A California property rights group has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Endangered Species Act listings for salmon in four Western states.
PORTLAND, Ore. A California property rights group has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Endangered Species Act listings for salmon in four Western states, claiming the government is playing a "shell game" with hatchery and naturally spawned fish by counting only the natural population to determine listings.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in Sacramento, also claims the salmon listings damage the Western economy by driving up prices and cutting jobs in farming and agriculture, along with other industries, including construction and transportation.
"This policy is an insult to the tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods are being held hostage by needless regulations to protect fish that aren't endangered," said Russell Brooks, the managing attorney for the foundation's office in Seattle.
Environmentalists immediately criticized the lawsuit, calling it a step backward in salmon conservation efforts that have broad public, scientific and political support.
"It's just counter to all the science that's out there, and I think counter to common sense," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, names the chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Northwest regional director of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.
Brian Gorman, spokesman for NOAA Fisheries in Seattle, said the agency cannot comment on a pending lawsuit.
But he defended NOAA policy on wild and hatchery salmon in general, noting that the Pacific Legal Foundation won a ruling in 2001 by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene that required fishery managers to consider hatchery salmon numbers when determining whether to list wild stocks as threatened or endangered.
"The court clearly told us we had to account for hatchery fish," Gorman said. "But at no point did the court say that hatchery fish and natural spawners were a one-to-one correspondence."
But Brooks, who led the previous lawsuit, said the latest lawsuit asks the court to rule there should be no distinction between hatchery and wild salmon.
"Right now the Endangered Species Act doesn't allow NOAA to wade into a stream and pick the fish they like and the fish they don't like," Brooks said. "It's got to treat them all equally."
Gorman said the only way to keep wild and hatchery salmon stocks separate is to identify the genetic differences between them and preserve the wild fish. Otherwise, fishery managers would be under pressure to inflate the total number of salmon with hatchery fish.
"If the lawsuit says, 'Count all the fish,' the assumed next step is to delist them all," Gorman said.
Conservation groups agreed.
"We think it's incredibly misguided," said Amy Kober of American Rivers in Seattle.
"Counting hatchery fish the same as wild fish not only does not pass scientific muster, it would be a huge setback to efforts of citizens across the Northwest and California who are really trying to recover salmon," Kober said.
She also dismissed arguments that salmon conservation damages the regional economy, saying the effort adds jobs to Western states and also protects its rivers, streams and forests.
"I think it's a really tired cliche and argument to use the environment versus the economy," Kober said, noting that Western states have some of the fastest-growing economies in the nation.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday follows a ruling last May by U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland that found a $6 billion Bush administration plan to improve the Columbia River Basin hydropower system failed to adequately protect salmon.
On Dec. 1, a federal judge in Seattle refused to dismiss an environmentalist challenge to administration policy of considering hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead when determining whether wild stocks need protection.
Environmental groups and scientists told U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour that salmon raised in hatcheries lack the ability that wild fish have evolved over millions of years to survive and adapt.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed its lawsuit on behalf of a broad coalition of property owners, farmers, and business groups in Oregon, Washington, California, and Idaho.
Those groups include the Building Association of Washington, the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, and the California and Oregon state granges.
Source: Associated Press