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Feds to Look Again at Salmon Protection List

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
The Oregonian - November 16(?), 2001

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Federal biologists will re-evaluate Endangered Species Act protection for 23 groups of Pacific salmon in light of a federal court ruling that they erred in one of them, the Bush administration announced Friday.

Instead of appealing the ruling to throw out the threatened species listing of Oregon coastal coho, the National Marine Fisheries Service will undertake a public review process to reconsider how it treats wild salmon vs. those raised in hatcheries.

"This is an opportunity to redirect our efforts more constructively," said Robert Lohn, Northwest regional director of the agency, which has authority over restoring dwindling salmon populations. "The bottom line is it's time to stop fighting and start fixing."

After making a new policy next September on hatchery fish vs. wild fish, the agency will take another 45 days to announce whether 23 of the 25 groups of Pacific salmon listed as threatened or endangered species warrant further protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The process will consider newly filed petitions to take those fish off the endangered species list. In the meantime, protection for the fish still listed as threatened or endangered will continue.

Rather than develop a federal plan for the recovery of dwindling salmon stocks, NMFS will encourage states to redouble their efforts to develop their own programs.

"I think what you see here is a major shift in emphasis for NMFS, both at the staff level and the policy level in the region," Lohn said.

On Sept. 13, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene, Ore., found that NMFS erred when it lumped hatchery fish and wild fish together in the same group -- known as an evolutionarily significant unit -- then gave threatened species protection only to the wild fish.

He found the agency was arbitrary and capricious and sent the listing back for them to reconsider using the best new science available.

John Platt, acting executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the tribes expect the shift in policy will lead to greater NMFS support for using hatcheries to rebuild dwindling runs, as tribes have done on the Umatilla and Yakima rivers.

"The commission is very pleased with the NMFS decision," Platt said. "It provides the flexibility we need to rebuild runs by using artificial propagation to improve early survival."

Larry Cassidy, chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council, which hands out millions of dollars from federal hydroelectric dam profits each year for salmon habitat restoration, said he was glad to see NMFS supporting locally developed projects.

But environmentalists and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber were disappointed at the NMFS decision not to appeal.

"The important thing for people to understand is the ruling doesn't just say the fish aren't endangered," said governor's spokesman Bob Applegate. "What the ruling discusses is how to implement the Endangered Species Act. We think it cries out for clarification."

Jim Myron, conservation director of Oregon Trout, said he was disappointed NMFS appeared to be tossing off its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act to develop a recovery plan and relying so much on the states.

The announcement will not deter the Pacific Legal Foundation, which brought the original lawsuit, from filing more challenges to salmon listings, particularly in California's Klamath River, where protection for coho salmon led to irrigation shutoffs for Klamath Basin farmers.

"I can't see any reason to continue people suffering out there during the year or two years this process is going forward," said Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Russell Brooks.

Environmentalists will continue their efforts to intervene in the case to bring their own appeal and restore protection for Oregon coastal coho, said Patti Goldman, attorney for Earthjustice.

"This should tell the people hoping to get rid of these listings that there is a deliberative process that should take place, and to pile on to get rid of the listings is premature," Goldman said. "On other hand, the fact the government isn't there to protect Oregon coho shows it is all the more important that we step in and try to keep the protections in place."

Hogan has yet to rule on their request but denied a motion to restore the threatened species listing pending resolution of the legal issues.

Oregon coastal coho salmon were listed as a threatened species in 1998 after environmentalists won a lawsuit overturning a NMFS decision holding off Endangered Species Act protection while Kitzhaber's program of voluntary habitat restoration programs had a chance to work.

Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Feds to Look Again at Salmon Protection List
The Oregonian, November 16(?), 2001

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