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Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Alleging St. Mary Diversion Dam Harms Bull Trout

Bull trout swims in British Columbia’s Wigwam River drainage in this 2009 photo.
Joel Sartore/ National Geographic & Wade Fredenberg/ USFWS
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Bull trout swims in British Columbia’s Wigwam River drainage in this 2009 photo.

A federal magistrate judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that alleged an irrigation project in northwest Montana harms threatened bull trout.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued the Bureau in March, alleging the Bureau was violating the Endangered Species Act in its operation and management of the St. Mary Diversion Dam and Canal of the Milk River Irrigation Project located east of Glacier National Park.

The Alliance said the project kills hundreds of bull trout each year without a required incidental take exemption from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

FWS issued a biological opinion and incidental take statement on Sept. 4 that determined the St. Mary Dam and Canal would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the bull trout population.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto dismissed the suit in October, saying FWS’s incidental take statement offered the relief the Alliance sought.

Reclamation’s Montana Area Manager Steve Davies says Reclamation installed adult fish screens to prevent bull trout deaths at the St. Mary Diversion Dam in October while the system was offline to repair a collapsed drop.

Water was shut off for the season at the St. Mary Dam and Canal on Oct. 31. Davies says Reclamation last week conducted a salvage operation for any bull trout that may still be in the canal.

He said Reclamation was working in collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Blackfeet Tribe and the Milk River Project to minimize harm to the bull trout for the future.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Mike Garrity said the Alliance is satisfied with Reclamation’s response.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.