On November 19, 1998 in Concord, New Hampshire, a coalition of environmental organizations and individuals filed an intent to sue notice to two federal agencies today for violating federal laws. The 60-day notice was sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service as a result of their failure to protect Atlantic salmon populations in seven Maine rivers under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The letter -- a requirement prior to filing a lawsuit -- was filed by a coalition of environmental organizations and individuals including Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Action Project (CAP), Biodiversity Legal Foundation (BLF), Coastal Waters Project, David Carle, Doug Watts and Charles FitzGerald. The notice was sent to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior; William Daley, Secretary of the Department of Commerce; Jamie Rappaport-Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and Rolland A. Schmitten, Director, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The notice documents how the federal agencies violated federal law by failing to protect Atlantic salmon populations in seven Maine rivers under the ESA. The seven rivers include the Dennys, Machias, East Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Sheepscot, and Ducktrap.
"Last year Atlantic salmon returns to U.S. rivers were among the lowest ever recorded," said David Carle, executive director of CAP. "While last years low returns are alarming, of greater concern is the downward trend in returns during the past decade. The federal agencies' scientist found that Atlantic salmon are facing possible extinction, yet the agencies failed to provide the protection that is necessary to stop this slide to extinction."
In December 1997, the FWS and NMFS accepted the State of Maine-produced Atlantic Salmon Conservation Plan for Seven Maine Rivers (Conservation Plan) in lieu of listing the species under the ESA. The Maine Conservation Plan is modeled after a similar plan offered by the State of Oregon to avoid listing imperiled Pacific salmon. In June 1998, the Oregon Plan was found to violate federal law. The Maine Plan is viewed as a much weaker proposal, based almost exclusively on voluntary measures.
"We are talking about one of the most critically endangered unprotected native fish species in the United States," said Jasper Carlton, executive director of the BLF. "To stop the march towards extinction, the species needs an enforceable and accountable recovery plan. It is for species such as the Atlantic salmon that the ESA -- a safety net from extinction -- was created."
The Atlantic salmon was first proposed for ESA protection in 1993. The original petition called for the protection of the species through out its historical range of New England. In 1995, the federal agencies focused on protecting Atlantic salmon in just the seven Maine rivers and invited the State of Maine to be involved in the protection process. The State then offered the Conservation Plan as a substitute to listing which the federal agencies accepted in December 1997.
"The 60-day notice offers a window of opportunity for the parties to sit down and attempt to resolve the issues without going to court," said Carle. "Additionally, we believe that the State Conservation Plan could be used as the foundation of the species recovery program. Listing the species under the ESA will provide the enforceability and accountability missing from the state plan but required to save Atlantic salmon from extinction."
The letter from the organizations describes the threats to Atlantic salmon, and the failure of the State to implement many of the components of the State Conservation Plan. Some of the threats include habitat destruction, the influence of inferior hatchery stock, and impacts from aquaculture operations. It concludes by stating that "listing must occur if we are to save the remaining populations and ensure the species' eventual recovery. . . . we urge you to reconsider and reverse the decision not to extend the protections of the ESA to Atlantic salmon."
The Forest Ecology Network has joined Defenders of Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Coastal Waters Project, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Charles Fitzgerald, Doug Watts, and David Carle in notifying the federal fish-protection agencies that a suit will be filed if the Atlantic Salmon is not granted protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Jonathan Carter, Director of FEN, stated, "FEN has decided to join the impending suit because it is our belief that the state plan does not go far enough in protecting the endangered salmon. We must understand that extinction is forever. Unless we intervene swiftly and pro-actively, the few hundred salmon currently returning to Maine's rivers will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon or Great Auk. This is not a time for debate, it is a time for action. Last summer's lowering of river levels for agricultural purposes and the continued deforestation in and around salmon spawning brooks and streams must stop immediately. Now that the offshore overfishing has been curtailed with the shutting down of the North Atlantic catch, it is critical that we do our part on shore to protect salmon migratory routes and spawning habitat.
While there are many factors such as dams and pollution which impact salmon recovery efforts, deforestation is clearly a major culprit. The Coho Salmon populations on the West Coast have been devastated by clearcut logging practices. In fact, in Alaska the environmental and fishing communities have formed alliances in their fight to protect native stocks. In Maine, in addition to the negative impacts of clearcut logging and the lack of mandatory buffers around intermittent streams, the use of chemical pesticides poses a major threat. POEA, a component of the commonly used forest herbicides Accord, Vision, and Round-up, has been shown to kill salmon fry at levels in the parts per million range.
If we do not act now and place the burden of protection squarely on those who are causing the extirpation, we are committing the salmon in Maine to extinction, stealing from future generations. With full protection the Atlantic Salmon, like the Bald Eagle, may be able to be saved."