Will Maine Atlantic Salmon Become ‘Spotted Owls?’

Oregon’s coho salmon restoration plan ran into a judicial buzz-saw this week.

Maine and Oregon are the only two states in the nation with plans which allow them to avoid listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. They both have federally-approved state plans. In a “head-state-plans-off-at-the-pass” move by environmental groups to get the coho listed under the ESA, any vestige of state sovereignty over the issue will be gone if a judge’s recent decision stands.

In what The Oregonian (6/02/98) called a “sternly-worded opinion,” U. S. Magistrate Janice M. Stewart has given the National Marine Fisheries Service until July 2nd to reverse itself on not listing the coho salmon under the Endangered Species Act. The NMFS’s April 1997 decision not to list the salmon, but instead to follow a voluntary protection plan worked out by the forest industry and government agencies, didn’t hold water with the judge in her decision. She wants it listed. The case was brought by the San Francisco-based Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, which represented the Oregon Natural Resources Council and a dozen other groups.

The Adams Report contacted Ray Wilkeson, legislative director of the Oregon Forest Industries Council to get his reading of the situation. He was certain that the state (and possibly the NMFS) would appeal Judge Stewart’s decision and ask for a stay of her order until the appeal is decided, but he said “odds are slim” that the appeal will be successful.

Judge Stewart’s decision is a setback for the Oregon timber industry, which has worked hard to develop and fund a satisfactory protection plan to eliminate the need for ESA coho listing.

Wilkeson is familiar with Maine’s salmon plan. When asked if what happened this week in Oregon has implications for Maine’s plan, he said “I think you have reason to be uneasy.” He added that if some aggressive environmental group brings a lawsuit over the Maine plan, we could very likely find ourselves in the same fix.

“Maybe it’s time to dump the tea in the harbor again”, was Wilkeson’s observation of the whole complex mess. The solution? “Get Congress to change the Endangered Species Act. There’s no way a state can do anything”, he said, “if this is how the law is going to be interpreted.”

Massachusetts-based RESTORE: The North Woods is the environmental group which petitioned the federal government to get Maine embroiled in the ESA salmon listing four years ago. Late last year (Bangor Daily News of Dec. 16th, 1997) Jym St. Pierre, the Maine director of the group said of the plan, “It really sounded like this decision is being based primarily on politics, not on biology or what the law actually says”. That sounds eerily like the quote of Mike Sherwood, lawyer for the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, in The Oregonian on Tuesday in response to the judge’s decision to his group’s lawsuit over Oregon’s plan: “The decision was really political. If they’d made the decision solely on the biological facts, they would have no choice but to list the species”  RESTORE knows how the game is played, and the Oregon decision, if upheld, will likely provide the scent of blood to go after logging and others in our natural resource-based economy by again targeting Maine for federal zoning and control, using an ESA listing of Atlantic salmon to do it.

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