Environmental group appeals salmon ruling

Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Environmentalists on Friday appealed the court ruling that took Oregon coastal coho salmon off the threatened species list and prompted the federal government to review protection for salmon throughout the West.

The appeal was made possible by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene earlier this week. He granted a coalition of environmental and commercial fishing groups the right to intervene in the case so they can try to overturn his decision.

Given their interest in restoring Oregon coastal coho salmon populations, the groups can bring their own appeal because the government decided not to appeal, Hogan wrote.

The action puts another wrinkle in the increasingly complicated status of salmon in the West.

After deciding against an appeal, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced last week that, based on Hogan’s ruling, it would take the next year to review whether 23 of the 25 groups of Pacific salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act should keep their listings.

Prior to coming to those decisions, the fisheries service would decide whether to expand the role of hatcheries in restoring salmon populations, the core of Hogan’s original ruling. Current federal policy considers hatchery fish a threat to the survival of wild fish because they compete for limited food and habitat, carry disease, and are less successful at survival in the wild.

Hogan ruled Sept. 12 that the fisheries service was arbitrary and capricious when it lumped hatchery and wild fish together in the same group, known as an evolutionarily significant unit, then granted Endangered Species Act protection only to the wild fish.

Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, representing the environmental and fishing groups, said in Seattle that she would file a motion next week asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to suspend Hogan’s original ruling and restore the salmon listing pending the appeal.

Hogan denied a similar request.

Lifting the listing for Oregon coastal coho allowed logging to begin on several federal timber sales that had been shelved to protect coho habitat.

Goldman said she did not expect the appeals court to rule for a year, about the same time the fisheries service would finish reviewing the status of the other salmon stocks and revising its hatchery policy.

The National Marine Fisheries Service decided it was better to review the salmon situation in light of Hogan’s ruling than to run the risk of losing an appeal, which could result in Hogan’s ruling being applied throughout the West and lifting 22 other salmon listings, agency spokesman Brian Gorman said.

“So things are in a cocked hat,” Gorman said.

Russell Brooks of the Pacific Legal Foundation, the public interest property rights law firm that brought the original case, said he was confident the ruling would hold up under appeal.

“Judge Hogan is saying, in essence, ‘If you want to appeal my thoughtful, well-reasoned order, go ahead – it will hold up,’ ” Brooks said. “Earthjustice is once again a day late and a dollar short, because NMFS has already decided to review its policies and listings from the ground up.”

Meanwhile, Pacific Legal Foundation has decided to file another lawsuit before Hogan challenging the listing of coho salmon in the Klamath River. That 1998 listing was a factor in the decision to deny irrigation water to Klamath Basin farmers last summer.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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