PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal agency has released a road map for the recovery of threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon.
The draft plan from the National Marine Fisheries Service focuses on protecting and restoring freshwater and habitats that have a mixture of freshwater and saltwater, including streams, lakes and wetlands.
The plan also calls on the state to strengthen regulations on activities such as agriculture and logging to protect water quality and habitat.
The Oregon Coast coho was first listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1998. It was later taken off that list, but litigation forced the government to grant it federal protection again in 2008.
The listing was retained in 2011, and in 2015 a federal review found that while aspects of the species' status have improved, the species still needs protection.
In July, two environmental groups sued the federal agency over its failure to write the recovery plan in a timely manner.
Between 1 million and 2 million coho salmon once returned annually to Oregon's coast, but the number plummetted to about 20,000 in the 1990s because of over-fishing, the loss of habitat and the effects of hatchery fish, among other factors.
In recent years, improvements have led to increased coho numbers: annual returns now range from 100,000 to 350,000 fish.
But federal biologists say poor ocean conditions and climate change could pose a challenge to the coho. The main threats to overcoming that challenge, according to the plan, are degraded habitat and inadequate state rules.
The loss of stream habitat for the rearing of juvenile coho salmon is a big concern. This habitat, according to the plan, is critical to produce enough surviving juveniles to sustain the coho population, especially during poor ocean conditions. Stream habitat includes large wood, pools, connections to side channels and off-channel alcoves, wetlands and backwater areas.
A large part of the land with critical coho habitat lies on private land, including farmland and timber land. Because the plan is only a blueprint, its implementation will rely on the efforts of local jurisdictions, farmers, timber companies and other private citizens.
State agencies such as the Board of Forestry, which regulates logging buffers near streams, and the Department of Agriculture, which regulates pesticide spraying, will also play a large role, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the two groups that sued this summer.
"We need bigger buffers around streams where chemicals aren't sprayed. We need larger logging buffers," Greenwald said.
Greenwald praised the plan for its focus on habitat restoration and strengthening laws to protect that habitat. The big concern, he said, is "whether the state of Oregon will step up and do what's necessary to have healthy salmon."
NOAA Fisheries estimates the cost of recovery at about $55 million over the next five years and about $110 million to achieve full recovery, depending on the effectiveness of improvements to the coho salmon's habitat and the strength of laws protecting that habitat.
The draft plan is open to public comment for 60 days. The agency plans to issue a final recovery plan in 2016.