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Western Watersheds Sues Attorney-Ranchers To Protect Fish

by Staff
Environmental News Network, September 05, 2001

HAILEY, IDAHO — Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho’s High Desert have filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Boise, Idaho, against two Idaho attorney-ranchers for violations of the Endangered Species Act in Fourth of July Creek in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains of central Idaho.

The lawsuit cites attorney-ranchers Jack Furey and Louis Racine for a water diversion and an associated ditch that violate “take” prohibitions set forth in the ESA. The diversion and ditch have killed or pose harm to spring/summer Chinook salmon, Snake River steelhead and bull trout, all of which are listed as threatened under the ESA.

WWP and CIHD will request within a few days a federal court injunction preventing any further diversion of water from Fourth of July Creek until the lawsuit is resolved.

“It is long overdue for Fourth of July Creek to fully support habitat needs for these special fish,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP.

Under the ESA, “take” is defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect.”

In the lawsuit, Racine, a former commissioner of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and Furey are cited for a water diversion that blocks fish migration up and down Fourth of July Creek. The diversion is not equipped with a fish screen to prevent fish from being trapped as water is diverted, and there is no headgate to restrict the flow to the ranchers’ legal water right.

A site inspection by fisheries biologists in the summer of 2000 turned up 87 juvenile steelhead/rainbow trout, one juvenile Chinook salmon and six bull trout trapped in the ranchers’ irrigation ditch.

In October 2000, WWP and CIHD sent notices to Furey, Racine and other water diverters on Fourth of July Creek, warning them of ESA violations. Notices were also sent to state and federal agencies. WWP and CIHD received responses and cooperation from the other diverters, but Furey and Racine took no action.

In the past, large numbers of spring/summer Chinook salmon, Snake River steelhead and bull trout migrated to and from Idaho’s Salmon River basin. Smaller tributary streams in the basin such as Fourth of July Creek provided spawning and rearing habitat for these species. Today, populations of these species have plummeted to the extent that each is listed as threatened under the ESA.

The lawsuit is one of several filed by WWP and CIHD under the ESA to restore fish populations in the Salmon River basin. The groups are represented by Boise attorney Laird Lucas and Judi Brawer of the Boise office of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.

Related Links: Wester Watersheds Project

Western Watersheds Sues Attorney-Ranchers To Protect Fish
Environmental News Network, September 05, 2001

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