Conservationists petition for wild salmon protection

By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press - Seattle Times

GRANTS PASS, Ore. April 26, 2002 Conservation groups yesterday petitioned the federal government to consider only wild salmon for protection by the Endangered Species Act to avoid the legal pitfalls of lumping them with hatchery fish.

The action was intended to protect Pacific salmon from the court ruling that temporarily removed Oregon coastal coho from the threatened species list last year and prompted petitions to drop protection for more than a dozen other salmon runs.

The effort to restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon throughout the West was thrown into an uproar last September by a ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene.

He found that the National Marine Fisheries Service erred in protecting only wild Oregon coastal coho as a threatened species, when it had included hatchery fish in the same population segment known as an evolutionarily significant unit, or ESU.

Conservationists succeeded in restoring Oregon coastal coho to the threatened species list while they appeal the ruling, but a number of groups then petitioned NMFS to drop Endangered Species Act protection for 15 different salmon and steelhead runs.

The ruling prompted NMFS to begin a systematic review of 24 of the 26 protected salmon runs in the West that have hatchery and wild fish in the same ESU.

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