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Current Research

Salmon 2100 Project (click for .pdf)Pic

PROJECT TITLE:

Restoration of Pacific Northwest Salmon: Alternative Long-term Futures

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR:

Robert T. Lackey, Ph.D.
Senior Fisheries Biologist
National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Corvallis, Oregon 97333
and
Professor of Fisheries (courtesy)
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
and
Professor of Political Science (adjunct)
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon 97331

DESCRIPTION OF RESEARCH:

The goal of the Salmon 2100 Project is to improve the quality and utility of assessments of the ecological consequences of options to restore wild salmon to California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and southern British Columbia.  It involves close collaboration with policy analysts, policy makers, policy advocates, and fisheries scientists in many organizations to develop long-term and broad-scale forecasts that are both policy relevant and scientifically credible.

Throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and southern British Columbia, most wild salmon stocks have declined and many have disappeared.  Substantial efforts have been made to restore some runs of wild salmon, but few have shown much long-term success.  Substantial social dislocation (reduced fishing, restrictive land practices, constrained housing development, restricted commercial activities, reduced farming and forestry, conflicts over highway expansion, and legal clashes over Ataking@ of private property) continues unabated.  Billions of dollars have been spent in efforts to reverse the decline and much more is likely to be spent.  Some argue that even more needs to be spent; others assert more money will not bring back runs of wild salmon.

Traditional hypothesis-based scientific experimentation has proved insufficient for generating the information that decision-makers need to address the salmon restoration issue. Experience has shown that policy questions in salmon restoration are rarely clearly defined, occur on scales and complexities that make traditional research approaches inadequate, and often change abruptly in response to external and unrelated events (i.e., wars, depressions or other economic stresses, electrical shortages, terrorist attacks).

Just as there are difficulties in clearly defining policy questions for salmon restoration, there are difficulties in determining what science can provide to help resolve such policy questions.  The interplay between personal and societal values and science and scientists is important, but often poorly understood or appreciated.  Much of the public has become confused over the difference between Avalue-based@ information and Ascience-based@ information.

Time frames are also crucial characteristics for assessing recovery trajectories.  In addition to great year-to-year variability, ocean condition tends to shift in a cyclic manner over decadal time scales.  Assessing the effects on salmon runs of changes in freshwater environment usually take a dozen salmon generations to evaluate with confidence.  The precise effects on salmon runs of the construction of dams in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, is just now being quantified with a solid degree of confidence.

A specific product of this research is a forecast of the status of wild salmon stocks in
California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and southern British Columbia through 2100, given the regulatory and management decisions that are, or likely will be, available to policy makers.  The outputs from this research will provide the public and decision-makers with an assessment of what expectations are realistic for salmon restoration in the region.

In 2003, assessment efforts expanded toward identifying practical options having a high probability of maintaining biologically significant, sustainable populations of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest and California. Current wild salmon recovery efforts in western North America (especially California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and southern British Columbia), as earnest, expensive, and socially disruptive as they currently are, do not appear likely to sustain biologically significant populations of wild salmon through this century.  Long-term sustainability, although broadly supported by the public in the abstract, remains elusive in reality.  Rather than supporting or advocating any particular policy or class of policies, the overarching theme of the Salmon 2100 Project is to help policy makers and the public evaluate a suite of possible policy options by providing a number of independent, practical, policy-neutral policy prescriptions that would have a high probability of restoring salmon runs to significant levels.

To accomplish its goal, the Project enlisted 33 fisheries scientists, policy analysts, and policy advocates, each of whom is well versed in salmon science and policy.  The policy prescriptions offered by Project participants are universally candid, sometimes uncomfortably radical, and occasionally sobering.  Most Project participants conclude that major, sometimes wholesale modification of core societal values and priorities will have to occur if significant, sustainable populations of wild salmon are to be present in the region through 2100.

Pacific Northwest 2100 Project (click for .pdf)Pic

PROJECT TITLE:

Providing Ecosystems Services for an Additional 50+ Million PNW Residents: The Challenge to Natural Resource and Environmental Agencies

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR:

Robert T. Lackey, Ph.D.
Senior Fisheries Biologist
National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Corvallis, Oregon 97333
and
Professor of Fisheries (courtesy)
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
and
Professor of Political Science (adjunct)
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon 97331

DESCRIPTION OF RESEARCH:

Three overarching policy realities will drive natural resource and environmental agencies in the Pacific Northwest through this century: (1) the likely dramatic increase in the numbers of humans inhabiting Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia; (2) a dramatically different climate which will impose different ecological constraints; and (3) the ongoing and intensifying collective demand for ecosystem services.

Each of these three policy factors is critical in driving future ecological changes in the region, and each is inextricably intertwined. Much of the current discussion about ecological policy issues (i.e., salmon recovery, spotted owls, marbled murlets, wildfire, water quality and quantity, energy development, etc.) is greatly influenced by the number of humans in a region and their overall demand for ecosystem services. The current challenge facing all natural resource and environmental agencies is to deliver ever greater levels of ecosystem services in a way that does not irreparably alter the 2 very ecosystems providing those services. The challenge will become increasingly greater through this century as climate changes, whether caused largely by human activities or by a natural cycle.

The trajectory of human population growth in the United States, in general, and the Pacific Northwest, in particular, is not often a formal factor in dialog about ecological policy. Because it is arguably the overpowering driver defining future ecological policy options, it should be seriously analyzed and considered if alternative ecological policies are to be accurately accessed. For example, in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia), if the average annual growth rate in the human population for the past half century continues, the current population of approximately 15 million will swell to 85 million by 2100.

As the numbers of humans increases in the Pacific Northwest, their collective demand for ecosystem services will increase. Ecosystem services are classified as:

With perhaps 60 - 100 million people inhabiting the Pacific Northwest in 2100, what are the policy options to providing and sustaining ecosystem services? Providing high quality ecosystem services will be a daunting challenge and will undoubtedly require dramatically different policies from those currently in place.

Changing climate offers another challenge. Some species of current policy interest (i.e., salmon, bull trout, marbled murlets, northern spotted owl, etc) are likely doomed to serious threat of extinction in the Pacific Northwest given the warming climate and decreased snow pack. Other species will fare much better in the altered environment and exert competitive on these species.

Blunt discussions of the relationship between the human population level, demand for ecosystem services, changing climate, and the availability of sustainable supplies of 3 ecosystem services are uncommon, perhaps understandably in part because such discussions would likely highlight the difficult, divisive policy choices that, from the perspective of some policy makers and advocates, are best left unarticulated. Rather than blunt and candid dialog, a “conspiracy of optimism” or a “culture of delusion” seems to reign in most discussions.

Most research about providing sustainable levels of ecosystems services tends to focus on relatively small scales (usually watershed or landscape levels) and a specific ecosystem service (e.g., clean water, sustainable supplies of wood, endangered species protection). In contrast, what is needed now is to focus on (1) the entire Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia); and, (2) all major ecosystem services.