA. “It is unfortunate that it will take this lawsuit to gain the attention of the federal agencies”, summarized Jackson. “However, this action is unavoidable if we are to protect our fishery resources for future generations”.
“This ESA suit is not the warning of a miner’s canary; it is the tsunami siren alerting North Coast communities of impending environmental catastrophe and cultural devastation for the Hoopa Valley Tribe,” concluded Jackson.