Give Stakeholders a Chance
by Glen Spain and Karl Mueller
Done right, we can protect and create jobs for farmers and fishermen and make much-needed investments
in our region's clean energy and transportation infrastructure at the same time.
The Northwest commercial and recreational salmon fishing industries breathed a collective sigh of relief recently when U.S. District Judge James Redden delivered his verdict and rejected as illegal the federal government's $10 billion plan for Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead.
The judge was more than justified. The Obama administration simply repeated many of the mistakes that sank similar federal plans twice before.
Amidst the competing opinions about what this ruling means, the most important question right now is: "Where do we go from here?"
The administration, Northwest governors and members of Congress face a critical fork in the road. They can hunker down and stay the course on a strategy that has now proven itself a three-time loser.
Or they can choose instead to see the court ruling as an opportunity for our state and region to shift gears dramatically and collaboratively craft a lawful, science-based plan that restores endangered salmon, protects and creates jobs, and expands opportunities for West Coast businesses.
With this decision point in mind, we recently joined nearly 200 Oregon businesses and nearly 1,200 businesses nationwide in sending a letter to President Obama and Congress urging "decisive change" in federal salmon policy for the Columbia basin.
(A copy of the letter is posted at www.pcffa.org)
We urged them to "seize this opportunity and bring together all stakeholders -- fishermen, farmers, utilities and others -- to work together to craft a lawful, science-based plan that restores salmon, protects this important food source, puts thousands of people to work, and helps to build a cleaner energy future."
We represent some of the thousands of fishing, outdoor, tourism and food businesses concentrated in the Northwest, but from as far away as California and Alaska, that rely on Columbia basin salmon for our livelihoods. Our fate is linked tightly to the health of those salmon. Their steep population declines in the last several decades have had devastating effects on our businesses and communities.
We also recognize others with important ties to the Columbia and Snake rivers. Farmers rely on these rivers for irrigation water and transportation. The cheap energy produced by the system of federal dams fuels our economy and warms our homes.
It is for exactly these reasons that an inclusive, collaborative stakeholder process now holds the most hope for resolving the problems besetting the Columbia Basin.
The federal agencies have had their chance and failed. It is time to empower the stakeholders to sit down and craft a solution together.
Instead, some politicians have suggested recently the need for a congressional "solution" that overturns or otherwise neutralizes the court's ruling. That approach would weaken the Endangered Species Act, divide communities, and leave salmon -- and the salmon economy -- at continued risk of extinction.
It would be bad for Oregon and bad for our economy.
Advocates for the salmon fishing industry appreciate the leadership of a number of Oregon's elected officials -- including Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Their insistence over the years to consider all options -- including the restoration of the lower Snake River -- and to seek solutions that can benefit all Oregonians is an example to be emulated.
Now is the time for U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and other members of the Northwest congressional delegation to shift gears and support a collaborative approach to problem solving in the Columbia Basin. Redden's verdict presents our region with an opportunity to bring people together and finally restore our iconic, imperiled fish.
Done right, we can protect and create jobs for farmers and fishermen and make much-needed investments in our region's clean energy and transportation infrastructure at the same time.
Judge's Ruling on NW Salmon Plan Asks for Clarity by Terry Flores, Seattle Times, 8/19/11
The Salmon Plan Gets a Solid "Yes, No, Maybe" from the Judge, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 8/13/11
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