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NOAA will consider listing Oregon and California Chinook salmon as endangered

<p>Spring Chinook on the Salmon River in Northern California</p>
Michael Bravo
Spring Chinook on the Salmon River in Northern California.

A request to list several populations of Chinook salmon as endangered was approved for review by the National Marine Fisheries Service this week.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, is considering a request from several environmental groups seeking to list two types of Chinook salmon as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. One population lives along the Oregon Coast and the other further south along the Oregon-California border.

Three environmental groups sent the petition last August showing that numerous threats have caused a sharp decline in spring-run Chinook salmon. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Native Fish Society, and Umpqua Watersheds.

Unlike fall-run Chinook, the spring-run salmon enter rivers still sexually immature and remain there through the summer.

“While they’re in the rivers in the summer there’s a lot more opportunities for factors that threaten the species, like pollution, hot water temperatures, habitat issues, to affect the species," said Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Meg Townsend.

Townsend said they're specifically concerned about spring-run salmon, as their fall-run counterparts are doing better. However, the NMFS said they’ll consider all the regional Chinook salmon populations for endangered listing together.

“They [the NMFS] have said that if the spring-run were doing badly that listing the entire ESU may be warranted rather than separating them out," Townsend said.

ESU refers to an Evolutionary Significant Unit, a population considered distinct enough to consider for conservation separately from the entire species. The NMFS considered a request from environmental groups a few years ago to separate the spring-run Chinook salmon into their own ESU, but that request was denied.

"The spring-run are not separate from the fall-run," said Gary Rule, natural resources management specialist with the NMFS. "They're not reproductively isolated from the fall-run. So they don't meet the criteria to be separate."

Rule said that despite fall-run Chinook salmon doing well, if the spring-run salmon alone are at risk of becoming endangered, that could warrant both groups being protected.

Townsend said that populations of coho salmon in the same area have improved since they were listed as endangered or threatened. She hopes protections for Chinook salmon will do the same.

Now, the NMFS will look at the research and data submitted in the petition, as well as traditional ecological knowledge from area tribes, to decide if an endangered listing is warranted. They're starting a 60-day request for information from the public.

The NMFS decision is due by early August.

Corrected: January 13, 2023 at 2:28 PM PST
This story has been updated to clarify the lifecycle of Chinook salmon. Spring-run salmon enter the river as fully-grown adults, but they are still sexually immature.
Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.