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For Immediate Release: Sep 17, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FEMA HAMPERING PUGET SOUND SALMON RECOVERY EFFORTS

Federal Flood Insurance Program Violates Endangered Species Act


SEATTLE, Wash.--The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has violated federal laws that protect imperiled salmon in Puget Sound, according to a complaint filed today in federal district court by National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"FEMA's flood insurance program promotes sprawl in Puget Sound's disappearing floodplains," said NWF attorney Jan Hasselman. "FEMA needs to make sure that it's not undermining efforts to recover salmon by helping developers turn these sensitive areas into strip malls and subdivisions."

Floodplains are critically important habitat areas for salmon and steelhead. In Puget Sound sprawling development in floodplains and other sensitive areas has been an important cause of collapsing salmon runs. Chinook salmon in Puget Sound have declined to the point where they are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Under a law passed decades ago, FEMA provides flood insurance for structures in floodplain areas. Such flood insurance is generally unavailable on the private market. Some planners believe that FEMA's flood insurance encourages development in floodplains, when it may make more sense to restrict development and protect these areas to retain natural functions.

"The law requires agencies like FEMA to scrutinize their programs for impacts to species protected under the Endangered Species Act, " said Lea Mitchell, Washington state director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "Our goal is to hold FEMA accountable to their Endangered Species Act responsibilities and ensure their actions don't undermine salmon recovery efforts."

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Read the complaint