Timber Company Petition to Delist Salmon Backfires


     WASHINGTON (CN) - Not only has the National Marine Fisheries Service denied a petition to remove coho salmon south of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the list of Threatened and Endangered Species, but it plans to expand the southern boundary of the protected population. Big Creek Lumber Company owner Homer T. McCrary had filed the petition.
     In the petition, filed in 2003, McCrary, whose company has a reputation as an environmentally friendly logging company, argued that coho salmon are not endemic to the streams and rivers of the Central Coast, having first been identified in 1906, and only still survive because of fish hatcheries and other artificial means of propagation.
     The natural boundary of coho salmon runs are north of the San Francisco Bay, according to McCrary's petition. In 2006, the agency published a 90-finding that the petition did not contain sufficient information to warrant the delisting.
McCrary challenged the finding, and in 2008 the Northern District Court in San Jose found that the agency's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" because it had accepted information not included in the petition and because it had applied the stricter 12-month review standard -which states that a petitioned action either is or is not warranted, rather than the 90-day standard of whether a petitioned action "may be warranted."
     In response to the court's decision, the agency conducted the current 12-month review, which concludes that the best scientific and commercial information does not support delisting and that the southern boundary of the species' range should be moved further south to include Soquel and Aptos Creeks in Santa Cruz County.
     The agency found that there was sufficient historical evidence to show that that the coho was present along the Central Coast prior to 1906. The agency discovered several museum specimens of coho found in waters south of San Francisco Bay in the later 1890s, indicating their presence at least since that time.
     The agency also concluded that there was "considerable uncertainty and confusion about the identification of the various species of Pacific salmon in the 1800s and into the early 1900s" and that the historical distribution of the five Pacific salmon species made it likely that coho had been present in central California since the before the 1890s.
     While the agency did not dispute that hatcheries had been releasing coho developed from stocks imported from the state of Washington, it did find that these fish could not account for the significant numbers of coho documented in the area throughout the middle of the 20th century.
     The petition also argued that the streams of the area are not conducive to coho breeding, in part because severe winter storms are so extreme in Santa Cruz County that the resultant fine sediment in the water would make it impossible for coho to breed.
     The agency noted that the differences in turbidity-the presence of fine particles in water-caused by storms in streams in Marin County, where, the petition argued, the southern boundary for the coho naturally occurs, and in Santa Cruz County are not significant.
     As part of reviewing the McCrary petition, the agency gathered data, and heard comments, indicating that the southern border of the coho's protected range should be expanded because of the presence of coho south of the current boundary, the San Lorenzo River. The agency is seeking public comment on its proposal to expand the boundary.