SAN RAFAEL, Calif.— Salmon protection groups filed a lawsuit today against Marin County for adopting a flawed “streamside conservation ordinance” that lacks science-based measures to protect salmon streams and habitat. The ordinance allows excessive development along streams that are critical to the survival of endangered coho salmon. The lawsuit asks that the ordinance be set aside until Marin County completes an environmental review, as required under the California Environmental Quality Act, and adopts an ordinance that adequately protects salmon habitat in Marin from creekside development.
The complaint was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) in California Superior Court in Marin, and is available on request.
“It’s disappointing that Marin County has failed to put in place the streamside conservation protections that it promised to develop and implement years ago,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford and one of the attorneys representing SPAWN. “Time is of the essence here. The National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded that coho salmon are in an `extinction vortex’ and that the county should immediately adopt a streamside conservation ordinance that avoids harmful new development in the riparian zone.”
“Coho salmon desperately need a lifeline, but instead Marin County’s supervisors seem perfectly willing to sacrifice salmon habitat and put the interests of a select group of property owners and developers before the need to save an endangered species,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite an urgent plea from prominent salmon biologists to strengthen streamside habitat protections, the supervisors want more development in the San Geronimo Valley. We can’t let that happen — more development could be the last straw. It could eliminate coho salmon from Marin County forever.”
“Politicians and homeowners come and go but extinction is forever,” said Teri Shore, program director for Turtle Island Restoration Network, the parent organization of SPAWN. “SPAWN is committed to protecting endangered salmon for the long-term.”
The filing of the lawsuit automatically nullifies implementation of the ordinance — set to take effect December 28 — and aims to stop a rush of building permits from being issued in salmon critical habitat. The county passed the measure with a “legal poison pill” that nullifies the ordinance once a lawsuit is filed, but would have allowed building permits to be issued between the effective date and the filing of a lawsuit.
Today the first spawning coho salmon of the year was spotted in Lagunitas Creek by a SPAWN biologist. The public can learn about Marin’s endangered coho salmon on a naturalist-led tour through their spawning grounds on a SPAWN creek walk. Photo at left of coho salmon on redd taken today by Dr. Chris Pincetich.
Coho salmon in the Central California Coast have declined more than 95 percent from historic population levels, and are protected as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Just a half hour from Bay Area urban centers, the Lagunitas Creek watershed is one of the most important waterways left for wild coho salmon, supporting 10 percent to 20 percent of all Central Coast coho salmon surviving today.
The recently adopted Marin County streamside conservation ordinance would allow an increase in housing developments (by as much as a third) on small, creekside parcels along coho streams in the San Geronimo Valley — without requiring that habitat be fully restored or other habitat set aside to offset habitat loss. Development in the San Geronimo Valley is already at levels that jeopardize salmon survival, according to the county’s own studies. Scientists contend Marin’s salmon cannot withstand this continued loss of critical habitat.
Salmon advocates and scientists agree that the county streamside conservation ordinance should be strengthened, rather than weakened, and must at a minimum:
* Prevent or discourage any development within a 100-foot setback from creeks;
* Require mitigation for any new development to ensure no net loss of salmon habitat;
* Protect ephemeral tributaries to salmon streams with a 100-foot setback since they contribute water flow to important habitat areas and help prevent flooding;
* Fund and permanently protect streamside buffers through conservation easements and other conservation measures, to enhance salmon habitat; and
* Fund and promote voluntary restoration and enhancement projects in creekside habitat on private lands, in partnership with government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and landowners.
A California Superior Court imposed a freeze on further development along San Geronimo Creek, the most important waterway for coho salmon in Marin, until the county approves a stream conservation ordinance that adequately protects salmon habitat. The recently adopted ordinance moves Marin County away from that goal.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
SPAWN, the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (www.SpawnUSA.org), works to protect endangered coho salmon, steelhead and the creeks in Marin County, California’s Lagunitas Creek Watershed through education, restoration, advocacy, strategic litigation, research and monitoring. SPAWN is an initiative of Turtle Island Restoration Network (www.SeaTurtles.org), which is headquartered in Marin County, CA. Turtle Island has over 60,000 supporters and on-line activists.