Fish and Game Commission denies coho
Attorney James Buchal argues in
support of a delisting petition on
coho salmon before the March meeting
of the California Fish and Game
Commission. Buchal, representing
timber interests, tried unsuccessfully
to convince the commission that coho
populations south of San Francisco
should be delisted as an endangered
Arcata hearing draws supporters and
opponents of coho protections
Capital Press California Editor, 3/1/07
ARCATA, Calif. - For a second time, the
California Fish and Game Commission has
rejected a delisting petition on coho salmon
south of San Francisco as an endangered
species, in apparent defiance of a court
order. The 3-0 vote came today after 90
minutes of public testimony at the
commission's March meeting in Arcata on the
campus of Humboldt State University.
James Buchal, a Portland attorney for Big
Creek Lumber Company and the Central Coast
Forest Association, which first brought the
delisting petition, argued that the evidence
shows the coho is not a native species in the
region and efforts to restore its population
are unwarranted, especially in light of the
state's budget constraints.
"The question is should the state spend its
limited resources trying to grow coho in this
region without success since 1906? One
estimate is that it will cost $250 million
dollars," Buchal said. "We're here to help you
not spend $250 million dollars to protect a
species because it won't work. "
Buchal stated that coho salmon in the region
have come from hatchery-raised fish. Because
of drought and flood patterns, and other
factors, native coho have not thrived.
"To maintain populations of coho salmon, you
have got to run hatcheries," he said. "That is
not consistent with self-sustaining, natural
populations that can survive. All we are
asking is that you accept the petition for
full status review, no changes in existing
coho protections and to think ---- does it
make sense to lock the State of California
into a fatally doomed restoration program."
The Fish and Game Commission first rejected
the delisting petition in 2005. Buchal's
clients challenged the case in court and
received a favorable ruling last September
that the commission had erred in its
Officials of the California Department of Fish
and Game objected to the points raised by
Buchal at the Arcata meeting and said the coho
deserve state protection.
"We respectfully recommend that the commission
reject this petition," said CDFG's Stephanie
Tom Coupe. "Despite the modeling, they do
exist south of San Francisco. They are
endangered species and they are afforded
protections wherever they are found."
The coho was listed as a state endangered
species in 1995 and a federally threatened
species the following year. In 2005, the
federal listing was elevated to endangered.
Dr. Kenneth Gobalet, a biology professor at
California State University-Bakersfield,
buttressed Coupe's remarks and said
archeological studies he has done show that
coho salmon bones existed in the region.
Speaking in a rising tone and visibly shaking
in anger that his work on coho populations was
being challenged in a fishery publication,
Gobalet lashed out at the petitioners.
"I am distressed that my work has been
distorted," he said.
Michele Dias, counsel and vice president of
environmental affairs for the California
Forestry Association, spoke in support of the
petition and reminded the commissioners of the
Sacramento County Superior Court order in
"The court held that there is sufficient
evidence for delisting and that the commission
erred in rejecting the petition and it should
have accepted it for consideration," Dias
said. "Don't repeat the same mistake you made
when you first rejected the petition."
Following the public testimony, none of the
three commissioners present asked questions or
made any further comment. Commissioner Jim
Kellogg moved to reject the petition.
"I was here when we made the decision
originally. I don't see any reasonable
evidence to warrant a delisting at this time
and I would like to make a motion that the
Commission did not find sufficient evidence
that the petition was warranted and that the
Commission go on record to deny the petition,"
Kellogg said. With a second from new
commissioner, R. Judd Hanna, the petition was
rejected on a unanimous vote.
Santa Cruz timberland owner Katharine Moore
and current president of the Central Coast
Forest Association, expressed frustration.
"What this does is put all of those
protections in place on all of the creeks that
don't need to be there if the salmon aren't
there. It adds to the paperwork in terms of
incidental take permits and other things that
add to our bills on timber harvesting, a whole
new layer of costs," Moore said. "It is
getting to the point where putting together a
timber harvest plan to thin out timber is
prohibitive. You are backed into a corner."
James Buchal said that the next step is to go
back to court to press the commission to take
up the petition and study the matter further.
"They are breaching the law by rejecting the
petition and so they are thumbing their nose
at the court and saying that they will breach
the law again," Buchal said. "So it is back to
court and there is a hearing scheduled on
March 9 to hold them in contempt of court for
stalling. We'll see where that goes."
The Fish and Game Commission also took
testimony regarding a delist petition, backed
by the Department of Fish and Game and
supported by the California Forestry
Association, to remove the Siskiyou Mountains
Salamander as a threatened species.
The commission is expected to place the
salamander petition on the agenda of its April
meeting in Bodega Bay for a vote.
"CFA members own forestlands and provide
habitat for the salamander," Michele Dias
said. "Based on their knowledge and the
department's scientific data, we support the
department's delisting petition and remind you
that you have the authority to delist, thereby
freeing up limited resources to protect
species that truly need it."