[env-trinity] Federal Government Slashes Fish Protection In California, Northwest

Daniel Bacher danielbacher at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 17 15:42:16 PDT 2005

Federal Government Slashes Fish Protection In California, Northwest

The federal government late on August 12, in what critics characterized as a 
“Friday night dump,” released the final version of its controversial 
critical habitat proposal for 19 stocks of salmon in California and the 
Pacific Northwest.

The proposal effectively strips protection for thousands of miles of streams 
- reducing the number of river miles protected from 46,500 to 9,800 miles in 
California and from 121,000 to 23,500 acres in Washington, Oregon and Idaho 
– and drawing the wrath of fishing and conservation groups.

The designations include a separate rule for 7 species (also called 
“evolutionarily significant units” or ESUs) listed in California and another 
one for 12 species listed in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In California, 
the final proposal includes Central Valley spring run chinook salmon, 
California coastal chinook, southern California steelhead, south-central 
California coast steelhead, central California Coast steelhead, Central 
Valley California steelhead and northern California steelhead.

NOAA Fisheries touted the proposal as reaffirming its commitment to salmon 
and steelhead recovery. “These designations support our extensive salmon 
recovery efforts and promote important voluntary and collaborative efforts 
important to protecting salmon,” said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service 

The final policy contains exclusions for private landowners in the Northwest 
who have agreed to voluntary conservation efforts on their land. “The 
Administration believes strongly in providing incentives for private 
landowners who are already protecting species voluntarily and these 
designations recognize their hard work,” said Bob Lohn, head of the NOAA 
Fisheries Service northwest region.

The release was originally expected on Monday, August 14, but critics 
accused the administration of releasing the report on Friday night as an 
apparent effort to avoid media and public scrutiny of the proposal. “The 
‘Friday night dump’ has become a favorite of the Administration as a means 
of avoiding press on issues it knows will be unpopular,” said Zeke Grader, 
executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s 

The proposal is definitely unpopular with conservation groups, who criticize 
the proposal for eliminating badly needed fishery habitat above dams – where 
anadromous fish populations historically migrated and spawned.

“My big problem with the plan is that it excludes areas where salmon have 
traditionally migrated, even in stretches where they have existed until just 
recently,” said Grader. “If we want to recover salmon and steelhead, we have 
look at restoring these fish to their former habitat.”

Grader also said the proposal overstates the costs of restoration without 
looking at the considerable benefits of fish restoration to local economies. 
“In looking at critical habitat, they did the reverse of what the Army Corps 
of Engineers has done,” he quipped. “Whereas the corps pushed water projects 
through Congress by looking at the benefits without talking about the costs, 
NOAA Fisheries looks at the costs of restoration without looking at the 

Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited released a 
white paper on salmon and steelhead critical habitat entitled, "A Place 
Called Home: Why Critical Habitat is Essential to the Recovery of Salmon and 
Steelhead  (www.tu.org) several days prior to the proposal’s release.

The report analyzes how the administration's critical habitat proposal 
threatens salmon recovery in several ways, including eliminating protection 
for “vitally important but currently unoccupied habitat” and further rolling 
back habitat based on economic considerations. The report also said the 
proposal trades habitat protection for policies and plans that were "never 
intended to protect salmon."

“The administration proposal would remove habitat protection under the 
Endangered Species Act in favor of inadequate protections under the 
Northwest Forest Plan, the Oregon Plan for Salmon, and forest plans in 
Washington and California, among others,” the report stated.

The Karuk Tribe gave a mixed review to federal government proposal. “The 
tribe is happy that tribal lands are exempted because sovereign nations are 
able to manage the habitat themselves,” said Craig Tucker, coordinator of 
the Klamath River Campaign of the Karuk Tribe, now working with the Yurok, 
Hoopa and Klamath tribes, fishermen and environmental groups to remove dams 
on the Klamath.
“However, we are unhappy that NOAA Fisheries failed to designate as critical 
habitat areas above dams where we would like to restore fish to. They’re 
protecting the current range of salmon and steelhead, but our goal is to 
restore them to their historic range."

The ESA requires the federal government to designate “critical habitat” for 
any species listed under the ESA. According to NOAA Fisheries, “critical 
habitat” is defined as “specific areas on which are found physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species, and which 
may require special management considerations or protection.”

This reduction of protections for salmon and steelhead is just one more 
hurdle that recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes and 
environmentalists have to go through to bring endangered and threatened fish 
back. The failure of NOAA Fisheries to protect salmon and steelhead comes at 
a time when many fish populations in the Pacific Northwest and California 
are in severe crisis.

Tribal and government biologists are predicting the Klamath River fall 
chinook run this year to be one of the poorest on record, due to the impact 
of the catastrophic juvenile and adult fish kills of 2002. Even worse,  
Salmon River spring run chinook returns this year were the lowest on record, 
the direct result of low warm flows on the Klamath caused by change in water 
policy that favors agribusiness over fish.

Likewise, a team of state and federal scientists is studying an 
unprecedented crash of the California Delta food chain – a development that 
fish advocates believe will hurt salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fish 
populations that depend on the Bay-Delta estuary as a nursery.

“The administration is making it much more difficult for us to restore fish 
by releasing this proposal,” said Grader. “It’s so disappointing that we 
have to constantly fight the agencies to get them to do their job of 
protecting the fish. But we will bring the salmon and steelhead populations 
back – because the public and the law are so clearly on our side.”

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