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U.S. Will Not Appeal Coastal Coho Delisting

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, November 10, 2001

The National Marine Fisheries Service will not appeal a federal judge's ruling that removed Oregon coastal coho from the endangered species list.

Instead, agency officials said Friday that they will review 23 salmon and steelhead listings across the West Coast to see whether other fish should be stripped of federal protection, while launching a new review of the role of hatchery fish in salmon recovery. They also will review the coastal coho delisting.

The announcement, made jointly by West Coast and Washington, D.C., officials, drops an unpredictable element into the expensive and contentious effort to rebuild imperiled wild salmon and steelhead runs across the Northwest.

On one hand, some salmon could lose federal protection if the fisheries service concludes that numerous hatchery fish should be counted the same as wild fish. On the other hand, more salmon could come under federal protection if the fisheries service decides to add hatchery stocks to the endangered species list.

Even with the outcome uncertain, Endangered Species Act opponents were thrilled by Friday's action. In the case they won before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan of Eugene, property owners and others argued that Oregon coastal coho should be removed from the endangered species list because hatchery coho are common.

"It's a great decision," said Russ Brooks, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the Alsea Valley Alliance before Hogan. "It's the thing we were after: To have the fisheries service go back and re-evaluate their policies and all the listings."

Conservationists reacted angrily, saying they fear that protection of wild salmon and steelhead is now in jeopardy.

"The worst possible outcome would be to come to the conclusion that hatchery fish need to be counted as wild stocks and so wild stocks should be delisted." said Jim Myron, conservation director for Oregon Trout. "That's a terrible thing; not something that Oregon Trout could accept."

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said fishers across the region will be hurt if hatchery fish are eventually added to the endangered species list. Hamilton had urged the fisheries service to appeal the Hogan ruling.

"This ruling doesn't help people who fish because listing hatchery stocks is not a good thing for fishers," Hamilton said.

Act's backing questioned Myron said by not appealing, the Bush administration may be using the Hogan decision as an excuse to ease its enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The act sets criminal and civil penalties for anyone who harms a listed species, or its habitat, and requires that federal agencies ensure that any of their actions, such as forest service timber sales, do not threaten listed species.

Those rules are unpopular with many landowners, including farmers and ranchers, and with many timber companies that harvest wood from federal land.

"It seems readily apparent the Bush administration has weighed in heavily on the process and orchestrated this decision," Myron said.

Fisheries service officials said the decision was made not because of political considerations but because the Hogan ruling had revealed flaws in the agency's salmon program.

"This decision not to appeal should in no way be construed that the administration has backed away from the Endangered Species Act," said Bill Hogarth, an assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and head of the fisheries service. He said a review of hatcheries is needed.

"What the administration is doing is committing ourselves to a comprehensive, open, transparent process," Hogarth said.

Review due next September Agency officials said they will complete their review of hatchery policies by September 2002. Then, using the results of the review combined with a stock-by-stock assessment of salmon and steelhead, they will recommend 45 days after the review's completion whether Endangered Species Act protections should be removed for any fish.

Meanwhile, said Bob Lohn, the fisheries service regional director, the agency will increase its support for locally-directed salmon recovery efforts spearheaded by states, tribes and communities. It will do that, he said, by developing local goals for salmon recovery within three months and by guaranteeing protection from Endangered Species Act sanctions, so long as those goals are met.

"We'll rely much more deeply on local knowledge, and provide incentives for folks throughout the region to use their knowledge, their on-the-ground perspective, to help the recovery of salmon runs," Lohn said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, who had urged the fisheries service to appeal Hogan's ruling, said salmon-recovery efforts in Oregon remain critically important and should continue whether or not coastal coho are listed.

"While I am disappointed by the decision not to appeal," Kitzhaber said, "I am pleased that (the fisheries service ) has pledged greater support for state and local recovery efforts over the next three to five years and has committed to clarifying their view of hatchery policy."

John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said Columbia Basin tribes are pleased that the ruling is not being appealed.

"The tribes have been saying since 1982 that we need to use hatcheries to restore wild, naturally spawning runs," Platt said. "The decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service gives us the flexibility to use hatcheries for rebuilding runs."

Jonathan Brinckman
U.S. Will Not Appeal Coastal Coho Delisting
The Oregonian, November 10, 2001

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