NOAA fisheries cuts back critical habitat for Pacific salmon
 
 
 
August 12, 2005
 
 
By Jeff Barnard
 
Associated Press
 
 
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Grants Pass, Oregon - NOAA Fisheries cut back the critical habitat for 19 species of threatened and endangered Pacific salmon by about 80 percent on Friday, arguing that an earlier designation demanded by environmentalists was poorly executed and that voluntary habitat improvements will work better.

The federal agency in charge of bringing a total of 26 species of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest and California back from the danger of extinction agreed to revise the critical habitat for 19 of those species after being sued by the National Association of Home Builders for failure to include an economic impact analysis.

"This designation is a critical step to building support for recovery actions," said Rod McInnis, southwest regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Long Beach, Calif. "It gives us a clear focus on which stream reaches we have got to be concentrating on in trying to build local support for restoration."

The designation cuts the number of river miles in Washington, Oregon and Idaho from 121,000 to 23,500, and in California from 46,500 to 9,800.

It estimates the economic impact of habitat protections for salmon at $201 million in the Northwest and $81 million in California.

Direct comparisons to the old designation are not valid, because they included many reaches of rivers that are not occupied by salmon, said Bob Lohn, Northwest regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

The new designation is made up entirely of the rivers the salmon occupy, and identifies whether a portion of a river is used for spawning, rearing, or just migration. That will help with determining whether a project harms fish.

NOAA Fisheries says the designation of critical habitat is superfluous to the protection afforded by listing a species as threatened or endangered, and incentives for private landowners to restore and improve habitat are more effective, Lohn added.

"I think the practical impact should be quite small," Lohn said.

The designation exempts rivers on Indian reservations, military bases, private lands with habitat conservation plans in force, and some urban areas where economic impacts would be too great.

The designation of rivers critical to the future restoration of salmon headed toward extinction is required under the Endangered Species Act. It's already been the target of two lawsuits, and is likely to be again as salmon advocates complained that the designation gives up on rivers not currently occupied by fish.

"That's a problem when you are talking about species threatened primarily due to habitat destruction," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice in Seattle. "Removing protected areas where fish have been within peoples' recent memories is not a recipe for recovery."

Ernest Platt, past president of the Oregon Homebuilders Association and chairman of the environmental committee of the National Association of Homebuilders, said the new critical habitat designation seems a great improvement because it removed many areas inside urban growth boundaries, where conflict would be heaviest.

Any development still must comply with state and federal regulations covering clean water, wetlands protection, and prohibiting direct harm to salmon, Platt added.

In the Northwest, the critical habitat designation covers streams flowing into Puget Sound in Washington, the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and the Willamette River and tributaries in Oregon.

In California it covers coastal streams from Humboldt County south to San Clemente, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Sacramento River and tributaries, and the lower San Joaquin River and tributaries.

Excluded areas include portions of greater Seattle, Portland, Pendleton and the San Francisco Bay Area.

 
Copyright 2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune.