Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, an avid fly fisherman, has landed $30 million to restore coho salmon populations and clean up the state's degraded streams.
February, leaders of the legislature and the timber industry
announced they would each chip in $15 million for the programs.
With that, the Democratic governor ended an intense period of
lobbying that included a trip to meet with White House staff in
The question now is: Will the
governor's haul convince the federal government that there's no
need to list the state's two coho salmon populations under the
Endangered Species Act?
A federal court has given
the National Marine Fisheries Service until April 25 to make the
decision, and many environmentalists believe the scientific
evidence for listing is overwhelming. A century of grazing,
logging, farming and fishing has dropped the numbers of wild Oregon
coastal coho from more than a million fish at the turn of the
century to less than 100,000 today.
service has not yet shown its hand on the listing decision, but the
agency has worked closely with the governor on his Coastal Salmon
Restoration Initiative and has indicated funding levels will
influence its decision. The Oregon Forest Industries Council says
industry funds will only be made available if the fisheries service
holds off on listing or accepts Kitzhaber's plan as its own
recovery plan following a listing.
believes a listing would give too much power to federal agencies
and lead to onerous regulations on private landowners. That, he
says, could backfire against the fish, which, unlike their brethren
in the Columbia River Basin to the north, spawn in many streams
which course through private lands.
governor's plan relies heavily on voluntary efforts. Two-thirds of
the money he seeks would be earmarked for incentives and grants
encouraging ranchers, farmers and other landowners to participate
in watershed improvements. The programs would also allow Oregon to
retain control of developing cleanup plans for 870 waterways that
are in violation of the Clean Water Act.
to demonstrate that this is the best way to help the fish,"
Kitzhaber spokesman Bob Applegate told The Oregonian. "We think it
would accomplish more than actually listing the fish."
Some conservationists say they still want the
clout of the Endangered Species Act.
programs are great, they aren't adequate," says Diane Valentine, an
Oregon Natural Resources Council staffer. "We need to be able to
enforce the protection of the fish."
notes that a good portion of the habitat is on federal land and
that the southern Oregon population of coho is found in northern
California, outside the jurisdiction of the governor's
Other conservationists feel differently.
Oregon Trout executive director Geoff Pampush, who four years ago
asked the fisheries service to list the coho, says his group would
like to see the agency defer a listing for two years to give the
governor's plan a chance. After resisting the governor for months,
the Republican-dominated legislature has "gotten religion" on fish
conservation, Pampush says, and a listing could temper its
Pam Burgess, the governor's assistant
for natural resources, says listing the fish could snuff out the
voluntary cooperation of the timber industry and private
landowners. A memo circulated by the governor's supporters in the
state legislative assembly paints an even bleaker scenario. Federal
involvement, the memo said, would delay numerous projects along
waterways and could have "an overall chilling effect on investments
made in the region." Private land owners could find federal
consultants walking their lands, concocting stiff land-use
regulations, it warned, and fishermen could find themselves
excluded from their favorite holes because they might accidentally
catch a coho.
Such dire predictions finally
convinced the Republican-controlled legislature to support the
governor's programs. But even the governor's salmon-project leader,
Jim Martin, admits the state is taking a gamble. "If 10,000
landowners kind of go into passive resistance, this plan won't
work," he told the Capital Press. "The game's over."
For more information, contact the governor's
office at 503/378-3111.
travels and lives in the Pacific Northwest. Associate editor Paul
Larmer contributed to this report.