Monday, January 25, 2010

U.S. Salmon Policy for Columbia River: top scientist says it comes up short

It's one year into the new U.S. administration and scorecards are flying about, tallying up the highs and lows of the Obama administration as the President prepares for a State of the Union address this week.

Some people are noting that the "change" that was a centerpiece of the Obama campaign has not materialized. Others have said that much has been accomplished in the form of small steps that don't necessarily get a lot of attention. For conservationists, there were many hopeful signs at the outset, but there has been many areas of concern as the administration makes decisions that many see as counter-productive and reminiscent of the former administration's anti-environment/pro-business approach.

Case in point: Dr. Carl Safina, head of the Blue Ocean Institute, had an op-ed piece printed in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that calls attention to the administration's adoption of a policy regarding Pacific Northwest wild salmon in the Columbia/Snake River system. The policy is the same as one proposed by the prior administration and looks to hold the line on the current levels of wild salmon - levels that already border on extinction for many salmon species that travel these inland waterways.

According to Dr. Safina, the annual migration of wild salmon through these rivers provides critical food source and nutrients for bears, wolves, orcas, and even the plants and trees in the area. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the head of NOAA and administration point person on this issue states that the policy is intended to "prevent further declines." However, Dr. Safina comments on that approach:

"Keeping salmon in a coma and on life support does not heal them, nor help the other species, including people, that depend on them. The likeliest outcome of a salmon strategy based on just avoiding extinction will be extinction -- and not only of salmon."

The current administration is learning the harsh realities of turning campaign rhetoric into actionable leadership. When to play politics and run down the middle or when to take a stand based on sound scientific research seems to be a difficult balancing act for most governments. As supporters of ocean conservation, we need to make sure our voices are heard by our elected officials and that environmental decisions are made based on scientific research and in the best long-term interests of the animals and the environment. Because, regardless of what administration is in power, when they are gone, they are gone.

Read Dr. Safina's entire op-ed article.

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