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ESA Listing Decisions For Northwest Salmon Species Loom

February 1, 2011

While hardly a week goes by without the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) being the subject of news in the Pacific Northwest, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) is currently faced with several important decisions to make over the next several months that will determine whether nearly 30 salmon and steelhead species will continue to be listed under the ESA and whether new species warrant listing for the first time.

Last week, the Oregonian reported that the Center for Biological Diversity is leading a group of organizations petitioning the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) to add Klamath River spring and fall chinook to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) list.  Under the agency’s regulations, NMFS has approximately 90 days to determine whether the petition presents evidence that “may warrant” listing.  If NMFS determines that listing may be warranted, it will likely initiate a review of the status of the species that will provide the public and affected industries an opportunity to provide comments regarding whether listing is warranted.

Meanwhile, NMFS is in the midst of completing a five-year review of several other salmon and steelhead species that are already listed under the ESA.  NMFS classifies salmon and steelhead species according to specific geographical areas, called “evolutionarily significant units” (“ESUs”).  There are 27 ESUs currently under review, including several that are indigenous to the Columbia and Snake river basins.  NMFS first listed these 27 ESU’s in 2005 and 2006 and, under its regulations, the agency is required to review its listing decisions every five years. NMFS began the public comment period for this review in March 2010.  Given that NMFS’s five-year review of some of the ESU’s are already overdue, a decision is expected to be issued within the first part of 2011.

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