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Common Sense for Salmon

by Editors
Capital Press, May 7, 2004

If it looks like a salmon, swims like a salmon and has the genes of a salmon, it is a salmon.

That statement is an oversimplification, but it reflects the gist of a recent court ruling and subsequent federal policy proposal governing how salmon should be counted.

It also reflects a needed dose of common sense that has been missing in how fish are considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Bush administration last week released a proposed policy change under which hatchery-bred salmon that are genetically related or identical to wild salmon could be counted when considering how best to protect the wild species.

Currently, hatchery-born salmon are not counted when considering recovery efforts. That means a river system could be crawling with identical salmon, but managers had to consider only those that spawn in the wild.

Environmental groups have criticized the proposal, asserting that the administration would use the policy as an excuse to reduce salmon-recovery efforts on the West Coast.

The administration, however, says the policy only follows the direction set out in a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

In that decision, the appeals court upheld a Sept. 10, 2001, ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan that the National Marine Fisheries Service must consider hatchery-bred fish when determining salmon populations.

In turn, the size of those populations will be used to determine whether and how much protection is warranted under the Endangered Species Act.

In areas where the salmon populations are found to be healthy, farmers, ranchers and others who own property along salmon streams hope the proposed policy will lift at least some of the regulations they must meet. For example, many consider buffer areas along salmon streams and rivers to be onerous and a taking of their property rights.

Environmentalists worry that the policy will gut efforts to protect salmon.

“We are talking about a process in which the federal government will walk away from its responsibility for restoring salmon,” Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, told the Associated Press.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” answered Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in the same article.

In essence, all the policy would do is inject common sense into the fish-counting business. No longer will salmon be counted based solely on whether they spawn in the wild or in a hatchery. They will be counted based on whether they are genetically related.

That’s what two courts have ruled, and that’s why the federal government is proposing to change its policy to match those rulings.

Far from a scandalous back-room effort to change the way salmon are managed, this is a court-mandated change that aims to stay within the current legal boundaries.

While the new policy could change the way some salmon recovery efforts are pursued, anyone expecting immediate, wholesale changes is likely to be disappointed.

The only change is that addition of common sense.

Common Sense for Salmon
Capital Press, May 7, 2004

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