Kittitas County Commissioners consider their constituents first in refusing to join basinwide salmonwide recovery planning


By DAVID LESTER
YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC


A renewed effort to bring Kittitas County into the fold of basinwide salmon recovery planning may already be doomed.

A group of state and local officials on Friday decided to approach Kittitas County commissioners again to sign an agreement that carries with it federal and state planning dollars.

Yakima County and a number of basin cities already have joined. The Yakama Nation, Benton County and other cities will sign the pact within the next 10 days.

Kittitas County commissioners, though, remain uninterested, Perry Huston, commission vice chairman, said later Friday.

The money from the Northwest Power Planning Council and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is designed to identify projects that would protect and enhance fish habitat.

The four-state council has adopted local planning as the best way to protect fish. Five such subbasin planning groups already exist. The council has set aside about $370,000 to finance the Yakima basin plan. The state will kick in another $300,000.

Kittitas County is considered a key player in salmon recovery efforts because it is home to the headwaters of the Yakima River and many of its tributaries.

An adopted plan, due to the power council in 2004, could be considered part of a recovery blueprint for fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Yakima Valley steelhead trout and bull trout are listed as threatened.

The adopted plan also is being advanced as a way should its elements show success in restoring fish to insulate landowners from lawsuits for violating the Endangered Species Act.

Kittitas County commissioners don't buy that argument, either.

They call the planning effort redundant and have declined previous invitations to join.

"Don't tie me up with contracts in which I have to sign away my legal obligations to make those decisions for the citizens of Kittitas County," Huston said. "If you think I'm wrong, show me a better answer. I don't need a recovery board to do that."

Huston said the county already is working on projects to improve fish passage, protect streamside land, and retain open space.

Officials of Yakima and Benton counties, the Yakama Nation and several cities in the planning group known as the Yakima Subbasin Fish and Wildlife Planning Board met in Yakima on Friday to organize the group and ponder the situation with Kittitas County.

Jeff Tayer, regional director for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the absence of Kittitas County will hamper efforts to devise a plan that has public involvement. In fact, he added, Kittitas County is actively lobbying against the planning group.

Tayer suggested his agency, the Yakama Nation, and cities in Kittitas County that are involved in the planning group approach Kittitas County about joining.

Paul Ward, a staff member representing the Yakama Nation, suggested enough information is already available and Kittitas County doesn't need to be a participant.

But Tayer said adding Kittitas County would make the group stronger.

"I'm thinking we have a solid consensus in Yakima and Benton counties. If we can craft a strategy for Kittitas County, we will be set," he said.

 

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