Rivers are endangered, group says

Alaska's Copper River on American Rivers danger list

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

WASHINGTON - The environmental group American Rivers named a dozen rivers as the nation's most endangered in a series of news conferences around the nation today.

That includes the Copper River in Alaska, which the organization said was threatened by a proposed logging road that would endanger salmon runs, birds, brown bears and other wildlife.

Chugach Alaska Corp. has been granted a right-of-way to build the 55-mile logging road to access its 8,000-acre inholding 30 miles east of the Copper River.

``Roads can have a devastating impact on river ecosystems,'' Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, said in a prepared statement. ``This road would cut through one of North America's most pristine wildernesses and jeopardize the world-famous Copper River salmon.''

Officials with Chugach Alaska Corp. were not immediately available for comment.

Freshwater species in North America's rivers are disappearing as swiftly as those in tropical rainforests because of decades of dam building, the digging of navigation channels and construction of floodwalls and levees, American Rivers said.

American Rivers last month announced its No. 1 most endangered, the Snake River in Washington state.

Dams have an impact on four of the top five rivers on this year's list. The Snake's designation was based on four dams built in the 1970s that have brought salmon runs to the brink of extinction.

The plight of three species along the Missouri prompted American Rivers and another group, Environmental Defense, to announce plans last month to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over dam operations and channelization.

The species are two endangered shorebirds, the least tern and piping plover, and the pallid sturgeon, an ancient shark-shaped fish with an armor-like shell.

``America's native fish are homeless in most parts of the country,'' said Rebecca Wodder, American Rivers' president.

``We have straightened the curves, blocked the flows and hardened the banks of thousands of miles of waterways, wiping out habitat and making it difficult for our nation's rivers to support native fish and wildlife,'' she said.

The other dam-threatened rivers, the group said, were the Ventura River in California and Tri-State River Basins of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

David Tuft, spokesman for the National Hydropower Association in Washington, D.C., faulted American Rivers for oversimplifying the issue.

``This is a complicated, difficult problem that's facing the region,'' he said.

Along the Missouri, the corps in recent weeks delayed implementation of its new river management plan, citing concerns about the same endangered species.

The plan for controlling the flow of the 2,500-mile waterway was to have taken effect this month, but the corps announced Thursday it has been postponed until the fall.

Paul Johnston, a corps spokesman in Omaha, Neb., said recently the agency will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about restoring endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the Missouri River management proposal would threaten those species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said the key problem has been the corps' leveling of flows, eliminating high water during the spring and supplementing naturally reduced flows each summer.

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