“The Only Losers Appear to be the Environmental Litigation Industry”

Omak/Okanogan County Chronicle
by: Ed Merriman
May 5, 2004

Okanogan, Wash - In a move hailed by farmers and rural leaders, the Bush Administration announced
plans to follow recent court rulings that found no genetic justification for excluding hatchery-spawned salmon
from Endangered Species determinations.
Mike Wilson, a ranchers and president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau, welcomed the
announcement as a ray of hope that salmon recovery policies will finally be freed from the clutches of
environmental extremists who nearly destroyed the west's rural economies during the 1990s by falsifying and
misrepresenting scientific data in order to justify invoking the Endangered Species Act and imposing onerous
restrictions on private property rights and the use of water, land, timber and other resources.
"The only losers appear to be the environmental litigation industry," said Joel Kretz, past president of
the Okanogan County Farm Bureau.
The Bush administration's planned policy change is both a recognition of what credible scientists have
learned about salmon in the past few years and a reflection of increased public knowledge about the
motivations of extremist groups and how far their policies have gone astray, according to Bonnie Lawrence of
the Okanogan County Citizens Alliance.
"The appeals court determined the argument over a hatchery-born Coho being different from a wildborn
Coho salmon was nonsense," Lawrence said.
Since then the public's skepticism of environmental extremism has grown as they watched millions of
acres of forests go up in flames on their television screens and saw homes burned and lives lost across the west
from record-setting catastrophic fires that resulted from hands-off forest policies of the 1990s, Lawrence said.
Okanogan County commissioner's Craig Vejraska, Mary Lou Peterson and Dave Schulz all expressed
support for the president's announced salmon policy shift.
Peterson said the policy shift recognizes the conclusions reached by courts in Oregon and Washington,
the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as an overwhelming majority of credible scientists
and biologists that there is no genetic difference between salmon diverted into hatcheries to spawn and those
allowed to spawn in the wild.
"Maybe now the state and federal agencies will have to explain to the public why we have spent
millions and millions of dollars on unnecessary and ineffective salmon recovery programs," Peterson said.
She said widely distributed videos of fish and wildlife employees in Washington, Oregon and Idaho
diverting and clubbing wild and hatchery-spawned salmon to death as they returned to spawn in coastal streams
in 1997 and 1998 while at the same time taxpayers and electric ratepayers were assessed billions of dollars for
salmon recovery projects triggered a public backlash that helped set the stage for overturning extremist policies.
Court documents submitted in the Court of Appeals case Pacific Legal Foundation vs. the National
Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies pointed out that hatchery-spawned salmon and wild salmon come
from the same gene pools that evolved over thousands of years. The eggs both are hatched from carry those
genetics no matter where the eggs are fertilized and hatched.
Other than a few months when salmon diverted into hatcheries are raised from eggs to fingerlings, they
survive the rest of their lives in the wild, including three to five years growing to adulthood in the ocean, before
returning to coastal rivers and streams to spawn, according to court documents.
"The returning salmon, whether hatchery fish or wild fish, are genetically identical and are returning in
record numbers," Kretz said.
Contrary to claims by some environmental groups, the courts also found no scientific proof of claims
made by extremists that hatchery salmon are any more prone to diseases than fish that spawn outside
Dale Swedberg, a boardmember of the Okanogan Valley Land Council, said whether the president's
proposal to consider hatchery-spawned salmon when making endangered species determinations is a good thing
or not, hinges to some degree on how that policy is implemented.
He said genetics that may not show up in biological tests can play a role in behavior patterns and other
characteristics that can determine whether a fish will survive in a particular stream of area of a stream, so
maintaining behaviorial traits of native wild species is an issue that needs to be taken into consideration in
salmon recovery policies.
Vejraska said record salmon returns the last few years prove that environmental activist groups were
wrong about claims that agriculture and forest practices caused salmon clines during the late 1980s and early
Those record salmon returns also reaffirmed what climatologists have been saying for years, which is
that ocean conditions associated with 20 -year cycles of drought called El nino correspond with recent and
historic declines in salmon populations, and rainy periods known as La nina correspond with the current and
historic surges in salmon polulations, Vejraska said.
Other research has documented that during El nino drought cycles when elevated ocean and stream
temperature rise and ocean production of fish food declines, much of the west coast salmon populations
plummet in the Columbia and other rivers in Oregon, southern Washington and northern California, while
exploding in cooler waters to the north in Canada and Alaska, Vejraska said.
When cooler La nina ocean conditions return, salmon numbers plunge in Alaska and soar in the
Columbia Basin and in the coastal waters off Oregon and southern Washington, Vejraska said.
On the national political scene, Darlene Hajny, Farm Bureau public affairs, said that environmental
extremists and politicians who pinned their political tails to the radical environmental positions, most
Americans a more balanced approach to salmon recovery promoted by farm groups and President Bush based
on sound science, along with consideration for social and economic impacts on rural communities.
She said the President's plan to count hatchery-spawned salmon in recognition of what has been learned
about salmon in the past few years appears to be well received across most areas of the nation.
"This is about more than salmon recovery. It goes into land takings; it goes into water takings; it goes
into a whole realm of federal regulations millions and millions of dollars spent by the government that could
have been put to better," Peterson said.
She said taking rights to manage and use water, land and other natural resources in the name of salmon
recovery wrecked the rural economy and made America more dependant on imported food by disrupting
livestock grazing, timber harvesting and irrigated agriculture.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said that while she was "stunned and shocked at the Bush
administration's announcement, she believes use of hatchery fish for rebuilding wild stocks "is an
acknowledged tool in salmon recovery efforts."
However, she said she believes hatcheries already play an important role in salmon recovery by
providing fish for harvesting by the public and providing for tribal fishing guaranteed under treaties.
"My concern is that if this new policy deviates from the science and the law, our region would be
plunged into uncertainty and conflict through protracted litigation," Cantwell said.
She said she's also been led to believe that hatchery-spawned fish can have negative impacts on wild
stocks if hatchery facilities are not constructed and operated in a manner that recognizes and is consistent with
wild salmon biological factors in the streams, rivers, and watersheds they share.


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