By Oregon Farm Bureau,
Central Oregon farmers and irrigation mired in the spotted frog issue twice had reason to celebrate in recent weeks.
On March 22, the Federal Judge Ann Aiken denied WaterWatch of Oregon and the Center for Biological Diversity’s preliminary motion to restrict irrigation flows in their Endangered Species Act (ESA) case regarding the spotted frog.
And on April 7, Judge Aiken denied the environmental groups’ request to delay issuing a formal opinion on her March 22 ruling. The parties have now been directed to schedule settlement discussions with Magistrate Judge Coffin.
“These are very important recognitions of the years of collaboration and hard work by irrigators, tribes, and other stakeholders in developing a holistic Habitat Conservation Plan for the basin,” said OFB Public Policy Counsel Mary Anne Nash. “We thank the many farmers who showed up in court in Eugene that day to support Central Oregon irrigators.”
The March 22 ruling means that water deliveries for farmers will occur as scheduled for the upcoming season. However, the underlying claims in the lawsuit are still pending.
A little background on the case: In 2014, the Oregon spotted frog was listed as “threatened” under the ESA. Last winter, WaterWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the North Unit Irrigation District, Central Oregon Irrigation District, and Tumalo Irrigation District — along with the Bureau of Reclamation — alleging that the management of irrigation reservoirs in the upper Deschutes is harming the frog.
Earlier this spring, the groups asked the court to decrease water deliveries to irrigators in the basin and maintain increased flows while their lawsuit was ongoing.
This shutdown would have devastated local farmers and their irrigation districts, who had already been working with WaterWatch and other stakeholders to develop a multispecies approach to water management. The goal was to create a plan that benefits not only frogs and salmon, but also farmers.
Jefferson County Farm Bureau has worked hard on the spotted frog issue from the start, organizing tours of farms and irrigation districts for lawmakers, environmentalists, and the media; meeting with state and federal legislators; giving media interviews; and coordinating volunteers to write letters to the editor and comments for the lawsuit.
Jefferson County Farm Bureau’s Kevin Richards was one member who submitted comments on the case. “Irrigation districts throughout Central Oregon have been working tirelessly for over a decade to bring diverse stakeholders together and find a collaborative solution that improves the ecology of the Deschutes Basin while preserving the social and economic value of water to family farms and our communities,” he wrote.
“The most significant of these efforts is the comprehensive, science-based Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan aimed at identifying and implementing water conservation and habitat restoration projects that would help protect the Oregon spotted frog and fish species. The lawsuits are stalling this effort, diverting resources away from meaningful progress and disrupting the trust necessary to pursue a consensus-based solution,” wrote Richards.
Thankfully for irrigators, the federal court agreed that a drastic alteration in water flow management is not appropriate for this irrigation season.
“I hope that these environmental groups realize the eyes of Oregon’s agricultural community are on them right now,” said Nash. “How they approach this case will impact whether many producers around the state continue to believe in collaborative approaches to conservation — or whether farmers become concerned that environmental groups would only use that information against them in litigation down the road.”
For more background on the issue, check out OFB’s spotted frog page at http://oregonfb.org/spotted-frog/.
Story by Oregon Farm Bureau
Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.