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Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Vol. 32, No. 33
Page 1, column 2

Early Edition --

Coho decision postponed, again

* Fish-friendly agriculture made the difference.
* Cutting-edge projects of land owners open eyes of decision-makers.
* A united effort with other resource-based groups paid off.

By Liz Bowen, Assistant Editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA - The extraordinary efforts of farmers, ranchers and timber were recognized on Friday, when the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3 to 2 to postpone the final vote for listing the coho salmon to the California Endangered Species Act.

So coho limbo continues, at least, until August; and it may linger for another six to seven months.

The shocking postponement of the decision is full of legal twists and turns, but it will provide farmers, ranchers and timber folks with several more months of relief from expected regulations regarding water use.

A decision to list the coho was expected.

Leaders of enviro groups that petitioned the state commission with reasons why the coho should be listed, were aghast with anger at the postponement.

Before the meeting, the new commissioner, Marilyn Hendrickson, was somewhat of a question. How would this newly appointed commissioner (by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) vote?

After touring Shasta Valley and Mendocino County and seeing first-hand the fish screens and other projects completed by farmers and landowners, she spoke in favor of less regulation. Voluntary actions were providing the recovery projects needed to aid coho. Fish habitat and enhancement improvements were showcased. Hendrickson was impressed.

The new director of the California Fish and Game Department, Ryan Broddrick, was also on the north state tour with Hendrickson, when it was held several weeks ago. He too spoke of the great work that has been accomplished by agriculturists.

President Jim Kellogg changed his mind.

But it was Commissioner Jim Kellogg, who shocked those attending the state Fish and Game Commission meeting on June 25. Kellogg is now president of the commission. He became the pivotal vote, aligning himself with Hendrickson and the previous commission president, Michael Flores, in voting to postpone the decision.

As Kellogg said that he had changed his mind, the collective polarized group held its breath. It was at the end of a long day, including two hours of testimony by representatives from both sides of the coho issue. This was something that was not expected.

Kellogg, like Hendrickson and Broddrick, said that he also toured projects completed by farmers recently and told the other commissioners that all of them should see the strides made to restore streams and rivers.

"They are not just talking the talk, they are walking the walk," said Kellogg.

"It was totally unexpected," said Don Howell, a leader of the SOSS, Save Our Shasta and Scott Valleys and Towns coalition. ‘We don’t know when, how or where Mr. Kellogg saw the work accomplished by agriculture, but he was obviously impressed."

Howell traveled to the commission meeting with fellow SOSS leaders, Dave Dealey and Bill Krum. The three Siskiyou county citizens, gave testimony to the commission along with timber representatives, cattlemen, Grange and Farm Bureau.

Del Norte supervisor supports Klamath agriculture.

Another voice added strength to the resource folks, when a supervisor from Del Norte County spoke in favor of the restoration work completed by agriculture and timber. Charles Blackburn, the Del Norte supervisor, had just returned from a conference in the Klamath Basin. He too had witnessed the pro-active fish projects implemented by Klamath farmers.

Still disagree on science.

A frustrating aspect to the shocking outcome of the commission meeting, was the non-acceptance of new coho data that was submitted to the Department of Fish and Game. Michael Valentine, the lead attorney for the department, said that the information submitted from the last several years had been studied and the officials did not believe there was an increase in coho numbers, in comparison to the last 30 years of decline.

Agriculture, timber and SOSS hired biologist Chuck Hansen to update the data on coho. When the department was pushed to list the coho with the state Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2001, there was little data that was considered viable and true science.

Much of the information used by the petitioners for the listing and the department came from a Brown and Moyles study compiled in the 1980s from 1970s stream studies. The terms "absence" of coho and "presence" of coho were used in the studies. The fish were not counted.

The coho issue is far from over.

The petitioners, like Zeke Grader, leader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, is likely to bring a lawsuit against the commission for postponing the listing. Grader demanded agricultural water from the Klamath Basin. There are no fish, he said, because there is no water.

Unfortunately for Grader, the coho counts from the last two years are up. Even the chinook salmon have had large runs, making Grader’s statement a falsehood.

Commissioner Bob Hattoy, a Sierra Club advocate, also demanded water for fish from the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation project.

It was Commissioner Michael Flores, who spoke of the "extraordinary" work accomplished by farmers in Siskiyou County and made the motion to postpone the listing. He asked that the department work closely with federal NOAA Fisheries agency in developing an Incidental Take Permit, which would provide protection from strangling regulations for basic agricultural practices. Hendrickson seconded. Hattoy and Commissioner Sam Schuchat voted "no" and Kellogg was the deciding third "yes" vote.

The commission is expected to address the postponement decision at its August 26-27 meeting. It will be held in Morro Bay.





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