Memo: Ruling may have wide rangeby The Associated Press
The Associated Press, September 28(?), 2001
Feds say decision against protected status for Oregon coho
may be applied in the Columbia Basin
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal court ruling earlier this month stripping Oregon coastal coho salmon of protected status may be interpreted by other courts to apply to seven additional protected salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia River Basin, according to a memo prepared by legal staff of the Northwest Power Planning Council.
The ruling Sept. 10 by U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan in Eugene concerned only the coastal coho salmon.
That ruling suggested that because hatchery coho salmon and wild stocks of that fish cannot be distinguished genetically, they should not be treated as two separate species by the National Marine Fisheries Service. That agency considered wild and hatchery fish separately while applying the Endangered Species Act.
Hogan asked the service to reconsider its policy and immediately stripped coastal coho salmon of federal protected status. Governor John Kitzhaber has asked the federal government to appeal the ruling.
If applied to other types of fish, the ruling would potentially reverse a massive salmon recovery effort throughout the Columbia Basin, a wildlife stewardship that has in the past two decades cost more than $5 billion and governed river use for power generation and recreation throughout the region.
And although a wider legal analysis has not been completed, federal officials say the impact of the ruling could extend far beyond the Columbia Basin.
According to the power planning council, the seven stocks affected by Hogan's ruling are Snake River steelhead, middle Columbia steelhead, lower Columbia chinook, lower Columbia steelhead, upper Wil-lamette chinook, upper Willamette steelhead and Columbia chum.
Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service, said Wednesday that 20 of 26 West Coast stocks of salmon and steelhead appear to be vulnerable under Hogan's ruling.
"This has vast legal, biological, social and political implications,"
Gorman said. "This could be a regulatory nightmare."
Gorman said the ruling could force the fisheries service to re-examine every listing decision it has made over the past decade.
Although Hogan's ruling immediately removed federal protection for Oregon wild coastal coho, which were listed as threatened in August 1998, state protections remain unaffected. State fishing rules say sport fishers can harvest only those coho missing the adipose fin, evidence that the fish was born in a hatchery.
Federal officials and power council staff say they do not know what will happen next. The council has a scheduled meeting Thursday in Spokane.
Hogan's ruling does not carry legal precedent beyond Oregon, and the fisheries service says it has no immediate plans to remove federal protection for other stocks.
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