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Byline: Associated Press

The Clinton administration declared a California run of coho salmon threatened Friday, but in a politically charged move, kept part of Oregon's dwindling population off the list so the state can try its own protection plan.

The government's decision, originally due in October 1994, is headed for a court battle with environmentalists and fishing groups who say the coastal coho runs of central and northern Oregon also are on the brink of extinction.

Population units straddling the Oregon-California border will be protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Clinton administration officials said.

But the major Oregon coastal coho population that once supported a $100 million fishing industry will be treated only as a possible candidate for listing.

It's the latest in a growing number of agreements the administration has entered into with states and private companies to protect fish and wildlife. The agreements substitute for federal recovery plans enforcing the Endangered Species Act, which is due up for reauthorization before a Republican-controlled Congress.

Protection under the act triggers new federal restrictions on logging, farming and livestock grazing near fish-bearing streams.

``This decision reflects the enormous and untapped flexibility of the Endangered Species Act,'' Will Stelle, Northwest regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, told The Associated Press.

``It plows important new ground in which state conservation efforts based upon solid commitments and strong science define the road map for recovery under the Endangered Species Act.''

Environmentalists denounced the decision for the Oregon runs, saying tighter federal control was the only way to bring back the salmon.

``Today the federal government failed to protect the valuable but imperiled salmon runs,'' said Tryg Sletteland, head of the Pacific Rivers Council in Eugene, Ore. ``That's a particularly bad deal, not just for the coho, but for the economy of the Northwest.''

Coho once numbered as many as 1.4 million along the central and northern Oregon coast, but now only about 80,000 native coho salmon migrate there, NMFS says.

Along the southern Oregon and Northern California coasts, where there used to be 150,000 to 400,000 coho salmon, fewer than 10,000 are estimated to survive.

The Oregon plan forged by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and state legislative leaders relies on voluntary efforts to clean up streams and restore salmon habitat. The Legislature has committed $30 million over the next two years for the project, but up to half that money is expected to be donated by the timber industry and trade organizations.

The fisheries service originally was hesitant to approve the plan because of conditions the timber industry placed on its offer to help pay for it. But Stelle said those concerns were addressed during negotiations with Kitzhaber and others.

Stelle said the Oregon plan addresses the three major causes of the coho's demise - overfishing, destruction of upstream spawning habitat and weakening of wild stocks through excessive hatchery production.

``Without the Oregon plan, these stocks are in serious trouble,'' Stelle said.

``With the Oregon plan, there are significant improvements, especially in terms of the short- and middle-term risks, the elimination of overfishing and major reductions in the threats posed by hatchery production,'' he said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Apr 26, 1997

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