August 7, 2008
California Forestry Officials Reject Rules to Protect Salmon
California forestry officials Wednesday rejected an emergency petition to protect coho salmon in coastal streams, even though federal fisheries regulators said it would help the imperiled fish.
The petition before the state Board of Forestry comes as California salmon are at historic lows, requiring regulators to suspend all salmon fishing on the coast this year -- a first.The request came from California Trout, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection Information Center. It targeted coho salmon in coastal streams between Santa Cruz and Humboldt counties.
For several years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has cautioned the board that its forestry rules not only are inadequate to protect salmon, but actually threaten fish. That's because, among other things, state logging rules allow too much erosion into spawning habitat.
The forestry board regulates logging on private land. Last year it required new stream protections if the state Department Fish and Game ruled that a logging plan will kill salmon. But Fish and Game has never made such a ruling.
The petitioners want the stream protections required without such a finding. As justification, they cited new reports by the federal fisheries service, which protects coho under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency reported in February that coastal coho populations plunged 73 percent compared with the previous spawning season. In April it said extinction may be close at hand.
"Emergency action is necessary to prevent the morally unacceptable situation that certain populations of coho may go extinct," said Bill Yeates, attorney for the petitioners.
The nine-member board, appointed by the governor, is weighted toward the logging industry. Most members said there wasn't enough evidence to support more regulation.
"What we're asking of landowners is a huge financial hardship," said board member Doug Piirto, a forestry professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and former Forest Service timber management officer.
Charlotte Ambrose, species recovery coordinator at the National Marine Fisheries Service, said her agency supports additional coho protections.
Piirto and other board members pressed Ambrose for proof that salmon are threatened by in-stream conditions and not just ocean forces.
"Do you honestly feel it's an issue of (in-stream) carrying capacity?" said board member Lloyd Bradshaw, forest manager for Hearst Corp.
"I do," said Ambrose.
The board rejected the petition in a 6-3 vote.