Regional Views on Salmon Recovery
by Bill Rudolph
The results of a NOAA Fisheries-sponsored survey of regional attitudes on salmon recovery has been packaged in a 56-page review that distilled the important elements from more than 200 interviews conducted with various stakeholders in the region--tribes, conservation groups, scientists, politicians, sport and commercial fishing groups, and utilities. But If NOAA was looking for a common thread to guide its way into the future, it was not that evident.
"Many interviewees were both optimistic about the possibility of making significant progress towards recovery and frustrated at unrealized potential in the Basin," said the report -- "Columbia River Basin Salmon and Steelhead Long-Term Recovery Situation Assessment" -- which suggested that a more collaborative salmon recovery environment might be built if stakeholders spent more time acknowledging their common goals.
The assessment noted that many respondents said salmon recovery processes are working better, but they were still concerned about external policies and changing climatic conditions that could affect outcomes. "Numerous parties are worried recovery is not on the right path," said the report.
The survey was conducted by the Oregon Consensus Program at Portland State University and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington. Both groups promote collaborative governance and consensus-based public policy. An assessment team of experts from Washington, Oregon and Idaho also helped analyze the responses.
The report said there is a "strong desire for greater efficiency, certainty, transparency and predictability; improved relationships; and more durable solutions for salmon and steelhead recovery in the Basin."
Many interviewees also wanted fish runs rebuilt and delisted with a minimum of economic and social impacts. "Respondents believed that there are ways recovery processes can work better, and offered suggestions, but were also aware that even well-intentioned changes can have adverse, unintended consequences. In summation, any changes need to be well-considered."
The assessment said there appears to be a window between now and 2018 when a number of existing plans, like the BiOp, will be ending, and progress could be made to clarify "commonalities" and initiate a "renewed region-wide conversation on salmon and steelhead recovery."
Noting that many interviewees had called for more leadership from NOAA Fisheries, the assessment said that the various legal and political processes in the Columbia Basin make it hard for anyone to take on a leadership role.
The report seemed to recognize the need for a "salmon czar," a public figure who could champion the cause and "provide vision and leadership and assemble the resources to move forward."
Some interviewed suggested the four Northwest governors could lead the recovery effort, or the Northwest Power and Conservation Council might take on an expanded role, or that tribal stakeholders could play a larger role in rallying public sentiment. The report suggested that even the U. S. President or Vice President could lead a forum to focus salmon recovery efforts, much like the process that dealt with Northwest forests in the early 1990s.
But the report also recognized that "many interviewees indicated that the long history of work on these issues has led to a palpable process fatigue among many parties. They were concerned that the perceived lack of progress and the lack of obvious success stories were contributing to a feeling of exhaustion and disengagement among both the general public and funders."
Last December, when NMFS announced the new move, NOAA Fisheries' regional administrator Barry Thom said his agency wanted to use the results "to better integrate existing and future recovery plans with Basin-wide strategies to address all elements of recovery."
Some interviewees were able to use this assessment process to push for actions like implementation of a controversial spill regime at federal dams that has just been sent to the region's independent science panel for review.
The spill proposal, which proponents say could help Columbia Basin fish runs reach recovery-level return rates, was rejected by NOAA Fisheries in its draft BiOp and will likely be rejected in the final version due next week.
The report acknowledged the ongoing debate. "Some interviewees asserted that agency scientists were discouraged from saying what they really thought for fear of losing their jobs; and agencies were pressured into ignoring new science that would suggest or support the idea that different recovery strategies were needed. One example mentioned was science suggesting that higher levels of spill would improve passage and survival. These interviewees expressed the opinion that undue influence over science is aided by an unwillingness or inability of NOAA Fisheries or other agencies to stand up to political pressure and use its own good science or that being produced by others. Interviewees also suggested that there is a substantial salmon science industry that has its own unique interests"
Recovery Assessment: Who Leads The Way? A Re-Defined NW Power Council? by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 12/20/13
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