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Governor assails salmon plan

Gov. Ted Kulongoski says a federal plan to change fish counts could undermine years of work in Oregon
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday denounced the federal government's plan to alter its strategy for saving Northwest salmon, saying it could threaten more than a decade of habitat restoration work and Oregon's quality of life.

The governor's remarks follow reports that NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency overseeing efforts to restore wild salmon runs, will count millions of fish raised in hatcheries annually when deciding whether salmon deserve continued protection under the Endangered Species Act. His comments come at a time the Bush administration is increasingly under attack by conservationists who say its policies are weakening protections for declining species.

"I do not like where NOAA Fisheries is going with this; I do not think that's the answer to the problem," Kulongoski said during a Portland forum sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council. "I do not think that just combining, or I should say, bleeding in the hatchery fish into our native stock is the long-term approach."

It's unclear at this point, however, whether counting hatchery as well as native fish will lead to the removal of federal protection from any of the 26 native stocks of Pacific salmon now listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered.

However, Kulongoski said he's concerned that such a policy will put too much emphasis on the numbers rather than the overall health of the landscape.

"One of the things the state has focused on in trying to preserve native runs is more than just the fish," he said. "It's the restoration of water quality, restoration of stream banks and improving the general quality of the watershed."

The governor's rebuke of the Bush administration drew applause from the crowd of 300. The event was billed as an opportunity to hear Kulongoski's priorities for the environment, a subject he did not talk about much during his first year in office but has turned to this spring.

Kulongoski outlined his Willamette River initiative, which he refers to as his "top environmental priority."

"This means understanding that the Willamette is a jewel and that Oregonians, especially government and industry, share a collective responsibility to polish that jewel," he said. "It means including the history and ecology of the Willamette as part of our school curriculum and trips to the Willamette and its watershed as part of the school experience."

The governor's other environmental priorities include:

Working with the governors of Washington and California on a West Coast plan to reduce global warming. Kulongoski criticized the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol on global warming as "dead wrong."

Reducing air pollution by creating a market in Oregon for ultra-low-sulfur diesel, which produces less smoke and soot particulate than regular diesel. The governor said he also wants a network of electric outlets along Interstate 5 allowing parked semi-trucks to power their cabs without running their motors.

Ensuring that Oregon continues to be viewed as a national leader in renewable energy. Kulongoski asked the Department of Energy to develop a state strategy for renewable energy and said he would consider a policy requiring that a percentage of energy generated come from renewable sources such as wind or solar power.

Continuing to work with the federal government to resolve water issues in the arid Klamath Basin and to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

Kulongoski mentioned former Republican Gov. Tom McCall and other predecessors a number of times during his speech and in the question-and-answer period that followed. And he spoke of Oregonians' moral responsibility to care for the environment.

"Oregon has a special reverence for the environment," Kulongoski said. "This is our history. This is who we are, and this is how we keep our spirits up even when our economy is down."

Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143; michellecole@news.oregonian.com


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