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Marin County Officials Fail to Protect Endangered Coho Salmon SPAWN asks Court to Intervene

Olema (September 14, 2010)– In its efforts to protect endangered salmon and to safeguard the quality of life for all Marin County residents, the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN) filed suit against Marin County to compel compliance with State and Federal Law.

“This is a deeply regrettable turn of events,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of SPAWN. “However, County Supervisors and staff have refused to meet their obligations under the law to protect the critically endangered coho salmon. The fish simply can’t wait any longer.” The benefit of filing this case is that it is solely directed at the County of Marin and is not aimed at any individual or the San Geronimo Valley community.

For at least three years, the County has been in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). In 2007, County Supervisors adopted the Marin County Wide General Plan Update (CWP), without conducting adequate environmental review or adopting supportable findings, as required by CEQA. In so doing, the County also issued a “finding of no significant impact” from future real estate development on steelhead and salmon in the San Geronimo watershed. The County’s own legal record, however, contradicts this assertion. In its 2007 finding of significant and unavoidable impacts to coho and steelhead habitat and movement, the County plainly established and acknowledged the grave threat to these species. Because the County has violated California Law, SPAWN has initiated this corrective legal action.

Deborah A. Sivas, Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law and Director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School said, “The very purpose of CEQA is to require that agencies meaningfully evaluate the cumulative impacts of their actions and possible ways to mitigate those impacts before making any decision. Here, we have critically imperiled wildlife species on the brink of extinction and yet the County approved a plan for future development without properly assessing impacts on these species. Negotiations have apparently failed to correct this legal error by the County, and it is now time to let the Courts arbitrate the issue.” She continued, “SPAWN’s concern has always been with the County’s failure to follow state environmental law, and that’s what we are trying to remedy through the courts.”

Michael Graf, attorney and co-counsel stated, “Even after granting the County almost three additional years, the County failed to conduct the necessary review and now they say any such analysis is years away. This raises an issue of how the County can in the meantime continue to approve development in the stream zone when they have no idea where the cumulative tipping point is for the coho.”

In 2007, SPAWN informed the County that its environmental analysis of the coho, now on the brink of extinction, was inadequate, ill-informed and illegal. County attorneys appeared to agree. Supervisor Kinsey architected a plan in which the county would hire independent scientists to make recommendations to the County, while placing a moratorium on issuing building permits for new development along sensitive stream areas in the San Geronimo Valley, the strongest vestige of remaining salmon spawning and rearing areas. During those two years, SPAWN sought to collaborate in good faith with the County to develop an eco-system wide plan intended to enhance the chance of survival for endangered coho salmon. However, the County failed to undertake even the most basic restorative activities, such as promulgating a new vegetative management ordinance to preserve creekside habitat and protect hatchlings and juvenile fish.

In the past three years, the local coho population has plummeted. State and Federal agencies have inaugurated a series of emergency meetings to forestall species extinction. Meanwhile, California’s leading scientists have once again called on Marin Supervisors to act swiftly and forcefully to protect salmon creekside habitat (See HERE).

“Scientists, legal scholars and the conservation community has waited patiently for the County to act, but the Supervisors have failed to take meaningful actions that would protect the endangered fish, protect the public trust, and correct their illegal inadequacies of their environmental analysis,” said Steiner.

A copy of the complaint is available HERE

The Salmon Protection And Watershed Network www.SpawnUSA.org (SPAWN) is an award-winning science-based, grassroots organization which works to protect and restore threatened coho salmon and steelhead trout and the habitat on which we all depend. SPAWN is located in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed of rural West Marin, and uses a community-based approach to accomplish its mission through environmental and public education, habitat restoration, advocacy, biological research and monitoring, and when necessary strategic litigation. SPAWN works to create replicable models and actively communicates its successes to other watershed organizations through organizing workshops, participating and co-sponsoring conferences, and by mentoring young activists through its internship and volunteer training programs.