Monday, January 9, 2017

Are You Willing to Work 150 Years For Salmon Recovery?

from State of Salmon 2016
In 1998, Washington Governor Gary Locke declared, regarding Puget Sound Chinook salmon, “extinction is not an option.” The recent State of Salmon 2016 summary issued by the state says, “It took more than 150 years to bring salmon to the brink of extinction; it may take just as long to bring them all the way back.” And it’s gotten worse for Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead over the last 15 years. Keep working?

Before answering that question, take a look at the summary report on the progress of salmon recovery efforts and read Kimberly Cauvel’s account in the Skagit Valley Herald, “State: More work needed to save the salmon.”

According to the state report, $516.55 million has been spent on Puget Sound salmon recovery (out of $883.95 million total statewide, 1997-2015).

According to the report, the condition of Endangered Species Act-listed Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead is getting worse. Major barriers to salmon recovery in Puget Sound come from rapid population growth and development: Shoreline armoring, water quality, stormwater, in-stream flows, impervious surfaces, loss of forest cover, fish passage barriers, and development in floodplains and estuaries. Put bluntly, “There is a clear need for increased habitat protection for salmon in Puget Sound.”

But we’ve known for years that it is habitats for salmon and salmon-prey spawning and rearing that are major limiting factors in salmon recovery.

According to a provocatively argued paper now in publication by Robert T. Lackey at the Oregon State University Fisheries and Wildlife Department, salmon recovery is not a matter of science but one of policy and politics.

“Efforts to restore declining wild salmon runs in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have evolved into a “salmon recovery industry” with multiple local, state, and federal government bureaucracies and the associated contractors. Overall, the recovery industry employs thousands of scientists and other technical experts. Over many years and after hundreds of millions of dollars spent for scientific research, salmon are arguably the most studied group of fishes in the world. The vast bureaucracy and massive quantity of science have, however, failed to reverse the long-term decline of wild salmon.

“Successful wild salmon recovery, if it ever occurs, rests squarely in the realm of the political process. Despite well over a century of failure to recover wild salmon, however, many in the salmon recovery industry insist that science continue to play a privileged, even dominant role in helping to decipher and decide key elements of this highly contested, complex, policy problem. The preference for science appears to be supported by both traditionally Democratic and traditionally Republican constituencies; in short, policy advocates from all parts of the political spectrum usually champion science as a critical or determining factor in policy decisions.”  [Science and salmon recovery. In: Sc
ience and Problem Solving Under Post-Normal Conditions: From Complex Problems to New Problem Solving Strategies, Edward P. Weber, Denise H. Lach, and Brent S. Steel, editors, Oregon State Press, Corvallis, Oregon.[In Press] ]

For salmon recovery to be successful, Lackey argues that the inadequacies of using a normal science approach to salmon decline need to be overcome:

Salmon Policy Lesson 1 — Efforts of recovery wild salmon will continue to struggle because of conflicting policy priorities and the constraints of the ESA’s approach to species protection.

Salmon Policy Lesson 2 — Current institutional and political dynamics limit our ability to deal effectively with salmon recovery.

Salmon Policy Lesson 3 — Market incentives and the rules of commerce tend to work against increasing wild salmon numbers.

Salmon Policy Lesson 4 — Competition for critical natural resources, especially for water, will continue to increase and will work against recovering wild salmon.

Salmon Policy Lesson 5 — Dramatic increases in the human population of the Pacific Northwest will work against wild salmon recovery.

Salmon Policy Lesson 6 — Individual and collective life-style preferences are important and substantial changes must take place in these preferences if long-term downward trends in wild salmon abundance are to be reversed.

He concludes: “To succeed, a wild salmon recovery strategy must change the trajectory of the major policy drivers or that strategy will fail. If society only continues to spend billions of dollars in quick-fix efforts to restore wild salmon runs, then in most cases these efforts will be only marginally successful... In the opinion of this author, the billions spent on salmon recovery might be considered “guilt money” — modern-day indulgences — a tax society and individuals willingly bear to alleviate their collective and individual remorse. It is money spent on activities not likely to achieve recovery of wild salmon, but it helps people feel better as they continue the behaviors and choices that preclude the recovery of wild salmon. It also sustains a job program for scientists and other technocrats by funding the salmon recovery industry.”

What do you think? Keep working? Work smarter, work tougher? Let me know.

--Mike Sato


  1. We agree that the policy work you suggest--particularly to protect habitat--is very much needed if we are to prevent our Puget Sound salmon from becoming extinct. The Puget Sound Action Agenda, which charts the course to Puget Sound recovery, includes many actions and programs that are intended to influence policies that protect and restore salmon habitats. A few examples include developing and promoting best management practices for business, agricultural, and infrastructure projects; promotion of low impact development practices; and development and implementation of chemical action plan recommendations. But political will is necessary to put productive policies in place that support salmon recovery. We need stronger support for the Growth Management Act, stormwater infrastructure funding, and enactment and enforcement of local land use and building codes. We need decision-makers who are willing to take on the hard work of understanding the interface between science and policy, and how science can inform implementation of policies that really do make a difference. Our investments in salmon recovery to date have been significant, and while it’s true that this hasn’t resulted in the recovery of Puget Sound salmon populations, it has almost certainly prevented many of our salmon populations from going extinct. That hard work is ongoing, and we need science to guide us in making effective investments. If we coupled effective investments with effective policy, we could make so much more progress. We and our partners continue to press for effective policy, but in the interim we cannot stop investing in science-based habitat recovery projects because we need to ensure that our salmon populations are given the best chance to survive. This is no time to give up, but it is a great time to have meaningful discussion with our local, regional, and state policy makers. We need to connect the dots between science and policy so that policy makers and the public see and understand what we stand to lose and just how they can be instrumental in turning the situation around.

    Cathy Cochrane
    Communications Lead, Puget Sound Partnership

  2. Too complicated an issue for me to fix! But some observations:

    1. An "Action Agenda" is not a plan;

    2. There does not seem to have been much "Adaptive Management" over the years;

    3. Precious little has ever been done to engage the greater public in ways that insist on the policy changes;

    4. The Boeings, Amazons, Starbucks, Costcos, Nordstroms, Microsofts, and the people made wealthy by them do not seem involved at all;

    5. I am one of the lucky ones (probably of hundreds of others) who gets to wade a restored stream in the fall and winter to count returning spawning salmon on behalf of our local Enhancement Group and WDFW. An amazing experience and especially to see them come back to a place they have been denied for so long. Can't stop the work - go tougher, harder, smarter.

  3. Plus one to Rabbits' Guy. I should note that Boeing is investing in solutions to stormwater problems. And both Boeing and Vulcan are supporting work to understand why juvenile salmon and steelhead are dying in Puget Sound, a phenomena that is both a major and poorly understood impediment to recovery. Involvement of other corporations would be most welcome. I would also add that "our" goals around what “we” want from salmon and their ecosystem for Puget Sound and the rest of the Pacific NW have many dimensions, and that is why salmon recovery is "political". The juxtaposition of millions of people, modern institutions and various legal and treaty obligations make salmon recovery political by default. An honest appraisal of our progress is in order. But I would argue that the "salmon recovery industry" is making a positive and extremely cost-effective difference when compared with the massive investments over the last century focused on activities that have negatively altered the ecosystems we share with salmon. Improved protection is critically important, but not adequate for recovery.

  4. Hello I am a OSU student and it is my intention to do anything I can to help save the salmon. I am only a second year student, and I am trying to get involved in the active participation to save these guys


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