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Bill Seeks to Remove Fish and Wildlife from Missouri River Management


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Federally endangered interior least terns (Sterna antillarum) nest on a floodplain road. (Credit: USFWS)

Federally endangered interior least terns (Sterna antillarum) nest on a floodplain road. (Credit: USFWS)

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives last month (HR 1460) seeks to remove fish and wildlife from the list of eight congressionally mandated management purposes along the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System. The bill, sponsored by Congressmen Graves (R-MO), Hartzler (R-MO), Luetkemeyer (R-MO), and Long (R-MO), would revise the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Water Control Manual and any related regulations by deleting fish and wildlife as an authorized purpose of the Army Corp of Engineers. The additional seven priorities include flood control, navigation, hydropower, water supply, water quality, irrigation, and recreation.   

The development of the reservoir system along the Missouri River has dramatically changed the natural habitat in eastern Montana and the Dakotas from alluvial streams to a system of long and relatively deep reservoirs, negatively impacting native fish, wildlife, and plant species. As a result, fish and wildlife were added to the list of management purposes along the reservoir system in the upper Missouri River Basin (Fort Peck, Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Ft. Randall, and Gavins Point Reservoirs in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota). Specifically, the Army Corp of Engineers has been managing for the endangered interior least tern and the threatened piping plover since 1986 and the endangered pallid sturgeon since 2006.Current management activities include recreating several acres of shallow water habitat along the river and bimodal spring pulse water releases from Gavins Point Dam. 

Release of a pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus alba) in North Dakota. (Credit: USFWS)

Release of a pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus alba) in North Dakota. (Credit: USFWS)

The bill’s sponsors say that while preserving wildlife habitat is important, it should not take precedence over the lives and activities of farmers, businesses, and residents on or near the river and believe their bill will help reduce the likelihood of future flooding. Many believe that the bill was introduced in response to the 2011 flood event in the Missouri River Basin that caused extensive damage to farms, businesses, and private property. In the 2011 Flood Event Analysis of Missouri River Mainstem Flood Control Storage, the Army Corp of Engineers said that the record runoff and resulting floods were the direct result of historic rainfall and heavy plains and mountain snow pack. Runoff for 2011 was more than 20% greater than the system was designed to handle. However, the report says that increasing runoff storage of the system would only have had a minimal impact as all of the water would have to be released downstream prior to the following year’s rain and snowmelt and may negatively impact other priorities such as navigation and recreation.

HR 1460 has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.    

Sources: Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Water Control Manual (March 2006), 2011 Flood Event Analysis of Missouri River Mainstem Flood Control Storage (April 2012), Missoulian (April 13, 2013), HR 1460 (April 10, 2013).



View the full article from The Wildlife Society's Wildlife Policy News
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