Mountain-Prairie Region

Missouri River News and Information

Guest Commentary
Charles Scott
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Field Supervisor
Columbia, Missouri

Recently, there have been unsubstantiated statements that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceís proposed changes to the Missouri River are not based on sound science and will not help endangered and threatened species.

The recommendations in the Serviceís biological opinion to minimize the effects of current river operations on the pallid sturgeon, least tern, and piping plover are based on the best available scientific information. They are similar to recommendations from the Missouri River Natural Resource Committee, an organization of state fish and wildlife officials from the Missouri River basin, and incorporate information received from Missouri River basin states, Tribes, and others. The biological opinion is based on the most recent developments in big river ecology, including life history requirements of big river species, like the pallid sturgeon, that require variable river levels to meet their basic life needs.

Some have criticized the Service for going too far with its recommendations; others say we have not gone far enough. Based on the best available scientific information, we believe these actions will prevent the extinction of the pallid sturgeon, least tern, and piping plover. Considering other uses of the river and the adaptability of our recommendations, we believe these changes are both reasonable and balanced.

Missouri River scientists and resource managers agree the river is in trouble. All acknowledge there is a problem - the disagreement is about the solution. Change is the most difficult part of restoring some of the Missouri Riverís biological integrity. Revising 50 years of flow management will not come easily. We must realistically balance costs and benefits. Minor tradeoffs in some uses may be necessary to restore some of the environmental benefits of the river. Opponents defend the status quo approach to management. But status quo will not remedy the situation that led to the listing of endangered species and the demise of a healthy river.

Involved Federal agencies and states must look at the river from a basinwide perspective. This broader view of the problems allows a greater possibility of options and solutions, but it also opens agencies to criticism from those holding limited views of the river.

The Service has been criticized for its insistence that hydrological restoration be part of the solution instead of placing more emphasis on habitat restoration. These critics wrongly believe that habitat restoration is all that is needed to prevent the extinction of the Missouri Riverís endangered species. True, habitat restoration is an integral component of the biological opinion as reflected by the recommendation to restore approximately 20 percent of the lost aquatic habitat. However, impoundment and regulation of the Missouri River flows for multiple (and often conflicting) purposes has left little semblance of natural flows, so habitat restoration alone will not sustain endangered wildlife.

We are committed to working with the citizens of the basin to understand these issues and implement the changes necessary to restore the Missouri River to its full economic and environmental potential.

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