The one point Weeder expressed most adamantly and most frequently was that she wants public input on the plan.
“I sincerely hope that people will feel free to call me up or contact me and give me a piece of their mind,” Weeder said to the audience.
She also stressed this point to the Daily News and other attendees after the meeting. She said the plan is a “living document” - meaning it will continue to be updated and revised - and is currently in draft form.
Once the final version is adopted, the first major revision cycle will be after five years. Weeder said the plan will continue to evolve based on public input throughout the draft revision.
Weeder also explained that the plan has no regulatory power, though she said there is no guarantee that regulations would never be implemented in the future.
“The plan is advisory only, and completely voluntary,” she said. “This won’t work without the cooperation of landowners. We know that a lot of the things in the plan have been going on for 20 years, so we aren’t pretending that we’ve come up with some new idea that no one has ever thought of.”
Weeder also attempted to clear up what she believed were misconceptions about the cost estimates released earlier in the week.
She said some news outlets have reported that NOAA/NMFS would be spending $3.6 billion to recover the species, but clarified that this number is an estimate of the long-term cost to implement all of the goals of the plan.
Due to the voluntary nature of the plan, if landowners choose to undertake land use changes or habitat restoration projects on their property, the recovery plan can provide a blueprint for those efforts and possibly provide assistance in procuring funding.
One of the most controversial aspects of the plan for county residents is its Intrinsic Potential (IP) rating system.
These ratings, Weeder explained, are based on a computer model that calculates the potential for coho to inhabit a section of streams based on the geological and hydrological aspects of the stream’s landscape.
The IP ratings of each stream are then used to set coho abundance targets for different populations, subpopulations and watersheds. These abundance targets represent the number of returning adult spawners that NOAA/NMFS would like to eventually see in a population in order to consider it viable. The abundance targets are only a small portion of historic population estimates, Weeder said.
Once a population has met its viability or abundance target, that population can then be considered for de-listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Many of the comments offered by residents addressed what they believed were inaccuracies in the IP modeling.
“This plan never should have seen the light of day,” said Siskiyou County Natural Resource Policy Specialist Ric Costales.
Costales told the federal biologist on Thursday that there are a vast amount of streams in the recovery plan that have very unrealistic IP ratings.
“Models certainly have their uses,” he said. “But it’s not anything to base any action on. Miles of streams that are ephemeral are listed as high intrinsic potential.”
He said Siskiyou County and the U.S. Forest Service have previously told NOAA/NMFS that the IP numbers “were out of line and before this document hits the public it needs to be refined.”
Costales said people are on the verge of discouragement and they need a realistic, achievable goal.
Many of the other public comments echoed those of Costales, reiterating the belief that the IP ratings in many cases were inaccurate and needed to be revised.
Bogus Creek rancher Ryan Walker said he fears if these mistakes go uncorrected, they will become accepted as truth by future regulators, and landowners will be held to expectations they could never fulfill.
Comments of several residents, along with District 4 Supervisor Grace Bennett, focused on feelings of being overwhelmed by regulations that agriculturalists believe are destroying the local agriculture industry and, in turn, hurting the local economy and communities.
Sheriff Jon Lopey noted in his comments that his department has had to cut 30 deputies over the past few years and his budgets are continually being thinned, citing environmental regulation as a major contributor to a general decline in the quality of life and public safety in Siskiyou County.
After the meeting, Weeder told the Daily News that NOAA/NMFS would be looking into the possibility of sending agency personnel into the field to do some limited ground-truthing of IP ratings in some watersheds.
For copies of the recovery plan or to submit comments contact Julie Weeder at: National Marine Fisheries Service, 1655 Heindon Rd., Arcata, Ca 95521; email@example.com; or (707)825-5168.