The Roundup -

Pallid Sturgeon, Endangered?


Terry Murphy, a Richland County Compliance Officer since 2012, has some interesting theories when it comes to the Pallid sturgeon.

Murphy spends two weeks on in Sidney, MT as the Richland County Compliance Officer and two weeks off at home in St. Ignatius, MT, and enjoys the many recreational opportunities that Eastern Montana has to offer. One of these activities is fishing in the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River. This past year, Murphy has been able to catch two pallid sturgeons. The first sturgeon was caught by Snowden Bridge (Missouri River) in July, and right away he knew the fish was different. He knew from the size and the front barbels by the nose that it was indeed a pallid sturgeon. The second fish was caught in September south of Sidney at Seven Sisters. This fish was much smaller than the first, and is the one you see pictured, but he knew it was a pallid sturgeon from the barbels. After two frequent catches, Murphy found himself thinking, “Wait, aren’t these on the endangered species list? Why am I seeing these fish around so often, if they are supposed to be endangered?” Having an animal science degree, being a former president of the Montana Stock Growers Association, and being behind the scenes during the wolf and grizzly bear endangered species acts, he had a few theories to add to the LYIP (Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project) in relation to pallid sturgeon.

One of the biggest relations is money. Murphy asked the question, “Is it really about the pallid sturgeon, or is about money?” With his experience with Defenders of Wildlife, Murphy has seen that Endangered Species has more do with money than the actual animal. He also begs the question, “Have the environmentalists received any local support, or is it just out of pocket donations from other areas of the country? Just how much money will the environmentalists receive if they get what they want by taking out the weir?”

In his recent catchings of the sturgeon, Murphy wonders how many other people have had encounters with the fish. “Do people check their catch, or do they see a sturgeon and just let it go? I think with the happenings with the LYIP, people should start documenting what they catch, and taking pictures to let the public think, ‘just how endangered is this species?’” No one wants to see the pallid sturgeon get hurt, but should we really destroy the whole economy over a fish?

A theory that was brought up by Murphy was, “If the environmentalists are all about saving the species, why are they not spending a few million on hatcheries instead? There are already about 15,000 pallid sturgeon in hatcheries, but I guess that’s not enough. Which shows me that taking out the Intake Dam is not all about saving the species. But instead, its about just how much money the environmentalists can get.” Another theory was, “Yellowstone River is considered to be one of the only rivers without a dam, but because of the small weir, technically it isn’t. I feel environmentalists want to see it go only so the river can keep its title of being a damless river.”

Murphy goes on to say, “We do need to protect the LYIP. Have the environmentalists even looked at the amazing habitats it has created? The agriculture industry that uses the dam has created beautiful habitats for deer and pheasants, and they want to take those away, too? You can’t destroy a whole other economy for a fish.”

“Animals can’t read biology books,” says Muphy. “They don’t know what they are supposed to do. It is up to mother nature to decide what happens to the fish, not environmentalists.”

Many other people who live next to the Yellowstone River have been seeing the pallid sturgeon as well. There have been reports in Culbertson, MT of the sturgeon swimming right up to the shore and even being caught one after the other.

When it comes to the possible aftermath of taking out the Intake Dam and irrigation rights, it can be compared to what happened in Klamath Falls, Oregon in 2001. In 2001, a panel of scientists and environmentalists concluded that further diversion for agriculture would be destructive for the lost sucker and shortnose sucker in the Klamath River. Over 18,000 farmers, ranchers, citizens, and politicians protested against the loss of irrigation but lost. Later in 2002, because of the public uproar, farmers were given back their irrigation but the results of the loss were still disastrous. Low river flows in the Klamath and even the Trinity Rivers, with the added high temperatures, led to a mass die-off of over 33,000 salmon in 2002. This in-turn had practically shut down the fishing industry in the region and caused over $60 million in disaster aid given to fishermen for their losses. In the end, it was later said in 2003 by National Academy of Sciences that limiting irrigation water did little if anything to help endangered fish and may have hurt the populations.

“No one wants to hurt the fish, but no one wants to hurt the economy,” said Murphy. “The Intake Dam has only added good things to the community, why take that away and destroy a society to fill another person’s pocket?”

The question to ask next is, “What is the motivation behind Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council for wanting to take out the Intake Dam?”

Note: This article is based on Terry Murphy’s opinions and experiences with Endangered Species Acts. These words were made public to share the positive affects of the LYIP and the fact the sturgeon are still in good numbers.


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