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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
Vol. 32, No. 39
Done deal on coho
Coho salmon ESA listing affects farmers, ranchers and loggers in Siskiyou County, at the top of the State of California
-- Two state commissioners change vote to list coho salmon.
By Liz Bowen
BRIDGEPORT – The current number of coho salmon in Northern California has not been released by the state government. Do they or don’t they know how many coho are in the northstate?
In addition, a compilation of the last two years’ worth of population has not been revealed to the public by the California Department of Fish and Game. Why?
Yet, the department’s officials deemed the coho should be listed with the California Endangered Species Act.
But, it was politics that pressured two individuals on the state Fish and Game Commission to change their vote.
On Aug. 5, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to complete the final leg of listing the coho salmon to the California Endangered Species Act.
"It was pretty apparent it was a done deal," said Don Howell, from Fort Jones, who flew his airplane down to the meeting.
The coho agenda item was a surprise for Siskiyou County groups that were opposed to the listing. The coho listing had been delayed at the June 25 meeting by the commissioners, creating a limbo period expected to last several months. Once the coho was found on the agenda for this, the next, meeting, local leaders quickly discussed with state organization officials the ramifications.
The pressures applied by the Green non-profit organizations that were petitioning for the coho listing was not a surprise. But the length and breadth and strength of their power at the state level is shocking, according to those opposed to the listing of the coho.
Doug LaMalfa, state assemblyman who represents Siskiyou County and eight other counties, denounced the decision in disgust.
"Today’s rush to judgement appeared to be driven by partisan politics rather than finding the most workable solution for all stakeholders," said LaMalfa. "Worse, as with the listing of the northern spotted owl, we’re going to be seeing the negative impacts of this decision for decades to come."
LaMalfa added that the listing was a "huge slap in the face to the local farmers, ranchers" that have worked to find solutions for both the fish and state law water rights.
Howell, who is the Pioneer Press Person of the Year 2003, agrees with LaMalfa. He and another Scott Valley resident, Bill Krum, attended the Aug. 5, commission meeting held in the Sierra Nevada city of Bridgeport.
"We were there to support three commissioners," said Howell, "and to get one more item into the record."
The department did not respond within 30 days.
Howell explained during his testimony that the groups he represents did not receive information from the Department of Fish and Game.
Specifically, the numbers of coho that were counted during the last two years was requested through the state Public Records Act. The department did not respond within the 30 days allowed by law. Instead it took 90 days to send a letter to Daniel O’Hanlon, who is the attorney for SOSS, Save Our Shasta and Scott Valleys and Towns coalition. The letter only provided excuses -- no population numbers of coho.
During the state Fish and Game Commission meeting, Howell told the commissioners that --
"It is apparent the department has not compiled this critical information into a summary form that would support their recommendation to list."
The department’s letter to SOSS said that the records on coho are "voluminous" and "subject to change." Both statements worry SOSS officials, especially the "subject to change" part, said Howell.
Few comments were allowed at the meeting and when the vote occurred, president of the commission, Jim Kellogg, and the newly appointed Marilyn Hendrickson, quietly voted to list the coho, a switch from the June 25 meeting. Past SOSS supporter, Michael Flores, abstained.
After the June 25 meeting, when the commission voted 3-2 to delay the listing, the Green environmental groups went to work pulling strings. Within days of that meeting, high-ranking state senators like John Burton, D-San Francisco, said they would stop the confirmation of Hendrickson to the commission. He was quoted as saying that she had not voted the way the Democrats and Greens wanted her to. Pressure was also applied to President Kellogg, who is also a Democrat.
Hendrickson is a Republican and was appointed last March by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state Fish and Game Commission, which guides the California Fish and Game Department.
It is California politics at its worst
The Green non-profits have demanded increased regulations through the California ESA that will affect farmers, loggers and developers. Those businesses must now apply for additional permits before doing basic farming or logging, which will have extensive costs attached.
After the meeting, Krum said it was very disappointing to see the amount of political pressure that was brought to bear on the individual commissioners and the commission as a whole.
"Unfortunately, that’s the reality of California politics," he summed up.
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