FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 27, 2008
USGS Science Ignored by Federal Officials – Missouri River Spring Rise Proceeds
HIGBEE, MO – Missouri River stakeholders were outraged with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) decision to release a man-made spring rise at midnight on March 26 despite United States Geological Survey (USGS) research that indicates that modified flows are not needed from Gavins Point Dam to cue spawning of the endangered pallid sturgeon.
“Missouri River science is in a ‘black hole’,” stated Randy Asbury, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River. “The federal agencies demand that river decisions be made based ‘on the best available science’ unless that science is contrary to their plans.”
For those genuinely interested in pallid sturgeon recovery, new scientific research is exciting. New science shows that pallid sturgeons tracked by biologists have successfully spawned absent a Gavins Point Dam spring rise release and that they are protracted spawners, spawning over a several month period which suggests that spawning is not triggered by any one event.
In addition, shovelnose sturgeons have been used as a surrogate species for pallid sturgeon research. Over seventy percent of the shovelnose sturgeons that were tracked successfully by biologists spawned without a spring rise from Gavins Point Dam.
Moreover, substantial numbers of pallid sturgeon have been captured in the Missouri River over the past few years. It is estimated that thousands of pallid sturgeon exist in the Missouri and Lower Mississippi Rivers. This information calls into question a foundational premise of the Biological Opinion that species’ extirpation is imminent.
For those with an agenda that goes beyond the recovery of the pallid sturgeon, new science can pose a problem. One might conclude that the Missouri River Basin has become a “cash cow” for federal agencies.
When one has continually tapped into a $50-$85 million annual appropriation – as has been the mitigation and recovery appropriations level in the Basin for the past several years – funding can become addictive. No addict likes the effects of withdrawal.
A Corps’ biologist with substantial recovery responsibility recently stated that a $35 million appropriation level for fiscal year 2009 would “almost shut down” Missouri River mitigation and recovery efforts.
According to the same biologist, the minimum funding level necessary for Biological Opinion compliance is now $70 million.
Missouri River recovery is big business and business is good. At the current spending levels, it is estimated that $1.5-2.6 billion could be spent over the next 30 years on mitigation and recovery efforts in the Basin.
In addition, federal agencies cannot accurately speculate on the operations and maintenance budget needed to maintain the massive one-time expenditures for projects that are ongoing.
“There is no lack of money or agendas in the Basin,” stated Asbury. “Unfortunately, there is a shortage of scientific research that is being incorporated into the adaptive management process that could overturn misguided management decisions such as was made with this recent spring rise release.
“We are grateful for today’s decision by the Corps’ to eliminate the spring rise below Kansas City. It will lessen the flood risk for the Lower Basin. The next step would be to eliminate the spring rise altogether to align with the new USGS science regarding no need for modified flows for purposes of a spawning cue.”