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National Marine Fisheries Service: ‘Chinook not endangered
by John Bowman, Siskiyou Daily News, April 6, 2012
The decision – announced in a Federal Register filing on Monday – may come as a relief to some landowners in the Klamath basin already feeling the regulatory pinch of the 1997 listing of coho salmon as threatened.

In January of 2008, several conservation groups – including the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Larch Corporation – filed a petition with the Secretary of Commerce requesting that the Klamath River Chinook salmon be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The petitioners asked that NMFS consider three different listing options:

1) List spring-run Chinook in the Upper Klamath and Trinity River (UKTR) Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) as its own separate ESU;
2) List spring-run Chinook in the UKTR ESU as distinct population segment; or
3) List the entire UKTR Chinook ESU.

According to Oregon Wild Communications Assistant Sean Stevens, the primary goal of the petition was to list Klamath River spring-run Chinook, not necessarily the more abundant fall-run Chinook.

Stevens said Oregon Wild and other organizations have spent about a decade researching the petition and reviewing the science behind the genetics of spring vs. fall-run Chinook in the UKTR ESU.

“We still feel that the petition was merited,” he said. “We are still in the process of reviewing the NMFS decision.”

He added that a decision has not been made yet regarding the possibility of appeal.

“Historically, spring-run Chinook salmon were likely the predominant run type in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin,” the NMFS decision states. “Most spring-run spawning and rearing habitat was blocked by the construction of dams in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Klamath River and in the 1960s in the Trinity River Basin. As a result of these and other factors, spring-run populations were considered to be at less than 10 percent of their historical levels.”

During the initial 90-day review process, NMFS had determined that “the petition presented substantial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

Stevens said Oregon Wild was surprised by the final NMFS decision considering the agency’s initial determination of the petition’s merit.

Separate or not?

The petitioners contend that new information demonstrates that spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon in the UKTR ESU qualify as separate ESUs based on “significant and persistent genetic and reproductive isolation resulting from their different run timing.”

They further argue that the genetic differences between spring-run and fall-run UKTR Chinook salmon are comparable to genetic differences between spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon in California’s Central Valley, which are recognized as separate ESUs by NMFS.

However, NMFS declares in its decision that this assertion is untrue.

The agency says several studies have “found that spring-run and fall-run populations in the Salmon River were nearly indistinguishable genetically and that spring and fall-run populations in the South Fork Trinity were extremely similar to each other and to the Trinity River hatchery stocks.”

In addition to being very similar genetically, NMFS says the sub-populations of UKTR Chinook are not substantially reproductively isolated from each other, meaning they can, and do, interbreed.

Stevens said the petitioners will be closely reviewing this aspect of the NMFS decision as part of their consideration of an appeal.

Counting hatchery fish

Another factor noted by NMFS in its decision to not list the UKTR Chinook is the existence of hatchery fish. The presence of this additional segment of the UKTR Chinook population means that population numbers are high enough as to not indicate a threatened or endangered status, according to NMFS policy.

Many environmental organizations find the counting of hatchery fish when determining the health of a population to be an inappropriate, or at least controversial, practice.

However, the NMFS policy on counting hatchery fish states “hatchery stocks are considered part of an ESU in making ESA listing determinations if their level of genetic divergence relative to local natural populations is no more than what occurs between natural populations in the ESU.”

“Based on this assessment and the criteria in our Hatchery Listing Policy,” NMFS said. “We conclude that these three hatchery stocks are part of the UKTR Chinook salmon ESU.”

Past and future threats

Though the NMFS review of UKTR Chinook found that the population was not at significant risk of extinction in the next 100 years, it did note several factors that have limited their numbers in the past and may pose threats in the future.

These threats include the dams on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, water diversions, activities associated with past and present logging, disease, climate change and fluctuations in ocean conditions.

According to NMFS, the impacts to UKTR Chinook salmon from land management activities continue today, with a few exceptions.

They add, “Chinook salmon in the UKTR ESU have persisted for several decades at relatively stable levels of abundance, despite the existence of these threats to freshwater habitat, and, therefore, it is unlikely that destruction or modification of habitat or curtailment of the species’ range will threaten its continued existence now or in the foreseeable future.”



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