Legal Challenge Launched to Speed Recovery of Oregon Coast Coho Salmon

PORTLAND, Ore.—(ENEWSPF)–May 5, 2015.  The Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service over its failure to develop a recovery plan for Oregon coast coho salmon. Despite the fact that the fish has been protected under the Endangered Species Act for nearly seven years, the agency has failed to develop a recovery plan to guide much-needed improvements in logging and other land-management practices identified as a major factor in the decline of wild coho. The groups are represented by Chris Winter with the Crag Law Center. 

“The state of Oregon has done nothing to reform forest practices on either state or private lands that are crucial to the survival of these magnificent fish,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “And the National Marine Fisheries Service should have put out a recovery plan years ago that lays out the state actions needed to save and recover coho.”

Since the coho was identified as a threatened species in 2008, concerns for the fish have only grown. The Fisheries Service completed a status review in 2011, which concluded that efforts to protect the coho and its habitat “. . . do not comprehensively address the threats to the OC coho salmon ESU from past, ongoing, and future land management activities and global climate change.” In particular, the agency concluded that regulations governing management of state and private forestlands in the range of Oregon Coast coho, including the Oregon Forest Practices Act, do not adequately protect streams, and that logging operations are “likely to reduce stream shade, slow the recruitment of large woody debris, and add fine sediments.”

“Oregon’s rules for logging and forest management have fallen far behind both California and Washington,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. “Continued management of critical habitat under Oregon’s weak forestry laws and the threat of weaker federal forest management paves the way to disaster for Oregon’s coho. It is long past time the Fisheries Service stepped in and provided some guidance, as the law requires.”

Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.
Timely development and implementation of recovery plans is critical to saving species, because the plans identify on-the-ground, necessary actions to save the species, such as research and habitat restoration and protection. Given the severity of threats to the coho’s habitat and that it remains at only 10 percent of its historic population, a recovery plan is critically important to its survival and eventual recovery. 

“Oregon coast coho salmon are part of the very fabric that makes Oregon so special,” said Chris Winter, co-executive director of Crag Law Center. “Bureaucratic delay should not stand in the way of meaningful habitat protections that salmon need so desperately to again thrive on the Oregon coast.”

Oregon’s weak state logging rules are not the only threat to this iconic species. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are under intense pressure to weaken safeguards for coho in rivers like the Umpqua, Alsea and Wilson to promote more logging to fund county governments. A recovery plan could also provide importance guidance to other federal agencies in how to avoid harm to Oregon coast coho.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Oregon Wild represents more than 15,000 members and supporters, and since 1974 has worked to protect and restore our state’s wildlands, wildlife and waters as an enduring legacy for all Oregonians.

Crag Law Center is a public interest law firm that provides legal aid for the environment to protect and sustain the natural legacy of the Pacific Northwest.