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Save Our Wild Salmon


November 13, 2012

“Divide and conquer” is the oldest political strategy in the world but assumes there is a single opponent pulling the strings. When it comes to Pacific Northwest salmon recovery, there is no villainous manipulator. It is a failure to work together that keeps us away from effective long-range answers.

With President Obama about to begin his valedictory term in the White House and a new governor taking office in Washington state, the time is ripe for genuine leadership. This leadership must take the form of bringing all interested parties together in a unified process of finding common ground and agreeing on a path forward.

The old ways have worked somewhat, but at enormous expense. Unlike the 1990s, there isn’t the sense of immediate dire crisis that resulted in fishing-season cancelations and fears of near-term extinction for important upriver salmon runs.

Successes have come from almost the full spectrum of stakeholders. From the Columbia River treaty tribes to local watershed councils, there have been incremental improvements in restoring degraded habitat, streams have been re-linked with the Columbia and its larger tributaries, better passage has been provided around dams, hatchery-rearing practices have improved.

Many of these gains are tenuous and fragile. Industrial pressures grow in the Columbia-Snake watershed. Climate and ocean chemistry changes threaten salmon — and humanity — in fundamental ways. Demand for seafood grows, putting people in ever more direct competition with salmon.

All our efforts, all the billions of dollars spent, have at best provided a little breathing room.

Time and time again, now-retired federal Judge James Redden found previous federal recovery plans were inadequate. In just 13 months, agencies must provide a fourth “biological opinion,” an outline for recovery actions, for judicial review.

Although their jobs would in some ways be simplified if wild salmon would go extinct, even hydropower system managers, irrigators and barge operators are deeply linked to the Northwest and our region’s salmon legacy. Now at each other’s throats over Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s troubled alternative proposal to the now defeated Ballot Measure 81 gillnet ban, even sport and commercial fishermen would be willing to work together if it meant a secure, fair future for salmon. The Columbia River treaty tribes “remain committed to rebuilding abundance for our treaty rights and the entire public.”

What all are waiting for is leadership with sufficient belief in the deliberative, democratic process to bring stakeholders together for tough negotiations. We all want certainty that salmon will be around for our grandchildren.

We don’t want dysfunctional division.

We want workable answers, fair and predictable allocations, and a lasting framework for real sustainable salmon recovery.

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