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Bush Salmon Plan Needs Follow-Up

by Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - June 6, 2004

Federal officials have produced a hatchery fish policy that is better than expected. The trick will be to make the policy work as well as they promise.

Genuine success might require considerable rethinking of the policy. But officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have so far set a course sensibly aimed at restoring natural salmon runs while taking account of any benefits from hatchery fish. At least for now, the proposed policy essentially keeps existing Endangered Species Act protections in place for West Coast salmon runs.

That's far better than many expected from the Bush administration in its response to a federal court ruling ordering consideration of hatchery runs in endangered species decisions. NOAA and officials of its National Marine Fisheries Service have articulated reasonable goals. They say they will concentrate on protecting the natural runs and restoring habitat while looking to see if hatcheries can be useful if operated intelligently.

Despite well-documented problems over time, the potential for making hatcheries part of the solution is real. Tribal hatcheries, for instance, have made remarkable strides.

Still, environmentalists have legitimate reasons for urging NOAA to look again at its policy. In ignoring their own scientists' advice to treat hatchery and wild fish as separate species, officials seem to have failed to live up to the Bush administration's talk about following science in shaping environmental policy. Worse, ignoring the scientists could mean missing a chance to protect against further court challenges from development and logging groups. That risk bears careful analysis.

It's also fair to worry that the Bush administration won't remain intent on implementing the policy benignly, whatever NOAA leaders would like. This is especially true when it comes to habitat protection (at the perceived expense of property rights). Given the administration's record, environmentalists justifiably fear that the implementation might look very different after a re-election for President Bush.

Although there's reason to keep examining proposals, NOAA's spirited interest in protecting salmon also offers a base for possible consensus. That's something environmental protection ought to emphasize more than, for whatever reasons, is usually the case.

Editorial Board
Bush Salmon Plan Needs Follow-Up
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 6, 2004

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