Columbia/Snake river basin salmon recovery efforts need a “champion”? And could
that champion be the Northwest Power and Conservation Council?
and maybe, are the answers to those questions provided in the final “Columbia
River Salmon and Steelhead Assessment Report” prepared by Oregon Consensus and
the William D. Ruckelshaus Center and released for public consumption Monday.
report is available on the centers’ websites at:
members for the think tanks interviewed over the past year more than 200 people
to gather thoughts on what might be the best approach to long-term salmon and
steelhead recovery in the Columbia River basin. The effort was funded at a cost
of about $300,000 by NOAA Fisheries through its congressionally appropriated
Consensus is part of the Oregon Solutions Network and serves as Oregon’s
official program established “to promote effective, collaborative approaches
for public decision-making” in the state. Oregon Consensus is located in
Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government and offers federal
and state agencies, local governments and the public a neutral forum and
neutral services in support of collaborative governance.
William D. Ruckelshaus Center is a neutral resource for collaborative problem
solving in the State of Washington and the Pacific Northwest. It is a joint
effort of Washington’s two research universities and is “dedicated to assisting
public, private, tribal, non-profit and other community leaders in their
efforts to build consensus and resolve conflicts around difficult public policy
issues.” The Center is hosted at the University of Washington
interviewees included a broad spectrum of interests -- tribes and states and
other fish and wildlife management entities, utilities and power user groups,
other local, state and federal government representatives, conservation groups,
agriculture and irrigation organizations, NPCC members and staff, navigation
companies and organizations and others.
report begins with an explanation of the assessment process, followed by a
brief overview of recovery processes in the Basin. The report then presents a
synthesis of information gained through the interviews, focusing on key themes.
The last section presents a conceptual framework for assessing the salmon
recovery system, along with key findings and process options for improving the
system and addressing salmon and steelhead recovery in the long term.”
Fisheries has just begun to review the 45-page document, according to Barry
Thom, deputy administrator for NOAA’s West Coast Region. He said regional staff
would spend about the next two months reviewing the report and deciding how its
recommendations might be employed.
trying to find a better long-term salmon recovery plan,” Thom said.
announcing the initiative a year ago Thom said the assessment process is
intended to “build on the momentum of our positive collaborations with local
watershed councils, recovery boards, and other local groups over the last few
years and take another step forward. We want to ensure our existing and future
recovery plans are comprehensive and integrated.”
report points out that there is a shared vision across the region regarding
salmon recovery, though different views on how to achieve it.
there are differences about how best to achieve recovery, this underlying
desire is an important foundation that should not be lost in the tangle of
litigation and scientific uncertainty,” the report concludes. “This report is
offered in the hope that parties will gain a better understanding of the
challenges and opportunities in salmon and steelhead recovery processes, and of
some process options that may address these challenges, while building on past
and current success.”
reported throughout this assessment, there was a widely stated call for more
‘leadership’ in the salmon recovery process. But it was also recognized that
the current reality of diverse management and regulatory authority, and the
continuing oversight of the courts, make exercising such leadership difficult.
various legal and political structures related to recovery that operate in the
Basin make it difficult for NOAA Fisheries or any other of the current players
to effectively take an overall leadership role, and especially in one that
would engage the public at-large and align the various players in the region.
Such an effort usually needs one or more public figures as a ‘champion,’ to
provide vision and leadership and assemble the resources to move forward.
interviewees mentioned a coalition of the four regional governors as having the
authority and stature to champion a fresh direction and a common vision for
recovery. Whether, when and/or how the governors or other political leaders or
public figures would be willing to become such champions is one of the
conversations that needs to happen,” the report says. “Others suggested that a
redefined NPCC might play such a role even in its current status, but more so
if its mandate was changed. There was also widespread discussion of the need to
have tribal leaders as part of any ‘champion,’ if such an effort was to
succeed,” the report concludes.
is a distillation of a few key points outlined in the report’s executive
To be successful in recovering salmon and steelhead, the region needs to get as
close as possible to a shared definition of success. That definition should be
multidimensional, containing legal, regulatory, ecological, social, cultural
and economic elements.
Success will also require creative, bold and effective leadership at all
levels. This includes leadership to convene, take charge, make things happen,
communicate, and help the public better understand the issues. That involves
local leaders maintaining their oft-complemented efforts to implement recovery
plans, as well as leaders with more Basin-wide influence (governors, tribal
chairs, elected and appointed officials) providing the impetus and venues for
developing the type of shared vision of success described above.
The most effective processes are the ones that are adequately and appropriately
funded, inclusive, transparent, fair, equitable, and based on good science
(defined as independent, unbiased, peer-reviewed, appropriately separated from
policy-making, and inclusive of monitoring, evaluation and adaptive
of such processes exist both inside and outside the Basin and the salmon
recovery process; these are noted in the assessment and can be looked to as
Litigation is a somewhat blunt instrument that does not often directly produce
flexible and tailored solutions; frequently creates polarized interactions
where parties hold on tightly to positions and predefined solutions rather than
exploring interest-based approaches; and does not typically result in durable
solutions to fundamental issues in complex policy environments like this one.
However, some interviewees suggest that the courts could provide the structure,
incentives and resources for getting the parties to work collaboratively to
resolve contentious issues. Litigation is likely to persist as long as some
parties see it as their most effective means of engaging in elements of the
process. It has been the source of incentives for negotiation and settlement in
the past and has the potential to play an even greater role in structuring
future negotiations among parties.
wide range of perspectives were expressed about whether current approaches to
recovery will achieve
success. Some believe the current approach is already successful and salmon are
well on their way to recovery. Others were less encouraged but still positive,
suggesting that progress has been slow but that the Basin may be turning a
corner. Others were frustrated and felt the region was not doing enough, or the
right things, to avoid decline and/or extinction,” the report says.
and locally driven efforts, ESA recovery boards and plans, and state recovery
boards and watershed councils were frequently cited as examples of current
success, where strong working relationships and trust have formed, projects
have been completed, and fish are responding to recovery efforts.
scale and complexity of the processes that have evolved to address salmon and
steelhead recovery in the Basin was a common theme. Many interviewees suggested
that a more holistic basin-wide approach that comprehensively addresses
hatcheries, harvest, habitat, hydroelectric, humans, ocean conditions and
climate change would improve recovery efforts. However, the size of the Basin
and the complexity of issues impede communication and coordination between parties
involved in recovery processes and the ability to implement such a basin-wide