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Going to Court for Rogue Basin Coho

February 8, 2012

MEDFORD, Ore. – Oregon Wild filed a court challenge on Tuesday after what the conservation group says is a decade of not enough progress to protect Coho salmon in southwest Oregon's Rogue River Basin. The suit alleges that the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service have not prepared an official scientific analysis and management plan for the fish that was court-ordered in 2003, a document known as a Biological Opinion.

Wendell Wood, who works in southern Oregon for Oregon Wild, describes the Rogue Basin Project as a maze of diversion dams and canals that feed water into farmland and reservoirs instead of keeping stream flows high enough for salmon to migrate and reproduce.

"We're not asking to do anything other than to make sure – in the way we manipulate water for commercial agriculture and some domestic water use - that fish be taken into consideration, that they be part of the equation. These guys are the managers. Please, start managing."

In a written statement, the Bureau of Reclamation said it is disappointed about the latest challenge, but understands the concern with how long the consultation process has taken. The statement says the agency believes the parties share the same goal of finding a solution that works for fish, farms and communities.

Wood says time is already critical. The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined the Coho salmon in the Rogue Basin are at what it terms a "moderate risk of extinction" - and that fish biologists have already weighed in on what to do about it.

"Recommendations for what the minimal flows need to be have not been met. And yet, we see the state agencies spending money on trying to create habitat projects – and in our minds, this is all for naught if we don't have water in the river."

Wood says the Bureau has a recovery plan for Coho salmon, but it consists of recommendations rather than requirements. The fish has been listed as a threatened species since 1997.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR