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Coho protection approved

By ALI BAY California Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Despite new evidence that shows increasing numbers of coho salmon in a variety of California watersheds, the state has approved new protections for the species.

On Aug. 6, the California Fish and Game Commission decided to list coho salmon as threatened and endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act. Salmon between San Francisco and Punta Gorda, in Humboldt County, will be listed as endangered, and the species between Punta Gorda and the Oregon border will be listed as threatened.

“We did everything we possibly could to prevent it, and they decided to list anyway,” said Noelle Cremers, director of industry affairs for the California Cattlemen’s Association.

CCA, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Forestry Association presented new evidence to the state that indicated increased numbers of coho adults and juveniles are present in some Northern California watersheds in recent years. That information, compiled by a Walnut Creek-based biologist, Charles Hanson, indicates that ocean conditions may be improved for coho rearing, and that inland habitat quality in some areas is also improving.

However, the research, compiled in 2002 and 2003, didn’t stand the test of proving a long-term trend in the species’ recovery.

“The department very thoroughly and very carefully reviewed that information,” said Gary Stacey, fisheries program manager for the Department of Fish and Game’s North Coast region. “We recognize that there are some small populations of coho that seem to have stabilized and seem to be doing fairly well. But while we have these pockets of populations that seem to be doing well, there is a preponderance of populations that aren’t.”

In June, the California Fish and Game Commission tabled the proposal to add the fish to the list of endangered and threatened species, and instead recommended the state continue with its recovery plan, as outlined in February.

Agricultural leaders speculated political pressure might have forced members of the commission to finalize the listing this month — which they said was unexpected. However, a spokeswoman for the department said she was unaware of any pressure from lawmakers that would have led to the commission’s recent decision.

Now ranch and farm groups are trying to get a grip on what the listing could mean for cattle producers and farmers in the North State.


“Generally the people who will be impacted by this are those who irrigate alfalfa or pasture in the range of the coho — namely in the Siskiyou Valley,” said Cremers. “They most likely will have to get incidental take permits, which will be incredibly expensive because they will require restoration in return for that incidental take.”

Cremers said the effects of the listing in the most northern part of the state would also likely resonate across California. Cattle producers and farmers may have to reduce their hay production as a result of the listing, she said. Growers in the affected counties of Siskiyou and Shasta provide alfalfa to the state’s dairy and horse operations.

A spokeswoman for the Farm Bureau said growers and ranchers need to make sure they’re using the best management practices for any typical agricultural activities around streams.

But that’s something most of them have been doing for years anyway, said Pam Giacomini, director of natural resources for the Farm Bureau.


The listing is “really disheartening for people who have been working cooperatively for many, many years,” she said. She said it’s frustrating for landowners who have been doing restoration projects on their land to promote coho habitat. Now those landowners could be viewed as criminals if they accidentally harm some of the fish, even though they’re helping the species in the long term.

“This is a pretty big incentive for landowners not to create (coho) habitat,” Giacomini said. “And that’s not what we want.”


The commission’s decision concludes a lengthy process that began in August 2002, when the department found that populations of coho salmon warranted new protections. The best available information at that time indicated that coho from San Francisco to the Oregon border had experienced a significant decline in the past 40 to 50 years.

According to the department, various populations, including coho hatchery stocks, are only 6 to 15 percent as abundant as they were in the 1940s.

“Fifty-seven percent of the streams that used to support coho, now don’t,” said Stacey. He said the decline has been attributed to dams and water diversions for municipal and agricultural uses, as well as landslides, drought and poor ocean conditions.

The department estimates listing and recovery efforts for the coho, which is also protected by federal law, will cost the state about $200 million per year.

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