Fishermen and conservationists today applauded Governor Kitzhaber and the Clinton Administration for choosing to end a court battle over Endangered Species Act protection for Oregon coastal coho salmon. The State of Oregon and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that they will no longer pursue an appeal of a 1998 federal district court decision that led to Endangered Species Act protection for Oregon coastal coho.
Many see today’s announcement as a dramatic positive turning point in the ongoing effort to save salmon. Fishermen and conservationists view today’s development as an opportunity to move beyond the divisive political debate that pitted the Oregon Salmon Plan against the Endangered Species Act, and spoke of how the two vehicles for salmon recovery can work together to save salmon.
“We applaud Governor Kitzhaber and the Clinton Administration for choosing to end this court battle and move on with salmon recovery,” said Claudia Polsky, an attorney with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represented fishermen and conservationists in the case. “The Oregon Salmon Plan and the Endangered Species Act can now move forward together, supplementing each other and providing a balanced and coordinated approach to salmon recovery.”
“This shows real leadership by the Governor,” commented Glen Spain, Northwest Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the west coast’s largest organization of commercial fishermen and one of the plaintiff groups. “The Endangered Species Act and the Oregon Plan were always meant to go hand in hand, each supporting the other.”
Conservationists filed a petition for protection of Oregon coastal coho under the Endangered Species Act in October, 1993. In July, 1995, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed placing the fish on the Endangered Species list. However, on April 25, 1997, NMFS decided not to list the species, citing the Oregon Salmon Plan as the primary reason.
Fishermen and conservationists brought court action to compel a listing and gain Endangered Species Act protection for the salmon. On June 1, 1998, a federal district court in Portland ruled that NMFS’ failure to list Oregon coastal coho was arbitrary and capricious and violated the law. As a result, NMFS listed the fish in August, 1998. However, both NMFS and the state of Oregon filed an appeal of the district court decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That appeal was dropped today.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Native Fish Society, Coast Range Association, Northcoast Environmental Center, National Audubon Society, and Sierra Club. The plaintiffs were represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
A Chance for Oregon to Lead the Nation
With today’s events, conservationists see an opportunity for Oregon to lead the nation in implementing a state recovery effort in conjunction with the Endangered Species Act. The City of Portland is already taking such a positive approach with efforts to save threatened steelhead in the greater Portland metro area.
“Today’s events constitute a major shift in the way we will move forward with salmon recovery,” said Ken Rait, Conservation Director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. “Oregon has an opportunity to show the country that a joint state and federal effort to save salmon under the Endangered Species Act can really work. And that is the stuff that Oregon is made of.”
“As other states draft their own species recovery plans, it is critical to craft them with an eye toward recovery, not toward thwarting Endangered Species Act protection,” said Claudia Polsky of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “Oregon now has the chance to show other states how to make a state recovery plan work together with the Endangered Species Act.”