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BOISE — A federal judge ruled in favor of the Idaho Conservation League on June 17 in a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service on water diversions in the Sawtooth Valley that may harm protected salmon, steelhead and bull trout. The decision will provide greater protections for Idaho’s native fish, which are threatened with extinction.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill heard arguments earlier this month on the suit filed in January 2018. ICL sued over the Forest Service’s failure to protect these fish from impacts associated with 20 water diversions in the Sawtooth Valley. ICL argued the diversions adversely affect native fish species, which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Advocates for the West represented ICL.

These diversions are structures that remove water from the upper Salmon River and its tributaries in the national forest. For example, many of the ditches that deliver the water are a century old and unlined, resulting in unnecessary loss of water for both fish and water users.

Salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Sawtooth Valley swim farther and climb higher than any populations that remain on the planet.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision and look forward to working with the Forest Service to find a solution,” Justin Hayes, ICL’s executive director, said. “Idaho’s salmon, steelhead and native trout are a priceless and irreplaceable resource. The Forest Service now needs to complete consultations with other agencies to make sure these water diversions do no harm to Idaho’s endangered fish. This creates a huge opportunity to come together and find a solution for fish and irrigators — we hope that all parties will come together to find win-win solutions.”

He added, “There are ways to update these diversions and ditches so Idaho’s endangered fish can stay in the river where they belong and that the fish and water users get the water that each need.”

The Idaho Conservation League works to save Idaho’s salmon and steelhead. Idaho’s iconic fish populations are spiraling toward extinction despite the hard work of many local communities. If Idaho loses salmon and steelhead, not only will these species perish but an integral part of Idaho’s history, culture, economy and outdoors life will also disappear. Bold action is needed now to develop solutions together that will keep communities whole.

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