Tribe threatens lawsuit to speed Skagit estuary restoration

September 10, 2021 GMT

LA CONNER, Wash. (AP) — The Swinomish Tribe is threatening to sue the federal government to speed up estuary restoration — and salmon preservation — on the Skagit River delta.

Much of the estuary has been drained and closed off with tide gates to facilitate agriculture, but such habitat is crucial for juvenile salmon.

The tribe says that under an agreement reached in 2010 — following a prior lawsuit — the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t supposed to grant construction permits to dike districts for work on the tide gates unless they first restore estuary habitat.

But for the past five years, the Corps has been doing just that, the tribe says. During that time, at least 660 acres should have been restored.

The restoration efforts are now behind the agreement’s schedule, which calls for restoring 2,700 acres by 2035. At the current pace, it will take a century to complete that, tribal scientists say.

The tribe notified the Army Corps this week that it intends to sue within 60 days, saying the agency has allowed the dike districts to violate the Endangered Species Act. Skagit River Chinook salmon are protected under the law.

The Army Corps and NOAA Fisheries said they are reviewing the tribe’s claims.

“We are gravely concerned about the current state of the Skagit River estuary, which is critical for Chinook recovery in the Puget Sound,” Swinomish Tribal Chairman Steve Edwards said in a news release. “There are tribal members that can’t feed their families because our salmon are hurting and can’t recover without more estuary habitat.”

NOAA Fisheries has identified degraded estuary habitat as one of the main threats to Skagit River Chinook, which are a primary food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas.