Enviros May Sue On Snake River

Published online: May 08, 2001
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No news media have yet reported the fact that several environmental groups have filed Notice of Intent to Sue under the Endangered Species Act against the Bureau of Reclamation and 11 BOR projects on the Snake River.

Why the news media have ignored the filings and potential suits that could affect the 1.6 million acres under the BOR is a mystery. However, it isn't being taken lightly by the agriculture community, especially after what happened recently in the Klamath Basin.

According to Pete Fretwell of the Far West Agribusiness Association, answers are elusive right now on whether this is just another "throw-away" lawsuit, or whether it will result in devastating changes like the Klamath Basin case. One point agreed on by many in agriculture is the motivation for the latest suit: after winning in the Klamath Basin, environmental groups have become emboldened, and are now hoping to use the ESA to dramatically change agriculture in the Western United States.

But, the stakes are even higher in the Snake River case. The projects serve producers in three states and 1.6 million acres. That's about eight times the cropland involved in the Klamath Basin case. Clearly, if the Klamath Basin case is a precedent for this Snake River action, the impact on Western agriculture could be monumental, Fretwell stated.

Ken Petty, acting regional director for the BOR's Pacific Northwest Region, says there's probably limited linkage between the facts in this case and the Klamath Basin case. But, they do cite the Klamath Basin case as a precedent.

Petty says the BOR will respond with a letter for the record which will probably cause the environmentalists to modify their complaint. Petty says the modification may stretch the legal window enough to get growers through the irrigation season.

However, Fretwell says if the complainants seek an injunction, it's up to a federal judge to decide whether BOR has complied with the Endangered Species Act. "I would hope a judge would side with us, but judges sometimes do strange things," says Petty.