Appeals Court Will Rule on Oregon Salmon Plan

Published February 1, 2008

The state of Oregon’s determination that Oregon coast coho salmon no longer require Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection is headed for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The issue reached the appellate court after a district court judge overruled the scientific judgment of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.

Salmon Population Rising

The population of Oregon coast coho salmon had been in a long-term decline until 1997, when 14,000 salmon made spawning runs in Oregon coastal rivers. The salmon were given ESA protection the next year, and the number of salmon spawning in Oregon coastal rivers has significantly risen in the 10 years since.

In 2006, Oregon fish and wildlife officials determined ESA protection was no longer needed, and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service agreed, making the Oregon coast coho the only species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest not protected under ESA.

Environmental activist groups sued in federal district court and won. Attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) on December 13 appealed the district judge’s decision.

Law Requires Deference

“In deciding that a federal ESA listing was not necessary, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concluded that the State of Oregon’s own salmon conservation plan provided adequate protection,” said Sonya D. Jones, an attorney with PLF’s Pacific Northwest office in Bellevue, Washington. “The federal court overruled this decision and instructed NMFS not to take the State’s conservation efforts into account.

“We’re appealing the court ruling because the plain language of the ESA requires federal regulators to consider state conservation efforts–and defer to them when they provide sufficient protection for species,” Jones added.

Economic Concerns

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service officials had drafted a 10-year, multi-agency protection plan for the salmon species. The Ninth Circuit will determine whether Oregon’s proposed protection plan is adequate.

“For federal courts to treat state programs as irrelevant would undermine the confidence of private property owners in local officials’ regulatory efforts–and deter people from working cooperatively with state conservation officials. It would also weaken incentives for the states themselves to be creative and resourceful in protecting species within their borders,” said Jones.

“A substantial portion of Tillamook Forest–both state-owned and private lands–would be affected by such a federal listing. This could hurt local communities that depend, in part, on responsible timber harvesting for jobs and economic well-being. It could also affect fishing families and communities that rely on the fishing industry,” Jones added.

E. Jay Donovan ([email protected]) is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida.