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Activists Ready to Sue on Salmon Regulations

by Rebecca Cook
The Oregonian, June 20, 2000

The group suspects it won't like new rules on protecting endangered fish

SEATTLE -- When the federal government announces new rules for protecting West Coast salmon and steelhead today, one environmental group will be ready to sue on grounds endangered and threatened fish won't be adequately protected.

"A rule with these big holes in it is going to allow continued harm to salmon," said Becky Kelley, spokeswoman for the Washington Environmental Council. "It's not going to lead to recovery."

The environmental council has drafted a letter notifying the government of its intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act, Kelley said. If the group isn't pleasantly surprised by the final rules released today, it will send the letter and start preparing a lawsuit.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, property-rights groups say the rules go way too far -- and they might also sue.

"This is a fundamental abuse of federalism," said Rob Rivett, principle attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has already sued the government to challenge the listing of coho salmon as threatened. "If they violate property rights, we will very carefully consider litigating that."

The National Marine Fisheries Service rules will tell managers of public and private lands -- from Seattle homeowners to farmers and loggers -- how to comply with the Endangered Species Act and avoid being sued under it. The rules apply to 14 salmon and steelhead populations whose habitat stretches 160,000 square miles across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

When the rules take effect is another bone of contention. The steelhead rules will be enacted in 60 days, but the rules for salmon won't become effective for six months.

Environmentalists have accused the fisheries service of foot-dragging, and are considering a lawsuit to force action on the salmon rules sooner.

But six members of the Washington congressional delegation sent a letter Wednesday asking for more time for local governments to come up with plans to meet the rules' requirements.

The rules will define what the Endangered Species Act means when it says listed populations of salmon and steelhead are not to be harmed, harassed, pursued, hunted, killed or captured.

The National Marine Fisheries Service held several contentious public hearings and received tens of thousands of comments on the 4(d) rules, named for the authorizing section of the Endangered Species Act. Officials say the final version will be more detailed than draft versions that were criticized as vague.

Rebecca Cook, Associated Press
Activists Ready to Sue on Salmon Regulations
The Oregonian, June 20, 2000

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