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Chinook salmon won’t be protected
Groups sought ESA listing for spring chinook in upper Klamath
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 4/6/12
Federal biologists have decided chinook salmon in the upper Klamath and Trinity rivers do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Local agriculture officials applauded the decision, while conservation groups and tribal officials say more needs to be done to protect chinook, especially the dwindling numbers that migrate upriver in the spring.
The decision from the NOAA Fisheries Service was published Monday in the Federal Register.
Irrigators feared Endangered Species Act protections for chinook could have required more water from the Upper Klamath Basin be sent downriver, said Greg Adding ton, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. Water in the Upper Basin already is stretched thin, as certain amounts must be sent downriver and retained in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered coho salmon and sucker, respectively. Irrigators and wildlife refuges get whatever water is left over.
It’s unknown how a listing for chinook would have changed water management in the Upper Basin, said Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin area office.
“(The decision) makes life easier for us from a water management standpoint because it ensures that the only species downriver that we have to worry about are the coho,” he said.
Conservation groups sought protection for the spring chinook, which have declined to less than 3,000 surviving to spawn each year.
The decision hinged on the difference between fall and spring run chinook. Federal biologists found spring chinook are part of the same genetic group as chinook returning in the fall, which are expected to return in record numbers this year.
Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, said spring chinook are significantly different than their fall counterparts and should be afforded specific protections. Spring chinook have been most affected by dams in the Klamath River because they enter the river earlier in the year and travel farthest upriver, he said.
The decision on chinook protections comes as an agreement to remove four Klamath River dams waits for Congressional approval.
“These are the fish that, when we take the dams out, we think will recolonize the Upper Basin,” Tucker said of the spring chinook.
Bob Flowers, president of the Klamath-Lake County Farm Bureau, said he did not think chinook should be listed in the Endangered Species Act, especially considering the large salmon returns projected for this year.
“We’re really excited that they aren’t listed,” he said. “We don’t feel they are endangered.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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