GREAT FALLS, Mont. – A Montana federal district court judge today granted a temporary injunction halting construction of a concrete dam and bypass channel on the Yellowstone River until the court has an opportunity to hear and rule on the legal merits of the case.
Matt Skoglund, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Northern Rockies office, issued this statement:
“There’s a price to pay when government ignores science: this proposed destructive dam on the Yellowstone River will cost the lives of the last wild pallid sturgeon. This injunction grants these ‘dinosaur fish’ a stay of execution as the court figures out the legality of this ecosystem-destroying project. During this time, I hope the government seriously considers the alternative win-win solution that would allow irrigators to get all of the water they need through pumps and other measures without building a fish-killing dam across the Yellowstone.”
Aaron Hall, Rockies and Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“The ruling gives pallid sturgeon a chance at a future in the Yellowstone River. By granting the injunction, the court now has time to review the legality of this destructive project. We must stop this flawed dam-building plan that could doom the pallid sturgeon in its best remaining stronghold and replace it with a common-sense solution: a pumping system to provide irrigation water to neighboring farms and a free-flowing Yellowstone River to provide secure habitat for the fish.”
The pallid sturgeon—an ancient “dinosaur fish” that dates back 78 million years—is in imminent danger due to a century of dam building. Pallid sturgeon have not successfully produced young in decades. Dams and other human modifications to the river have blocked upstream migration, changed water temperatures, and destroyed the spawning and nursery habitat needed for young sturgeon to survive.
In February 2015, Defenders and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a case in courtagainst the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act in connection with the operations of Intake and Fort Peck dams. In September 2015, Defenders and NRDC successfully blocked the agencies’ plan to build a permanent concrete dam and artificial fish bypass channel at Intake Dam.
In response to the injunction, the Corps and Reclamation evaluated several alternatives in a new environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, but the agencies ultimately recycled their original proposal to build a new dam and artificial bypass channel. Scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that the proposed bypass channel around the dam for the highly-endangered dinosaur-like pallid sturgeon is likely to fail and potentially lead to the extirpation of the last wild individuals of this species from Montana.
Conservation groups—including Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC, Trout Unlimited and American Rivers—and the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society urged the agencies to adopt a scientifically-sound alternative that would remove the existing rock dam, restore a free-flowing Yellowstone River, and install pumps to deliver irrigation water.
Nonetheless, the Corps and Reclamation published a Record of Decision in December 2016 approving the same plan to build a dam and bypass channel that was temporarily enjoined by the court in September 2015. In February 2017, the Corps, Reclamation, and FWS requested that the court immediately lift the injunction so that the project could be implemented. The Court dissolved the injunction in response to that motion in an April 2017 ruling. In doing so, the Court also noted that the ruling did not address Defenders’ and NRDC’s new claims challenging the 2016 decision, which are the claims at issue in today’s ruling.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.