July 25, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Protecting people helps protect fish

Aug 07, 2011

July 25, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Protecting people helps protect fish

Protecting people helps protect fish

Published: July 25. 2011 4:00AM PST

For steelhead in Central Oregon, this is a time like no other. Hundreds of thousands of young steelhead have been reintroduced into Whychus Creek and the Crooked River. It’s part of a $150 million reintroduction effort, including the 250-plus-foot fish passage tower sunk into the water upstream of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam.

It would be a shame for the federal government to turn around and wallop people, cities, irrigation districts and businesses for accidentally killing some of the reintroduced fish.

That is no idle threat. Killing an endangered species can be punished with fines of $25,000 and even larger criminal penalties.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed a reasonable solution.

Its rule would designate the hatchery-grown steelheads reintroduced to the Deschutes Basin as experimental and nonessential. That would protect the region from sanctions for inadvertent harm for about 12 years.

The comment period on the rule has just ended.

Within the Endangered Species Act, there’s a provision called the 10(j) rule that permits the government to designate the release of an experimental population of an endangered or threatened species to further conservation.

In other words, it was written for situations like the one in Central Oregon.

The region’s restoration efforts could continue without the designation. They would continue. Many of the efforts were a condition of the reauthorization of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam.

This is a question about how they should continue.

One major objection was submitted to the rule during the comment period. Earthjustice sent it in on behalf of several other environmental groups. The argument could perhaps be summed up as: It’s difficult to understand how removing protections for endangered fish helps the protection of the fish.

It doesn’t, directly. It protects people.

It makes the process of reintroduction of an endangered species easier on people. It doesn’t make it OK to kill fish. The regulatory hammer is still in place. It just can’t do hammering for accidents.

In that way, both fish and people are protected. And in that way, it’s easier for more people to be more supportive of protecting endangered species.

The National Marine Fisheries should implement its rule, unchanged.


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