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Bush to Lower Salmon Status

by Elizabeth Shogren, Los Angeles Times
Idaho Statesman, March 15, 2002

Loss would make it easier to build in Idaho

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration announced its intention Monday to withdraw "critical habitat" designations for 19 species of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Builders said the administrationīs action would remove a significant deterrent to construction in the four states. It signaled that economic considerations would receive more weight as the administration decides what habitats will be protected to help endangered and threatened species recover.

The agreement will not change the designation of the 19 species as endangered. But the loss of "critical habitat" status could make it easier for developers to get permission to go ahead with projects ranging from single-house additions to entire subdivisions.

The accord was reached with the National Association of Home Builders, which had sued the governmentīs National Marine Fisheries Service over the "critical habitat" designations. The home builders had argued that the designations were excessive and unduly vague, and that they lacked required analyses of environmental impact.

The Marine Fisheries Service said fish would not be harmed by the decision.

"We will continue to use other tools to protect that habitat as best we can," said Jim Lecky, the serviceīs assistant northwest regional administrator for protective resources. "It still is illegal to harm endangered species."

But Craig Wingert, a supervisory fisheries biologist for the serviceīs southwest division, said the agency would lose some ability to protect the fish where small numbers of them have been found.

"There were some places where having critical habitat has given us leverage that we would not have had just with the listing," Wingert said. "Weīll lose a little bit, but I donīt think itīs real significant."

Environmentalists, however, decried the decision as an unjustified voluntary removal by the federal government of important protections for prized species.

"Itīs outrageous," said Mike Senatore, litigation director for Defenders of Wildlife. "It reflects an administration that is not concerned at all about protecting listed species."

"I think it shows a real lack of support for salmon restoration in salmon-dependent communities in the Northwest," said Nicole Cordan of Portland-based Save Our Wild Salmon.

Elizabeth Shogren, Los Angeles Times
Bush to Lower Salmon Status
Idaho Statesman, March 12, 2002

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