[env-trinity] Oregonian op-ed: Facing the facts on the future of Northwest salmon

Sari Sommarstrom sari at sisqtel.net
Mon Sep 28 15:48:53 PDT 2009

>The Oregonian
>September 28, 2009
>  <http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/oped/index.html>oped »

Facing the facts on the future of Northwest salmon

By <http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/oliveguestop/index.html>Guest Opinion

September 28, 2009, 9:30AM


What does the future hold for West Coast salmon as the population continues 
to grow?

Over the past 135 years there have been many salmon recovery plans. During 
the past two decades their frequency has increased. The Clinton 
administration offered several detailed plans. The Bush administration 
tweaked the Clinton plans and offered several even more detailed ones. Now 
the Obama administration has tweaked the final Bush plan and offered its 
own with a few new wrinkles. Good luck.

Not one of these plans has much of a chance of achieving its publicly 
stated goal. Why is it that experts, behind closed doors and off the 
record, pretty much agree that they will not be successful? To find out 
why, we need to consider what we learned from Joe Friday.

Radio, television and movie detective extraordinaire Joe Friday demanded 
and provided "just the facts" as he sleuthed out truth amid the gossip and 
hearsay of criminal investigations. Scientists (the experts) who are tasked 
with informing the public and policy-makers about natural policy issues 
should attempt to do the same -- just the facts -- the straightforward, 
inflexible, sometimes unpleasant realities.

Let's use a Joe Friday approach to the salmon crisis.

Fact 1: Wild salmon in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and southern 
British Columbia are in serious trouble. South of the Canadian border, most 
runs are less than 10 percent of their pre-1850 levels and more than two 
dozen are listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered 
Species Act. Similarly, several runs in British Columbia are candidates for 
listing under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. Worse, from California to 
British Columbia, many runs have disappeared, and more will follow unless 
there is a reversal of the long-term downward trajectory.

Fact 2: The meager state of salmon runs along the West Coast is not a new 
situation. The decline in wild salmon numbers started with the California 
gold rush in 1848; the causes included water pollution, habitat loss, 
over-fishing, dams, irrigation projects, predation on salmon by many 
species, competition with hatchery-produced salmon and non-native fish 
species, and many others.

Fact 3: If society wishes to do anything meaningful about moving wild 
salmon off their current long-term downward trend, then something must be 
done about the unrelenting growth in the human population level along the 
West Coast. Currently, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia are 
home to 15 million humans. Assuming likely reproductive rates and 
continuing immigration to the Pacific Northwest, in 2100 this region's 
human population will be somewhere between 50 million and 100 million: a 
quadrupling by the end of this century, barely 90 years from now. 
Similarly, extrapolating population growth rates for California, by 2100 
that state alone will be home to over 160 million people.

Fact 4: If the population levels in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho 
and British Columbia increase as expected, the options for restoring salmon 
runs to significant, sustainable levels are greatly constrained. By 2100, 
from California to British Columbia, there could easily be 200 million to 
250 million people. With so many more people inhabiting the West Coast, 
consider the demand for houses, schools, stadiums, expressways, planes, 
trains, automobiles, coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, malls, air 
conditioning, drinking water, pipelines, computer chips, home entertainment 
systems, ski resorts, golf courses, sewer treatment plants and office 
buildings for government employees.

Society's options for sustaining wild salmon in significant numbers would 
be just about nonexistent. Good water quality would be achievable, as would 
maintaining prosperous populations of many non-native fish species 
(walleye, smallmouth bass and American shad) better adapted to altered 
aquatic environments, but the possibilities for abundant wild salmon would 
be severely constrained.

Whatever policy-makers propose to do about the 2009 collapse of West Coast 
salmon runs, these four facts cannot be ignored. Policy-makers should 
demand from scientists realistic and honest assessments of the current and 
future conditions for salmon.

Joe Friday was a tough, no-nonsense professional. Those of us who provide 
the public and policy-makers with the best available information about 
salmon ought to follow his lead: "just the facts."

Robert Lackey is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at 
Oregon State University and is a former senior scientist with the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency.

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