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River Species Dying Off at High Rate, Report Says

by Erin Kelly, Gannett News Service
The Seattle Times, April 10, 2000

WASHINGTON - Fish, birds and other wild critters are vanishing from U.S. rivers at an alarming rate that rivals that of tropical rain-forest species, says a report released yesterday by American Rivers conservation group.

The main culprits: dams and levees, which change the natural flow of rivers and destroy wildlife habitat, said the report, which names the 13 "most endangered" rivers of 2000.

"We have straightened the curves, blocked the flows and hardened the banks of thousands of miles of waterways, wiping out habitat and making it difficult for our nation's rivers to support native fish and wildlife," said Rebecca Wodder, the group's president.

Fish, snails, amphibians, mussels and other animals that live in North American rivers and streams are disappearing five times faster than animals that live on land, said the report, citing research published recently in Conservation Biology, a scientific journal.

Seventeen freshwater fish species are extinct, one in 10 of America's native mussel species are gone forever and two-thirds of America's remaining mussels and one-third of its amphibians are imperiled, the report says.

To solve the problem, the group advocates removing dams from at least three of the 13 endangered rivers: the Lower Snake in Washington state, where four dams built in the 1970s have brought salmon runs to the brink of extinction; the Ventura in California; and the Presumpscot in Maine. Removal of dams is a controversial idea because people depend on them to tame the rivers to generate electricity or to accommodate barges transporting crops.

In some cases, dams can be operated differently to more closely mimic natural flows, helping fish and other wildlife, according to American Rivers, a nonprofit group founded in 1973 to expand the number of rivers protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

David Tuft, spokesman for the National Hydropower Association in Washington, D.C., faulted American Rivers for oversimplifying the issue. "This is a complicated, difficult problem," he said.

American Rivers has been issuing an annual list of endangered rivers for 15 years.

Related Sites:
2000 Most Endangered Rivers
1999 Most Endangered Rivers

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Erin Kelly, Gannett News Service
River Species Dying Off at High Rate, Report Says
The Seattle Times, April 10, 2000

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