Salmon Decline is a Wake-up Callby Doug Howell
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 28, 2008
It is hard to find the silver lining in a situation as dire as the collapse of wild salmon off the Oregon and California coasts (April 9 P-I).
A full closure of the recreational and commercial fishing season will have far-reaching negative impacts. From the fishermen and suppliers to the restaurants and individuals who buy salmon at the market, it is another blow to our struggling economy.
As families, communities and local businesses try to deal with the consequences of this year's fishery collapse, scientists are working to understand the causes. Rising to the top of that list -- the 800-pound gorilla in the room -- is global warming. As ocean temperatures rise, snow pack declines and rain patterns shift, global warming will continue to disrupt the delicate balance of aquatic ecosystems. The plight of wild salmon is an indication of global warming's increasing and overarching threat.
The dramatic decline of salmon stocks is a wake-up call. If we heed the warning and act now to implement concrete and coordinated solutions, we can achieve success for salmon and the people, wildlife and communities that depend on them.
A recent report by local and national conservation groups laid out a comprehensive strategy for recovering federally listed salmon in the region's Columbia and Snake River Basin (LightInTheRiver.org). The principles identified in this report can easily be applied to all of Washington, Oregon and California's struggling salmon stocks: First, we must curb greenhouse gas emissions; second, we need to invest in solutions such as reconnecting salmon to high headwater habitats and protecting health flows and cool waters in headwater areas to help those species cope with changes already under way.
The need for action is now. Fortunately, the Western Climate Initiative presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to lead the fight against climate change on both fronts. Launched in February 2007 by the governors of Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Arizona, the initiative addresses global warming on the regional level. (Since 2007, Utah, Montana and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba have joined.) The first draft of the regionwide cap and trade program is due out in August.
One recommendation on the table is that the cap and trade program require polluters to pay for greenhouse emissions. Part of the revenue generated from those pollution permits would go toward investing in natural systems and protecting habitat impacted by global warming. We strongly urge Gov. Chris Gregoire to advocate for those principles.
This second part of the plan is perhaps the most important for those concerned with the future of wild salmon. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone will not be enough to save salmon in our region. We must also help them cope with a changing climate. The solutions have been identified, but we need elected leaders to provide the proper investments so they can be implemented.
The sooner we take action the better the outcome for people and salmon.
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