by Reed Stevenson, Reuters
SEATTLE -- Federal officials scaled back plans recently to reduce protections for endangered Northwest U.S. salmon but proposed boosting wild salmon populations with salmon raised in hatchery tanks, a move that environmentalists said could harm wild stocks.
The proposal, which will be submitted to the scientific community and public for comment, could potentially lead to some species being taken off the Endangered Species Act list.
Originally the Bush administration leaned toward immediate removal of some species off the endangered list. It did not take that step and, in fact, proposed the addition of 27 new species to the list.
However, despite the apparent compromise, a local environment group said that the newly proposed policy and its application could lead to delistings further down the road and also harm the genetic health of wild salmon species.
"Salmon have, at least temporarily, dodged a bullet," said Jan Hasselman, Seattle counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. "The real question is whether this policy leads to a weaker application of the endangered species or delisting of salmon that have not really recovered."
Moreover, scientists say that using hatcheries to supplement wild salmon populations could harm wild species by introducing genes that make it harder for them to survive in the wild.
Advocates of the original plan also lashed out at the Bush administration, accusing it of bowing to political pressure.
The Pacific League foundation, representing farmers and industry groups, said that the revised plan would prevent much-needed improvements to infrastructure and the ability of farmers to cultivate their land.
"The losers are citizens throughout the Western states," said Russ Brooks, an attorney with the Pacific League Foundation. "Certainly the news today came as a great surprise."
Salmon protection has triggered broad changes in Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho, including reduced irrigation to farmers, restrictions on logging and mining, and higher hydroelectric rates from dams forced to reserve water to help fish migrate.
The region's iconic fish is prized for food, sport fishing, and the sheer spectacle of its annual return to native streams from the Pacific Ocean. The salmon also support dwindling populations of orcas, or killer whales, and other predators and scavengers.
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