The Salmon Protection and Watershed Network takes responsibility for getting the county to the table to conduct an independent scientific review of the status and threats to the coho salmon in the San Geronimo Valley, where one of the highest densities of these endangered fish still exist.
This action was supported by many environmental organizations, fisheries scientists and concerned citizens who all called for a science-based analysis of the impacts of continued development in critical habitat for coho salmon.
SPAWN does not, however, accept responsibility for the public process engineered by Supervisor Steve Kinsey, with little input from SPAWN or his “advisory” committees.
From the very beginning, SPAWN asked for larger committee structures with more community involvement, requested the county consider hiring a firm to help with public outreach after the first public meeting only attracted a handful of residents, and suggested additional meetings with greater public input.
For its part, SPAWN advertised the county meetings through the Valley community and SPAWN e-mail alerts, at our events and published the draft Salmon Enhancement Plan on our Web site as soon as it was released.
We asked Supervisor Kinsey to bring in a professional mediator for the large community meeting, in order to provide a forum for rational discussion, but our suggestion was rejected.
Instead of using the opportunity to clear up some of the misconceptions about the Salmon Enhancement Plan that is fanning fear in the community, Supervisor Kinsey let the meeting spin out of control, with questions going unanswered, and misinformation repeated often without correction.
The result: Now we have our community elders fearful that the recommendations would prevent them from putting in wheelchair ramps – an unfortunate misunderstanding with absolutely no factual support.
Community involvement is critical to understanding the threats and crafting local solutions.
The Salmon Enhancement Plan was written by independent scientists, from two well-respected environmental firms that were hired by the county to review available information, collect additional needed data, and provide their science-based recommendations, on how to recover coho in the San Geronimo Valley. It is these recommendations that now need to be vetted and discussed by the community and all stakeholders concerned with the survival of coho.
SPAWN wishes that it did not take the threat of a lawsuit to get the county to the table. For seven years, SPAWN requested that the county conduct a cumulative impact analysis by testifying at public hearings, publishing opinion editorials, providing scientific and legal analysis to county decision-makers, and even publishing a full-page ad in this newspaper outlining our position.
After we exhausted the administrative process and continued to be ignored, we informed the county we were going to use the last tool available, have our grievances redressed in a court of law. To do so is a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone under the First Amendment and the statutes enacted to protect our environment. Although we actually did not file a lawsuit against the county in this instance, we do not apologize for exercising this right when necessary.
Lawsuits are a tool of last resort and should only be used when completely necessary. That is why in its entire history, SPAWN has only filed one lawsuit.
The community needs to come together to save the coho. At the end of the day, we may not all agree on the best way forward, but forward is the only direction that gives the coho a chance of surviving us.
As always, SPAWN continues to be ready to sit down and talk with concerned members of our community, the county and all other stakeholders.
Todd Steiner, Paola Bouley and Chris Pincetich are staff of the Forest Knolls-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, a nonprofit advocacy group working to protect endangered salmon in the Lagunitas Watershed