Fisheries Agency Won't Appeal Salmon Rulingby Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 10, 2001
New tack meant to avoid challenges to fish-recovery plans
Federal fisheries officials will not appeal a controversial court ruling about hatchery-bred fish that environmentalists fear could undercut Endangered Species Act protections for West Coast salmon and steelhead.
Instead, the National Marine Fisheries Service said yesterday it will review virtually all the Endangered Species Act classifications for Western salmon and steelhead. The agency will first ask the public how fish bred in hatcheries should be treated in the agency's efforts to help wild-spawned salmon and steelhead stocks to rebound from the edge of extinction.
Some of the stocks, ranging from southern California to the Canadian border and east to the Idaho-Montana border, could ultimately lose legal protection.
Meanwhile, though, the agency will seek to involve state and local governments and other local interests more heavily in crafting plans to restore the dwindling salmon populations, said Robert Lohn, the Bush administration appointee who recently took over as the regional administrator of NMFS. In the Puget Sound area, a group of governments and private organizations are working on a recovery plan that Lohn said is an "excellent example" of the kind of effort he wants to see.
"We'll be looking to local initiatives," Lohn said. "The purpose is so that people start investing in recovery and not investing in arguments about recovery."
But the law firm that won the court ruling that spurred NMFS' review said it would continue lawsuits seeking to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the fish.
"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 Russ Brooks.
The Sept. 10 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan faulted NMFS for classifying Oregon coastal coho salmon bred in hatcheries in the same genetic group as wild-spawned salmon, but then extending legal protections only to the wild fish.
Environmentalists fear that if hatchery-bred fish are counted when considering whether the fish need protection under the Endangered Species Act, many stocks will prove numerous enough that they will no longer be safeguarded. Environmentalists and many fisheries scientists believe hatchery fish are not as well-suited genetically to long-term survival as wild fish are.
Property-rights advocates, though, have argued that the Endangered Species Act makes no provision for genetic distinctions among the animals to be protected.
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