NOAA Sets Community Meetingsby CBB Staff
NOAA Fisheries announced Tuesday that it will accept until Oct. 20 public comment on its proposed hatchery listing policy and on proposed Endangered Species Act listing determinations for West Coast salmon and steelhead.
The federal agency will hold community meetings in the Northwest from mid-September to mid-October to facilitate discussion on both topics.
"NOAA Fisheries believes that these two proposals are intimately related and important to salmon recovery. Combining opportunities for public engagement on these issues into the same community meetings is an efficient use of the agency's and the public's time and resources," according to the announcement.
In early June, NOAA Fisheries published proposals for its hatchery listing policy and listing determinations and announced 90-day public comment periods. Comment periods for these proposals have now been extended to Oct. 20, 2004. (See www.nwr.noaa.gov/AlseaResponse/20040528/index.html for more information).
The proposed hatchery policy is the agency's response to a September 2001 U.S. District Court ruling that declared the Oregon coastal coho listing illegal. The judge said the agency impermissibly excluded from the 1998 listing hatchery fish that had been included in NOAA's "evolutionarily significant unit" for the coho stock.
That decision prompted NOAA Fisheries to re-evaluate how the presence of hatchery fish will be considered when the agency judges whether salmon and steelhead stocks are threatened with extinction. The proposed policy is the product 2 ½ years of work by the agency to spell out how it will treat hatchery fish in its listing deliberations.
The policy's guidance was applied, along with other factors, in the making of proposed "re-listing" determinations that were also offered three months ago regarding 27 West Coast salmon and steelhead stocks.
The Upper Columbia steelhead "evolutionarily significant unit" is proposed for downlisting from endangered to threatened and the Lower Columbia River coho salmon should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries announced in late May. Otherwise, the Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead species on the list would remain the same, according to NOAA Fisheries proposals stemming from individual population "status reviews." The agency announcement focuses on 12 listed Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead species, as well as one candidate species, and on 14 other West Coast stocks that spawn in Oregon, Washington and California coastal streams and streams that empty into the Puget Sound.
Final listing determinations are due within a year.
The eight-city slate of meetings includes afternoon sessions provided for those who must deal directly with Endangered Species Act issues on a regular basis. Evening "open house" sessions at each location are designed for broader public participation and will also be conducted on the same day as the afternoon sessions.
The meetings will be held:
NOAA Fisheries is conducting these stakeholder and open-house public meetings as part of its commitment to provide opportunities for public input, as well as to provide a formal comment process as required under the ESA, the agency says. NOAA Fisheries' staff will attend and participate in these meetings.
Staff will accept oral and written public comments on the proposals during the evening open-house meetings.
The evening sessions will be designed in an "open house" format that allows the general public to meet with NOAA Fisheries staff in small groups on specific topics in order to learn more about the proposals and their possible impacts on their communities. The evening meetings will also provide opportunities for the public to make formal recorded comments on the proposals. The preferred means of providing public comment for the official record is via written testimony prepared in advance. However, blank "comment sheets" will be provided at the evening meetings for those without prepared written comments, and facilities will also be provided for recording verbal testimony.
The evening sessions will be open from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. They are designed to allow participants to move from station to station to discuss their particular interests with NOAA Fisheries staff. NOAA Fisheries organizers say the format was adopted to allow community members to participate without necessarily attending the entire evening.
Attendance at the afternoon sessions will be on a pre-registration basis. The meetings are designed with the following participants in mind: tribal governments; forestry and agricultural interests; home builders and developers; sport and commercial fishing community; environmental community; business community; utility and special districts; local government elected officials and their staff; other locally-based federal and state agencies; and public interest groups.
NOAA Fisheries believes the scheduled meetings are an important element in effective and responsive rule-making, and will conduct afternoon sessions (1:30 - 4:30 p.m.) in each community. The agenda and structure of these afternoon meetings will also allow participants to discuss the subject proposals with NOAA Fisheries staff in small groups.
There is no need to register for the evening sessions. To register for the afternoon meetings, send an e-mail to James Rapp at email@example.com or mail a request to Rapp at 5845 NE 29th Ave., Portland, OR 97211. Registrations should include the following:
The public meetings are not the only opportunity to provide input on these proposals. People are encouraged to continue to comment and provide input to NOAA Fisheries on the proposals via correspondence, e-mail and the Internet until the scheduled close of the comment period on Oct. 20.
For more information, or to obtain background materials, including the relevant Federal Register notices, see www.nwr.noaa.gov/AlseaResponse/20040528/index.html.
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