On January 11 federal district court judge Michael R. Hogan rejected an attempt to remove Endangered Species Act protections for coho salmon in the Klamath River. Ruling from the bench, the judge left in place the federal Endangered Species Act protections for the southern Oregon/northern California coast coho. Thirteen environmental and fishing groups, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit to defend efforts to restore coho salmon runs in the Northwest.
“As a result of this ruling, the federal government must leave enough water in the Klamath River so that they don’t kill off the coho this spring when the irrigation season starts,” said Michael Mayer of Earthjustice. “This helps not only the coho, but every other fish in the Klamath River, including commercially valuable chinook.”
The court did find that protecting these coho under the Endangered Species Act was flawed because of a September 2001 court ruling that stripped endangered species status from central and northern Oregon coast coho. However, because the National Marine Fisheries Service has already reviewed its salmon listings based on the 2001 decision and intends to keep the this coho listing in place, the judge found that a temporary de-listing would only cause needless disruption and harm to the fish.
Bob Hunter of WaterWatch said, “We involved ourselves in this case to make certain someone was speaking up for wild fish and healthy rivers. We are pleased that our voices were heard.”
“This was nothing more than a disguised water grab by disgruntled irrigators who do not accept that there are people downstream who rely on the fish in the Klamath River to pay their bills,” stated Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Fishing communities have a right to rivers with both water and fish.”
The lawsuit would have dismantled protections for coho salmon in coastal rivers and streams stretching from Cape Blanco, Oregon, to Punta Gorda, California, including the Rogue and the Klamath Rivers. Coho salmon throughout this region have suffered from decades of excessive water use, dams, poor logging practices, and water pollution.
“Our intention was to inject some balance into a situation clearly being fueled by politics and misinformation,” said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. “We can’t allow wild salmon and the protections they need to be used as pawns in a broader political game, in the Klamath, the courts or anywhere.”
WaterWatch of Oregon, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northcoast Environmental Center, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Environmental Protection Information Center, represented in court by Earthjustice, intervened in the case to defend the coho listing.