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First public hearing held on salmon recovery plan

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Bureau of Reclamation employee Kim McCartney surveys maps outlining areas of fish habitat prior to Monday's meeting at the Yakima Convention Center.

YAKIMA - A draft plan to preserve fish species, while respecting tradition and the economy, had its first hearing Monday at the Yakima Convention Center.

Monday's meeting was an opportunity for Fish and Wildlife officials to present the plan, known officially as the Draft Yakima Subbasin Salmon Recovery Plan.

In short, the document calls for steps to preserve both steelhead and bull trout through better uses of natural resources.

There is some urgency to implementing a plan since both dteelhead and bull trout are listed as threatened species. According to the Endangered Species Act, the gederal government requires efforts be made to preserve threatened species.

At the same time, Yakima County Fish and Wildlife Biologist Joel Freudenthal pointed out Monday that the plan is still in the draft stage and participation is voluntary.

He noted that voluntary participation in the program could include examples such as an angler fishing for more bass or an irrigator requiring less water because irrigation systems are more efficient.

The meeting was one of three workshops to unveil the draft and take public comments on the local strategy for the recovery of threatened steelhead and bull trout in the Yakima Subbasin.

Following the workshops, the draft plan will be modified and submitted to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) next month for a 60-day comment period.

The stated goal of the recovery plan envisions a process taking 15 to 20 years in which, "Yakima basin communities have restored the Yakima River basin sufficiently to support self-sustaining and harvestable populations of indigenous fish and wildlife while enhancing the existing customs, cultures and economies in the basins."

The goal goes on to state that "a cooperative process will be sought which respects many points of view."

Added Freudenthal, "We want to hear from people." He noted, for example, that Fish and Wildlife officials are going out to irrigation districts and farmers to present the draft plan.

To ensure a wide representation, Freudenthal said a surpervisory board is in the works which will include representatives from city, county and various water users.

Freudenthal said the board will guide the draft through to 2006, when federal approval is expected. The board is expected to remain in place for the long term to help implement the plan on the local level.

Freudenthal said early estimates are that it will take $160 million - generated from federal, state and local funds - and decades to see salmon populations recover.

While the plan may seem far-flung, Freudenthal pointed out local, successful examples of water conservation efforts such as the Roza/Sunnyside Joint Board.

"We have examples that this can work," he said, "We just have to start with a big goal and stick with it."

To obtain a hard copy or CD of the draft plan, call Cliff Bennett at (509) 574-2397 or e-mail cliff.bennett@co.yakima.wa.us.

Also call the above number to comment on the plan or, for those interested, to sign up for consideration to be placed on the board which will participate in the fish recovery effort.

The draft plan is also available on the Internet by visiting www.co.yakima.wa.us/yaksubbasin/ and comments on the plan can also be made at the same website.

All comments must be received by Sept. 26, 2005.

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