NMFS will work with local governments on salmon rules

"For the first time ever, the federal government will allow local rules to take the place of federal Endangered Species Act protections for threatened salmon species.The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Tuesday that it will work on a 4(d) rule. Under the 4(d) rule, the NMFS will work with Northwest state and local governments to establish guidelines for exemptions to the Endangered Species Act.Kitsap County might be one of those local governments.Since the National Marine Fisheries Service hinted at listing the Puget Sound Chinook and Hood Canal Summer Chum salmon as threatened species earlier this year, local governments have been pleading their cases for this power.Without this new local power, any development or action that might harm the threatened salmon species could wind up in court. The only way out would be to get federal permits for each action presenting potential harm to salmon habitat – an onerous burden to NMFS.With the local exemptions, specific and predetermined actions (approved by NMFS) will be shielded from litigation even if they kill some fish. The details of the “take limitations,” or specific rules allowing incidental harm to salmon in some cases, have yet to be determined. For now, NMFS and the Tri-County group of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties plan to hash out a framework that can be adopted by other counties and municipalities. That framework is to be included in the final 4(d) rule, which is expected in June.Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen sounded optimistic about the possibilities. “It looks like it has some flexibility in it - in some form or another, it has some room for us. ... I believe Kitsap can fit within that framework,” Endresen said.Endresen said she doesn’t know if Kitsap County will follow the Tri-county lead for certain. “Everybody is making this up as they go along. if I said yes or no, it could change tomorrow.“The Kitsap commissioners have to decide whether we want to wait and see what Tri-County gets approved, or whether we want to have an active role and Kitsap County have an exemption or if we want to be at the table negotiating with the Tri-County group. We haven’t decided that yet,” she said.The commissioners intend to make that decision by the end of January.Regardless of which way they go, Endresen said the NMFS decision could not have come at a better time for Kitsap. The county’s Salmon Advisory Committee, which consists of about 20 people studying the Kitsap salmon issue, is nearly ready to give its suggestions to policymakers. “The time frame is working out just right to be able to have citizens comment on the range of options now that we have the 4(d) rule,” she said.“What people need to remember is that this is the very beginning - the infancy - of a very long process. The science that we are required to use isn’t like physics. They don’t have all of the answers.“People have to remember that this is a series of steps. It (the 4(d) rule) is an interim step that will be changed as we are able to do more site-specific plans,” Endresen said."

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