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Tracking measurable success on preserving and connecting California's Parks & Wildlife Corridors


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Judge Rejects Political Manipulation of the Endangered Species Act

Monumental Victory for Wild Salmon and Steelhead!

- June 14, 2007 -

In a long awaited decision, a federal judge set aside a controversial Bush administration policy that aimed to weaken protections for wild salmon and steelhead, calling it scientifically flawed and contrary to the Endangered Species Act. As we've known all along, salmon recovery depends on how we manage habitat, not hatchery fish, and this ruling once again puts the federal fisheries agency on the right track to wild salmon and steelhead recovery.

The federal "Hatchery Listing Policy" was adopted in 2005 and opened the door to political manipulation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through listing decisions for salmon and steelhead species. The policy required NOAA Fisheries to lump together hatchery-raised fish and wild fish when making decisions about whether or not to grant ESA protections to specific Pacific salmon and steelhead stocks. We submitted extensive comments throughout this process and are glad that science prevailed - and that policy was overturned. In the same ruling, the judge threw out the downlisting of the Upper Columbia River steelhead from endangered to threatened (a less-protected status under the ESA) - ruling it as unlawful due to its reliance on the "fatally deficient" hatchery policy.

A big congratulations to our colleagues that were also on this case: Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Wild, Klamath Forest Alliance, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society and Federation of Fly Fishers -- and another thank you to our attorneys at Earthjustice.

To all of of our members and supporters, THANK YOU for your continued support and making this victory possible!

Below is the full press release.

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Press Release -- June 13, 2007

Federal Hatchery Policy Plays Politics with Salmon Science: Judge Throws it Out

Today Judge Coughenour invalidated the Bush Administration's 2005 Hatchery Listing Policy and restored the endangered species listing for the Upper Columbia Steelhead. The judge held that the Hatchery Policy's consideration of hatchery fish when deciding whether to list wild salmon as endangered violates the Endangered Species Act because it ignores the best science and the main purpose of the ESA -- to recover wild populations.

"The Endangered Species Act requires that listing of species be determined by the 'best available scientific information,'" said Chris Frissell, salmon research ecologist and Senior Staff Scientist with the Pacific Rivers Council. "The Hatchery Listing Policy ignores a large body of science and a century of management experience affirming that wild salmon recovery will depend on how we manage habitat and fishing, not hatchery fish."

"It's habitat restoration and the health of wild salmon bred in streams and rivers that will determine salmon recovery," said Frissell. "Counting fish that originated from hatcheries is an ecological delusion - it has always masked what is really happening to wild salmon populations and the rivers they depend on to survive. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence is that hatchery fish contribute to the decline of wild stocks."

PRC agrees with the judge that "floods of hatchery fish can result in the appearance of a well-stocked fishery, though in actuality it would not be so without human interference." It was the apparent abundance of Upper Columbia steelhead that led the National Marine Fisheries Service to downlist the steelhead from endangered to threatened based upon its policy. The problem, however, is that although hatchery steelhead may be abundant, wild Upper Columbia steelhead are in grave danger of extinction. The judge explained that the central purpose of the ESA is to protect these wild fish, so even abundance of hatchery fish cannot be an excuse to limit protections for the wild fish under the ESA.

"The Bush administration's adoption of the hatchery policy was a political move, part of a strategy to rollback environmental protections through administrative changes," said Bronwen Wright, Policy Analyst at the Pacific Rivers Council. "The administration knows what the law requires, and it knows that the public overwhelmingly supports the Endangered Species Act. That is why the administration has repeatedly tried to decrease environmental protections by changing obscure agency policies."

According to Frissell, "the problem is that hatchery fish are essentially a political commodity. If governments believe they can buy their way out of real salmon recovery and avoid the hard job of habitat protection with more or 'better' hatchery fish, they will do that. At its core, the hatchery policy embraced the same scientifically bankrupt management delusions that led to the decimation of salmon runs on both coasts of North America."


Mary Scurlock, Pacific Rivers Council, 503-320- 0712 or 503-228-3555.


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