558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
NOAA changes steelhead protection rules
Steelhead are now considered non-essential experimental, which protects affected landowners from penalties
January 14, 2013
After a longer-than-expected wait, the City of Prineville was finally granted protection in the event that they accidently harm recently-reintroduced steelhead in Crooked River.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has designated the steelhead reintroduced to Central Oregon waters as a “non-essential, experimental” population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.
We are really, really excited about it,” said Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe, “and we believe the administration is to be commended for fulfilling a commitment to Central Oregon.”
In 2007, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required the reintroduction of steelhead into Crooked River below Pelton Dam as part of the renewal of a 50-year hydroelectric project license for Portland General Electric (PGE).
Because the species is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the City and other Central Oregon entities could face a fine of up to $10,000 per fish they harm. The 10(j) designation protects them from those penalties for 12 years.
The announcement drew praise from each of Crook County’s representatives in Congress who have pushed for the designation.
“Our communities in Central Oregon have done great, innovative work to ensure the success of the reintroduction of steelhead in the Deschutes Basin,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “Federal red tape shouldn’t put that work at risk and I applaud NOAA for working with us to make this designation happen.”
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) added the ruling will have a positive impact on the environment and surrounding communities. “I’m thrilled NOAA has announced their final decision.”
Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) applauded the bipartisan work by the Central Oregon delegation and noted that the decision “provides a balance between collaborative conservation efforts while protecting the economy and jobs in Central Oregon.”
Roppe said that the designation provides protection for a host of people including cities, counties, farmers and ranchers, irrigation districts, timber operators, fishing and whitewater rafting guides, and more.
“It will enable collaborative efforts that define this region to thrive, create new opportunities for job creation and investment, and enhance recreational opportunities,” she added.
The 12-year 10(j) designation serves as a bridge that protects the City as they continue development of their Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). City staff began working on the plan in 2007, and expected it to take up to 10 years to finish. Once completed, it will provide the same protection as the 10(j) designation — but for 50 years.
“The reason we chose to become a participant (in the HCP) is because we have more contact with the river,” Roppe said of the City, “and so we felt that we are at a higher risk.”
While seeking the new designation and eventual HCP plan, the City and other Central Oregon entities have stepped up water conservation efforts to help improve fish habitat. Roppe said that irrigation district-led conservation projects have reduced agricultural diversions by more than 200,000 acre-feet of water annually. Recent projects have also resulted in a return of 91.5 cubic feet of water per second of water in stream.
“We are going through a historical change right now in Central Oregon,” Roppe said of the steelhead reintroduction, “and this is something that (the 10(j) designation) is really going to help us get through that change.”