Simpson concedes that he was "a bit naive" when, in 1997, he began
clearing debris and beaver dams out of what he believed was an old
side channel of the Salmon River on his central Idaho ranch.
Bothered by the mosquito-infested swamps created by the dams,
Simpson wanted to restore water flow that he says had been present
since he bought the ranch in the mid-1980s.
Army Corps of Engineers saw things differently. Later that same
year, it determined that Simpson violated the Clean Water Act when
he degraded an adjacent wetland while digging the channel. The
Corps ordered him to fill in the channel, but Simpson refused,
believing he had obtained verbal permission from the Idaho
Department of Fish and Game. "I had never encountered a situation
where cleaning up trash was bad," he says.
Environmental Protection Agency is now taking Simpson to federal
court. But last fall, the plot thickened when endangered chinook
salmon spawned in the lower reaches of Simpson's illegal channel.
With salmon fry darting to and fro, closing off the channel could
constitute a taking of a listed species, and perhaps destroy what
Idaho Fish and Game regional fisheries manager Mike Larkin believes
to be "some pretty good
Environmentalists are sticking with the
federal agencies: "The fact that private parties think they can go
out and do what they want is the real issue," says Laird Lucas,
senior council for the Land and Water Fund. Lucas thinks that
allowing the channel to remain would set a bad precedent in the
upper Salmon River Basin, an area already plagued with illegal
If the court orders the
channel to be filled in, the National Marine Fisheries Service says
it will work with the EPA to time the restoration so it would harm
the fewest fish.