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Feds clear 80% of salmon waters
Feds clear 80% of salmon waters

Tam Moore, Oregon Staff Writer

Under court order to clarify critical habitat designations, NOAA Fisheries on Aug. 12 trimmed about 80 percent of the river miles it had designated in 2000. The new habitat list is limited to streams in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho where endangered salmon and steelhead are known to exist.

In the four states, that amounts to more than 27,000 miles of streams in private and public ownership.

Bob Lohn, NOAA’s Northwest regional director, said the new designation will be used to build recovery plans. Many are already in draft form, a process that continued while the agency re-did the controversial 2000 critical habitat work.

A coalition of environmental groups set the scene for more legal battles over salmon by the Aug. 11 release of a 28-page report charging the finding amounts to a “rollback” of salmon protection mandated by the Endangered Species Act.

“The proposal for critical salmon habitat is part of a broader scheme by the current administration and its allies to dismantle the Endangered Species Act,” says the coalition’s report. It also puts down the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds as “relying heavily” on inadequate rules dealing with forest management and agricultural impact on habitat.

The official findings issued this month won’t take effect for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. They are no surprise. A draft was released in November, and NOAA met with state and tribal fishery officials in April.

The official papers are on the Internet. For California, the site is swr.nmfs.noaa.gov; for the three Northwest states, it is www.nwr.noaa.gov/1salmon/salmesa/crithab/chsite.htm.

In California, the designations reach from coastal streams below the Klamath River to Ventura County. The Central Valley’s Sacramento and San Joaquin basins also drew miles of listings.

The Pacific Northwest designation includes tributaries of Puget Sound, most tributaries of the Columbia and Snake rivers, and Oregon’s John Day River Basin.

Missing from the map are the Klamath Basin in California and the Rogue Basin and Oregon coastal streams, where NOAA is partway through a review of status on endangered salmon species.

Those reviews should be complete by year’s end, said Brian Gorman of NOAA.

Federal land managers face ESA reviews for actions impacting streams used by listed fish. The critical habitat designation also applies to actions on private lands that require federal permits such as those involving modification to wetlands.

The 2000 critical habitat designations were withdrawn as part of a lawsuit brought by National Association of Homebuilders.

Since that time, several other federal court cases addressed ESA critical habitat designation, some affirming the logic of the Homebuilders’ case that said economic impact must be considered, others finding on different portions of the 30-year-old law.

NOAA Fisheries said it couldn’t wait to resolve those issues under the most recent court order that set an Aug. 15 deadline for publication of the West Coast critical habitat designations.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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