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Mount Shasta Herald, Weed Press, Dunsmuir News - Mt. Shasta News
2 claims of victory in coho ruling
Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 1:03 PM PST

With both sides of the issue claiming a measure of victory, reaction to a ruling in the Oregon US District Court on listing coho salmon as an endangered species has met with enthusiasm in some quarters and cautious optimism in others.

The ruling was closely watched by Klamath Basin groups including irrigators and fishing interests.

The Klamath Basin has been a focus of the issue in recent years as the federal government has alternately cut off water to farmers to save fish and then gave the water to farmers that some groups claim resulted in massive fish die-offs.

In suit brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, that claims in part that hatchery salmon should be counted along with wild salmon in determining numbers, judge Michael Hogan ruled January 11th that listings the coho salmon as an endangered species was "legally deficient." He kept in the listing in place, however, until the federal government completes studies regarding hatchery salmon this summer.

The PLF suit contended, among other issues, that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service erred in distinguishing between hatchery and spawned fish in counting numbers to determine endangered status.

The PLF saw the ruling as vindication of the suit.

"This victory came too late for the farmers who were pushed into bankruptcy and the businesses that were forced to close to protect fish that were never endangered," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Russ Brooks. "Our rivers and streams are teeming with salmon, yet the Klamath community was practically destroyed because of environmental politics run amok."

"This ruling should send a message to NOAA Fisheries that they cannot continue to circumvent the Endangered Species Act to keep salmon listed when the prolific number of hatchery fish means salmon are not endangered." Brooks continued.

Klamath Waters Users Association executive director Dan Keppen was a cautious in his response to the ruling. The KWUA represents Klamath Basin farming interests.

"The judge ruled the hatchery fish need to be counted with the wild fish, but he left the listing in place," Keppen said. "Hopefully this might give the government a cover to count both kinds of fish. A fish is a fish."

Glenn Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Association says the ruling was a "pyrrhic victory at best" for the PLF and what the judge ruled on was a "minor technical flaw."

"They won a technical battle, but not the war," Spain said. "The judge saw through that it is just a water grab by some disgruntled landowners to remove federal protection and let the fish in the lower river go extinct."

Spain said that regardless of the ruling, the fish are endangered.

"It's beside the point," Spain said. "Hatchery or wild, they are likely to die because of too little water."

Spain said fish losses in recent years have run into "tens of millions of dollars."

"They are just trying to knock out the endangered species listing," Spain said. "The judge saw through that."

A report on the issue from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected this summer.

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