Elwha Advocacy UpdateMarch 15, 2013
Wild Fish Conservancy, the Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition filed suit on February 9, 2012, against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT) for ignoring best available science and violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The suit alleges that by permitting, funding, and operating the Elwha Hatchery, the defendants threaten the recovery of Chinook salmon, native steelhead, and killer whales. State and federal agency scientists, along with the independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), pointed out that the current plan gives no measurable goals for wild fish recovery, provides no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production, and that wild fish recovery is going to be hampered by the implementation of the Elwha hatchery plan.
On February 27, 2012, an agreement was reached with the LEKT in that WFC and its partners agreed not to seek a preliminary injunction against the LEKT's planned 2012 release of non-native, hatchery-raised "Chambers Creek" steelhead, and the LEKT agreed not to release those steelhead that year. Unfortunately, further settlement efforts were unsuccessful. Worse, the federal government has since approved a Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act and “Finding Of No Significant Impact” under the National Environmental Policy Act in an attempt to comply with the law, but, in our opinion, without appropriately addressing the scientific and legal flaws of their hatchery-based “recovery” plan. Nonetheless, the federal judge hearing the case recently dismissed one of our claims as moot.
We plan to appeal the federal judge’s decision and we have filed supplemental complaints to the Court declaring that the Biological Opinion does not comply with the Endangered Species Act and that a full environmental impact statement should have been prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act that considers alternatives to the hatchery-based plan. The district court must hear those claims before the matter can be appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
Our goal remains that the recovery plan should be focused on wild fish, not hatchery fish, and that such a plan should be in place when we have a free-running Elwha.
For more information, visit the our Elwha Advocacy page.
Elwha Steelhead photo: John McMillan, NOAA - The Seattle Times