Bush Administration Plans Major Shiftby Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a dramatic shift in salmon recovery policies in the Northwest, the Bush administration intends to count the hundreds of millions of fish produced in hatcheries when deciding whether salmon deserve federal Endangered Species Act protection.
In a policy to be announced in the coming months, the administration will adopt a strategy that considers the indoor tanks and concrete raceways of hatcheries extensions of natural rivers and mountain streams where salmon spawn, The Oregonian newspaper reported in Thursday's editions.
This means that salmon, long the focus of billions of dollars worth of restoration projects and bitter environmental conflicts, could more quickly be declared healthy. Previously, the government had drawn a clear distinction between salmon capable of reproducing in the wild and those reared in hatcheries.
The policy would relieve power generators, farmers and property owners of endangered species burdens - including limits on farm irrigation and the electricity production levels of dams - imposed by the federal government.
The new approach could sharply redefine the standard for declaring when an imperiled species has recovered. A salmon population could be removed from endangered species protection even if it requires ongoing, multimillion-dollar hatcheries to survive, said Bob Lohn, regional administrator of NOAA-Fisheries, the federal agency that oversees salmon. "Just as natural habitat provides a place for fish to spawn and to rear, also hatcheries can do that," Lohn said . "Properly run, hatcheries can become a kind of extension of natural habitat."
He said the benchmark for recovery under the Endangered Species Act is that a species is not likely to go extinct. But he said the species need not sustain itself without help.
"That doesn't preclude human assistance or intervention," he said by phone late Wednesday from Washington, D.C. The policy is now in draft form and headed for publication by June in the Federal Register.
Conservationists have said such a policy is akin to declaring a species safe if it can be reproduced in a zoo, while turning over its habitat to development.
"It sounds like the government is going to be setting salmon recovery back about 100 years," said Jim Lichatowich, an Oregon-based fishery biologist and author of "Salmon Without Rivers." Lichatowich said federal and state agencies attempted to use hatcheries to compensate for habitat lost to dams, mining and development for most of the 20th century but failed to stop the widespread collapse of salmon runs.
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