here is an updated story. and it looks like this might be another of those 'forums' that industry leaders conducted 'privately', that might erupt in yet another court case about public access to decision makers.
Shift on Salmon Reignites Fight on Species Law-pg 1
By TIMOTHY EGAN
Published: May 9, 2004
EATTLE, May 8 — Three years ago, Mark C. Rutzick was the timber industry's top lawyer trying to overturn fish and wildlife protections that loggers viewed as overly restrictive. Back then, he outlined to his clients a new strategy for dealing with diminishing salmon runs. By counting hatchery fish along with wild salmon, the government would help the timber industry by getting salmon off the endangered species list, Mr. Rutzick wrote.
Now, as a high-ranking political appointee in the Bush administration who is a legal adviser to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr. Rutzick is helping to shape government policy on endangered Pacific salmon. And in an abrupt change, the Bush administration has decided for the first time to consider counting fish raised in hatcheries when determining if some species are going extinct.
The new plan, which officials have said is expected to be formally announced at the end of the month, closely follows the position that Mr. Rutzick advocated when he represented the timber industry.
Mr. Rutzick, a Portland lawyer who was suggested for the fisheries job by Senator Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, would not comment on his role in shaping government salmon policy. Officials at the fisheries service say Mr. Rutzick was part of a working group that shaped the new plan, but would not give further details.
The policy shift has caused a furor among some members of the scientific community and has touched off a fresh battle over what may be the nation's most powerful environmental law.
To most biologists, salmon that are born and raised in a cement tank are no replacement for wild fish, even if they share a common genetic makeup. The new approach, which was contained in a single-page draft, dated March 25 and leaked to reporters last month, ignores the findings of the Bush administration's own panel of outside scientific experts, as well as long-held views within the fisheries service.
These biologists say that including hatchery salmon in the calculation for when a fish can be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act is akin to counting animals in a zoo. By this reasoning, river or forest habitats of a rare species will never be protected, so long as the animal can be reproduced by artificial means.
"This is a direct political decision, made by political people to go against the science," said Dr. Ransom A. Myers, a fisheries biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who was on the six-member panel named by the fisheries service to guide salmon policy. The panel's recommendations were rejected for a policy more favorable to industry groups fighting land restrictions, Dr. Myers and other panel members have said.
Bush administration officials say they are boxed in by a court decision that forces them to include hatchery fish in deciding the fate of a particular run of salmon. They say the scientists inside and outside the agency have overstepped their expertise, and are trying to write policy.
"You have an interaction between science and the law here," said Jim Lecky, a government adviser who speaks for the fisheries service, which is a branch of the Commerce Department. "We don't treat hatchery fish the same as wild salmon. But we do have to consider them."
"I think you have a tremendous internal debate" within the fisheries agency, said Russ Brooks, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which successfully sued the government to force a reconsideration of how it uses hatchery fish. The foundation is financed by developers, timber and agricultural interests angered by what they see as regulatory zealotry.
"Initially, the environmental side was winning out," Mr. Brooks said. "And now you have the other side coming to the fore."
Mr. Brooks said he met with Mr. Rutzick in Washington in late March, about the same time the new policy memorandum was drafted.
Asked about Mr. Rutzick's role in shaping the plan, Mr. Brooks said, "Well, he's very familiar with the issues and from what I understand he has a lot of influence."