Protection decision is due soon for Lake Sammamish kokanee
July 19, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
The long process to add the dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon to the endangered species list inched ahead July 12, 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 whether the Lake Sammamish kokanee proposal should proceed.
Taylor Goforth, a spokeswoman for the Fish & Wildlife Service in Lacey, said the agreement does not change the plan, because the agency intends to release a decision during the same timeframe.
“It’s still under review and we’re aware of the deadline and we plan to make it,” she said.
Local environmental groups, governments and the Snoqualmie Tribe petitioned in 2007 to list the landlocked salmon species as endangered.
In May 2008, the agency decided the species merited additional study and then ordered a 12-month status review. Then, the process slowed as petitions for other species flooded the Fish & Wildlife Service.
Even if kokanee warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act, other species deemed a higher priority for protection could leapfrog the salmon.
If the agency lists a species as endangered, biologists create rules to protect the animal from human interference, designate critical habitat and joins state agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations to increase the species’ chance of survival.
Kokanee used to thrive in Lake Sammamish. The freshwater salmon species formed the foundation of a robust ecosystem and a recreational fishery. Snoqualmies once fished for the plentiful salmon as a staple.
The effort to secure Endangered Species Act protection for kokanee includes a cautionary precedent.
The local nonprofit organization Save Lake Sammamish petitioned in 2000 for the Fish & Wildlife Service to declare early-run kokanee as endangered, but biologists declared the early-run fish extinct in 2003, before the agency could act.
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.
The program illustrates the cross-agency effort to preserve the fish.
“It’s not like we’re on a different side,” Goforth said. “We’re willing to help this species enough that we’re willing to work with you at the hatchery level and augment the population.”
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 to withdraw legal opposition to a May agreement between the agency and another conservation group. Center leaders said the agreement overlooked some species in need of protection.
“The Southeast, West Coast, Hawaii and Southwest are America’s extinction hot spots,” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “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.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.