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Bush Plan for Salmon Denounced

by John Dodge & Chester Allen
The Olympian, April 30, 2004

White House wants hatchery stock counted into ranks of wild salmon

State fish conservation groups Thursday blasted a Bush administration proposal to count hatchery fish when deciding whether a salmon stock should be listed as an endangered species.

"Wild salmon and steelhead are still at risk of extinction through the Northwest," said Jan Hasselman of the National Wildlife Federation. "Rather than address the problems of habitat degraded by logging, dams and urban sprawl, this policy will purposefully mask the precarious condition of wild salmon behind fish raised in concrete pools."

State Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings disputed assertions that the move will undermine multipronged efforts to restore salmon habitat in the region and alter land-use patterns to make them more fish-friendly.

"I'm not alarmed," Koenings said. "We'll continue to move forward with salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. We'll still need functioning habitat for naturally spawning fish. And the policy does not say we will replace natural populations with hatchery fish."

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, was more cautious.

Frank warned Bush administration officials not to use the policy change to ease restrictions on land-use regulations already in place to protect habitat and water quality for wild salmon.

"I think they've got to be very careful when they come up with this rule," Frank said Friday from Washington, D.C., where he is testifying before Congress on fish and wildlife legislation. "When they talk about wild and artificial, if they just all of a sudden rope them all together, then it takes away from a lot of what we're doing in the Northwest."

Frank referred to existing agreements with electricity providers to manage the rivers to ensure enough water for salmon, and state laws requiring timber companies to keep logging a safe distance from the streams.

Gov. Gary Locke declined to comment on the Bush proposal, preferring to wait until the rule is out for formal review, said Glen Cooper, a spokesman for the governor.

Lacey resident Jerry Peterson, an avid salmon angler most of his life and president of the Puget Sound Anglers South Sound Chapter, said the move would hurt wild fish.

"We have to protect our rivers, and hatchery fish sure aren't native fish," said Peterson, whose father was a commercial fisherman out of Westport. "This doesn't make much sense to me."

Restoring native salmon runs means restoring rivers, Peterson said, but the new policy might short-circuit efforts to provide habitat and clean water for fish -- and people.

Native runs

"We need to do whatever we can to restore native runs," Peterson said. "State Fish and Wildlife has been doing a great job, but to do this is a step backward."

Conservation groups minced no words in lambasting the proposed rule.

Getting salmon stock off the federal Endangered Species Act list should be everyone's goal, several conservation groups said.

But it should be based on strong, healthy returns of salmon, not rule changes to avoid responsibility for species and habitat protection.

"Hatchery fish certainly have a role in restoring salmon runs and mitigating some of the damage inflicted by salmon declines, but they have no place in determining federal protections," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited.

Hatcheries have been around for many decades, and they haven't been able to restore formerly abundant wild runs, said Amy Souers, Seattle-based spokeswoman for the American Rivers conservation group.

"Our take is that hatcheries are no substitute for habitat," Souers said.

People in the Northwest have shown again and again that they want wild salmon, Souers said.

Restoring rivers for wild salmon also creates clean water and beautiful rivers for people, Souers said.

The Bush administration move might be illegal, as it doesn't address the plight of struggling wild runs of salmon, said Ramon Vanden Brule, communications director for Washington Trout, a statewide advocacy group for wild trout and salmon. Wild fish reproduce more successfully and have the genetic diversity that salmon need in the long term to survive, Vanden Brule said.

Clint Muns, an avid salmon angler from Shelton and state board president for Puget Sound Anglers, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.

He is concerned that many salmon recovery plans haven't taken advantage of hatcheries to help restore a run, Muns said.

Roles of hatcheries

Reform efforts show that hatcheries have a role in helping wild salmon recover, Muns said.

At the same time, the Endangered Species Act forced humans to take a look at how they were hurting wild salmon -- and made them start many worthwhile recovery programs, Muns said.

"I'd like to see self-sufficient runs of wild fish," Muns said. "And someday -- it's going to take years, decades -- maybe we can be like our ancestors and harvest some of those fish.

"The Endangered Species Act has done a lot of good things for salmon, and I'd hate to see it diluted before it gets a lot of things accomplished."

John Dodge and Chester Allen
Bush Plan for Salmon Denounced
The Olympian, April 30, 2004

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