By ALI BAY California Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO — Despite new evidence that shows
increasing numbers of coho salmon in a variety of
California watersheds, the state has approved new
protections for the species.
On Aug. 6, the California Fish and Game Commission
decided to list coho salmon as threatened and
endangered under the state’s Endangered Species
Act. Salmon between San Francisco and Punta Gorda,
in Humboldt County, will be listed as endangered,
and the species between Punta Gorda and the Oregon
border will be listed as threatened.
“We did everything we possibly could to prevent
it, and they decided to list anyway,” said Noelle
Cremers, director of industry affairs for the
California Cattlemen’s Association.
CCA, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the
California Forestry Association presented new
evidence to the state that indicated increased
numbers of coho adults and juveniles are present
in some Northern California watersheds in recent
years. That information, compiled by a Walnut
Creek-based biologist, Charles Hanson, indicates
that ocean conditions may be improved for coho
rearing, and that inland habitat quality in some
areas is also improving.
However, the research, compiled in 2002 and 2003,
didn’t stand the test of proving a long-term trend
in the species’ recovery.
“The department very thoroughly and very carefully
reviewed that information,” said Gary Stacey,
fisheries program manager for the Department of
Fish and Game’s North Coast region. “We recognize
that there are some small populations of coho that
seem to have stabilized and seem to be doing
fairly well. But while we have these pockets of
populations that seem to be doing well, there is a
preponderance of populations that aren’t.”
In June, the California Fish and Game Commission
tabled the proposal to add the fish to the list of
endangered and threatened species, and instead
recommended the state continue with its recovery
plan, as outlined in February.
Agricultural leaders speculated political pressure
might have forced members of the commission to
finalize the listing this month — which they said
was unexpected. However, a spokeswoman for the
department said she was unaware of any pressure
from lawmakers that would have led to the
commission’s recent decision.
Now ranch and farm groups are trying to get a grip
on what the listing could mean for cattle
producers and farmers in the North State.
SISKIYOU VALLEY IMPACT
“Generally the people who will be impacted by this
are those who irrigate alfalfa or pasture in the
range of the coho — namely in the Siskiyou
Valley,” said Cremers. “They most likely will have
to get incidental take permits, which will be
incredibly expensive because they will require
restoration in return for that incidental take.”
Cremers said the effects of the listing in the
most northern part of the state would also likely
resonate across California. Cattle producers and
farmers may have to reduce their hay production as
a result of the listing, she said. Growers in the
affected counties of Siskiyou and Shasta provide
alfalfa to the state’s dairy and horse operations.
A spokeswoman for the Farm Bureau said growers and
ranchers need to make sure they’re using the best
management practices for any typical agricultural
activities around streams.
But that’s something most of them have been doing
for years anyway, said Pam Giacomini, director of
natural resources for the Farm Bureau.
‘FRUSTRATING FOR LANDOWNERS’
The listing is “really disheartening for people
who have been working cooperatively for many, many
years,” she said. She said it’s frustrating for
landowners who have been doing restoration
projects on their land to promote coho habitat.
Now those landowners could be viewed as criminals
if they accidentally harm some of the fish, even
though they’re helping the species in the long
“This is a pretty big incentive for landowners not
to create (coho) habitat,” Giacomini said. “And
that’s not what we want.”
DATA SHOWED DECLINE
The commission’s decision concludes a lengthy
process that began in August 2002, when the
department found that populations of coho salmon
warranted new protections. The best available
information at that time indicated that coho from
San Francisco to the Oregon border had experienced
a significant decline in the past 40 to 50 years.
According to the department, various populations,
including coho hatchery stocks, are only 6 to 15
percent as abundant as they were in the 1940s.
“Fifty-seven percent of the streams that used to
support coho, now don’t,” said Stacey. He said the
decline has been attributed to dams and water
diversions for municipal and agricultural uses, as
well as landslides, drought and poor ocean
The department estimates listing and recovery
efforts for the coho, which is also protected by
federal law, will cost the state about $200
million per year.
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