State looks to intervene in spotted frog litigation

March 3, 2016
State looks to intervene in spotted frog litigation

Suit could force major changes in Deschutes irrigation operations

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

The state of Oregon is attempting to push the parties in a lawsuit concerning the Oregon spotted frog toward a negotiated settlement, Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Wednesday.

In a filing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asked that the state be permitted to appear as a “friend of the court.” The state is seeking to ensure all parties involved in the lawsuit fully consider the ramifications should the court rule irrigation operations in the Deschutes Basin harmed the frog in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to the filing, the state is not currently taking a position on whether any violation of the Endangered Species Act has occurred. The state supports efforts to improve frog habitat, according to the filing, but is concerned that any ruling failing to account for the historic use of the Deschutes River could have negative consequences for the basin and the state.

In 2014, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the frog as a threatened species.

In December 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon filed suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and multiple irrigation districts that draw water from the Deschutes River. The suit argues the management of the river and its reservoirs for irrigation is harming the frogs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit claims that by storing water behind the Wickiup and Crane Prairie dams and releasing it during the brief summer irrigation season, a cycle of flooding and drying along the banks of the Deschutes River has been created, hampering the breeding of the frogs as well as harming other species.

In February, the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon filed for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, could force near-immediate changes to irrigation in the Deschutes Basin.

Rosenblum’s filing on behalf of the state said various state agencies have an interest in the outcome of the suit and are willing to assist in developing an outcome acceptable to all parties.

John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, said he was unclear what kind of role the state could play and said it was unusual for the state to seek to intervene at the federal District Court level.

“The state has known about this for a while,” DeVoe said. “They’re kind of coming to the party late at this point, and that’s really about all I can say.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,

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