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Salmon Recovery Meeting Draws Big Crowd

Nov 10, 2006, 12:12
From North Cascades Broadcasting News -

Okanogan County, WA - It was standing room only at the Okanogan County Commissioners Hearing room Wednesday night, as over 100 residents crowded in to hear the presentation by NOAA Fisheries on the Upper Columbia Salmon, Steelhead and Bull Trout recovery plan.

Rob Walton, Assistant Regional Director for NOAA Fisheries, also called the National Marine Fisheries Service or NMFS, tried to put the Upper Columbia Plan in context with the rest of the region, by saying that in Idaho, his agency is writing that plan without community involvement. Walton said they want local input and local “buy-in” to the plan so that the implementation will actually take place. However, local involvement or not, he said, it is “not a question of if the plan will be written.”

Walton said he would like citizen support, because “recovery is everyone’s responsibility.”

Two fish biologists, who were responsible for most of what went into the plan, Chuck Peven and Dr. Tracy Hillman each made presentations about where the plan is at and what type of monitoring has and will take place.

Peven also addressed the process the plan had gone through and briefly alluded to the changes that had been made to the plan by NOAA Fisheries prior to the release for public comment that happened on September 29, 2006.

An announcement was published in the Federal Register on September 29th, which began the 60-day comment period. A check of NOAA’s website shows they issued a press release about the plan’s comment period and the meetings that were to be held on October 27, 2006 – nearly 30 days into the comment period.

That is just one of the facts that angered 7th District Rep. Joel Kretz, who told the panel during the public comment portion of the meeting that their behavior was “unacceptable.” Kretz also questioned whether this plan was truly voluntary, as did County Commissioner Bud Hover.

Hover pressed Walton repeatedly to answer the question, “Can landowners decline” to participate. Walton said in the voluntary portion of the plan yes, they can decline. That did not sit well with a crowd, who Walton had told at the beginning of the meeting that the entire plan was voluntary.

Ultimately after being asked repeatedly by Hover and audience members, Walton said he would go back to his boss, Bob Lohn, the Regional Director for NOAA Fisheries and request that he “write a letter to the board, after consulting with his attorneys, to tell you as authoritatively as we can, what the implications are for landowners.”

Some of those implications were listed in the Federal Register where it states, “Upon approval of a final plan, NMFS will make a commitment to implement the actions in the plan for which it has authority.” It goes on to say that NFMS will, “encourage other Federal agencies to implement Plan actions for which they have responsibility and authority.”

And, “NMFS will also encourage the State of Washington to seek similar implementation commitments from state agencies and local governments.”

According to NOAA Fisheries website, “all federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species, or destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.” These requirements apply “only when federal funding, permits, or projects are involved.”

That was the point made clearly by Shelly Short, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Kretz, and former aide to Congressman Nethercutt and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris. Short said, this plan is clearly regulatory if you need a federal permit, receive money from the federal government, or get a water right permit from the state, these regulations will apply to you.

Rep. Kretz and Sen. Bob Morton presented a letter requesting a 60 day extension to the comment period, as did the Okanogan Resource Council, the Okanogan Co. Farm Bureau, the Chelan-Douglas Farm Bureau and the Washington Farm Bureau.

When Commissioner Hover, a member of the UCSRB also requested an extension, Walton’s response was that he would check and get back to him on that.

As is stands now, comments are due by November 28, 2006. And the cost estimate listed in the Federal Register for 10 years of implementation right now is $138 million dollars…taxpayer, rate-payer and yes landowner dollars.

© Copyright 2006 by North Cascades Broadcasting, Inc.



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