Authorities offer reward in illegal diversion of river
Investigators have suspects but need evidence in the destruction of salmon habitat.
By Lukas Velush
An investigation into who bulldozed a quarter mile of the Sauk River near Darrington early last year has stalled, prompting authorities to offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who can help them solve what they said is one of the worst cases of illegal river diversion that they've ever seen.
Someone used a bulldozer and an excavator in January 2004 to dig out a large channel in the river, said Capt. Bill Hebner, a law enforcement officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The bulldozing was reported Feb. 26, 2004, when the two pieces of heavy moving equipment were still at the site.
The bid to divert the river failed, but dozens of actively used chinook salmon nesting areas were destroyed just as the river's next generation of fish were about to emerge from their eggs.
"It couldn't have happened at a worse time," Hebner said.
Investigators have a list of suspects but don't have enough evidence to file charges.
"I'm still optimistic that we'll be able to bring this to a successful resolution," Hebner said. "We have some good leads. We have some suspects. We need evidence."
Whoever is responsible violated county, state and federal laws.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries office is offering the $5,000 reward to try to get the case moving, said Mark Oswell, a spokesman for the agency. "It's not one of those habitats that you can easily re-create," he said.
Chinook salmon are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The damaged section of stream is considered rearing habitat for several other species of salmon. Steelhead trout also use it.
It's against state law to dig in any river without a permit. The section of Sauk River where the damage occurred is about two miles north of Darrington. It occurred where the river starts to spread out in a braided network of channels.
A few people own property along the river, but none has a home right along that section of river. Hebner say it appears that the river was diverted to stop it from eating away at someone's property.
The area is partially surrounded by 115 acres that Seattle City Light bought in 2002 for $475,000 to protect spawning habitat for chinook and bull trout, also a protected species, and for pink, chum and coho salmon and steelhead.
Anyone with information that might help the investigation is asked to call 800-853-1964 or 206-526-6133.
Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@ heraldnet.com.
Anyone with information that might help investigators prosecute those responsible for bulldozing a section of the Sauk River in January 2004 are asked to call 800-853-1964 or 206-526-6133.
THE NEWER CHIEF of E.P.
Real Steelhead Don't Eat Pellets!!
They know who did it but now can't prove it. This sucks. Good luck getting anyone up there to snitch on their neighbor. I hope the money is enough to get someone to come forward.
Cross your fingers.
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