Groups Seek Delisting of 12 Runs of Salmon, Steelheadby Cookson Beecher
Capital Press, October 19, 2001
SEATTE -- Six major farm groups filed a petition this week with the National Marine Fisheries Service to delist 12 runs of fish, all of them salmon and steelhead.
The basis for the petition is the recent federal district court opinion, Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans, handed down in Oregon last month. In that decision, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan said the federal fisheries agency erred by failing to count hatchery salmon when it listed Oregon's coastal coho in 1998 as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Although the case dealt specifically with the Oregon coastal salmon, the ruling was based on the principle that the agency cannot segregate wilborn fish from genetically identical hatchery-born fish when listing a species.
While a run, such as the Puget Sound chinook or Columbia River chum, for example, can be considered a distinct population segment, dividing the species up any further than that -- such as wild-born or hatchery-born -- is not permitted by the federal Endangered Species Act.
It all comes down to numbers. The question is, Are there enough fish overall to sustain the species so it can reproduce and thrive?
In the ag coalition's petition for delisting sent this week to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the ag coalitioin pointed out that when both hatchery and wild fish within a given population are counted, the justification for listing may be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.
NMFS has 90 days to respond to the petition. If it decides to accept the petition, it has one year to propose delisting and another year to carry out the delisting process.
The ag coalition's petition follows on the heels of a Sept. 28 petition, filed by the Columbia-Snake Irrigators Association, asking for a sweeping repeal of the listing of several species of salmon.
In addition, the Skagit County Cattlemen's Association and the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners teamed up earlier this month and petitioned NMFS to remove the Puget Sound chinook and the Hood Canal summer-run chum salmon from the list of threatened species.
Paul LaCroix, executive director of the Western Washinton Agricultural Association, said that whether the fish are delisted or not, farmers are still going to have to comply with county critical areas ordinances.
Unlike any voluntary fish-friendly farm plans that might be hammered out during the ongoing Agriculture, Fish and Water negotiations, complying with critical areas ordinances is mandatory.
Under the state's Growth Management Act, most counties have to come up with fish-friendly critical areas ordinances by Sept. 2002. Productive farmland is included in those critical areas.
LaCroix predicts that if the fish runs are delisted, the emphasis on protecting salmon will shift away from the Endangered Species Act to the state's Growth Management Act.
That might present a chance for counties to craft ordinances that don't push farmers off the land.
"With the recent good fish runs we've seen this year, it's become obvious that ocean conditions and harvest levels have the most impact on fish," said LaCroix. "Farmers have an effect on fish, but not as much as those."
Paul Parker, assistant executive director of Washington State Association of Counties, said he thinks that even if the runs are delisted in Washington, it probably wouldn't have much of an impact on county critical areas ordinances because the Growth Management Act doesn't address the Endangered Species Act.
"It still comes back to best available science," he said. "I don't see that there would be a clear and direct impact."
Even so, if the listings are lifted, counties could draw up ordinances that protect fish without having to look over their shoulders at the possibility of being sued under the ESA.
"If fish are delisted, there's no liability to take," said Hertha Lund, water-issues specialist for the state's Farm Bureau.
Under the ESA, anyone who harms or kills a fish or degrades fish habitat can be sued by a third party.
On the other hand, if fish are delisted and the counties enforce buffer requirements based on ESA, farmers might demand to be compensated for the land that has been taken from them.
With issues like this in mind, Skagit County Commisioner Ted Anderson said he intends to draft a petition asking NMFS to delist some runs and pass the petition around to his fellow commissioners for signatures.
He said if the fish are delisted, he would immediately propse appealing the ag-buffer section of his county's critical areas ordinance.
"In rewriting it, we would be taking a look at common sense ways to achieve clean water, salmon protection and ag viability, without and ESA overlay," he said.
Skagit County's controversial two-tiered 75-foot ag buffer was designed, in part, to meet the needs of listed fish.
Ag Coalition: Here are the ag groups in the coalitioin that recently filed a petition for certain runs of fish to be delisted:
Washington State Farm Bureau
Washington Potato & Onion Association
Washington State Dairy Federation
Washington State Grange
Washington Cattlemen's Association
Western Washington Agricultural Association
Fish Runs: Here are the fish runs the ag coalition is asking NMFS to delist:
Puget Sound chinook salmon
Hood Canal summer-run chum salmon
Columbia River chum salmon
Upper Columbia River spring-run chinook
Lower Columbia River chinook salmon
Lower Columbia steelhead
Snake River steelhead
Snake River fall chinook salmon
Snake River sockeye salmon
MONROE, Wash. -- a $100,000 federal conservation grant that will help develop a habitat conservation plan in the lower Skykomish Valley is good news to farmers who spearheaded the effort.
Focusing on chinook salmon and bull trout, the NW Chinook Recovery Habitat Conservation Plan will encompass about 12,000 acres of agland made up of five different farms along the lower 10-mile stretch of the river.
The Department of Interior awarded the grant under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act.
"This is an opportunity for farmers to help tailor regulations that will protect listed fish in a specific area," said beef raiser Dale Reiner.
He said that once the feds sign off on the plan, those who abide by the terms gain assurances that additional regulations won't be imposed on them for the life of the contract.
"We'll know for a certain number of years what we can or can't do," said Reiner. "We won't be looking over our shoulders at new regulations."
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