After 15-year Battle, Marin County Adopts Protections for Endangered Coho Salmon

The Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a conservation ordinance on Tuesday to protect one of the most important remaining watersheds for coho salmon and steelhead in the state.  The ordinance—prompted by the Clinic’s settlement negotiations this spring between the County and Clinic clients Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) and Center for Biological Diversity—is the culmination of a 15-year effort to advocate for habitat restoration and development restrictions in a watershed that is key to the survival of these species.  The County’s Stream Conservation Area Ordinance regulates streamside development in sensitive riparian corridors in the San Geronimo Valley and Lagunitas Watershed to prevent habitat loss and other environmental harms that jeopardize salmonid survival.  The ordinance also provides for funding to restore and enhance riparian habitat in the valley.

The Environmental Law Clinic began representing SPAWN over a decade ago after the County of Marin approved its 2007 Countywide Plan, providing for significantly expanded development in unincorporated areas of the county.  SPAWN challenged the County’s failure to analyze the Plan’s cumulative environmental impacts on endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout in the San Geronimo Valley Watershed.  The Court of Appeal agreed, ordering the County to conduct an adequate cumulative impacts analysis and to adopt measures to mitigate any significant impacts on salmon.

When the County still failed to adopt mitigation measures that were deemed necessary under its own supplemental environmental analysis, the Clinic sued—and won—again, prompting settlement discussions this spring.  In June, the parties entered into a final settlement agreement, which put an end to the long-running litigation conditional on the County’s adoption of the Stream Conservation Area Ordinance.  The settlement agreement also commits the County to additional measures to ensure an effective habitat protection program, like County-provided inspections, an anonymous complaint system, and additional enforcement resources.

Co-counsel Michael Graf and many students have worked on this matter over the years, including most recently clinic students Leehi Yona and Mariah Mastrodimos, who negotiated the terms of the settlement this spring and defended the Clinic’s victory on appeal.  Read more here and here.