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1/11/2008    
An appellate courtís decision upholding endangered listing for the coho salmon may soon go before the California Supreme Court. - Photo courtesy of Thomas J. Weseloh, California Trout
Groups seek review of coho ruling
Lawsuit asks for endangered species designation decision

Elizabeth Larson
Capital Press

A lawsuit over coho salmon protections may soon be going before the state Supreme Court.

The California Forestry Association and several co-defendants have asked California's Supreme Court to review a Third Appellate Court decision, which upheld endangered species protection for two Northern California coho salmon subgroups.

Damien Schiff of Pacific Legal Foundation, the lead counsel for the California Forestry Association and the group of plaintiffs, said they filed a petition for review of the decision during the last week of December.

The suit disputes the California Fish and Game Commission's March 2005 decision to give the coho salmon full protection status under the California Endangered Species Act. "We're only asking that the court review two aspects of the court of appeals decision," Schiff said.

The first aspect they want reviewed, which Schiff said is the most important, is whether California's Endangered Species Act allows listing of wildlife populations that are subspecies. The appellate court's decision did grant protections for those subgroups, which the plaintiffs have said isn't specifically outlined in state law.

The second issue, said Schiff, is whether the state Fish and Game Commission must only look at a species' status in California when making a listing decision, or whether they also should look at the species in all of its habitat.

The coho extends all the way to Russia, said Schiff. The subgroups which the commission granted protection for in this case are in the coho's southernmost western population, from the Oregon border to Punta Gorda and from Punta Gorda to San Francisco.

While those two subsets of coho aren't doing well, Schiff said when considering the coho's status throughout its entire western habitat, it's nowhere near extinction.

The disputed coho listings create significant cost increases for timber harvesting, cattle grazing and increase the regulatory requirements, Schiff said.

"Those are the principal economic bars," Schiff said.

Brian Stranko, chief executive officer of California Trout, one of the intervenors in the case, said the fish need the protections and he hopes the state Supreme Court will refuse to review the decision in order to allow the listing to move forward.

"For a long time, I'd say the California Forestry Association and others have tried to delay the implementation of the coho listing and this is in my mind and the organization's mind another tactic for delay," Stranko said.

Stranko said it's important to keep these California coho subgroups alive and give them protection. He disputes the notion that they're not particular species, saying that science has shown that they are because of different behaviors.

Why the species is declining comes down to a few "umbrella" issues, said Stranko, including habitat destruction - particularly, the changing of rivers and watersheds, through removal of riparian vegetation, including trees.

The fish also have suffered because of challenges to get to their historic spawning and rear habitats, said Stranko, which has resulted from dams and other obstructions.

If the forestry association and its co-defendants win, said Stranko, the coho's status would be rolled back from endangered to threatened.

Elizabeth Larson is a staff writer based in Lucerne. E-mail: elarson@capitalpress.com.
 
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