Decision is closer on endangered status for Lake Sammamish kokanee

July 12, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 11:55 a.m. July 12, 2011

The long process to add the dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon to the endangered species list inched ahead Tuesday, as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to make decisions soon about the salmon species and more than 700 animal and plant species under consideration for federal protection.

Under a legal agreement between the agency and environmentalists, the Fish & Wildlife Service is required to decide by the end of the year if the Lake Sammamish kokanee proposal should proceed.

Local environmental groups, governments and the Snoqualmie Tribe petitioned in 2007 to list the landlocked salmon species as endangered.

Kokanee used to thrive in Lake Sammamish. The freshwater salmon species formed the foundation of a robust ecosystem and a recreational fishery. Snoqualmies fished for the plentiful salmon as a staple.

In recent years, the number of salmon in the late-fall and early-winter run has dwindled to fewer than 1,000 in some seasons. Kokanee return to only a handful of creeks — Ebright, Laughing Jacobs and Lewis — to spawn.

In a conservation effort encompassing the Fish & Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and King County, teams collect adult kokanee from the streams and then spawn the fish at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. The effort started during the 2009 spawning season and continued last year.

Biologists later release the kokanee fry into Lake Sammamish tributary streams.

Meanwhile, the Fish & Wildlife Service is addressing a long backlog of hundreds of species under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The legal agreement between the Fish & Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group based in Tucson, Ariz., requires the agency to make initial or final decisions about 757 species through 2018.

In return, the Center for Biological Diversity agreed withdraw legal opposition to May agreement between the agency and another conservation group. Center for Biological Diversity leaders said the agreement overlooked species in need of protection.

“The Southeast, West Coast, Hawaii and Southwest are America’s extinction hot spots,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Most of the species lost in the past century lived there, and most of those threatened with extinction in the next decade live there as well.”

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