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Walden: Feds Clear Way for Steelhead Return


Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Wednesday he has helped secure a decision that will further assist conservation efforts in the Deschutes Basin aimed at improving habitat for steelhead reintroduced above Pelton-Round Butte Dam.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a proposed decision to list hatchery steelhead reintroduced into the Deschutes River and its tributaries as a ?nonessential, experimental? population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act ? for a period of about 12 years.

?This Section 10j designation will ensure that locally supported conservation projects will continue in the region as the steelhead species are reestablished in the Deschutes River and its tributaries for the first time in nearly 40 years,? Walden said.

?The decision, when finalized, will provide clear legal assurances to cities, counties, irrigation districts and others in Central Oregon that their lawful use of water will not be at risk by the ESA,” he added. “The decision will protect Central Oregon communities and their economy, as well as accelerating steelhead recovery efforts.?

The designation has been previously used as a means to responsibly promote the reintroduction of federally protected species, and is currently under review on Oregon?s Clackamas River.

Walden led the effort to urge the administration to use the 10j designation. During a breakfast meeting attended by Oregon?s full congressional delegation in March 2010, Walden encouraged his colleagues to join onto a letter to Jane Lubchenco, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator.

All agreed ? signatories included Reps. Walden, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, David Wu, and Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. The letter is attached.

The letter urged the administration to support a Section 10(j) classification for the steelhead, which would allow area conservation projects, the city of Prineville?s multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan, and steelhead reintroduction to proceed without the threat of counter-productive litigation that would disrupt restoration projects and economic development.

?The restoration efforts in the Deschutes Basin are a model for locally organized projects that benefit fish, farmers, and the local economy at the same time,? Walden said. ?This unique designation will play a very helpful role in speeding along species and habitat restoration and promote the central Oregon economy and hopefully spark job creation. The administration took a responsible step in acknowledging our bipartisan request to exercise this commonsense provision of the Endangered Species Act.?

The lawmakers? efforts were strongly supported by the Central Oregon Cities Organization, which represents Bend, Culver, La Pine, Madras, Maupin, Metolius, Prineville, Redmond,and Sisters.

Portland General Electric Co., the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, the Deschutes River Conservancy, seven irrigation districts, and the cities of central Oregon have all been involved in the extraordinary local restoration efforts in the Deschutes Basin.

Since 2005, more than 25 large-scale water conservation and restoration projects have been initiated in the basin to improve steelhead and other fisheries habitat. The measures are designed to sustain agricultural productivity, reduce diversions and increase in-stream flows in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.

?As the chair of the Central Oregon Cities Organization that represents the communities impacted by the reintroduction of steelhead in the Deschutes River, I am pleased that the Administration answered Rep. Walden?s call to provide the 10(j) designation,? said Redmond Mayor George Endicott, chair of the Central Oregon Cities Organization.

?The designation protects Central Oregon?s economy and promotes the reintroduction of steelhead while mitigating any adverse impacts on the species while the communities are able to study potential impacts and develop plans to mitigate those impacts.?

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