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Salmon advocates to sue over Oregon Coastal coho

4/17/2006, 5:47 p.m. PT
By JEFF BARNARD The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) Salmon advocates Monday notified the federal agency in charge of protecting salmon that they intend to go to court to challenge a decision not to put Oregon Coastal coho salmon back on the threatened species list after a court ruling took it off.

The 60-day notice of intent to sue, required by law before bringing a lawsuit against the government, argues that the decision by NOAA Fisheries violates the Endangered Species Act, goes against the best available science and relies on a new theory put forth by the state of Oregon that coho can rebound even from very low populations.

"Coho are still in trouble, their habitat is still in trouble, and now is not the time to declare mission accomplished and walk away," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle, who represents the coalition of salmon conservation and fishing groups.

"The federal protection is a backstop that ensures that we think through all our actions, whether it is timber sales, new roads or pesticides. Without that backstop we may be flying blind."

NOAA Fisheries policy adviser Todd Ungerecht said from Seattle that the agency had no immediate comment on the notice, because they had only just received it and lawyers had not fully reviewed it.

NOAA Fisheries announced last January that, due to the state's efforts to limit fishing, reform hatchery production and improve freshwater habitat, it was shelving a proposal to put Oregon coastal coho back on the threatened species list.

With no federal protection, there are fewer regulations on logging, agriculture, land development and restoration work from Astoria to Port Orford.

The fish was listed in 1998, primarily due to overfishing, loss of habitat to logging, agriculture and urban development and misguided hatchery practices. But a federal judge ruled in 2001 that NOAA Fisheries had erred in lumping hatchery and wild fish in the same population group, but only granting ESA protections to wild fish.

In 2003, Oregon reached an agreement with NOAA Fisheries to revive an earlier Oregon Plan for Salmon, which emphasized voluntary efforts to restore the fish, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife came out with a report finding that Oregon coastal coho remained viable as a species, even when ocean conditions were poor.

Groups listed on the notice to sue include the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Native Fish Society, Umpqua Watersheds, the Coast Range Association, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.




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