For nearly 100 years wild salmon populations along the Elwha River, located at the heart of Olympic National Park, have been limited to a five-mile stretch of the 45 mile-long river below the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. In September 2011 engineers began the Nation’s second largest ecological restoration project; a three-year dam removal process, allowing wild salmon and other anadromous fish populations to return to the upper channels and tributaries of the river. But how effective will these restoration efforts be, and how do we measure success? Kinsey Frick, George Pess, and John McMillan, scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, in partnership with other federal, state and tribal organizations in the region are working together to find answers to these important questions. Their research will not only help us understand the impacts of dam removal on wild salmon populations and ecosystems in the Elwha and allow managers to manage the recovering system adaptively, but also help inform future river restoration projects throughout the country.
By Alan Lovewell – WCGA Sea Grant Fellow
A few weeks ago I was fortunate to be invited to take meeting notes for two focus group meetings in Oakland at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center lead by Jenna Borberg and Carrie Pomeroy from Oregon and California Sea Grant respectively. These focus groups were assembled to assess NOAA’s knowledge, capacity and needs for involving stakeholders in the regional Coastal Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) process and contribute to developing a framework for improving stakeholder involvement. This project will also help inform NOAA’s coordination and collaboration on CMSP with partners (e.g., federal and state agencies, regional and local entities, and tribes).
As a note taker and observer at two of these meetings I was anxious to hear an update on CMSP, what was happening at the National level, and what the various corners of NOAA think about its utility, development, and challenges. And more than anything I was interested in hearing first hand how participants are currently succeeding or struggling to accomplish their management objectives and goals.
This was the first of 9 focus group meetings that are being held in Oregon, California, and Washington. Participants from NOAA’s extended family (defined as entities that rely on NOAA for base funding) included:
- NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS), National Weather Service (NWS), Oceanic Atmospheric Research(OAR)
- NOAA Coastal Services Center
- National Estuarine Research Reserve System
- National Marine Sanctuaries
- California, University of Southern California, Oregon, and Washington Sea Grant Programs
- Integrated Ocean Observing System
- Cooperative/Joint Institutes
- Pacific Fishery Management Council (employees)
- State Coastal Zone Management agencies
The diversity of representation is intended to provide a range of feedback on the issues marine resource managers are currently addressing including: who and how they define their stakeholders and partners; how they effectively engage and communicate with stakeholders; and how they communicate and coordinate within the NOAA extended family.
Principal investigators for this study are: Dr. Stephen Brandt, Director, Oregon Sea Grant; and Dr. John Stein, Director, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, co-lead for NOAA’s Western Regional Collaboration Team, and member of the West Coast Governors Alliance (WCGA) Executive Committee and Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) Work Group. The information gathered from these focus groups will inform the next phase of the study, which includes a survey of the larger West Coast NOAA workforce and extended family.
Here are a few of my key takeaway points from these conversations:
- Meaningful engagement with stakeholders is essential to the success of most management processes or actions.
- In one form or another, we are all stakeholders dependent on the health of our oceans. The more we connect and value the ecosystem and the resources it provides us, the more we’ll feel invested in the oceans long-term health.
- Stakeholders and partners often vary between agencies, projects, and issues.
- The success and failure of CMSP depends on everyone’s commitment to welcome all perspectives at the table to have discussions and talk about management options.
- The status and progress of CMSP and why we should manage our waters as a public trust, should be communicated within and outside of NOAA on a regular basis.
I’m sure a lot of individuals, myself included, will be looking forward to project outcomes. The WCGA IEA Workgroup is one team within the WCGA that will find this information useful as we continue planning our regional scoping strategy for the US West Coast.
When I crossed the border into Canada on my drive to the Salish Sea Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia this past week, I got the “Q and A” by the border guard. “Where’s home? Where do you work?” I was friendly, concise and truthful. But when asked what I would be doing in Canada, I lost my cool, and enthusiastically stated, “Saving the whales!!” I got a smile and a green light. OK, not exactly true, but it seemed a good enough reason to let me spend a week in BC.
Crossing the Granville Bridge into this land of lights made me appreciate the accomplishments of the modern world. The stark mountains in the background, equaled by the skyscrapers towering in front of me, were a subtle reminder of the power of innovation and invention. It was also a reminder why I made this trip.
The waters of the Salish Sea are surrounded by a highly developed landscape. Westerners, like so many cultures around the world, find ourselves inextricably connected to the water, and here we build our villages. Or, should I say, major metropolitan areas. Here in Vancouver, the interface of the modern world with the natural one isn’t lost to the madness of the city. The sea seems to shape the traffic, the infrastructure, the economy, and the culture of the area. The Straight of Georgia winds around Vancouver Island and surrounding geography like a smooth piece of velvet, buffering the noise and the commotion of the city with stillness and calm. After a closer look by the scientific community, we get a clearer picture of the problems facing these shared waters.
I learned the Salish Sea Conference used to be a science conference; a place where academics and researchers rolled out their results for other scientists and researchers to mull over, discuss methodologies, and gain ideas for their own work. I imagine the evolution into a science, policy, and management conference came about relatively quickly. What’s happening in the Salish Sea sounds alarming at best. Polluted air and water, sick and dying fish and whales, decreased habitat and spawning areas, increased marine traffic, sound pollution, invasive species, and altered eco-webs. Then, add the global threat of climate change and a world population that just hit 7 billion, and we’ve got issues. Getting back to a healthy Salish Sea ecosystem demands action, which requires those with authority to be informed. This was a message carried by the opening plenary panelists; three mayors and a commissioner from the major metropolitan cities along the coast of the Salish Sea. They need good science, and they need it now.
Echoed again in the closing plenary was the plea for scientists to carry their message of an ecosystem in crisis. “We don’t know what we don’t know” a panelist said. Simply communication of knowledge, regardless of uncertainty, brings us leaps closer to effecting positive change on a large scale. Scientists were encouraged – implored, even, to have those conversations, incite those conversations, and speak until they are heard. It seems we have no choice but to make change now. As Billy Frank Jr., Native American environmental leader and treaty rights activist from the Salish region, said at conference past, “We need to all get in this canoe together. We need to start paddling in the opposite direction. And we need to paddle hard.”
If nothing else, there was one message that stirred and inspired me: the idea of “tsawalk”; a Nuu-chah-nulth tribe worldview that “everything is one.” This message was threaded through several of the talks I attended. When delivered by some of the First Nation tribes, the message became tangible and visceral: You could feel the weight of gratitude fill the room. It brought every one of us to our most basic selves. We all became simply human; fighting a battle we’ve created; fighting for our humanity with a unified understanding that without every cog and wheel, we are lost.
Two weeks ago I returned from the National Ocean Council’s (NOC) listening session in Ocean Shores, Washington. The event, coordinated by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and other nationwide offices, was hosted by the Quinault Tribe at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, a few hours from Seattle on the Pacific coast. The overall tone of the event was positive, and optimistic, a peculiar pairing with the sounds of buzzing slot machines and 80s rock & roll. I left the conference room inspired and refreshed after listening to the diverse crowd of government officials, fishermen and conservationists sharing the floor discussing ways to cooperate and improve our oceans health.
The listening session commenced with a tribal blessing, which resonated with me, and noticeably many of those in attendance. Within the singing and chanting you could hear the simple reminder that we were all in that room because of our fundamental connection to the ocean. After opening remarks, a plenary session provided various perspectives and interests of tribal leaders and government agencies on the draft strategic action plan outlines . Notable dignitaries gave presentations on the importance of this listening session including Fawn Sharp, and Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation; Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for NOAA fisheries; Kevin Ranker, Senator of the State of Washington; Micah McCarty, Chairman, Makah Tribe; Keith Phillips, Senior Policy Advisor in the Washington State Governor’s Office; Ms. Alisa Praskovich, Ocean Policy Advisor for the NOC: and Congressman Norm Dicks, Member of the House of Representatives. They then fielded questions from the audience including Fawn Sharp and Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation.
The Ocean Shore listening session, one of twelve nationwide, was designed to engage the public and solicit feedback on nine draft Strategic Action Plans (SAPs) outlines to prioritize objectives that address some of our most pressing issues related to our oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes. The nine SAPs are:
- Ecosystem-Based Management
- Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning
- Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding
- Coordinate and Support
- Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification
- Regional Ecosystem Protection and Restoration
- Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land
- Changing Conditions in the Arctic
- Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Observations, Mapping, and Infrastructure
The last half of the day was dedicated to a poster session lasting an hour that provided information on each SAP for the public. The participants were free to move from poster to poster, engage with subject matter experts and note takers to discuss each SAP and, if they wanted, make official comments to the NOC. A total of 51 public comments were submitted at this session alone, with 107 people in attendance. One priority, Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) was anticipated to be the big topic of the day, warranting two posters on opposite ends of the room, but comments on CMSP, may not have exceeded those from other SAPs. At the end of the poster session a brief summary was provided by each topic expert on each SAP to give the audience a flavor of what had been discussed. For example, the facilitators of “Changing Conditions in the Arctic” reminded the audience that we should not forget this critical SAP because changes in the Arctic have some of the biggest implications on the health of our oceans and coastlines surrounding the US. As a note taker for the “Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land” poster, I was impressed with the number of comments we received and the variety of concerns regarding the integration of terrestrial and marine management. It was clear that management at the land, shore, and sea boundaries needed to be improved but the big question was how? With so many federal agencies, such as the EPA, USDA, USGS, USFS, involved in terrestrial issues, how were they going to integrate and/or reform their established mandates with NOAA, along with our state, local and tribal counterparts?
Discussing changing conditions in the arctic (photo:Lovewell)
Comments from the listening sessions along with those submitted online are now being incorporated by the NOC to complete the SAPs for our oceans priorities. With so much attention on the National Ocean Council, CMSP, regional governance, and regional agreements like the WCGA, I have to say I’m really looking forward to reading what comes out of these public listening sessions in the full SAPs.