Yuba Salmon Now Update: Federal Judge Says it’s Time to End Debate on Yuba River Dams

Published 2/9/2021  |  South Yuba River Citizens League

SYRCL and Friends of the River sent a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on Thursday, January 27 to compel the agency to craft a watershed-wide solution to save the threatened species native to the Yuba Watershed, including Spring-run Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and green sturgeon. The letter was co-signed by 12 coalition partners from across California and the nation.

The following Monday, February 1, Judge John Mendez of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California issued an order to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that was critical of their continued delay in making a decision that could seal the fate of the Yuba River’s threatened fish species.

As a result of Mendez’s ruling, NMFS must make a choice whether to further explain its 2014 decision or start over, reassessing the dams’ impacts on Yuba’s threatened fish, and issuing a new decision, called a biological opinion. SYRCL’s coalition letter demands a new biological opinion, presenting compelling evidence that harm caused by the Corps’ dams, compounded by increased harm from climate change, is responsible for the dramatic decrease in Yuba River fish populations.

Below Englebright Dam
Daguerre Point Dam

Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and green sturgeon populations have dipped to frighteningly low levels in recent years due to lack of access to their spawning grounds, a problem created largely by Englebright and Daguerre dams. If you would like to read more about these iconic species that call the Yuba watershed home, read this new ENews article by one of our SYRCL scientists, Tyler Goodearly.

Importantly, NMFS and the Army Corps of Engineers are the two federal agencies that can help restore declining fish populations in the Yuba River watershed through their actions. The fish need their help.

“Although NMFS has known since the 9th Circuit’s ruling in October 2019 that it must make a decision about whether to issue new Endangered Species Act regulations for the Corps’ Yuba River dams, NMFS has continually delayed doing so. Last Monday Judge Mendez said the delay could no longer go on indefinitely,” said Eric Wesselman, Friends of the River Executive Director.

This action is long overdue and critically urgent. The salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon do not have time to wait. Their survival is in jeopardy.

SYRCL and Friends of the River are optimistic that the new federal era will bring about accountability, transparency, and inclusion in holistic watershed management. They also hope it will provide much-needed funding and coordination between all important stakeholders who do the work necessary to preserve the species native to the Yuba River.

Our partners who signed onto the coalition letter include Fly Fishers International, Gold Country Fly Fishing, Sierra Club, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Trout Unlimited, San Francisco Baykeeper, The Sierra Fund, Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council, Stoecker Ecological, and Patagonia. Other supportive organizations of the letter include American Rivers and Our Children’s Earth Foundation. Want to take action for Yuba Salmon Now? Become a SYRCL member today. Your support helps SYRCL advocate for the survival and restoration of keynote fisheries in the Yuba River watershed.

To learn more about Yuba Salmon Now, visit our campaign page YubaSalmonNow.org.

To learn more about Friends of the River’s lawsuit, read our 2019 Yuba Salmon Now Update.

Juvenile Chinook Salmon, Image: Roger Tabor, USFWS
Steelhead Trout, Image: J. McMillan
Green Sturgeon
Green Sturgeon, Image: Gary Reedy

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