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Farm leaders shocked at state's decision to list coho

Issue Date: August 11, 2004

By Christine Souza
Assistant Editor AgAlert, Farm Bureau

Farmers and ranchers suffered a disappointing setback last week when the California Fish and Game Commission made its final decision to list the coho salmon as threatened in the northern part of the state, and endangered in Central California.

"Many landowners have worked voluntarily and cooperatively to complete restoration work for the coho and to recover the species. This decision punishes them for their good work and we are very, very disappointed," said Pam Giacomini, California Farm Bureau Federation director of natural resources. "This just adds another layer of regulatory burden to our landowners."

Commissioners met in Bridgeport last week and voted 4-0 to list coho salmon from San Francisco to Punta Gorda in Humboldt County as endangered. Coho from Punta Gorda to the Oregon border were listed as threatened. The decision comes about one month after the commission decided to table its decision and therefore hold in abeyance any proposed changes to add coho salmon to the list of threatened and endangered species.

"Resources Agency Secretary Mike Chrisman's lack of leadership on this issue reflects 'business as usual' in Sacramento where most commission appointees continue to make political decisions and ignore available science. This decision ignores the good work by farmers and ranchers to improve habitat and recover species and instead sends a message that their efforts, while good, at some point may come back to haunt them," said George Gomes, CFBF administrator.

ĻThe governor says he wants to 'blow up the boxes' of government and do things differently. The explosions need to start at the Resources Agency. We are very disappointed in Secretary Chrisman," Gomes said.

Farmers and ranchers have expressed the fear that this most recent action by the commission will mean additional regulations and costs for the agriculture sector.

"We expected at some point that they would move forward with the listing; we were just keeping our fingers crossed that it wouldn't happen. We really haven't sat down and had any discussion about next steps or what this means," said Don Howell, Siskiyou County Farm Bureau member. "Most of the landowners are quite concerned on exactly how and when the impacts are going to be felt. We believe that this could happen this fall on any type of a diverter. For the most part, this is going to be over water use."

żowell said landowners are concerned that they will face additional pressure regarding the "taking" of coho salmon. "We think that the main focus of the department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries is that a lack of water leads to fish death, specifically coho death. A landowner just doing his normal irrigating routine could inadvertently cause a situation that could possibly kill a coho and the fines are substantial," Howell said.

State and federal agencies involved in this issue say they are attempting to develop a simplified process for landowners when it comes to acquiring incidental take permits for coho. Since the coho is already listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, Howell said California Department of Fish and Game is negotiating with NOAA Fisheries to try to develop a combined incidental take permit for both state and federally listed coho.

"They want to have meetings with the various landowners to try to work out some of the details and to see what the department can do under the existing regulations to lessen the impact," Howell said.

Following several months of collecting public comment, the commissioners concluded what was repeated in the department's status review, that coho numbers have dwindled.

"Once the department created their status review, they became very connected to it and wanted to protect it so they took the defensive position. I believe any information that was brought forward was therefore immediately discounted," Howell said.

Giacomini indicated that the department's status review about the coho salmon "lacks rigorous, qualitative and quantitative science." A review of the fish's status commissioned by Farm Bureau and other organizations indicates that coho salmon populations have been recovering. During one meeting, fisheries biologist Charles Hanson of Walnut Creek presented information about the increasing numbers of coho.

Howell said scientific information presented to commissioners during the public comment process was simply disregarded.

The Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Coalition petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission in July 2000 to list the coho salmon north of San Francisco as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. In August 2002, the commission found that coho salmon warranted listing, and commenced with development of a recovery plan in an effort to work cooperatively with landowners to benefit the species. The decision to list the species is a clearly regulatory action which serves to chill voluntary, cooperative efforts, Giacomini said.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. (Top)





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