News

Federal reduction of salmon habitat affects Federal Way, after all

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

When the Bush administration announced a plan last December to reduce by 80 percent the number of rivers and streams designated as critical habitat for salmon, the ripple in Federal Way was small.

Chris Carrel, executive director of Friends of the Hylebos Wetlands, a Federal Way-based environmental group, said he was concerned but agreed with state experts that the rule wouldn’t have much affect on the ground.

But recently seeing the east fork of the Hylebos removed from a National Marine Fisheries Service map of protected areas made him wince.

“They’re proposing to remove the entire east fork of the Hylebos,” Carrel said. “It’s a significant reduction in protection for the Hylebos.”

Friends of the Hylebos works to preserve and restore the West Hylebos wetlands and greater Hylebos Creek watershed.

In December, the Bush administration announced its plan to narrow the definition of critical habitat to include only those areas where salmon currently lived. Areas where salmon historically lived or where they might later live were excluded from the list.

Though the decision reduced the amount of federally listed critical area, the reduction didn’t affect state or privately owned land, and local governments retained control over developments or impacts near salmon-bearing streams.

Still, Carrel said the federal ruling could have a local affect.

For projects involving federal funds — very often transportation projects — there’s a step involving a hearing with the National Marine Fisheries Service to identify potential impacts to endangered species and help identify mitigations to protect them.

In areas removed from the federal list, that hearing won’t be required.

In addition, third parties currently can sue under the federal Endangered Species Act “if they feel a project violated the act’s protections for that species,” Carrel said.

The reduction in federally recognized critical habitat means third parties wouldn’t be able to sue under the Endangered Species Act for areas removed from the list — like the east fork of the Hylebos.

That doesn’t mean the area is open game for development — local protections are still in place and are still enforceable — “but the federal part is an important protection tool we don’t like to see lost,” Carrel said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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