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Governor's Appointee Is Blocked
State Senate leader acts after interim member of fish and game panel votes to delay protection for coho salmon. But she may yet retain her post.
The leader of California's Senate has blocked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first appointment to the California Fish and Game Commission after she voted to delay plans to protect the state's rare coho salmon as an endangered species.
Wild coho salmon, which once numbered about 250,000, have dropped to about 5,000 statewide.
Marilyn Hendrickson, who is serving as an interim commissioner, joined two holdovers from the Davis administration last week in voting against the recommendations of state biologists to add Northern California coho to the state's list of threatened and endangered species.
Hendrickson, co-owner of a fishing tackle manufacturing company, was set to be confirmed by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday. But her name was abruptly yanked from the list of appointees by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) because of the vote.
"We aren't happy with her," said Burton, who is also chairman of the Rules Committee. "We are going to have a meeting with her and straighten things out — or find a new commissioner."
Schwarzenegger's appointments to key positions of environmental stewardship have varied widely, ranging from environmental advocates to employees and lobbyists of logging and agricultural companies.
In the case of the Fish and Game Commission, he picked Hendrickson, 65, who with her husband, Joe "Sep" Hendrickson, owns Sep's Pro Fishing Inc., which makes and sells ultra-light tackle to catch trout, landlocked king and Kokanee salmon.
Hendrickson also is vice president of a nonprofit group set up to work with state officials to enhance "angling opportunities in the state" and co-produces a "California Sportsmen" radio show.
She declined to explain her reason for voting for the delay. As for Burton pulling her name from the confirmation hearing, she said: "I'm not the least bit perturbed." She has until March to be confirmed by the Senate and term limits will force Burton out of office later this year.
Last month, Burton and Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Byron Sher (D-Stanford) sent all of the commissioners a letter urging them to take the final step in adding coho salmon that spawn in rivers north of Punta Gorda in Humboldt County to the list of "threatened" species, and those that spawn south of Punta Gorda as "endangered."
"There is no scientific basis for further delay on this matter," the senators wrote.
Yet that is exactly what the commission did at its meeting in Crescent City last week, ignoring the recommendations of both the state Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Commissioners Michael Flores, James Kellogg and Hendrickson postponed action on the commission's decision last February that directed state officials to begin the process of giving coho salmon protected status. Instead, they asked that state officials check whether federal officials might do more, given that the coho have some measure of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
It was the latest delay in a string of postponements that began in 2000, and have increasingly annoyed Burton and Sher. "If we don't do something, we aren't going to see these fish anymore," Burton said.
None of this affects sports or commercial fishing. It has been illegal to catch coho salmon since 1988. But state endangered-species protections would add more restrictions on logging, and on ranchers and farmers.
For instance, it would force all farmers on affected rivers, particularly in the Shasta and Scott valleys, to place screens that would stop juvenile salmon from being siphoned out of the river with water used to irrigate alfalfa fields.
It might also lead to restricting how much water can be diverted from streams and rivers, which worries those farmers.
"The fear of the landowners is that they are going to be tied up in court, overly burdened by restrictions and will have to take their land out of [agricultural] production," Flores said.
He said he was sympathetic to their plight and wanted to encourage them to take voluntary measures to protect the salmon, as they have begun to do.
Although some positive steps are being taken, not enough is being done to save those fish from extinction, said Tom Weseloh, a regional manager of California Trout, a conservation group. He blames the timber industry, which wants to avoid restrictions on logging practices, and alfalfa and cattle ranchers who are diverting too much water from rivers and streams where juvenile salmon live and grow before they head to the ocean.
"The water in these streams is over-allocated," Weseloh said, "so a lot of these streambeds go dry. Dry streams cannot grow fish."
Commissioner Sam Schuchat, who along with Commissioner Bob Hattoy was on the losing end of last week's vote, said he was worried about the consequences of delay.
"I'm convinced that if we don't protect this species as endangered, it's going to go extinct in the next decade," Schuchat said. "It may already be too late."
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