Federal government declines to list Lake Sammamish kokanee as endangered
October 4, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Population is in decline, but local stock is not ‘distinct’ from other kokanee
Federal officials decided dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon do not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, prompting a chorus of disapproval from local officials.
The species’ decline concerned U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials, but did not merit the fish being listed under the act. The agency announced the decision Oct. 3.
The once-abundant kokanee declined in recent decades, perhaps due to construction near creeks, increased predators, disease or changes in water quality.
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. Scientists estimated the total 2010 run at 58 fish, including the 40 kokanee spawned at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in a last-ditch effort to save the species.
The decision came after the agency spent four years to review the Lake Sammamish stock’s health.
“I am surprised and disappointed by this decision,” County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “Our native Lake Sammamish kokanee are on the brink of extinction and we have had to resort to emergency hatchery supplementation — basically life support — to make future recovery possible.”
The agency determined the Lake Sammamish kokanee population does not meet the definition of a “listable entity” under the “distinct population segment” policy.
Officials said the species offered no evidence of a “special significance to the well-being of the species throughout its range,” and therefore did not qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. Similar kokanee thrive in other waterways around the globe.
“Despite the reasoning behind today’s decision, we will do what is right and continue to work with our partners and the Fish & Wildlife Service to halt the decline of our local fish,” Constantine added.
The kokanee spawning program receives support from the Fish & Wildlife Service, King County and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Local environmental groups, governments and the Snoqualmie Tribe petitioned in 2007 to list the salmon species, oncorhynchus nerka, as endangered. The species is a landlocked offshoot of sockeye salmon.
“The facts are that these fish are unique, and they are in crisis,” Snoqualmie Tribe Administrator Matt Mattson said. “They deserve full protection under the ESA. We are dismayed that the service subjectively decided — contrary to the recommendations of local managers — that Lake Sammamish kokanee have no special significance to nerka throughout its range, and strongly urge them to reconsider that decision in the very near future.”
If the Fish & Wildlife Service lists a species as endangered, biologists create rules to protect the animal from human interference, designate critical habitat and join state agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations to increase the species’ chance of survival.
Despite the decision not to list Lake Sammamish kokanee, officials said a framework is already in place to preserve the species.
The regional Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group has proposed 11 projects in Issaquah and Sammamish to restore habitat for chinook salmon — a species protected under the Endangered Species Act — and kokanee.
“We have done our homework to identify what we need to do first, and have already initiated important work,” Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said. “This decision is no excuse for the region to lose focus on our shared priorities for recovering this population. We are hopeful that the Fish & Wildlife Service will stay engaged in and continue to be supportive of our work, which they had a hand in launching.”
The petitioners could call on the Fish & Wildlife Service to reconsider Lake Sammamish kokanee for Endangered Species Act protection.
“We plan to carefully review the decision once it’s released to evaluate any potential next steps, and hope to continue working with the service and other community partners to ensure we are doing everything we can to help recover these important fish over the long-term,” said Kate Miller, Trout Unlimited staff attorney.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.