Salmon River Navigability

Salmon River Navigability

Current Status:

Case Title:
Salmon River Navigability challenge by Idaho Conservation League

Staff attorney(s):
Bryan Hurlbutt


Idaho Conservation League

To Protect:

Water, Wildlife


Case Information:

In January 2014, Advocates for the West’s Staff Attorney Bryan Hurlbutt filed a petition on behalf of the Idaho Conservation League asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revisit its determination from the 1930′s that Idaho’s Salmon River is not navigable. Because of this flawed determination, the Salmon River and endangered fish species are not receiving important regulatory protections.

The Salmon River (or River of No Return) is one of the longest un-dammed rivers in the lower 48 states and passes through the deepest gorge in North America. The Salmon River flows from the high mountains of central Idaho for 425 miles and drops over 7,000 vertical feet to where it empties into the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border.

The Salmon River and its tributaries contain critically important habitat for Chinook salmon, sockeye salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, each of which is listed as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

For 8,000 years, Native Americans lived along the Salmon River, which served as a rich source of food, including abundant salmon and wildlife. And since at least 1890, when Idaho became a state, the river has been used as a thoroughfare for commerce, including transporting logs, whiskey, and other freight downriver. Today, the Salmon River still flows freely and is one of the premier recreational kayaking and rafting rivers in the world.

Despite the significance of the Salmon River to fisheries and recreation, mining projects and other harmful activities have been taking place in the river. But because of the Corps’ determination that the river is non-navigable, these instream projects are taking place without review of their adverse impacts to navigation or endangered species.

In response to our petition, the Corps has decided to revisit its determination and has instructed the local District Engineer to prepare a recommendation on whether the Salmon River is navigable by the end of 2014.

Case Filings