Trout Unlimited Joins in Historic Pact on Future Operation of Bear River Dams
Signing ceremony Wed. at 10 a.m. at Gov. Kempthorne’s office in Boise
Western Native Trout Programs Director:
208.552.0891; Cell: 208.520.3467
8/27/2002 -- Idaho Falls, Idaho -- Conservation organization Trout Unlimited today announced it would join with Pacificorp, the state of Idaho, federal and state agencies and conservation and recreation groups in signing an agreement that will help shape operations of four hydroelectric dams on southeast Idaho’s Bear River for the next 30 years. TU members, especially in northern Utah, have been closely involved in the relicensing process and attempts to restore native Bonneville cutthroat trout in the Bear River system. Facilities and operations at the four dams have continued largely unchanged since the early 1900s.
The settlement agreement is the product of eight months of negotiations between the utility and government and private stakeholders for re-licensing of operations at the Soda, Grace/Cove and Oneida dams. Pacificorp initially applied for relicensing of the four dams in 1999, but conservation groups and several government agencies voiced concerns over fish and wildlife impacts. If accepted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and incorporated into the new license for each of the projects, the agreement will guide Bear River dam operations and fish and wildlife mitigation efforts for the next 30 years within the project area.
"Were excited to be a part of the long-term solution in terms of solving the numerous natural resource dilemmas that face the Bear River system," said Ken Retallic, President of the Idaho Council of Trout Unlimited. "Because of this agreement, TU believes that the elements in this agreement are a positive step, but only constitute part of the effort needed to restore the degraded Bear River system."
The settlement agreement contains provisions that provide for the first time in the history of the dams minimum flows and hydroelectric project ramping rates so that fish and wildlife are better protected. Further, the core of the agreement provides for the development of a long-term Bonneville cutthroat trout conservation strategy of the project area, and a number of funding mechanisms to protect and restore habitat, purchase land and water, and develop innovative hatchery techniques that emphasize the reintroduction and restoration of native trout populations. In sum, over $16 million will be dedicated to Bonneville cutthroat restoration during the next license term.
"The Bear River Bonneville cutthroat trout are a genetically unique fish, and we believe the settlement agreement will provide these fish with a head-start toward recovery," said Scott Yates, TU's Director of Western Native Trout Programs. The Bonneville cutthroat trout are considered a federal and state sensitive species, and as recently as 1998, were petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. "We're hoping that this agreement, combined with continued action on the ground in the Bear River system, will alleviate the need to list these struggling fish," added Yates.
The agreement also includes a unique section creating an "environmental coordination committee" whereby signatories are able to collaborate and vote regarding operational, mitigation plan implementation, and other decisions that impact fish and wildlife. "We're not happy with all the provisions in the agreement, but TU members are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with PacifiCorp, agencies, and other stakeholders to ensure that native trout in the Bear River system are allowed to survive, recover, and eventually flourish," said Wes Johnson, Chairman of TU’s Utah Council.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, with over 130,000 members nationally. TU has over 2,000 Idaho members, including local chapters in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Boise, Sandpoint, Ketchum and Teton and Magic Valleys.