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Know the West

The latest bounce


New rules released in early January by the National Marine Fisheries Service signal a new phase in the salmon recovery effort. It is now a crime to harm or kill threatened salmon along the West Coast (HCN, 12/20/99: Unleashing the Snake). That means land users such as farmers and developers could be sued by anyone who thinks their practices hurt salmon. Attorneys say these cases will venture into uncharted legal waters because it is still unclear what specific actions cause trouble for fish.

Environmentalists are already threatening to invoke the new rules in a lawsuit. A coalition of eight conservation groups say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is allowing Puget Sound Energy to leave salmon nests high and dry: The company is releasing large amounts of water from its dams and quickly siphoning it off. The conservation groups want the federal agency to take endangered salmon into account when it considers permits for dams.

Twenty Indian tribes in western Washington are also using the courts to protect salmon. According to treaties between the tribes and the federal government, the state must ensure that enough salmon are left in streams for Indians to eat. The tribes say state culverts are blocking fish passage and, therefore, break the treaty agreements. If the tribes win the case, the state will be forced to spend millions of dollars ripping up state highways to repair the nearly 2,400 culverts statewide.

The future of snowmobiles has arrived (HCN, 3/27/00: Parks rev up to ban snowmobiles). The first of 50 snowmobiles with four-stroke engines are currently being tested in West Yellowstone, Mont. The new ride is an alternative to noisier, two-stroke sleds that spew polluting exhaust and smoke. Although the industry touts these machines as "environmentally clean," the Park Service says it still plans to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

The Bureau of Land Management is using helicopters to net more than 70 wayward cattle still grazing in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (HCN, 12/4/00: Ranchers take law into their own hands). Catching the remaining cattle with helicopters is expected to cost taxpayers about $42,000..