Bend Bulletin - Judge orders action to help salmon, steelhead in Oregon

This article was published on: 09/11/21 9:16 AM

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action to improve fish passage at dams in Oregon’s Willamette Basin.

In a final opinion and order issued in the past week, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez said the Corps had for years failed to provide adequate passage for threatened chinook salmon and winter steelhead trout at dams it operates in the basin.

“As evinced by the listed species’ continuing decline, the Corps’ failure to provide adequate fish passage and mitigate water quality issues is causing substantial, irreparable harm to the salmonids,” Hernandez wrote in the opinion.

The order comes after the court decided in favor of three environmental organizations that sued the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service, arguing the agencies weren’t doing their part to protect the species.

Laurie Rule is a senior attorney at Advocates for the West, a nonprofit environmental law firm that represented the plaintiffs. She says the poor state of salmon and steelhead runs this year underscore the importance of the judge’s order.

“It’s important because these fish are in really bad shape,” Rule said.

Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Upper Willamette River system are both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Dams on the Willamette and its tributaries have blocked access to spawning grounds for the fish, contributing to population declines.