Change on the Fly

2salmonballet.webA situation summary to Save Our wild Salmon’s groups and people

From the desk of Pat Ford

January 30, 2013

As 2013 begins, I want to briefly sketch some changes underway in SOS and in our work to change the Columbia-Snake dam system so that endangered salmon and steelhead can restore themselves. And ask your help as we tackle it on the fly.

Here’s my short list of the drivers, opportunities and challenges of this change. They echo with and across each other.

The drivers:

  • our success late last year (shared well beyond SOS and our groups) when NOAA began a Columbia-Snake stakeholder process, with support from many elected leaders. For 20 years Northwest people with differing shares in and wishes for the main-stem Columbia and Snake have lacked an open way to talk, listen and work together directly, with confidence that doing so would over time make a difference for energy, transportation, economies, ecologies – and salmon. It’s not surprising that significant deadlock has filled that vacuum. NOAA’s process can be that needed workspace.
  • the stakeholder collaboration will change SOS and our campaign. We must make those changes wisely, and pretty quickly.
  • Elwha and White Salmon River recovery, by removal of the Elwha and Condit dams. These river recoveries, long in coming by our short clocks but really in a blink of time, will resound through the salmon states for years as saga, experiment, growth engine, collaboration, act of justice, act of freedom, healer and advance scout.
  • Climate change taking hold on the Columbia and Snake.

The opportunities:

  • NOAA’s stakeholder process is a newborn workspace for a must-do job with salmon at its heart but not its whole: recalibrating what the Columbia and Snake Rivers do for us and we for them. No one initiative can do this, but this one will set a pace if the parties to today’s deadlock, plus our elected leaders and federal agencies, embrace and build it. NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco has given Northwest people an opportunity to step together, toward not “the middle” but the common wealth. And much of the opportunity rests with we who passionately seek the recovery of Columbia-Snake salmon.
  • Across every law, product, use, user and season on the Columbia and Snake, climate change is now cutting its channel. Rising river temperatures are a thermometer signaling two rivers in declining health that need our attention and response, with no exemptions be our focus fish, energy, crops, water, economies or health. This is one core of the needed recalibration, and we are all first responders.
  • SOS’ needed changes can release new energy and ways to work. In the last six months, for example, our leaders and groups rose to the work in support of stakeholder talks and, with much help, we achieved them.
  • As the Elwha River surges into life, we can apply its spirit, stories and facts to the Columbia-Snake. Many of us think dam removal is necessary progress on the Snake as it was on the Elwha, but the fundamental here is about ends, not means: how do rivers recover and restore themselves, what do they give us as they do, and what can we all learn from it? The more everyone watches and learns from these recoveries-in-motion, the better. This is a people’s opportunity – no agency or court has charge of the Elwha re-birth, or of what lessons and inspirations people take from it for our biggest rivers

The challenges:

  • SOS and our groups must change our work and approach some others to help make NOAA’s stakeholder initiative a common space for everyone with stakes on the Columbia and Snake. While working for what salmon need, we must also work for that space, investing patiently in a “process” to mature a worktable where democracy can make its messy but durable way forward.
  • SOS (and unfortunately not just us) must do with less. The market for conservation support and for good works generally, is tight and very competitive.
  • the climate challenge is large and layered with uncertainties. It’s not easy to figure out what a person, group, or group of groups should help stop and help start to make a difference. My two firmest convictions remain that people and groups must operate so that work to “stop climate change” and to “adapt to climate change” are tightly co-pursued, and that salmon are a wise thread, perhaps a lifeline, to humbly follow as we try to learn how.

This is not a “here’s the plan” memo, though SOS is creating one and I am all ears for any advice. I’ve sketched what I think is and should be afoot. I hope it spurs your own continued work for salmon that makes a difference, and I want everyone with a hand on SOS’ past or present to help us steer anew to bring wild light back to the river. There are always grounds for doubt. The grounds for confidence are that salmon people have made much change just in SOS’ 20 years, together and in dispute; that SOS has done well before much of what it must do well now, and our coalition practices will serve us in collaboration; that the Elwha and White Salmon will instruct us; and that salmon are a living crossroads where energy, agriculture, transportation, ecologies, economies, laws, treaties, and the people focused on each, come together and cannot avoid doing so.

As for climate change, do we have any choice but to make it an opportunity? In The Snow Leopard Peter Matthiessen finds an old crippled monk immobile on a rock shelf near his small shelter under the Himalayas. With a radiant glee the monk says, “Of course I enjoy this! It’s wonderful! Especially since I have no choice!”    

Thank you.

Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.

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