Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Agreeing with Dr. Lubchenco... almost.

NOAA Admininstrator Jane Lubchenco.

- from the desk of Nicole Cordan, Policy & Legal Director, SOS

On Sunday, the Oregonian printed an opinion piece from NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. Here’s how that piece starts:

“Effective rebuilding of the mighty salmon runs of the Columbia River depends on science to guide our actions, a firm commitment to implement those actions, people and funding to do the job, and a robust monitoring program to guide us through the uncertainties of the future.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

The problem with Dr. Lubchenco’s plan however, is that it does none of these things.  It doesn’t follow the science. It doesn’t commit to implementing or funding what the science says we need to do. And it doesn’t set even set up a monitoring plan that would move to more stringent actions if the science is right and what is happening on the river isn’t good enough to help fish.

Instead, Dr. Lubchenco’s and other federal officials in the Obama administration continue to tout the science and the process endorsed by the Bush Administration. This wasn’t a transparent process as Dr. Lubchenco suggests — the science review meetings she refers to were closed-door processes. Scientists were forced to sign confidentiality agreements just to participate; and still today, state and tribal scientists are forced to remain silent about what is best for salmon because of contracts signed with the federal government. No matter how you spin it, that’s not transparency or peer reviewed science — or a process that leaves one with a sense of security that good decisions are being made.  Something we’ve seen far too much of with this administration.

In her defense, Lubchenco appears to have been limited in her power to change both the scientific and political dynamics of this issue. As an Oregonian op-ed piece from Paul VanDevelder highlights, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and the offices of Senators Murray and Cantwell, among others, have hamstrung Lubchenco’s work since the day she stepped into office.

Nevertheless, Lubchenco has allowed this to happen. Ignoring her former colleagues in the region, she has allowed politics to trump science once again. Her continued assertion that Obama’s Columbia-Snake Basin salmon and steelhead plan follows the “best available science” simply doesn’t square with the rest of the scientific community. The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society — the nation’s oldest, largest, and most respected fisheries science organization – released a critical review of NOAA’s plan. The AFS deemed NOAA’s plan “inadequate” which roughly translates to horse pucky on the street. If Lubchenco stands “100% behind the science,” she’d better watch her step.

Lubchenco’s opinion is, I’ll admit, great public relations, but claiming victory for the federal agencies from higher salmon returns simply goes too far and ignores the facts.

We have indeed seen slightly better returns in the past couple of years, but most of those fish returning are not wild salmon and largely because of spill ordered by Judge Redden in Portland — against the vehement objections of the federal agencies.  For more than a decade, I have fought side-by-side with fishermen, river and clean energy advocates, Northwest tribes and scientists to ensure that these salmon and communities get what they need: a fair chance. And if fish are coming back in higher numbers, it is because of the protections these people fought for and achieved from Judge Redden. Judge Redden has done more to protect endangered salmon and protect jobs on the Columbia-Snake rives than has the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations combined. To take credit for that work is in poor taste.

Lubchenco said, ultimately we have to get this plan right because, “we owe it to the fish and the communities that depend upon them.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. But may we remind you, Dr. Lubchenco, that actions speak louder than words. And to date, your actions have done little to protect these fish.

Read more reactions to Lubchenco's op-ed in the Oregonian from author Steve Hawley, commercial fisherman Joel Kawahara, and filmmaker Andy Maser.

Paul VanDevelder's piece, mentioned above, can be found over at the Oregonian.

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