Central Oregon

NOAA rule change to aid CO steelhead return

Agency lebels Fish 'experimental'

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., announced Thursday that steelhead in Central Oregon will receive a new federal designation, accelerating steelhead recovery efforts.

The new "experimental" designation allows the community to proceed with its collaborative conservation efforts without risking violations of the Endangered Species Act.

"Our communities in Central Oregon have done great, innovative work to ensure the success of the reintroduction of steelhead in the Deschutes Basin," said Merkley. "Federal red tape shouldn't put that work at risk, and I applaud NOAA for working with us to make this designation happen. 

"Today's decision affirms what we have known all along: that Central Oregon is leading the way in finding solutions that protect fish and habitat, while allowing job creation and recreation to thrive."

"In keeping with the Oregon way, a diverse coalition of constituents joined forces to support the long-term recovery of the steelhead trout in the Deschutes Basin," said Wyden. "Today their work paid off, and NOAA has released a final rule allowing for the reintroduction of steelhead in the basin. This ruling will have a positive impact the environment and surrounding communities, and I'm thrilled NOAA has announced their final decision."

"This is great news, and the culmination of many years of bipartisan work by the delegation. This decision provides a balance between collaborative conservation efforts while protecting the economy and jobs in central Oregon," Walden said.

Thursday's announcement of the forthcoming publication of this designation in the Federal Register officially makes reintroduced steelhead in the waters of Central Oregon a "non-essential, experimental" population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.

This designation lasts for 12 years and will ensure that water is legally able to be released from dams to irrigate local farms.

It also allows for certain "takes" of steelhead, ensuring that recreational fishers don't accidentally run afoul of the Endangered Species Act. Today's designation for Central Oregon could possibly serve as a future model for other areas of the West that are reintroducing steelhead and other fish.

Hatchery steelhead were recently reintroduced into the rivers above the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric dams after steelhead had been gone from the river for more than 40 years.

Further information on the designation is available on NOAA's website here.

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