In August of 2016, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife designated the Elwha River as a Wild Steelhead Gene Bank – a wild steelhead sanctuary free of the threat of manmade hatchery fish. That designation in many respects was the culmination of decades of work to free the Elwha of its dams and restore it to its natural state, so it could once again become a wild fish factory. Unfortunately, that wild steelhead sanctuary still does not exist as a result of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s hatchery.
In 2014, the Wild Steelhead Coalition joined with The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and Wild Fish Conservancy and filed a lawsuit against tribal officials and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service over these violations. Three years later and this issue is still tied up in the courts, but we are getting closer to a resolution.
On March 9th, Brian Knutsen, the lawyer representing the four conservation groups in this lawsuit, presented an oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This case involves a tremendous amount of factual and jurisdictional issues, and Brian’s mastery of the subject matter is truly impressive. Given the complexity of the subject, it will likely be six to twelve month before the court issues its decision.