The Bush Administration has withdrawn an important piece of the salmon protection puzzle for inland river habitat in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and Idaho in a move that also undermines the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that protected almost 60 million acres of national forest. The withdrawal continues a Bush Administration pattern of undercutting environmental safeguards and placating special interest groups.
“The Bush Administration knows that there is overwhelming public support for the protection wild species and wild places,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “So instead of attacking endangered species head-on, the Bush Administration is quietly discarding scientifically-based regulations and pulling the plug on our native fish.”
On January 19, 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) issued a set of guidance principles, called a supplemental biological opinion, to protect nine listed species of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the Upper Columbia, Mid Columbia, and Snake River Basins. This scientific document confirmed the continued need for restrictions on logging, road-building, grazing, and mining on federal public lands. The opinion also confirmed the importance of the salmon protection afforded by the U.S. Forest Service’s recently-enacted Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
The timber industry immediately filed a lawsuit first seeking to stop the signing of the opinion and then challenging the issuance of the biological opinion. On March 7, 2001, less than two months after issuing the opinion, both FWS and NMFS withdrew the supplemental biological opinion in a terse one paragraph letter citing a need to work with other federal agencies. Withdrawal of the scientific opinion opens the door to increased logging, road-building, other land disturbing activities, and renewed litigation.
“The biological science of protection for endangered salmon clearly did not change in the last two months,” said David Bayles, Conservation Director of Pacific Rivers Council, “But the political science for the federal agencies has changed with the new administration.”
The withdrawn biological opinion explicitly relied on the beneficial effects of the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule – an environmentally protective regulation that is also under attack by special interest timber groups and the Bush Administration. “The current administration doesn’t want to see the roadless rule cited as a benefit in any federal documents,” said Kristen Boyles. “We believe this is one of the main reasons the Bush administration pulled the plug on these protections.”
“Even though FWS and NMFS withdrew the supplemental opinion, the Bush Administration cannot change the science: to save our native fish we need roadless area protection, continued riparian buffer zones along rivers and streams, and watershed-level management,” said David Bayles.
For copies of the supplemental biological opinion and letters of withdrawal, contact Kristen Boyles at Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.