flytyer's assessment doesn't fully apply for California, whose much of its rich steelhead/salmon runs have been wiped out. Restoration efforts underway to bring back historical runs (some wiped out as recently as 20 years ago), are definitely in question with the removal of critical habitat designation.
The article below provides a good example of how this policy undercut's California's restoration efforts.
Feds cut chinook protection
Critical-habitat designation removed from nearly all Sonoma County creeks
Monday, August 22, 2005
By CAROL BENFELL
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The federal government has withdrawn its critical habitat designation for imperiled chinook salmon from every creek in Sonoma County except the main stem of the Russian River and Austin and Dry creeks.
The action removes a layer of scrutiny if new development or agriculture is contemplated along streams such as Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, Mark West Creek and Copeland Creek.
Officials for the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the designation wasn't necessary to protect the chinook. But environmental groups said the agency's action could keep salmon from reclaiming their historic spawning grounds.
Initially, NOAA Fisheries required all creeks and rivers accessible to endangered or threatened salmon be protected as habitat critical to their survival under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2000, the National Association of Home Builders challenged the designation, and in 2002 the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations filed suit to restore it.
In response, NOAA Fisheries on Aug. 12 cut back the critical habitat designation on California rivers by nearly 80 percent, from 46,500 miles of river to 9,800 miles.
The designation was removed from all urban streams, and in rural areas protects only the parts of rivers and streams currently used by salmon.
A spokesman for NOAA Fisheries said the critical-habitat designation added little protection once a species was already listed as threatened or endangered.
That's because the listing still prohibits any direct harm to fish, and county setback rules and state and federal clean-water and wetlands protections still apply, said Bob Lohn, Northwest regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries.
"I think the practical impact should be quite small," Lohn said.
But local environmental groups said NOAA has essentially given up on restoring streams where salmon have historically been found, diminishing the fish's chances of returning there, said Don McEnhill of Friends of the Russian River, an environmental group.
"It's unscientific to just write off Mark West Creek, Santa Rosa Creek, and the top end of Copeland Creek where we have endangered fish," McEnhill said. "These are places where we've spent millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours to restore habitat, and NOAA is turning its back."
NOAA also removed critical habitat protection for steelhead from Santa Rosa Creek and the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The actions do not affect critical habitat protection for coho salmon, which also includes the main stem of the Russian River.