Rendezvous in the Emerald City: Invigorating the Agreement

It always amazes me how much can be accomplished by people that have never met face-to-face. Dedicated individuals from Oregon, Washington, and California involved with the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health have been making strides for this regional ocean partnership via conference calls and email for the better part of 5 years. This past June, for the first time in 3 years, the WCGA executive committee (Excomm) members and the leads for the WCGA’s Action Coordination Teams (ACT) all met in the flesh to take the pulse of the WCGA and discuss the future of regional ocean governance. For me, a WCGA Sea Grant fellow just 3 months into my 2 year stint, greeting attendees felt like a human game of Memory; matching faces to voices that I’d only known through phone calls.

A little background on the WCGA: The WCGA is the regional ocean partnership for the West Coast, formed on September 18, 2006 by the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington. Upon signing, then Governors Schwarzenegger, Gregoire, and Kulongoski launched a new, proactive regional collaboration to protect and manage the ocean and coastal resources along the entire West Coast, as called for in the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission. The WCGA seeks to advance the goals of:

  • Clean coastal waters and beaches
  • Healthy ocean and coastal habitats
  • Effective ecosystem-based management
  • Reduced impacts of offshore development
  • Increased ocean awareness and literacy among the region’s citizens
  • Expanded ocean and coastal scientific information, research, and monitoring
  • Sustainable economic development of coastal communities

A seascape of Mill Rocks with Humbug Mountain in the distance (Photo: Stoike)

This meeting allowed the WCGA to look ahead into FY ’12, review the 2008 Action Plan, and build a strategy for near term actions. Of particular interest to me was the WCGA’s sincere commitment to improving communication with the Action Coordination Teams; a commitment validated by this face-to-face interaction between ExComm and ACTs. From my perspective, these ten teams, designed to put the Action Plan into…well, action, serve a critical role in the success of the WCGA as a whole. Their expertise and commitment breathe life and valuable perspective into the WCGA and give it the legs to run.

A good portion of the meeting was dedicated to discussing how the WCGA would implement coastal and marine spatial planning, a significant priority of the federal government outlined in the National Ocean Policy Objective 2 (comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based coastal and marine spatial planning and management in the United States). In order to inform this discussion, the WCGA invited Micah McCarty, a Tribal Council Member from Makah Tribal Nation, and Jacque Hostler, Chief Executive Officer of the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, to share their perspectives with state and federal representatives as well as ACT members. Both Micah and Jacque are highly engaged on the National level as members of the National Ocean Council’s Governance Coordinating Committee. Donald McIsaac, Executive Director, and Dorothy Lowman, Executive Specialist from the Pacific Fishery Management Council attended as guests and shared the Council’s views on the proposed CMSP regional planning bodies (RPB). As the National Ocean Council moves forward with CMSP, the WCGA agreed to take some proactive steps in developing a regional data portal for the West Coast, similar to the data portal created in the Northeast. They came up with some recommendations regarding CMSP that I believe are important to acknowledge. The WCGA will:

    • Support CMSP as a tool to protect and manage coastal and ocean resources;
    • Collaborate with all federal agencies, tribes, and affected groups and stakeholders to address West Coast ocean and coastal health issues;
    • Maintain a strong role in assisting the federal government to create and execute the West Coast Regional Planning Body (RPB)
    • Acknowledge that ACTs were formed to focus on implementing policy changes and best management practices, and that their capacity is limited to staff RPB and CMSP planning and information gathering processes.

A sustainable coastal community includes vibrant working waterfronts and access to the resource (Photo: Stoike)

The Executive Committee made a series of recommendations to share with its respective governor’s offices in California, Oregon, and Washington. These include reaffirming the current structure of the WCGA— it’s currently a governors’ partnership, with invited federal agencies, and new administrations in CA and OR make this a logical and necessary action. The WCGA committed to engaging and coordinating with interested tribal governments. Finally, the current financial climate made it clear that streamlining and prioritizing the 2008 WCGA Action Plan to better align actions with existing and potential resources will help ensure the WCGA is doing the best it can to meet its goals.

These new efforts will be part of the update to their 2008 Action Plan scheduled for release in 2013.

President Barack Obama is updated on the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, during a meeting in the tarmac field house at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, La., June 4, 2010. (Photo: Pete Souz)

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now

President Obama recently released the National Ocean Policy that outlines a new way of doing business that focuses on a tool called Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) to achieve national objectives. CMSP is defined as a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean and coastal areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. While this is a scary and uncertain concept for many people, I think that it boils down to a very old idea – communication is good. At its most basic level, the CMSP framework attempts to provide a mechanism for state, federal, and tribal partners to talk to each other and to stakeholders when making decisions to avoid conflicts between ocean users, industry, and the environment.

Existing ocean uses. Conflicts or opportunities? (Photo: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

To kick off this sea change (pun intended!) in ocean policy, the federal government hosted a National CMSP workshop in Washington DC. I was sweating buckets in the humidity, as managers, tribal representatives, and stakeholders got together and starting talking about how CMSP might work in their part of the country. I was excited to see that while the majority of participants were enthusiastic and recognized the need for CMSP, there were concerns raised about the “top down” nature of the National Ocean Policy and the need to strengthen the ability for each region to determine its own objectives and priorities. I think that the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) along with other regional partners have a big part to play in helping to articulate these regional objectives.

West Coast breakout session at the National CSMP Workshop. (Photo: Hallenbeck)

The West Coast has been engaged in this type of planning for quite awhile already. California has had experience planning for marine protected areas and is now in the process of designing a data portal that will facilitate sharing of spatial information amongst stakeholders and agencies. Washington recently passed their CMSP Bill, which I believe is a critical first step in providing a mandate for state agencies to coordinate activities and engage in comprehensive planning. Oregon is currently planning for ocean wave energy development in their territorial sea and has gone through an extensive data gathering and stakeholder process to incorporate this new ocean use with the least amount of conflict with existing uses (e.g. fishing, telecommunications, recreation) and ecological resources.

I know the horizon is bright for our nation’s oceans, if we can just keep talking to one another…