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Slippery Salmon Science on Trial Before Ninth Circuit by Russ Brooks, Managing Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation, 5/6/03

Please accept this op-ed submission on the hatchery vs. wild salmon issue.   The Alsea Valley Alliance case is set to be heard before the Ninth Circuit in Portland on Thursday, May 8th. 

"Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!"  That's what small-town banker Ronald Yechout heard as he was out hunting near Philomath, Oregon back in November, 1998. He followed the noise to the banks of Fall Creek, and saw a sight he couldn't believe: State wildlife regulators were clubbing to death thousands of migrating salmon.

Yechout's outrage launched him on a crusade to expose the government "conservation" program that targeted hatchery salmon for extermination supposedly to somehow "help" stream-bred salmon. Eventually, under the pressure brought by Yechout and Pacific Legal Foundation, the systematic government slaughter of salmon that were born in hatcheries ended. But the larger legal controversy continues -- and it has its most important appointment to date before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland this coming Thursday.

A three-judge appeals panel will be considering whether hatchery-born salmon can be counted along with stream-bred salmon when it comes to determining whether coho are "endangered" and in need of special protection in the form of tough land-use regulations. Although government officials claimed that their clubbing expeditions were intended to clear the way for healthier development of wild salmon, skeptics observed that by killing salmon, it was easier for bureaucrats to grab headlines -- and expand their power over private property -- by claiming that salmon are in decline.

Two years ago the dispute went before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene. He found it fishy that the government insisted on seeing metaphysical distinctions between coho from hatcheries and coho from streams. Hatchery-born coho are biologically identical to stream-born coho, he declared, based on the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) records. His ruling's clear implication is if there are plenty of coho in streams and rivers, coho aren't "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act, even if a lot of those fish are from hatcheries.

In reviewing Judge Hogan's order, the Ninth Circuit should not get reeled in by the government's slippery pseudo-science. The fact is, for over half a century, coho salmon have thrived in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon -- and they do so today in phenomenal numbers. More than 240,000 stream-bred coho returned to Oregon's rivers in 2002, a staggering increase from the 14,000 that returned just six years ago. More than 660,000 hatchery-born coho made the trip up river last year.

Since 1952, the Fall Creek hatchery -- originally with the eggs of "wild" (meaning partially spawned) salmon -- has produced countless generations of salmon that have, in all respects, become fully integrated with the "wild" population.

Indeed, many biologists, including a chief of the NMFS hatcheries and inland fisheries branch, agree that there probably aren't any truly "wild" salmon left in the lower 48 states and that because of nearly 50 years of natural cohabitation, the hatchery-spawned salmon and the "wild" salmon are virtually indistinguishable. The only way to identify hatchery salmon is by the missing fin clipped by the hatchery.

If even marine scientists cannot tell "wild" salmon and hatchery salmon apart in a biological sense, why should government bureaucrats be allowed to insist on drawing arbitrary distinctions? And why should it be in a court's power to do so?

Even though the clubbing has stopped, regulators can still lowball the salmon count if they're allowed to exclude those born in hatcheries. Such manufactured pessimism gives regulators more excuses to take control of logging, farming, grazing and home building on thousands of acres of land, endangering the economy for a species that isn't in danger.

Judge Hogan was right to deny regulators the use of dishonest, politicized science to justify their power trips.

*Russ Brooks is the Managing Attorney of Pacific Legal Foundation's Northwest Center.  He brought the landmark Alsea Valley Alliance case scheduled for hearing by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 8, 2003.  For 30 years, Pacific Legal Foundation has fought for balance and common sense in application of the Endangered Species Act.

Submitted by:  Russell C. Brooks, Managing Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation
Address:  10940 NE 33rd Place, Suite 109, Bellevue, Washington  98004
Daytime Telephone:  (425) 576-0484 or (916) 362-2833 (Denise Davis, Media Director)

If you know of any spending on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the salmon/trout species in the NW and northern California on public or private projects (even $1.00), please submit your ESA Cost Data stories at www.ESAinfo.org (or review other stories)

Please Pass On!!


Gary Wiggins, PE
now in Chandler, AZ (previously Snohomish, WA)
Pager (602) 664-3198





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