Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Protections Greatly Reduced

Government action aids developers


Bob Rees, President, NW Guides and Anglers Association, (503) 812.9036 (cell)


Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext33


Bob Johnson, Sport fisherman and retired Boeing executive (425) 271-3553

On August 12, 2005, the Bush administration announced new critical habitat designations for 20 species of northwest salmon and steelhead. The new designations greatly reduce the amount of land, rivers, and streams that were formerly designated as critical habitat until being abandoned by the Bush administration in 2002. All the fish species covered by the new designations are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered and are at risk of extinction because so much of their historic habitat has been lost to industry, agriculture, dam construction, pollution, and development. The new designations no longer protect most of the historic range of salmon and steelhead in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California.

“That’s a problem when you are talking about species threatened primarily due to habitat destruction,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles in Seattle. “Removing protected areas where fish have been within peoples’ recent memories is not a recipe for recovery.”

Critical habitat designations are supposed to define areas essential for salmon and steelhead recovery. Proposed development funded by the federal government or other federal activities within these areas must be reviewed with an eye toward minimizing harm to the protected fish.

The health of salmon and their habitats is a bellwether of regional environmental health because they range from stream to ocean, and mountain to coast. Healthy rivers and streams, and the salmon that depend on them, are part of what makes the Northwest a special place, to live, work, and raise a family.

“For Northwesterners, sport fishing is part of our cultural heritage and a wonderful opportunity to bond with family and friends,” said retired Boeing Company executive Bob Johnson. “I think of it as ‘second paycheck’ that represents the unique quality of life here that is inseparable from a healthy environment.”

Eliminating protection for vital rearing and spawning grounds threatens to undermine recovery efforts throughout the Northwest, where salmon are an important economic engine for coastal and rural inland communities. For example, a recent study found that the re-emergence of robust salmon and steelhead fisheries in Idaho would generate $540 million in economic activity in the state annually. The study, The Potential Economic Impact of Restored Salmon and Steelhead Fishing in Idaho, was conducted by Dr. Don Reading, a Boise economist who works for the economic consulting firm, Ben Johnson Associates.

“This is a big step backward for people and salmon,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. “Abandoning efforts to protect the rivers and streams salmon need to survive and recover threatens clean drinking water and many of the special places we cherish here in the Northwest.”


Read the whitepaper on critical salmon habitat. (pdf file – 1 MB)

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