Second in a series on the possible removal of the Klamath River dams and the future of salmon. Next in the series: The final Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement
The issue of taking down the dams on the Klamath River has reached a new turning point recently as a draft agreement between numerous stakeholders is circulating with approval in some form expected in the near future.
The issue is not new or confined to the Klamath, however. For years before PacfiCorp’s offer to decommission the dams a group came together to study the ethical, social and scientific issues in maintaining wild salmon populations in the entire Pacific Northwest.
Published in 2006, the Salmon 2100 Project: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon, involved 33 participants with expertise in various fields including water, river, fish and social science disciplines. They took a long range and unique look at what it would take to restore and protect salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from British Columbia to Northern California, through the year 2100.
The project is a joint effort of Oregon State University and the EPA research laboratory in Corvallis, Ore. Robert Lackey of the research laboratory is the lead editor and nominal head of the project. Project documents are extensively quoted in this article. In addition, Lackey gave an interview on the Project that is quoted throughout this article.
Project Goals and Positions
“The Salmon 2100 Project started as a response to the dichotomy between what the technical experts apparently believed and the message that was being heard by the general public,” Lackey said in the interview. “The purpose of the Salmon 2100 Project was from the beginning to provide a blunt assessment of the future of wild salmon in the region using the best available estimate of current trends and to identify those changes that would have to take place to ensure significant, sustainable runs of wild salmon through this century and beyond.”
Lackey points out that the project took care not to promote a point of view, but to simply state the realities of the issue.
“The Project does not endorse any approach to salmon recovery because it is up to the public to determine the relative importance of salmon recovery compared to the competing priorities,” Lackey said. “It is up to the public to decide on the tradeoffs that are necessary if wild salmon are to continue in significant numbers through this century.”
Salmon Recovery Constraints
The Project identified the following “four core drivers that most likely will constrain all salmon recovery strategies through this century”:
•?The economic rules of the game, especially the international and domestic drive for economic efficiency;
•?The increasing scarcity and competition for key natural resources, especially for high quality water;
•?The rapidly increasing numbers of humans in the region and the requirement to meet their basic needs; and
•?Individual and collective lifestyle choices and priorities.
“Any salmon recovery strategy must address these core policy drivers if that strategy has any chance of successfully restoring wild salmon runs,” Lackey said.
The report notes that above all the salmon challenges, population growth stands as the prime mover.
“As long as people insist on an ever higher standard of living, it is a delusion to expect that wild salmon runs can be maintained, much less restored, alongside a doubling, tripling or more of the region’s human population,” the Project says.
“In short, salmon and humans compete for the same natural resources: streams, lakes, riparian corridors, estuaries, and so on,” Lackey said. “The reality is that nearly everything that people do is harmful to wild salmon at least at some level.”
Factors in the Decline of Wild Salmon Stocks
The report lists a long litany of “well-known but poorly understood combination of factors” that have contributed to the decline of wild salmon stocks. They include the following:
•?Unfavorable ocean or climatic conditions;
•?Excessive commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing;
•?Various farming and ranching practices;
•?Dams built for electricity generation, flood control, irrigation and many other purposes, and water diversions for agricultural, municipal or commercial requirements;
•?Pollutants of many types;
•?Hatchery production used to supplement diminished runs or produce salmon for the retail market;
•?Degraded spawning and rearing habitat;
•?Predation by marine mammals, birds and other fish species;
•?Competition, especially with exotic fish species; and
•?Diseases and parasites.
Domestication and Wicked Problems
In formulating solutions, the authors almost unanimously agreed that current practices were not working, but solutions can be found.
“Nearly all the participants in the Project concluded that current recovery efforts overall will not be successful, but it is important to remember that all of them also concluded that there are viable policy options available,” Lackey said.
In proposing prescriptions for recovery, the authors discussed the concepts of “domesticating” the issues and “wicked problem.”
“Domestication is the process of taking difficult, divisive policy issues off the table until a solution emerges or the problem disappears by solving itself, e.g., the species is destroyed,” the Project states. “The most common forms of domestication are funding more research or scientific activity, more workshops and venues to get stakeholders involved through collaboration, and tweaking current regulations or policies that provide the illusion of substantive action.
“A wicked problem is really an evolving set of interconnected issues and constraints. There is no definitive statement of it, and in fact you might not even understand what the problem is until you have found a solution,” the Project said. “Solving wicked problems is fundamentally a social process; getting the ‘right’ answer may not be as important as having stakeholders accept whatever solution emerges. Restoration of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and California may be the ultimate wicked problem.”
Taken together, the prescriptions offered by the authors fall into four general areas:
•?Increase habitat protection through salmon sanctuaries or refuges;
•?Change institutional structures to more effectively address salmon recovery;
•?Increase the role of science and technology in recovery efforts; and
•?Change people’s values and beliefs, which is assumed to translate into changes in practices and actions.
The Project argues that one method to protect salmon would be the establishment of highly protected areas such as conservation reserves and larger areas along the lines of the national park system.
“No activities harmful to salmon would be permitted on refugia including hatcheries, harvest, stream or ocean, limited residential dwellings, or water withdrawal,” the Project suggests. “Establish a Wild Salmon National Park distributed across the area and purchased with public money. This sanctuary system is a social commitment to ensuring the survival of salmon in the face of the inevitable pressures they will face.”
The Project suggests that in order to protect the healthy habitat, “sacrifice zones” would be created where wild salmon recovery is de-emphasized or halted.
“To complement the refugia/reserve system, working and industrial watersheds in multi-owner, fragmented watersheds would allow some levels of in-river fishing, hydroelectric power, industrial sites, and hatcheries, among other activities,” the Project says. “These basins could generate revenues to support the restoration and protection of salmon refugia and reserves.”
The Project says that “institutions themselves are often ‘wicked,’ with multiple and interdependent issues and constraints, operating in a dynamic environment with multiple and conflicting stakes and interests that need to be satisfied.”
Among the problems Project authors identified as “institutional incompetence in salmon recovery” are the following:
•?Application of generalized rules whether they make sense or not in specific watersheds;
•?Protection of the institution, or individual, rather than the salmon; and
•?Allowing elected officials and/or citizens to make recovery decisions based on policy or interests rather than science.
The Project suggests “an institutional structure can be created to develop an integrated, trans-boundary plan to recover salmon in the region,” but suggests that such a structure would be very complex.
“Even if a regional, trans-boundary institution was created with a sole focus on salmon recovery, it would be interacting with other agencies and individuals whose designs on the habitat would be different,” the Project says.
Additional institutional reforms the study discusses are:
•?Shifting the responsibility much more fully to local watersheds;
•?Restricting land use practices across large areas, making watershed protection and restoration the “first priority” on those lands;
•?Progressive tax penalties that would discourage land use practices harmful to salmon streams; and
•?Removing all subsidies for development activities in important salmon habitat.
“Tax and subsidy reform always changes who wins and who loses – some sector of the population will believe that their rights have been curtailed,” the Project says. “In these intensely political and personal struggles, who will champion the rights of the salmon?”
New Science and Technology
The Project suggests that “the real need is to focus on improving our knowledge of habitat needs throughout the life history of salmon species and increasing our technological options.”
“The migratory range and life cycle of salmonids, combined with the complex suite of climatic, atmospheric, and oceanic variables encountered during that life cycle have made it very difficult to scientifically explore the causes and consequences of habitat change, most of which are related to human activity,” the Project says.
One of the contributors states that “our current scientific understanding of salmon is ambiguous, flawed, or simply non-existent.”
Another contributor says that “using what we currently know about salmon habitat and existing technology we can reverse the root causes of degradation including removal of dams, allowing floods, restoring vegetation, and reducing logging and road building.”
Hatchery salmon were also explored and it was acknowledged that “some supplemental stocking from salmon hatcheries will be required to sustain salmon productions” and that hatcheries need to be reformed.
“Technology is currently available, according to one author, to make the best use of hatcheries in an ecologically sustainable framework,” the Project said.
The Project suggests that the hatchery/wild salmon arguments are “misplaced.”
“While most find fault with current hatchery practices, Talbot and Stout both suggest that the controversy over wild vs. hatchery salmon is misplaced,” the Project suggests. “They argue that the dispersal of hatchery fish to different streams over many decades resulted in the giant stirring of the genetic pool.”
The Project concludes that much remains to be done in the areas of science and technology.
“Along with the other prescriptions, the science and technology prescriptions are still in the chaotic stage of wicked problems,” the Project says. “Problems are being formulated and discarded, stakeholders are coming in and out of the process as their interests are threatened by findings and proposed applications, and no one really seems to be in charge of the big picture.”
The Project said that many contributors “proscribe a change not only in our behavior, but also in our cultural and ethical standpoint.”
“It is difficult for all of us who live in the modern world to avoid practices that we know are harmful to salmon, many of them such as transportation modes, energy use, and development patterns over which we have little control,” the Project says. “A distinctly political approach to sustaining wild salmon runs would include the development of a diverse, national, social movement dedicated to pressuring the political and economic elites to change current policies.”
Environmental education was also discussed in “that investment in children’s understanding of the natural world will help change people’s values, at least some time in the near future,” but it was acknowledged that it also had drawbacks.
“Unfortunately, while it does appear that environmental education affects people’s attitudes about the environment, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that it has a long-lasting impact on behavior,” the Report suggests.
The Project says there “will be multiple opportunities over the next century to re-think the way we organize our social, political, and economic lives.”
“The challenge will be to face the future with excitement and commitment, taking people up on their stated desire for a healthy environment by finding multiple ways to provide the goods and services we want and need within the context of salmon habitat protection,” the Project says.
The Project suggests that an issue as complex and “wicked” as salmon restoration on the scale studied will require a variety of solutions in many sectors of society.
“Given the wickedness of the salmon recovery problem as reflected in the variety of prescriptions by the authors, it is clear that the way forward is still uncertain,” the Project says. “The challenge will be to face the future with excitement and commitment, taking people up on their stated desire for a healthy environment by finding multiple ways to provide the goods and services we want and need within the context of salmon habitat protection.”
The book, Salmon 2100: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon, is available at several online bookstores. Selected chapters, comments and the interview with Bob Lackey can be found at www.oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/Salmon2100.htm.
Next in the series: The final Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement