Today, a coalition of environmental and fishing groups signaled their intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for failing to protect salmon and steelhead from harmful logging and urban development in the Pacific Northwest. On June 19th, 2000, the federal government issued its final rules for certain species of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. The rules — commonly referred to as “4(d) rules” – purposely contain major loopholes that allow the timber industry and developers to continue harming threatened salmon.
“The government is letting timber companies and big developers off the hook,” said Michael Rossotto, legal program director for the Washington Environmental Council. “Once again, the federal government has bowed to industry pressure. We will not see the return of healthy salmon runs in Washington if two of the state’s largest industries are allowed to continue harming salmon.”
The 4(d) rules, produced by NMFS, are the centerpiece of the federal government’s hands-off approach to salmon protection. The final rules contain 13 exemptions for various activities that the agency claims will promote conservation of the species or will be governed by a state or local program that seeks to replace federal protection.
The environmental groups are challenging the exemption for the Washington Forests and Fish Report — a political deal struck between the timber industry and government regulators. Independent scientific reviews of the Forests and Fish Report have criticized the deal as lacking a scientific basis and decreasing the likelihood of survival for threatened salmon. (See attached quote sheet.)
“NMFS has accepted a political compromise that allows continued harm to salmon, but it still must stand the test of the Endangered Species Act,” said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. “Scientific review of the Forests and Fish Report has been very critical, and the law requires science-based decisions that will recover salmon.”
NMFS’ approval of the Forests and Fish Report has implications far beyond Washington State. “This deal sends the wrong message to Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and other states that are evaluating whether their forest practices programs protect imperiled fish, amphibians and water quality,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
The groups are also challenging the exemption for future local ordinances governing all development. The rules lay out a dozen vague objectives that the ordinances should address, but lacks any meaningful standards or criteria. “Instead of having clear, scientifically-based standards that follow the law and protect salmon, the federal government just keeps saying ‘let’s make a deal,’ and this is a deal where the salmon lose,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund sent the notice letter on behalf of the Washington Environmental Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. The National Marine Fisheries Service has sixty days to respond to the letter before the groups go to court.
In a separate letter by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Washington Environmental Council, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and Institute for Fisheries Resources today also gave notice that they intend to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for granting timber companies a 10-year delay in preparing cleanup plans for streams polluted by logging. The cleanup plans are required under the federal Clean Water Act.