WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe asked federal officials Monday to give the public more time to comment on last week’s proposal to protect wild Atlantic salmon in eight Maine rivers under the Endangered Species Act.
Snowe said in a news release that she wants to extend the comment period by one month to permit a more thorough examination of data surrounding the proposed listing.
She also asked the agencies involved to schedule a hearing early next year in Machias, the location of five of the rivers affected by the proposal.
The rivers involved are the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Narraguagus and Pleasant in Washington County; Cove Brook, a Penobscot River tributary near the Hampden-Winterport line; the Ducktrap in Waldo County; and the Sheepscot in Lincoln County.
“The scheduled period outlined in the proposed [listing] is inadequate to allow for meaningful participation by people throughout the state of Maine, and must be significantly strengthened,” Snowe wrote in letters to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Commerce Secretary William Daley.
Babbitt heads the department that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Daley heads the department that includes the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Last week, the two agencies proposed listing the Atlantic salmon in the eight rivers as endangered and they proposed a single hearing, in Ellsworth, on Jan. 20, 2000. Snowe on Monday noted that additional hearings may be requested by writing to the appropriate federal officials.
“The geographic range of the eight rivers included in the [proposal] covers approximately two-thirds of Maine’s coast. It is unreasonable to ask people to drive for two or more hours in the middle of the work week in harsh winter weather conditions,” she said.
In addition to a Washington County hearing, which Snowe proposed for Machias in January, she said an additional hearing should be scheduled in coordination with each of the seven watershed councils that were established as part of the state’s salmon conservation plan.
The councils “have served as the core for regional conservation measures throughout the state and can ensure that the full range of stakeholders are able to participate in the hearing process,” she said.
The senator also requested that Babbitt and Daley extend the public comment process for an additional 30 days to March 15, 2000. “In some cases, scientists will want to closely examine the technical information starting with the study design through to data collection, analysis and interpretation. The currently allotted 90 days does not provide an adequate time frame for in-depth evaluation,” she said.
Finally, Snowe urged that the agencies immediately publish all underlying data for review. “I understand that some papers cited in the proposed rule have not yet been published, and that ordinarily this data would not be made public until the publication review process has been completed. Given the serious questions that have been raised about the validity of the scientific basis of this proposed listing, it is critical that this data be made available immediately,” she said.