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Know the West

Where's the fish?

  Maps from Washington state's Department of Natural Resources show more than a thousand miles of the state's streams contain no fish. But they're wrong.

This distinction is important because state law requires that loggers and developers leave protective corridors of vegetation for erosion control next to fish-bearing streams. But biologists fear the mapping mistakes have already hurt Washington's troubled wild runs of salmon, trout and steelhead.

The Point No Point Treaty Council, a tribal group, reported a 72 percent error rate along streamside habitat in the Hood Canal area. About 1,200 miles of streams on the Olympic Peninsula are mislabeled, according to another study by the Quinault Indian Nation.

Carol Bernthal, habitat coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, told the Associated Press, "If you had 10,000 forest permits and a 70 percent error rate, that means 7,000 of those permits did not have the full riparian protection required by law." She said, "This is not an academic issue."

The Department of Natural Resources' last river assessment project in the early 1970s was underfunded, forcing cartographers to rely on aerial photographs and existing topographical maps, says John Edwards, the state's manager of forest practices. He said more accurate ground surveys were just too expensive at the time.

A conglomeration of state regulators, biologists, foresters and the Department of Fish and Wildlife recently drafted an emergency proposal to upgrade mismarked riparian habitat immediately. To be exempted from the proposal, developers and loggers would have to prove no fish exist in their streams.

* Patrick Dowd