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Threatened Status of|Coho Salmon Is Affirmed

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Oregon Coast Evolutionarily Significant Unit of coho salmon is threatened by degraded estuary habitat, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service in a proposal affirming its 2008 temporary decision to list the unit as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The agency's decision comes after more that 10 years of litigation since the agency first proposed to list the species as threatened in 1995. The agency withdrew the proposal after the state of Oregon issued a management plan for salmon and watersheds that the agency believed would increase the viability of the unit of coho.

The rescission of the proposed determination was challenged by the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which convinced Judge James Redden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, that the agency gave too much weight to conservation measures in the Oregon Plan, which had an uncertain likelihood of implementation.

Three months later, the same court, sitting in Eugene, Ore. with a different presiding judge, determined that the agency had not given sufficient weight to the impact of hatchery fish on the Oregon Coast coho. In response, the agency conducted a new status assessment of the unit, and determined that listing was warranted given the concern over the condition of fresh water habitats and the scientific community's inability to determine if the Evolutionarily Significant Unit of salmon was sufficient to survive a downturn in ocean conditions.

Oregon challenged the listing decision on the grounds that the state's management plan had increased the salmon runs, and in 2006 the agency made a new determination that ESA protection was not warranted.

When Trout Unlimited challenged the agency's determination in 2007, the Oregon District Court found that Oregon's viability assessment did not represent the best available science as required by the ESA, and that the agency improperly considered it in reaching the final listing decision.

In 2008, the agency addressed Trout Unlimited's concerns and issued its proposed final rule determining that survival of the coho unit is threatened. Oregon's Douglas County challenged the final rule.

The agency reached a settlement with the litigants, by which it would again review the status of the Oregon Coast coho salmon Evolutionarily Significant Unit. The new status review determined that the species was indeed threatened, and the agency issued the proposed new rule to make that designation.

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