National Marine Fisheries Service Re-initiates Consultation Over Proposed Bike Park’s Impacts on Steelhead

Crag has successfully pushed the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) to take a closer look at the aquatic impacts of the proposed Timberline Bike Park.  NMFS is the federal agency responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Endangered Species Act with respect to marine and anadromous species—those that spend the majority of their life in the ocean, but which return to their birth stream for breeding.  Because NMFS determined that the Project may affect listed Lower Columbia River steelhead, it consulted with the United States Forest Service on potential impacts before that agency approved the Project.  Now, after Crag amended its lawsuit to include NMFS as a defendant, alleging various claims under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS has retracted its initial consultation signing off on the Project, and plans to study potential impacts in greater depth.

Culvert Choked With Sediment — Still Creek tributary

The construction and operation of 17 miles of mountain bike trails will deposit significant amounts of sediment into cold-water creeks providing critical habitat for steelhead. High levels of sediment can disrupt salmonid respiratory structures, delay migration, and impair feeding behaviors.  Increased sediment also can adversely affect spawning and incubation.  Despite these known impacts, NFMS decided to undertake only a cursory review of Project effects, and rubber-stamped the Forest Service’s ultimate approval of the Project.

In late 2012, the Forest Service, with the sign-off from NMFS, issued a permit for the Project.  On behalf of Friends of Mt. Hood, Bark, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and the Sierra Club, Crag filed suit over the inadequacies of the Forest Service’s environmental review.  After extensively reviewing the record prepared by the agency, Crag determined that NMFS’s review under the Endangered Species Act also was inadequate, and notified the agency of its intent to file suit.  Crag then amended the complaint to bring claims against NMFS.

Now, NMFS is poised to take a closer look.  The agency plans to conduct a more thorough review, and prepare a full Biological Opinion—a document that describes in detail the effects of a project on listed species.  NMFS specifically acknowledged that a project of this scope calls for more detailed review.  Our clients are pleased with this new direction, and look forward to continued dialogue about the true effects of the Project on critical steelhead habitat, as well as on fragile alpine soils and habitat for the Western bumblebee.