Latest: Dam on Yellowstone River moves ahead

The effects on the pallid sturgeon remain uncertain.

  • Pallid sturgeon

    Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS

Pallid sturgeon, declared endangered in 1990, can live for decades and reach 5 feet in length. Fewer than 125 are left in the Upper Missouri River Basin; they’re believed to be genetically distinct and key to the species’ survival. Their reproduction is hampered by dams, though, and in 2015, environmental groups sued to demolish one on the Yellowstone River that blocks 165 miles of crucial spawning habitat (“Can pallid sturgeon hang on in the overworked Missouri River?HCN, 9/17/12). Federal agencies proposed building a new dam with a fish bypass channel as a compromise, but a U.S. district court judge blocked the project in 2015, pending review of the bypass channel’s efficacy.

In April, the judge allowed the $57 million dam to proceed. However, the environmental review acknowledges that “there is no evidence” that sufficient numbers of sturgeon will use the bypass, leaving the fate of the prehistoric fish in limbo.

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