Oregon Natural Resource Council, et al. v. Brown (Coho Salmon Listing)

Oregon Natural Resource Council, et al. v. Brown (Coho Salmon Listing)


The Coho (silver) salmon is in danger of extinction throughout its range in Washington, Oregon, and California. By 1195, Coho populations had plummeted over 90 percent since 1940 along the California coast. This suit, under the Endangered Species Act, sought to compel the Secretary of Commerce, Ronald H. Brown, and the Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Rolland A. Schmitten, to make a determination whether listing Coho salmon as endangered or threatened throughout this range was warranted, and, if so, to publish a proposed rule adding Coho salmon to the list of threatened and endangered species. Twenty-four organizations joined as plaintiffs including Oregon Natural Resources Council, EPIC, Oregon Trout, Coast Action Group, Coast Range Association, Friends of the Garcia River, Friends of the River, Greater Ecosystem Alliance, Klamath Forest Alliance, Marble Mountain Audubon, Mendocino Environmental Center, Mount Shasta Area Audubon Society, Northcoast Environmental Center, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Portland Audubon Society, Save the West, Sierra Club, Siskiyou Audubon Society, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Tenmile Creek Association, Trout Unlimited of California, Washington Trout, and the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. After a series of unjustified delays, and in response to this lawsuit, NMFS finally listed the southern and central California population of Coho salmon as threatened on October 31, 1996, and the northern California/southern Oregon Coho population as threatened on April 25, 1997. The northern and central Oregon population was not listed due to that state’s watershed recovery plan. As a result it is now unlawful under the Endangered Species Act for anyone, including federal, state, and local agencies, as well as private companies and individuals, to do anything that harms Coho salmon in these areas. In addition, federal agencies are supposed to take steps to recover the species.

Procedure: Complaint filed 6/1/95 in U.S. District Court (C-95-1844, Judge Vaughn Walker reassigned to Judge Susan Illston). On 10/11/95 motions for Summary Judgment filed by both plaintiffs and the government. Motions heard 12/1/95 by Judge Illston. Decision filed 12/18/95, ruling in our favor on three important points, but against us on one. The court acted as follows: granted standing; agreed with plaintiffs that NMFS violated the law by failing to publish the proposed rule by October 20, 1994; agreed with the government that final rule was due July 25, 1996 (we argued it was due October 20, 1995); denied the government’s claim that case was moot and ought to be dismissed. The court retained jurisdiction over the case until NMFS published a final rule. On October 31, 1996, pursuant to court order, NMFS published its final rule listing as threatened the “Central California Coast Salmon Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU).” At the same time, NMFS postponed for six months, until April 25, 1997, its final determination whether to list the “Oregon Coast ESU” and the “Southern Oregon/Northern California ESU.” 
Status: pending further action regarding the “Oregon Coast ESU” – The “Southern Oregon/Northern California ESU” was listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act on April 25, 1997. The “Oregon Coast ESU” was declined for listing.

Attorney: Michael Sherwood (Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund).

EPIC Contact: Jesse Noell.