Will Atlantic Salmon Be Maine’s Spotted Owl?

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In the Arena, by Rich Jefferson – Will Atlantic Salmon Be Maine’s Spotted Owl?

Once classified as a federally protectedendangered species, the spotted owl crippled forest products industry operationsin the Pacific Northwest. Logging communities were devastated.

Now federal officials plan to declare theAtlantic salmon an endangered species.

What would the effect be on Maine’s forestproducts industry? Adding the Atlantic salmon to the ranks of endangered speciesmight not cause as much pain as listing the owl as endangered caused in thePacific Northwest. Then again, we might be surprised.

According to researchers in Oregon, thespotted owl brought big changes to timber communities. In Oregon, California andWashington, 187 mills closed and 22,500 jobs were lost because of the spottedowl. Oregon bore the worst of it.

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Will declaring Atlantic salmon endangeredbring such economic troubles to Maine?

Certainly there are differences betweenso-called endangered fins and so-called endangered feathers. Supposedly the owlneeded old-growth forests. The forests surrounding rivers and streams wheresalmon spawn may be two, 20, or 200 years old; the fish don’t care. Theysimply like the water cold and clean.

According to one observer, wildlife biologistson the East Coast who are involved with the Endangered Species Act don’t seemto be as radical as those in the West. In the East, wildlife biologists have agreater concern for enhancing their own “stakeholder” status. Theydon’t seem bent on clobbering Maine’s economy. But stakeholders who don’thave a clue about economics could be a problem.

Economic incentives have been good for salmonconsumers. Aquaculture — fish farming — is a free-market business solutionproviding salmon to those who want it for a highly traditional purpose: eatingfish. And it looks like entrepreneurs can supply as many fish as the marketdemands.

Extinction is said to be part of theendangered equation, but extinction is not an issue with Atlantic salmon. Itwould appear there is another agenda, besides species survival, at work in themovement to have the salmon declared endangered.

Northeastern elitists who use Maine as asummer playground see logging as an unsightly pursuit, perhaps even an immoralpractice. So do Maine’s own environmentalists. The questions about where theywill get the fiber they need for their own consumption does not register withthem. They want to know: how can they stop logging?

They can find endangered species near or onlogging sites. Then they can bring third-party lawsuits. They can hire top gunlawyers and have hot shot witnesses testify in court.

Under the Endangered Species Act, speciessurvival always comes first. Human problems come second, at best. Anythingperceived by a wildlife biologist as possibly harming an endangered species —such as logging — brings down the heavy gavel of the law.

Listing a species as endangered or threatenedeliminates flexibility in conservation efforts. Rational decisions are out. Whena biologist testifies that something might injure an endangered species, thejudge has no wiggle room.

Top gun lawyer: Mr.Biologist, you have told us that there is an unusual concentration of compoundXYZ in the soil in this watershed where the logging operation is taking place.Is it possible that large amounts of XYZ will run off into the river?

Hot shot witness: Icannot guarantee that it absolutely will run off, but there certainly is thatpossibility. No question, it’s possible.

Top gun lawyer:Well, if XYZ runs off as non-point source pollution, would these possibleconcentrations of XYZ in this river, this salmon habitat, potentially cause agreater probability of salmon extinction in this river?

Hot shot witness:Yes, that is certainly possible.

Top gun lawyer: So,as an expert salmon biologist you would have to conclude that the salmon thatspawn in this river have a greater probability of surviving if the loggingoperation is stopped immediately?

Hot shot witness:The salmon definitely has a greater possibility of surviving if logging isstopped immediately.

How do you think the judge will rule?

Even if the mom-and-pop logging business couldhold its own financially against well-funded environmentalists, the judge willbe bound to uphold the law. And the law says survival of the species comesfirst.

It doesn’t seem to matter that Maine is inthe middle of its own five-year salmon conservation plan, and that the fedsagreed to wait and see if the plan would work. Are you surprised federalofficials have gone back on their word?

Bets are on in Maine that the enviros andtheir buddies in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want the Atlantic salmondeclared endangered before the presidential election — just in case Gore doesnot cross the finish line.

To loggers and other members of Maine’sforest products industry: beware the endangered species listing of the Atlanticsalmon. You may have a spotted owl on your hands.