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Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
426 F.3d 1082 (2005)
The Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast (SONCC) coho salmon spawns and matures only in the Klamath River. The United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) (defendant) operated a federal irrigation project called the Klamath Project comprising dams and reservoirs in the river basin. The key component that controlled water levels in SONCC-coho habitat was Iron Gate Dam. SONCC coho was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1997. In 1999, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (defendant) issued a biological opinion (BiOp) recommending maintaining higher water levels in the reservoir behind the dam and the main river stem. Maintaining those levels during a severe drought in 2001 meant the BOR could not deliver water to irrigators, causing significant agricultural losses. The NMFS issued a second report recommending a minimum of 1,000 cubic feet per second during late summer to avoid high water temperatures dangerous to the species. When the BOR prepared a long-range biological assessment in 2002, the NMFS determined that the BOR operating the Klamath Project as proposed would jeopardize the coho. NMFS prepared a second BiOp that developed a “reasonable and prudent alternative” (RPA) to replace the BOR’s plan in three phases. Phases I and II would impose short-term measures for eight years that required the BOR to maintain at most 57 percent of the species’ water needs. NMFS did not explain its decision or analyze how the first eight years would affect the SONCC coho, and the BOR initiated interim measures before the BiOp was finalized. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and seven other organizations (plaintiffs) sued and tried unsuccessfully to obtain a temporary restraining order, and 33,000 salmon died in an unexplained fish kill in the Klamath a few months later. Pacific Coast filed an amended complaint, and the district court overturned a significant portion of the RPA but left the short-term measures intact. Pacific Coast appealed, arguing the short-term measures were arbitrary and capricious.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Nelson, J.)
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