NMFS Creating Guidelines
by Carie L. Call
HERMISTON, Ore. -- The National Marine Fisheries Service is creating a blueprint for "delisting" salmon as a federally protected species, a senior official has reported.
Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the NMFS, released the information for the NMFS, released the information March 26 to a crowd of almost 100 area farmers and business owners at a luncheon meeting for the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce.
Lohn said the report, which should be released in the next several months, will detail the steps that need to be taken before salmon can be removed from the Endangered Species List. It also will state how many fish need to be living and breeding in the Columbia and Snake river systems before they can be delisted.
Whether a significant number of fish have to be born and raised in the wild before the species is delisted, or if salmon can be hatchery-spawned and still be considered a recovered species, is a question that needs to be addressed by the federal courts, Lohn said.
Lohn, a Harvard graduate and former attorney for the Northwest Power Planning Council, was appointed to his current position in October 2001 by the Bush administration.
He spoke of salmon trends in recovery, including favorable deep-ocean conditions and the recent wealth of food sources for Pacific salmon.
"The salmon runs this year have been unparalleled since Bonneville Dam opened" in the late 1930s, Lohn said. "Good deep-ocean conditions had a profound effect on salmon and steelhead and the level of food and improvements of habitat are helping," Lohn said. "The mainstream dams do not have nearly as large of an impact as we first thought."
Lohn said scientific research show that high salmon runs coincide with years when there is high water runoff and moderate temperatures. These occurrences run in 15 to 25-year cycles and he believes this is the beginning of a strong cycle. This year's spring chinook numbers will be revealing, Lohn said.
Several agencies -- including NMFS and the Army Corps of Engineers -- are gathering data to help reserve salmon by installing new technology to track fish as they swim in the rivers, through the dams and even in the ocean. The information gathered also could help to delist salmon.
However, Lohn said, "it does not mean all things are well," for salmon. Work to protect and preserve the species is not complete.
To help make delisting happen, Lohn wants to compile a list of actions to "improve local conditions" for irrigation ditches, restore streambeds and tributaries such as the Umatilla River and rebuild riparian areas used for development, recreation and farming.
"We need the local communities to be involved in recovery. ... We need to know what people in this area plan to do for fish and how they plan to support their habitat.
"These plans will draw together all the pieces, give a blueprint" and help form a plan for preserving salmon and steelhead, Lohn said.
Hermiston City Councilman Harmon Springer, who also is head of the Oregon Water Coalition, said he was impressed with Lohn's speech.
"I think he is an individual we can talk to," Springer said. "He has a complicated job, but he seems to have a willing ear for Eastern Oregon folks ... agricultural folks."
The Hermiston chamber, the Umatilla Electric Cooperative and the Oregon Water Coalition hosted the March 26 event.
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