The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to give state and local governments the lead role in protecting threatened salmon and steelhead trout in the Northwest and Northern California, a major policy shift that comes as part of federal regulations released this week. To avoid having to expand the federal bureaucracy to protect 14 populations of salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS wants state and local governments to come up with rules to protect the fish. If NMFS signs off on the rules, then local and private actions that comply with them would be protected from legal challenges by environmentalists under the ESA. Eric Espenhorst of Friends of the Earth criticized the proposed rules, saying they are weaker than a number of other options considered. The public has 60 days to comment on the rules, which NMFS hopes to make final in June.