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For Immediate Release: Thursday, August 26, 2021

Contacts:
Marie Callaway Kellner, ICL Conservation Program Director, (208) 369-4885.
Bryan Hurlbutt, Staff Attorney, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024 x 206.
Scott Ki, ICL Communications Associate (208) 345-6933 x 114.

BOISE – An appeals court affirmed that endangered Idaho salmon, steelhead and bull trout warrant additional protections in a Sawtooth Valley water diversion case. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling August 25 that confirms a 2019 U.S. District Court decision to require consultation with fish experts and provide additional measures to protect threatened fish.

The Idaho Conservation League (ICL), represented by Advocates for the West (Advocates), sued the Forest Service in 2018 over the agency’s failure to protect these fish from impacts associated with 20 water diversions in the Sawtooth Valley. ICL and Advocates argued the diversions harm native fish species, which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in favor of ICL in June 2019. A group of water users filed the appeal in Jan. 2020.

These diversions remove water from the upper Salmon River and its tributaries in the national forest. For example, many of the ditches that deliver the water are a century old and unlined, resulting in unnecessary loss of water for both fish and water users. Some of the diversions create barriers to fish, blocking them from swimming up or down stream. Salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Sawtooth Valley swim farther and climb higher than any populations that remain on the planet.

“With one of the worst steelhead runs on record, we all need to do our part to prevent iconic salmon and steelhead from going extinct,” said Marie Callaway Kellner, ICL’s conservation program director. “ICL looks forward to working with the Forest Service and water users to find a solution so Idaho’s endangered fish can stay in the river where they belong while water users get the water they need.”

Bryan Hurlbutt, staff attorney for Advocates for the West, said, “This is an important victory for Idaho salmon and steelhead, fish that make one of Earth’s great migrations swimming over 800 miles upriver to spawn in the Sawtooth Valley. Salmon and steelhead face many obstacles on this journey. The least we can do here in Idaho is ensure that those few fish who complete the trip are welcomed by safe waters.”

ICL is working to restore ecologically significant, harvestable populations of wild salmon and steelhead to Idaho. A solution to save these iconic fish exists. Congressman Mike Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative is a model framework to restore Idaho’s salmon and steelhead to abundance while ensuring Idaho and Northwest communities a prosperous future. 

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