By JEFF BARNARD
The Associated Press
9/13/01 7:31 PM
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- A federal judge has thrown out the threatened
species listing for Oregon coastal coho salmon, saying federal biologists
were wrong to make a distinction between wild and hatchery fish.
In a lawsuit brought by the Alsea Valley Alliance, U.S. District Judge
Michael J. Hogan issued a ruling sending the 1998 listing of Oregon coastal
coho as a threatened species back to the National Marine Fisheries Service
for further consideration.
"Theoretically, this (ruling) could affect all listings" of salmon in the
West, said NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman.
The Eugene judge wrote in his Monday ruling that NMFS acted in an arbitrary
and capricious manner when it made a distinction between fish spawning in
the wild and fish spawned in hatcheries, when they could breed together as
part of the same group known as an evolutionarily significant unit, or ESU.
The lawsuit was brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative
public interest law firm, based on local outrage kindled by a 1998 home
video taken by Philomath banker Ron Yechout of Oregon. The video showed
Department of Fish and Wildlife workers clubbing hatchery fish on the Alsea
River to ease competition with wild fish.
"It's pretty silly when a bureaucrat can wade into a river and pick one coho
salmon and declare it protected, and pick another coho salmon and take it
home and throw it on the grill," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Russ
Brooks. "If they're threatened, fine, list them all, not just part of them."
The Alsea Valley Alliance is made up of people affected by limits on fishing
in the Alsea River due to the threatened species listing of Oregon coastal
coho salmon. They include local sports fishermen, the owner of a bait shop
and the owner of a charter fishing boat, said Brooks.
While the ruling calls into question all Endangered Species Act listings of
trout, salmon and steelhead, it only affects the listing of Oregon coastal
coho, and the foundation has no immediate plans to seek reversals of other
listings, Brooks said.
"We do expect NMFS to appeal the case to the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals)
rather than going back to the drawing board to -- as Judge Hogan told
them -- to do it right next time," Brooks said.
NMFS has not analyzed the ruling yet, and has not decided whether to appeal,
however state protections remaining in force would continue to protect coho,
NMFS had originally decided not to list coho salmon on the Oregon coast,
deferring to Gov. John Kitzhaber's groundbreaking Oregon Salmon Plan, which
sought to promote voluntary improvements and protections of salmon habitat
on private lands, where the bulk of coho habitat is located.
But environmentalists sued, and another federal judge ruled that voluntary
protections were not sufficient under the Endangered Species Act.
Steve Williams, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of
Fish and Wildlife, said it was too early to say what the ruling would mean
for efforts to protect and restore Oregon coho.