nicole.bioThank you for 13 excellent years  

From the desk of Pat Ford   

A month ago, Nicole Cordan left Save Our wild Salmon for a new opportunity, after 13 years as policy and litigation director and de facto campaign director. Her own message to SOS members and supporters appeared here then. It has taken me a few weeks to think I might do plausible justice to her and her work for salmon.

I omit so much that is valuable – her gifts to the very large SOS network as colleague, friend, mentor, inspirer, referee, conscience, connector and durable presence over 4700 days. I will focus on what matters first in our work – results for salmon – and pull just one result out from her arc of many.  I think it is the best thing done for Columbia-Snake salmon the last decade.

In the dark of the Bush years, Nicole was chief engineer of the defense-to-offense mini-campaign that resulted in a 2006 court injunction ordering spring and summer spill at eight federal Columbia and Snake River dams. This has, I will guess, generated at least 100,000 more wild salmon and steelhead back to the Columbia Basin since, plus many more hatchery salmon and steelhead.

She was chief engineer from my vantage. I don’t know all the work, strategy and chance that led to this accomplishment, and in what I know other people and groups worked too and many were indispensable. For three examples, it would not have happened without the Columbia Treaty Tribes, the Fish Passage Center, or a gentleman named Redden.* So there were engineers, plural. I think Nicole was chief.

The result for salmon is many more of them. I think the presence (or absence) of salmon themselves drives, over time, the politics, economics, science, law and civics of salmon. Let me list some of the secondary results in those realms.

The bigger spill program and more salmon from it have allowed ratifying scientific analysis of spill’s effectiveness. This will lead over time to greater spill and even more salmon. We do not today know the limits of spill’s effectiveness in restoring Columbia-Snake salmon, but we know we are not yet near them.

The added salmon are an economic achievement. First, spill kept a lot of salmon jobs intact, created many, and will keep doing so in five states each and every year. I think spill is responsible for more salmon jobs than the last three administrations combined.

Second, the court-ordered spill has conclusively shown that reliable and affordable Northwest electricity, and high levels of salmon spill, are compatible. The most politically powerful argument against spill stands refuted by results.    

The added salmon are a legal achievement. The force and legitimacy of the Endangered Species Act have been abetted. The tough decision by Judge Redden to grant the spill injunction (he knew he’d get hell from some Northwest leaders, and he did) produced results that validate his decade-long legal approach to Columbia-Snake salmon, and the scientific basis for it.

The added salmon are a campaign achievement. The power of fishermen, businesses, Tribes, scientists, a few gutsy agencies, one gutsy state, and conservationists, when we work together, was demonstrated on the Columbia-Snake, where taking on the dam agencies had not often been rewarding. It also shows the value of offense in hard times. Defensive crouches are at times necessary, but it’s not a posture to get used to.

As I hope this partial list makes plain, it was a strategic achievement, whose mesh - science, analytics, economics, aroused people, politics, law, relationships - resulted in a court success that has endured for the great good of Northwest people, waters and lands. Nicole orchestrated more of that mesh than anyone, deploying her talents and training but with a strategic instinct I don’t think can be taught.  

Finally, its chief stamped it with a character she shares with salmon: never quit. The first act here was the Bush/BPA attempt to throttle even the lesser spill that existed before the injunction. I think many, even on our side, thought our odds of stopping them were low. Nicole refused to lose, and in the end we not only stopped them, we expanded spill.  

May this one example get across how much Nicole Cordan has accomplished for Columbia-Snake salmon and steelhead, and their rivers.  We are so sad to lose her, but we and salmon have had such rewards.  Gilly Lyons, Nicole's excellent long-time colleague, replaces her. Bravo Nicole, and thank you for every one of those 4700 days.

* For a good account of the step-by-step achievement of spill beginning 30-plus years ago, see “Spilling Water at Columbia and Snake River Hydroelectric Projects” by Margaret Filardo, in The Osprey, September 2012, the journal of the Steelhead Committee, Federation of Fly Fishers. Filardo, a senior scientist at the Fish Passage Center, also covers how spill benefits salmon and steelhead over their entire life cycle.

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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