Federal Judge Rules Coho Salmon are Endangered

By Oregonians In Action Education Center

A federal District Court judge has rejected conclusions of both the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agency NOAA (the federal agency on salmon issues) that Oregon coastal coho salmon are not “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA (federal Endangered Species Act).

These agencies had tremendous support from a broad-based “stakeholder group” that spent almost two years considering all aspects of the existing and future status of these salmon. Bill Moshofsky participated in the investigations and deliberations of the stakeholder group on behalf of Oregonians In Action and the Save the Salmon Coalition, based on continuing concerns that salmon protection programs could include unjustified restrictions on land use, especially on forest land.

“I am very surprised and upset over the decision of the federal District Court judge to override both state and federal agencies and the extensive on-the-ground work of the stakeholder group. The judge is simply wrong,” Bill Moshofsky stated.

Fortunately, Pacific Legal Foundation has filed an appeal to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is likely both the state and federal government will join in the appeal. The Pacific Legal Foundation has been deeply involved in the status of the coastal coho. It successfully overturned a prior listing of the coho. Oregonians In Action Legal Center will file an amicus brief in the appeal.

If the appellate court fails to reverse the federal District Court, there will likely be a push for more controls on land uses along salmon bearing streams even though there is no justification for more controls. For example, despite a lack of evidence that forest harvesting activities under current regulations pose any harmful threats to the coho salmon, it is possible that the federal court will mandate these types of restrictions.

In addition, groups challenging the salmon de-listing have a long-stated desire for landowners to leave trees near streams that may fall into the streams in a way that could improve habitat for salmon (by providing pooling or slowing of the stream). The stakeholder group considered this issue, but recognized that landowners should be compensated or provided incentives for leaving such trees. Regulatory controls on land use should be imposed only when land uses cause harm.

Unfortunately, if the District Court ruling is left in place, expect significant new restrictions on land near streams.