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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Challenge to listing local coho moves to State Supreme Court

January 2008

by Jodi Frediani

On November 20, 2007, the Third Appellate District court affirmed the decision of the California Fish and Game Commission to list two "populations" of coho salmon under the California Endangered Species Act.

In 2005, the California Forestry Association (CFA) filed a challenge in state court to two separate listing decisions by the California Fish and Game Commission. Specifically, they challenged the Commission's decision to list a "population" of coho salmon that reside along California's central coast (south of San Francisco) as "endangered" and the Commission's decision to list another "population" of coho that reside on California's north coast and in southern Oregon as "threatened."

The California Forestry Association claimed that only species or sub-species could be granted listing protection, not populations. The 2007 court decision disagreed with CFA and ruled that the Commission could list populations separately. The CFA challenge was based on the scientific use versus the popular use of such terms as "species" and "sub-species." They claimed that a "population" did not meet the definition of either a species or sub-species, and therefore could not be listed.

Not deterred by the appellate court, CFA filed a petition on December 28, 2007 for review of the decision with the California Supreme Court. CFA is represented by the ultra-conservative Pacific Legal Foundation.

Ever since the Central Coast coho salmon were listed by the State as endangered in 1995, after a petition to list them was prepared by County Planner Dave Hope, and submitted by the Santa Cruz County Fish and Game Advisory Commission, the local timber industry has fought to get the listing reversed. The loggers' arguments have varied from claiming the Central Coast fish were not native to this area, the population was not self-sustaining, the habitat is too harsh, or as in the recent court case, a population does not qualify for listing status. Multiple challenges to federal and state listing have all failed.

Regardless of the argument, the timber industry's expected, yet elusive, goal has always been the same: get rid of special watercourse protections designed to support coho recovery.

Removal of restrictions which currently limit the number of large trees that can be cut in the riparian corridor would allow landowners to log more trees adjacent to streams. Streamside shade is necessary to keep water temperatures sufficiently cool for coho, and large downed wood is essential to help create deep pools and slow sediment movement which helps provide adequate clean gravels needed for successful spawning. When large trees are continually harvested in the riparian corridor, they do not live long enough to fall over and provide future large wood in streams.

In addition to the state listing, the National Marine Fisheries Service federally listed the coho as "threatened." After a Big Creek Lumber Company 2003 petition to delist, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined the coho were in worse shape than previously believed and chose to upgrade their listing status to "endangered."

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