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LR Press Release
March 3, 2004

LR Press Release: Groups Demand Action to Halt the Extermination of Endangered Species in Grand Canyon

For immediate release

Contact: John Weisheit (435) 259-1063
Cell: (435) 260-2590

Environmentalists Demand Urgent Action to Halt the Extermination of Endangered Species in Grand Canyon National Park.

A coalition of national and international environmental groups blasted the Department of Interior today for ignoring mounting scientific and public policy evidence that a once highly touted federal river management program is failing to halt the continued loss of endangered species in Grand Canyon National Park.

In a ten page letter presented at the semi-annul meeting of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (AMP) in Phoenix, Arizona, the groups charge that despite eight years and $80 million dollars, one more of Grand Canyon's endangered fish species, the razorback sucker, has joined the growing list to become extinct in the Grand Canyon. Another endangered fish species, the humpback chub, has declined to only 1,100 fish from 8,000 in 1993.

"Their job is to comply with the law and to bring these fish back. Instead, they are merely engaged in pseudo-science in an effort to mask the gravity of the situation," says John Weisheit, director of Living Rivers' Colorado Riverkeeper program, which is leading the coalition. "Touting new, unverified fish counts, while ignoring the evidence that regardless of the new numbers, the decline is headed toward zero. This is a huge injustice to our national park system, not to mention the endangered fish."

The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program was established in 1995 following the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement which recommends strategies to mitigate the tremendous impacts of Glen Canyon Dam's operations on the river ecosystem in Grand Canyon National Park.

The letter reveals that these recommendations are often being ignored, and even when adhered to, they are not achieving the intended results.

In the event that endangered fish populations did not increase by 1998, water released from Glen Canyon Dam was supposed to shift toward a regime of at least partially mimicking the river's natural flow. This has not occurred.

* A special set of flow recommendations for low water years was prescribed, but despite five years of drought, these recommendations have been ignored.

* The program has spent much of its resources attempting to conserve Grand Canyon's remaining sediment, as 95 percent of the Canyon's sediment and nutrients have been trapped behind the dam. These efforts have all failed to bring any lasting benefit to fish habitat or stabilization of cultural sites as called for by the EIS.

* Recent attempts to use dam operations to control alien fish predation on endangered native fish have been haphazard and have yet to demonstrate any meaningful results.

"As originally designed, the Adaptive Management Program was an excellent approach to addressing the serious impacts on Grand Canyon from this dam," adds David Haskell, retired Science Center Director for Grand Canyon National Park, who participated in the AMP program since its inception in 1995 and has monitored its progress since his retirement. "However, the 2002 AMP Report to Congress clearly indicated that six years of effort had not produced any beneficial results. Since then, the failure of the AMP to seek more effective methods to meet the goals of the Grand Canyon Protection Act has turned this once successful program into a dismal failure. The science done by this program in the past has been very good, but unless the decision makers involved in the AMP immediately seek to make the needed program adaptations, the serious decline of the river ecosystem in the Grand Canyon will continue."

The groups are calling for immediate changes to the program, beginning with and a new federal Environmental Impact Statement. The National Environmental Protection Act allows for such a study when new information and results reveal that the recommendations from a previous EIS to be inadequate.

"It's critical that a new EIS be completed before the AMP launches into its new scheme for installing a temperature control device on Glen Canyon Dam," says Michelle Harrington with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It was once thought that attempts to bring the Colorado River's water temperature to a level more consistent with native conditions would be a simple proposition. The drought has taught us that disruptions to the food supply for the remaining endangered fish could be further disrupted, besides the fact that much of that food supply is being consumed by the growing number of alien fish. Temperature controls as well as the added impact of drought on management plans must be studied in a comprehensive manner before any such action is taken."

Previously, the AMP program has resisted efforts to undertake a new EIS, in part because Glen Canyon Dam proponents understand that such an EIS will have to explore the possibility of decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam as the best way to comply with the laws protecting the ecosystem in Grand Canyon's river corridor.

"Interior's actions paint a clear picture of disregard for the Grand Canyon Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Park Service Organic Act," adds the Executive Director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, Steve Fleischli. "Why must the public always be forced into the courtroom in order to protect a piece of our famed natural heritage from government malfeasance? That needs to change."

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