[env-trinity] Oregonian op-ed: Facing the facts on the future of Northwest salmon
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Mon Sep 28 15:48:53 PDT 2009
>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
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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