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More interference

| June 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Everybody's favorite U.S. District Court judge is again saying that the federal government isn't doing enough to save the endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon.

While there are truly heroic measures being taken to save the sturgeon, that's apparently not in the written recovery plan being considered by federal court Judge Donald Malloy.

Specifically, Malloy is looking at the designated critical habitat identified in the recovery plan for the sturgeon. That's an 11-mile stretch of the river below Bonners Ferry, in the Shorty's Island area.

The problem is that stretch of river is considered the spawning ground for the nearly prehistoric fish despite the fact the bottom is covered with silt from a combination of slower flows in the Kootenai due to Libby Dam and the back wash of the still Kootenay Lake in Canada. Sturgeon eggs are dependant on a rocky bottom with crevices and fissures. The eggs stick to the rocky surface until a larvae hatches and then it has plenty of hiding places to evade predators. Otherwise the sticky eggs gather sand and smother.

At least that what scientists believe.

A couple of years ago the Kootenai tribe and the Idaho Fish and Game began a "set and jet" program. Adult female sturgeon - up to seven feet in length - were caught on a fishing line, hauled aboard and jet-boated to a rockier section of the river above Bonners Ferry closer to Moyie Springs.

There is no conclusive evidence to show it has worked. It's too soon. Essentially, fish biologists are attempting to re-educate the sturgeon and acquaint them with a new section of river for spawning.

This year, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is trying a different variation on that theme by catching the sturgeon - female and male - and bringing them to the tribe hatchery where sperm and eggs are milked and then relocated to that same upriver location.

At the same time, the USGS is looking at the bottom of the river in the Shorty's Island section and considering what work can be done to increase the force of the flow at the bottom of the river. Recommendations are expected later this year.

Given these efforts, and the expense involved plus the release of sturgeon flows from Libby Dam, it's hard to swallow that not enough is being done to save the sturgeon.

It took more than 30 years to get to this point, if Libby Dam is really the culprit or the only culprit is the demise of these unique fish. The other problem is the fish are old. They live long lives and don't reach sexual maturity until about 30 years.

So a solution to the problem isn't going to happen overnight.

And no, these people do not know everything about the sturgeon and much of what they are doing is experimental. If it wasn't we wouldn't be in this mess.

It's premature to designate additional river habitat for the sturgeon. Where do you draw the lines? After all, the sturgeon once were quite popular immediately below Kootenai Falls.

The environmentalists and the courts need to leave the scientists alone and let them save the sturgeon. They have nothing to gain by the disappearance of this fish. Actually none of us do.

Since the sturgeon was listed as endangered in the mid-90's, most efforts to save it through releases from Libby Dam have actually benefited native fish in the Kootenai River. - Roger Morris