Defenders of Wildlife today hailed as a victory for wildlife Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt’s statement that the government will propose to list Atlantic salmon under the Endangered Species Act, and cited the move as a great chance to restore the species to its historical numbers.
Secretary Babbitt was quoted in the Bangor Daily News today saying that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will, for the second time, propose listing Atlantic salmon in Maine in an attempt to save the critically endangered species. The decision is in direct response to a lawsuit filed by conservationists last January to secure federal protection for Atlantic salmon. Defenders of Wildlife is the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, which also includes several other conservation groups and individuals. A scientific report by the two services, finished in July but released just last week, concluded that - as Defenders was claiming - Atlantic salmon populations in Maine are on the brink of extinction.
Although the announcement is welcomed by conservationists, there is also cause for continued concern because Secretary Babbitt has stated that a final listing determination could take up to 15 months.
"As we have stated in our lawsuit, the current status of Atlantic salmon in Maine demands that the services make an immediate emergency listing of these fish under the ESA," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "Protection under the Endangered Species Act is our last and best hope for saving these magnificent fish. We can only hope that the federal government’s footdragging hasn’t run out the clock."
Defenders and its co-plaintiffs sued the services after they decided to withdraw an earlier proposal to extend the protections of the ESA to Atlantic salmon in Maine. According to the litigants, the agencies’ reversal was politically motivated and based on a completely inadequate conservation plan submitted by Maine Governor Angus King, who continues to oppose a federal listing.
"Just as it was two years ago, the scientific evidence is indisputable that our nation’s Atlantic salmon are on the brink of extinction," said Mike Senatore, Wildlife Counsel for Defenders. "As they have done with other endangered species, the services have politicized and delayed the listing process with Atlantic salmon. Any further delay in extending Atlantic salmon the protections that the law demands would necessitate continued legal action."
In their scientific report, the services identified numerous threats to Atlantic salmon. These include current aquaculture practices, degredation of salmon spawning habitat resulting from water withdrawals, sedimentation, nutrient inputs, pesticides and streambank vegetation clearing, and low marine survival. The services report that in 1998 just 23 salmon were documented to have returned to the the seven Maine rivers originally proposed for listing. These numbers are consistent with the downward trend in returns observed since the mid-1980s.
Besides Defenders, plaintiffs in the pending lawsuit include the Conservation Action Project, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Forest Ecology Network, Coastal Waters Project, David Carle, Charles Fitzgerald, Douglas Watts, Donald Shields and Arthur Taylor. The plaintiffs are represented by the Washinton, D.C. law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein.
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270