Northwest NEWS

April 24, 2000

Front Page

Regulations could cost taxpayers plenty

by Christina Coughlin

   It may cost Bothell taxpayers up to an estimated $1.2 million per year to remove the Chinook salmon from the endangered species list.

   In March 1999, Chinook salmon were listed as a "threatened species" under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS). The 4(d) rule, named after a section of the ESA, was issued by the federal agency in January and lists proposed regulations necessary to protect and recover West Coast salmon.

   The City of Bothell is responsible for and supports the protection of the Chinook salmon that swim in the Sammamish River, North Creek, and other areas. The problem, according to Bothell's senior planner, Bruce Blackburn, is that representatives of the NMFS are not familiar with the Bothell area and they have never dealt with urban issues.

   "This [the Chinook] is the first species that has ever been listed under ESA that involves urban areas," said Blackburn. "They [NMFS] don't know what to do."

   As a result, the planner said, the counties of King, Pierce, and Snohomish aligned and produced the Tri-County framework. The framework is an attempt to negotiate with NMFS in creating a 4(d) rule specifically for the Puget Sound that will take both the salmon and the economy into consideration.

   "We don't want them [NMFS] to tell us what to do," explained Blackburn. "We want to be able to tell them the things we want to establish."

   "It's fair to say we've never developed a 4(d) rule for such a complex urban area before," admitted Elizabeth Babcook, the Puget Sound area coordinator for NMFS, but she said that to accuse NMFS of not knowing what to do in this situation is unfair.

   Tim Stearns of the National Wildlife Federation said that, while a 4(d) rule is desirable, the organization cannot support the rule as written. The current 4(d) is not clear from a scientific perspective nor about what is expected from local jurisdictions, said Stearns. With a clear 4(d) rule, explained Stearns, "a landowner who wants to follow the law" can have proper guidance.

   Babcook said that the rule is "extremely complex as written," but noted that NMFS has received comments both supporting the rule and opposing it. NMFS wants to hear from the public, said Babcook, so the agency can phrase the regulations in a way that makes sense to people. While negotiations are still being made, questions about the costs of the regulations, where the money will come from, how people will be affected and whether or not the regulations will be effective--or if they are even necessary--are on the minds of many involved.

   According to a study conducted by the City of Bothell, the estimated costs for the city to implement the Tri-County framework range from $150,000 to $425,000. The annual costs range from $500,000 to $1.2 million, said Blackburn.

   "We [the city] were very pessimistic on this," explained Blackburn. "We're making a guess just so everybody understands what the impact is. First of all, where are we going to get the money and how are we going to get it? We haven't even started that discussion yet."

   According to the planner, the largest single effect of the regulations will be what can be done within 300 feet of a stream or creek. Judson Clendaniel, a member of the Shorelines Hearing Board and a commercial real estate appraiser, is concerned about what effect the regulations will have on property values. "It is very likely it [the regulations] will decrease the values of many properties," he said.

   Stearns disagrees. "If we do a good job of keeping our area clean, you won't detract property values, you enhance them," he argued. "We are going to have to change the way we live if we want to save the salmon."

   But whether the proposed regulations will save the salmon is being questioned. According to Blackburn, one of the main concerns of jurisdictions is that there is no guarantee by NMFS that the Chinook will be recovered.

   Babcook admitted that it will take a long time for the species to recover, but insists the regulations will work. "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be able to come to work everyday," she said.

   Some scientists, such as Ernest L. Brannon of the University of Idaho, question the need for Chinook salmon recovery. After all, he argued in an article published last year, there are plenty of Chinook salmon if you include those spawned from hatcheries, but NMFS only counts wild salmon.

   Brannon maintains that by not counting hatchery fish, NMFS is ignoring "the reality of environmental changes accompanying a developed society."

   "The fish that are used for this recovery need to be part of the natural environment," insisted Darek Poon of NMFS. "We want natural productivity to take over again."

   Although many questions remain unanswered, some things are certain:

   "There's no question they [the Chinook] are in trouble. And if we don't do anything, they'll be dead," warned Blackburn.

Christina Coughlin is a student in the University of Washington School of Communications News Laboratory.