The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

California Proposes Logging Rules That Would Exterminate Coho Salmon

Inadequate Regulations Proposed in Critical Watersheds as Coho Salmon Spiral Toward Extinction


The California Board of Forestry this week is considering proposed state timber-harvest regulations
that would continue harmful logging adjacent to critical salmon
streams, prevent recovery of key salmon watersheds, and essentially
guarantee extinction of coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) from California. The Center for Biological Diversity sent comments
to the Board this week regarding the failure of the proposed rules to
protect coho and other salmon; the Center warned of the likelihood for
illegal take of salmon species listed under the federal and state
Endangered Species Acts if the rules are adopted. The Board will hold
hearings today and tomorrow in Sacramento on the proposed rules.

a decade, the Board of Forestry has avoided taking the steps that are
necessary to protect California's salmon from the impacts of logging
activities, and meanwhile coho salmon have spiraled toward extinction,"
said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological
Diversity. "These unacceptable rules would continue business-as-usual
logging practices and facilitate the dismantling of the last shaded,
cold-water forest refuges for fish."

The Board is
updating its "threatened or impaired watershed" logging rules, state
forest practice rules originally adopted in 2000 that regulate
commercial timber harvesting on private land in watersheds harboring
threatened or endangered salmon species and in water bodies listed as
impaired under the federal Clean Water Act. Most remaining coho salmon
streams in northern and central California are within private
forestlands subject to California's Forest Practice Rules.

Board has proposed a smorgasbord of options for riparian timber-harvest
rule changes, almost all of which reduce critical riparian protection.
The rules would also: allow excessive road densities, near-stream roads
and road stream crossings that will result in degradation of salmon
habitat with sediment; approve logging and road building on unstable
slopes and soils; allow logging of critical headwaters refugia; and
prevent previously logged watersheds from adequately recovering.

Board of Forestry should adopt stronger timber harvest regulations to
protect all salmon streams and should prohibit logging in key
watersheds in order to allow impaired areas to recover," said Justin
Augustine, a Center attorney. "The Board's proposed approach would
likely result in timber-harvest plans violating the Endangered Species
Act, causing illegal take of salmon, and undermining the recovery of
listed salmonids."

Coho salmon in the central California coast, from
Punta Gorda south to the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz, are listed as
endangered by both the state and federal governments. The central coast
spawning population had declined to about 56,000 fish by the mid-1960s;
in recent years only 500 to 1,000 wild coho have returned to the
central coast region to spawn. Coho in Northern California, from Punta Gorda to the Oregon border, are
listed as threatened by both the state and federal governments. Up to
half a million coho spawned in this region as late as the 1940s. By the
1990s, only about 7,000 coho spawned in Northern California. Coho have
been eliminated from more than half of their historical streams in
California, and most remaining populations are extremely isolated, with
fewer than 100 fish.

The effects of logging
activities on coho salmon habitat have been catastrophic. Coho spawn,
and the young rear, in cold-water streams with abundant protective
cover, mostly provided by fallen trees. For this reason, coho require
dense coastal forests for their survival. Removal of trees eliminates
shade for streams, increases water temperatures, and reduces the amount
of large woody debris that falls into streams to provide critical
habitat for rearing salmonids. Thousands of miles of temporary logging
roads create large-scale soil instability on the steep slopes in
coastal Northern California, eroding huge quantities of fine sediment
into streams, filling pools, degrading spawning gravels, and burying
coho habitat.

The Board of Forestry and the timber
industry often blame the loss of coho on factors other than logging,
such as ocean conditions. However, ocean conditions have been largely
favorable for coho salmon production since 1998, yet coho populations
continue to decline, a clear indication that lack of suitable
freshwater habitat is constraining coho salmon recovery.

proposed rules are not based on best science or good land-management
principles and are geared toward allowing more timber harvest in
critical coho watersheds. Even though the Board of Forestry's supposed
salmon protections to date have failed to protect coho, the agency is
now proposing rules that in some instances would further erode habitat
protections. The watersheds covered by the rules have been subjected to
unreasonable levels of logging well over acceptable limits to maintain
suitable conditions for salmon. Many of the sub-basins covered by the
rules have been altered more than 50 percent due to logging in the past
few decades, and logging road networks far exceed levels known to
increase sediment yield and alter hydrology. Intact functional patches
of salmonid habitat are extremely limited or have been completely
eliminated by logging in many of the watersheds, such as the Russian
and Gualala Rivers.

If prompt action is not taken to
reverse the decline in freshwater habitat quality for coho salmon
before predicted less favorable ocean productivity and climate cycles
occur between 2015 and 2025, coho salmon will likely go extinct
throughout the state. In 2008, renowned California native fish expert
Dr. Peter Moyle published a report for CalTrout, SOS: California's Native Fish Crisis, documenting
the unprecedented decline of California's native salmonids. Thirteen of
California's 21 native salmonids are in extreme danger of extinction,
including coho salmon. The National Marine Fisheries Service reported
in 2008 that coastal coho populations plunged 73 percent compared with
the previous spawning season. Severely reduced salmon populations
precipitated a moratorium on commercial and recreational salmon fishing
throughout the state in 2008 and 2009, expected to cause economic
losses of $255 million and 2,263 jobs.

The most
important factor for survival of California's coho is protecting and
enhancing the watersheds that still have the potential to support the
species, such as Scott and Waddell Creeks in San Mateo County and the
Garcia, Noyo, and Gualala rivers in Mendocino County.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252