Camas Creek Fisheries
Fighting for Camas Creek Chinook salmon
September 28, 2012
Advocates attorneys have filed the Opening Brief in our litigation to protect threatened Chinook salmon, Bull trout, and Steelhead on the Camas Creek Allotment of the Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho, on behalf of client Western Watersheds Project.
Our hard-hitting opening salvo includes several declarations showing that cattle accessed critical spawning habitat all summer, in violation of promises made by the defendant agencies. Fish biologist Larry Zuckerman shows that cows accessed spawning habitat on Camas Creek all summer long, and the Forest Service never bothered to fix several key fences relied upon to keep cows out of the spawning areas. WWP 2012 summer intern Alex Brott documents 33 cows inside a critical spawning “exclosure,” trampling across the creek. And fish biologist Bob House finds fresh cattle sign on the riverbanks near almost every Chinook salmon redd he observed in the allotment in September.
The Camas Creek Allotment is located in central Idaho and includes lands within the Frank Church River-of-No-Return Wilderness.
Both the Chinook salmon and Steelhead trout populations on the Camas Creek Allotment are of particular importance to the recovery of their respective species given the absence of hatchery influence. The Camas Creek Watershed is a critically important reservoir of genetically pure wild populations of Chinook salmon and Steelhead trout.
For years, cattle grazing on the Camas Creek Allotment has degraded water quality where these important native populations of Chinook, Steelhead and Bull trout spawn.
To make matters worse, cattle have been allowed to wade and wallow in Camas Creek and its tributaries directly impacting fish eggs and redds (nests) during fish spawning in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition against “take” of threatened and endangered species.
Research demonstrates that one trampling event can kill a majority of fish eggs in each nest – potentially thousands of fish killed by each trampling event. One year, Forest Service researchers on the Camas Creek Allotment even photographed cattle wading across a redd!
Advocates for the West, representing Western Watersheds Project, filed this suit to protect the wild salmonids of Camas Creek. Those who have rafted the Middle Fork Salmon River know that Camas Creek is a beautiful tributary of that river, flows in large part within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and is home to particularly important wild populations of Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and bull trout.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service-authorized livestock grazing on the Camas Creek allotment has a long, sorry track record of harming these fish. For years, agency biologists have complained that the livestock have trampled spawning habitat and trespassed into areas supposed to be excluded from livestock. One scientist even photographed a cow directly trampling a Chinook salmon redd (nest)!
Our suit, filed under the Endangered Species Act, targeted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries for erroneously concluding that the grazing would not jeopardize these fish populations; the Forest Service for continuing to authorize the grazing in a way that harms fish; and the grazing permittees, Jack Whitworth and Whitworth Ranches, Inc., for conducting the grazing in a way that harms the fish.
We successfully settled the case in April 2013. Under the terms of the settlement, the agencies withdrew their flawed ESA consultations and agreed to prepare new ones. And importantly, no grazing will occur until the new consultations are completed.