State Court Backs Coho Protection Rules

John Driscoll The Times-Standard

A Sacramento court has upheld decisions by the California Fish and Game Commission to list coho salmon in Northern California as protected under state law.

Judge Gail Ohanesian in Sacramento Superior Court ruled late last week that the commission and the California Department of Fish and Game acted within the law to list the fish as endangered between San Francisco Bay and Punta Gorda, and as threatened above Punta Gorda to the Oregon border.

The case was brought by the California Forestry Association and others, including the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce. The plaintiffs contended that the 2002 and 2004 decisions by the state were an abuse of discretion and unsupported by evidence. They argued that the California Endangered Species Act doesn’t allow listing population segments of a species, as the federal Endangered Species Act does.

But Ohanesian said that there was no further definition of a species or subspecies under the state law, and noted the federal definition.

“The court finds that the concept of ‘species’ is a scientific one, not a matter of common understanding among those not trained in biological science,” Ohanesian wrote.

She also wrote that the record contains a large amount of information that supports that coho has been removed, or is in serious decline, from its entire California range.

Conservation groups who intervened in the case said they hoped the decision would allow industry and environmental interests to work together to restore coho salmon.

“This was a biologically sound decision,” said Tom Weseloh with California Trout. “Now the courts have said it’s not only biologically sound but also legal.”

J Warren Hockaday, executive director of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, said the board believed that the state listing was duplicative of existing federal regulations. It joined the suit as a show of support for the timber industry, Hockaday said, concerned that some of its members would see significant costs from the state’s actions.

Ohanesian found that the state acted according to its policy because federal protection had not proven adequate to prevent the decline of coho.

The California Forestry Association did not return the Times- Standard’s phone call by deadline.