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For Immediate Release, June 24, 2009

Contact: 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

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— 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.

“For 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.

The 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.

“The 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.

The 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.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

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