Conservation Groups Sue the Forest Service and the BLM

Online Messenger #11

Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert announced today (June 7, 2001) the filing of a federal court lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over hundreds of stream diversions on Forest Service and BLM lands in the Upper Salmon River basin. The suit was filed in federal district court in Boise, Idaho.

The lawsuit claims that the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Salmon and Challis Field Offices of the BLM have failed to ensure that diversions on federal lands by ranchers and other private parties do not harm salmon, steelhead, or bull trout -- all species listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The suit also alleges that the diversions are "taking" the listed fish in violation of the Act. The suit asks that the court order the agencies to comply with the law to avoid killing ESA listed fish.

This lawsuit follows up on several earlier suits filed by the groups against individual ranchers who divert water from streams which provide critical habitat for salmon, steelhead trout and bull trout. In the earlier cases WWP and CIHD succeeded in gaining stipulated settlements which ensure no diversion of water will occur this year and probably in future years unless full compliance with the Endangered Species Act occurs. All the diversions in these lawsuits are unscreened and unmeasured and often take all the water from tributary streams to the Salmon River. 26 separate tributaries of the Lemhi River, which is one of the most important salmon spawning streams in Idaho, are dried up every summer by diversions which irrigate low-value forage crops like grass hay or alfalfa for cattle.

WWP and CIHD did not sue the neighboring Sawtooth National Forest which has taken positive steps to ensure that diversions in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the headwaters of the Salmon River comply with the law. Like the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the BLM, the Sawtooth National Forest was notified of the potential for a lawsuit more than seven months ago.

WWP and CIHD are ably represented in this lawsuit by attorney Laird Lucas of Boise and the Boise Office of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.