OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

'Nonlinear' Ecosystem Response Offers Options to Environmental Gridlock

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The preservation of coastal ecosystem services – such as clean water, storm buffers or fisheries protection – does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, a new study indicates, and a better understanding of how ecosystems actually respond to protection efforts in a “nonlinear” fashion could help lead the way out of environmental-versus-economic gridlock.

There may be much better ways to provide the majority of environmental protection needed while still maintaining natural resource-based jobs and sustainable communities, scientists from 13 universities and research institutes will suggest Friday in a new article in the journal Science.

“The very concept of ecosystem-based management implies that humans are part of the equation, and their needs also have to be considered,” said Lori Cramer, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University.

“But ecosystem concerns have too often been viewed as an all-or-none choice, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Cramer said. “What we are learning is that sometimes a little environmental protection can go a long way, and leave room for practical compromises.”

In their analysis, a diverse group of scientists from four nations analyzed the values and uses of mangrove forests in Thailand – a hot spot of concern about coastal ecosystems being degraded and losing their traditional value of storm protection, wood production and fish habitat. These saltwater forests are frequently being replaced with commercial shrimp farms.

In the past, the scientists said, it was often assumed that the environment responded to protection efforts in a “linear” fashion – in other words, protecting twice as much of a resource generated twice the amount of protection. But the new study and others like it are making it more clear that ecosystems respond in a “nonlinear” fashion – protection of a small percentage of a resource might result in a large percentage of the maximum benefit that can be gained.

If the data are available to help quantify goods and services, researchers say, values can be attached to them and used to reach societal compromises. This might lead to most – but not all – of an environmental resource being protected, and some – but not all – of resources available for commercial use. The combined value of the ecosystem protection and commercial development may approach, or even exceed the value of a “hands-off” approach.

“Part of the problem now is that a lot of the data we need to make this type of assessment simply isn’t available,” said Sally Hacker, an OSU associate professor of zoology. “Biological, economic and sociological data could be enormously helpful to reaching better management decisions, and this is something we need to improve.”

Fairly good data were available in the case of the Thailand mangrove forests, however, and researchers used it to make their case. On a given area of mangrove forest there, the assigned value of ecosystem services – storm protection, biological habitat, etc. – was determined to be about $19 million with a “hands-off” approach and no commercial use whatsoever.

But with a full range of uses, which included leaving 80 percent of the area in mangrove forests and gaining almost all of their flood protection ability, the value was found to be $17.5 million, Hacker said. And this allowed for a commercial shrimp fishery, gathering of wood products, fishing and other commercial uses.

“At some point we have to get beyond this ‘either-or’ mentality when it comes to land and ocean management,” Cramer said. “Insisting that our ecosystems be either totally protected, or totally developed, just leads to polarization, entrenched positions and a loss of communication. We can do better than that, and a good scientific approach can help show the way.”

In the final analysis, the researchers said, everything should be on the table – the value of ecosystem services, the protection of species and the environment, jobs, tourism, protection of human life, even cultural and community values.

“Shrimp farming may be a person’s livelihood, and that cannot be ignored,” Cramer said. “At the same time these mangrove forests help protect human lives and healthy ecosystems, and you can’t ignore that either. The good news is that when we understand the nonlinear nature of ecosystem response, some of these compromises become possible.”

The concepts being developed, the researchers said, are directly relevant to the debate over marine reserves in Oregon. The challenge there will be to balance an adequate amount of biological protection, and a careful analysis of the areas to be protected, with the needs and concerns of coastal communities, they said.

In like fashion, they said, such approaches may be relevant to many other societal debates – whether it’s health care or the preservation of protective marshes around New Orleans – in which values can be assigned to various services and compromises reached.

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Sally Hacker,
541-737-3707

OSU study identifies best method for evaluating Measure 37 claims

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study comparing three methods for evaluating Measure 37 claims finds one method to be the most practical and consistent with the spirit of the law.

William Jaeger, an Oregon State University economist, examined three methods that governments might use to evaluate Measure 37 claims. Of those methods, Jaeger reported that comparing the market value of a property before the regulation went into effect with the market value of the property after the regulation went into effect is the most practical and reliable approach.

By requiring government officials to determine whether a land use regulation has reduced a property’s value, Measure 37 imposes an enormous burden on government, according to Jaeger.

“Measure 37 asks government to know the unknowable.” Jaeger said. “It asks what would the world look like if a particular land use regulation had not been enacted or enforced? And, how would land prices in that alternative world compare to land prices in the real world?

“Since land use regulations can affect market prices for regulated lands as well as unregulated lands, and because other forces are also at work in the economy, these are not easy questions to answer,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger, an economist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, examined three methods for evaluating Measure 37 claims based on three criteria: practicality or cost, logic or reasonableness, and the rate of correct answers for a variety of scenarios.

“A ‘correct answer’ means getting the same answer if we had perfect information about the causes and effects of all the different factors affecting the economy and could separate out those related to the land-use regulation,” Jaeger said.

He reported that the “with and without” method would require sophisticated computer models to simulate a world without a specific land use regulation and compare market prices for properties in the hypothetical world—without the regulation—to those in the real world — with the regulation.

“Although this kind of analysis could be highly successful in correctly evaluating Measure 37 claims, it would be prohibitively expensive,” Jaeger concluded.

The “single exemption” method considers the effect of waiving a land use regulation on an individual property. Although practical in its approach, Jaeger found this method to be based on flawed reasoning and ignores many direct and indirect ways that land use regulations can affect the market.

“Indeed, in many cases a single exemption estimate will produce a large, exaggerated calculation of loss, precisely because land use regulations have raised the value of land,” Jaeger explained.

The “before-and-after” method compares the market value of a property before the land use regulation went into effect with the market value of the property after the land use regulation went into effect. Jaeger found this method to be both practical and based on sound reasoning. It is the method currently being used by the Portland Metro Council to evaluate Measure 37 claims; it is also the method used to illustrate and defend the reasonableness of Measure 37 before the Oregon Supreme Court.

The full report, “Three Methods for Evaluating Measure 37 Claims,” (EM 8933-E) was published by Oregon State University Extension Service and may be viewed at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/em/em8933-e.pdf

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William Jaeger,
541-737-1419
541-485-4660

OSU Launches ‘Oregon Wildlife Explorer’ Portal; Includes ‘Wildlife Viewer’

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Explorer website, publicly launched to wide acclaim last year by Oregon State University, has an expansive new wildlife portal that allows users to find out about the Oregon Conservation Strategy and access a broad range of wildlife information for areas around the state.

The new “Oregon Wildlife Explorer” portal, http://www.oregonexplorer.info/wildlife, provides a single point of access for current and historic wildlife distribution maps, wildlife photos, local wildlife plans and other information. And like the rest of Oregon Explorer, it does so in an interactive and visual way that brings those elements to life.

“The Wildlife Explorer is a great resource for all Oregonians to reference, and will be particularly valuable for students and educators,” said Peg Boulay, coordinator of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Strategy and the state wildlife grants coordinator.

“To successfully realize the benefits of the Conservation Strategy people need access to information on the species and habitats that are in need of conservation,” Boulay added.

Of immediate interest to Oregonians is a “Wildlife Viewer” that allows users to both create species lists for different places in Oregon and learn about individual species. “With the Wildlife Viewer, people can learn about the wildlife in their backyards or anywhere in the state,” said Jimmy Kagan, information program manager for the Oregon University System’s Institute for Natural Resources, which is based at OSU.

The wildlife data was developed by Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center at the INR and thus far includes information for more than 400 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in Oregon.

OSU Libraries and the INR worked in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to create the new portal. The ODFW’s State Wildlife Grants program funded the project. The grant funds are provided to states by Congress through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oregon Explorer is a natural resources digital library that enables users to quickly find, retrieve, integrate and synthesize geo-referenced information through a series of geographic and topic-based web portals. It has earned praise for the breadth and depth of information it makes available in ways that engage users ranging from school children to government and private industry professionals.

The Oregon Explorer website can be accessed at www.oregonexplorer.info

About the Oregon Conservation Strategy: The Oregon Conservation Strategy offers a proactive blueprint for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, conservation groups, and representatives from forestry, agriculture, and rangelands. To learn more about the Oregon Conservation Strategy, please contact Meg Kenagy, ODFW, Conservation Strategy Communications Coordinator, (503) 947-6021.

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Jimmy Kagan,
503-731-3070

Workshop Offers Information on Healthy Air in Homes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A community workshop on “Healthy Air – Healthy Homes” will be held Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the meeting room of the Corvallis Public Library.

The event, sponsored by the Environmental Health Sciences Center at Oregon State University, will offer area residents an opportunity to learn about air quality hazards commonly found in homes, such as mold, carbon monoxide, and harmful chemicals. It will begin with refreshments at 5:30 p.m., and a workshop and activities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The presentation is free and open to the public and will focus on low-cost, simple changes people can take to improve the air in their homes.

“This will help inform people about sources of air hazards in the home and the health problems, such as asthma and allergies, which can be related to them,” said Sandra Uesugi, program coordinator of community outreach for the Environmental Health Sciences Center. “It’s a fun and casual presentation, and everyone will receive a guide and resources to take home.”

More information on the event can be found online at http://www.ehsc.orst.edu/outreach, or by calling 541-737-8105. The Corvallis Public Library is at 645 N.W. Monroe Ave.

The program is funded in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the HOPE Partnership.

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Sandra Uesugi,
541-737-4374

Rapid Change in Ecosystems Challenges Species Surviva

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In a laboratory at Oregon State University, some giant water bugs are swimming happily in a small aquarium – the sole survivors of a population that had survived for thousands of years in a mountain stream near Tucson, Ariz., but during a severe 2004 drought went locally extinct.

These water bugs are similar, but not genetically identical, to many others in that region, and by themselves represent no ecological catastrophe. But conceptually, they are part of what ecologists fear may become far more common in the near future – species or populations that struggle and sometimes disappear because they cannot keep pace with rapidly changing climate or ecosystem conditions.

A recently published study on this phenomenon outlines how many species have a surprising ability to adapt to, evolve with and even depend on very different climatic and ecological conditions – cycles of fire, flood, drought or other events – but sometimes simply cannot survive if the changes are too rapid or unpredictable.

“The more we study natural disturbance regimes, it becomes clear that species can adapt if the disturbances are consistent and take place over a long enough period of time,” said David Lytle, an entomologist and OSU assistant professor of zoology. “But the key question is the pace and speed of evolutionary change, and whether the species can keep up. In many cases, we are now finding that they cannot.”

The findings, Lytle said, are relevant to everything from waterbugs in desert streams to salmon in the Pacific Northwest and thousands of species in between, both aquatic and terrestrial. The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society – B.

In this research, scientists examined the behavior and survival of a giant water bug, Abedus herberti, in the Sky Islands mountain ranges of southern Arizona, where isolated populations of these flightless aquatic insects have lived for tens of thousands of years. The insects have evolved the ability to use rainfall as a cue and leave the streams during major flooding events, escaping destruction.

However, some of the separated populations lived in canyons where flash floods were often caused by distant storms, which provided no warning that a flash flood was coming. The research found that they would get periodically wiped out by these floods and have to slowly re-populate the area.

“Where the insects had any type of indicator that floods were imminent, such as heavy rain, they had evolved a behavior to deal with it,” Lytle said. “But where the events were just too sudden and unpredictable, they periodically just got wiped out.”

This is one of the first studies that has documented a species’ ability to adapt to threatening circumstances, given adequate cues and enough evolutionary time, Lytle said. It also points out the vulnerability of species to unpredictable or rapidly changing events, even if they have been happening for thousands of years.

The implications, he said, may hit fairly close to home in Oregon if a warming climate causes more winter precipitation to fall as rain, instead of snow, as has been predicted.

“Many Oregon aquatic species have evolved over thousands or millions of years to expect certain types of events, such as summer droughts and spring floods due to snowmelt,” Lytle said. “If these systems change fairly suddenly, it’s reasonable to believe there will be some widespread ecological impacts. You would expect that some species will not be able to keep pace, and may become at least locally extinct.”

The drought that destroyed the water bug population in Arizona’s French Joe Canyon, Lytle said, appeared to be as severe as anything in hundreds of years. It’s not certain what the underlying cause of the dried-up streams were, he said, but climate change and declining groundwater levels due to human water use are reasonable suspects.

Salmon, Lytle said, are another species whose ecology – spawning, emergence from larval stage, migration - is closely tied to predictable water flow events. At least one factor in their decline could clearly be the increasingly unpredictable and changing nature of Pacific Northwest stream systems, he said. And many terrestrial species could be affected by such things as the changing fire regimes in Pacific Northwest forests, he said.

In earlier research, OSU studies have also found that the link between disturbance events and species survival is so tight that many species depend on these disturbances – whether they are periodic floods, windstorms, or droughts – as part of their basic ecology and survival. Changes in those disturbance events can open to the door to invasive species with different ecological requirements, the research showed.

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David Lytle,
541-737-1068

Oregon’s Reputation, Climate Change Drawing Students to New Master’s Program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A growing number of students drawn by Oregon’s reputation as a trend-setter in policy decisions are enrolling in Oregon State University’s Master of Public Policy program – one of the few such programs in the West.

Student interest in climate change and other environmental issues have prompted the OSU program to add a special concentration in science policy, says Brent Steel, a professor of political science who directs the program.

“Oregon is where it’s at in terms of environmental policy,” Steel said, “and the state’s reputation is definitely drawing students – not only nationally, but internationally. Whether it’s owl wars, salmon wars, Measure 37, or some other conflict, there have been some compelling public policy issues in the state.”

This is the sixth year OSU has offered the Master of Public Policy program, which it modeled after a similar program at Harvard University. While many other universities offer a degree in public administration, the OSU program focuses specifically on policy design and the research that supports the design. It is the only program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

Because of interest in politics and the environment, however, public policy degrees are one of the fastest-growing areas of interest nationally among college students, Steel said.

“One of the goals of the program – and of students – is to learn how to inject science into the policy process,” he pointed out. “To effect change on the ground, you have to create ‘useable’ knowledge that can be utilized by the public, by resource managers and by other decision-makers. Typically our graduates become policy analysts or research analysts in the public or non-profit sectors.

“The potential for students to get involved in areas of personal interest, which have far-reaching policy implications, is unlimited,” Steel added. “OSU’s research enterprise, coupled with Oregon being on the cutting edge of environmental change, has spawned a lot of interest from students in everything from biofuels to wave energy.”

There are 34 master’s level students in OSU’s Master of Public Policy program and the quality and diversity of applicants improves every year, Steel said.

“We have five international students who were drawn to OSU because of the growing reputation of our program and because of the state of Oregon, including one student who turned down the number one program in the country to come here, and another who chose us over a top-five program,” Steel said. “If you look at the Graduate Record Exams and the grade point averages of entering students, we’re definitely in the top 10 percent nationally.”

Students in the Master of Public Policy program have the opportunity to work with faculty in a variety of related OSU units, including the Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative, the Institute for Water and Watersheds, the Marine Resource Management Program, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Institute for Natural Resources, and OSU’s Land Grant, Sea Grant and Sun Grant programs.

The students are required to do an internship, Steel noted, and many are engaged in projects that are affecting real people in significant ways.

“Two of our students are working with (OSU sociologist) Mark Edwards on a project analyzing homeless youths in southern Oregon, two others are working on a Ford Family Foundation project with (OSU economist) Bruce Weber studying how to help struggling rural counties, and another is designing an outreach program with OSU Extension to encourage Latino students to pursue higher education,” Steel said.

“We also have several students involved with established agencies and organizations, including the United Nations, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Governor’s Office,” he added.

The new science policy concentration will allow students to design some of their own curriculum revolving around a core of issues including technology, ethics, history of science, philosophy of science, and scientific controversy.

“There’s no shortage of issues, especially in Oregon, that touch upon ethics, controversy and technology,” Steel said with a laugh.

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Brent Steel,
541-737-2811

Search Begins for Director of New OUS Climate Research Institute

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national search has begun for the first director of the new Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, established in 2007 by the Oregon Legislature to help the state better plan for and respond to issues relating to climate change.

The new entity, an Oregon University System institute, will be administered by Oregon State University – where it will be physically located – and its institutional partners within OUS.

Among the missions of the new Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, or OCCRI, are to:

    Facilitate research by Oregon University System faculty on climate change and its effects on natural and human systems in Oregon;
    Serve as a clearinghouse for Oregon decision-makers on climate change information;
    Provide climate change information to the public in integrated and accessible formats;
    Support the new Oregon Global Warming Commission in developing strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change;
    Provide technical assistance to local governments to assist them in developing climate change policies, practices and programs.

Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, said the new director will provide leadership for coordinating the vast faculty climate change expertise within the Oregon University System as well as identifying the state’s research and information needs.

“Climate change is much more than just a scientific challenge,” said Abbott, who co-chaired the Climate Change Integration Group for Gov. Ted Kulongoski and has been named vice-chair of the state’s new Oregon Global Warming Commission. “The issues associated with it have significant policy implications, as well as impacts on social well-being and economic development. The director of this new institute will play a key role in helping prepare Oregon for climate change as well as identifying economic opportunities.”

A search committee has begun the process of identifying candidates for the position, which it hopes to fill by early summer. Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at OSU, is chairing the committee, which includes representatives from five different Oregon University System institutions and Oregon Health & Science University.

The new director will have an academic appointment within the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, and bring to the job a track record of professional achievement in a climate-related field, and demonstrated leadership and success in working with a variety of state and federal agencies, industry and others. A Ph.D. in a climate-related field is required.

Faculty in a variety of fields from throughout the Oregon University System will collaborate with the new institute and develop new research partnerships to help the state and the private sector meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change. The Oregon Climate Service, which is based at OSU, will provide the data collection and distribution services of the new institute. The manager of the OCS, George Taylor, will report to the director of the institute.

“George Taylor’s work in collecting and distributing weather data that helps Oregon farmers, ranchers, fishermen and others is absolutely first-rate and will continue,” Abbott said.

The new institute director and Taylor will share the duties usually assumed by a state climatologist, Abbott said, although neither will formally hold that title. The institute director will lead the research function of a state climatologist and represent Oregon at relevant conferences; Taylor will provide the supporting mapping and data services.

Abbott said the new director will join the institute in the summer of 2008.

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Mark Abbott,
541-737-5195

When it Comes to Baseball, It’s All About the Weather

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When the defending national champion Oregon State University baseball team takes to the field on April 5 against the USC Trojans in Goss Stadium, there’s about a 50-50 chance that it won’t rain that day.

And, with a great deal of luck, it might even be shorts and T-shirt weather.

The Oregon Climate Service at OSU is helping Beaver baseball fans plan for the season by maintaining a calendar complete with weather data and even a forecast that will be printed 4-5 days before each game. It was created by Cadee Hale, an associate at the OCS.

“The interest in baseball at OSU has really grown during the past couple of years and it went through the roof last season with the national championship,” said George Taylor, who manages the Oregon Climate Service. “Unfortunately, spring weather in Oregon isn’t always classic baseball weather, so this is a kind of fun, and hopefully helpful, way to share some of our data with fans.”

Taylor has been sharing weather forecasts with OSU baseball coach Pat Casey and his staff for the last few years. He’ll give them warning when storm fronts and opening pitches are on a collision course, or when spring squalls look like they’ll bypass Goss Stadium. Taylor will even sit in the press box and watch the Doppler radar to see if it is about to start or stop raining.

For the record, April 5 in Corvallis boasts an average temperature of 59.4 degrees, with a record high of 82 and a 51 percent probability of precipitation some time during that 24 hours. The probability of rain falling during the game is lower. The Oregon Climate Service will post the actual forecast by Monday of that week.

To see the calendar, visit the Oregon Climate Service at: http://www.ocs.oregonstate.edu/index.html and click on “OSU Baseball Weather.”

For more on OSU baseball, visit http://oregonstate.edu/athletics/ and click on “baseball.”

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George Taylor,
541-737-5694

Students in Free Enterprise develop reusable water bottles for competition

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University chapter of Students in Free Enterprise took third place in a new competition for waste management and was recognized at the 2009 SIFE National Exposition held recently in Philadelphia.

The contest, sponsored by Waste Management, was in the Environmental Sustainability Competition, part of the Topic and Special Competitions, a new award category introduced in the 2008-09 academic year.

A total of 107 teams from colleges and universities around the nation competed in the waste management topic competition where the OSU team presented a sustainability project called Think!BLUE, a student-run business that sells reusable water bottles to raise awareness about water-related issues and discourages the use of disposable water bottles.

The teams were judged on how effectively each measured and demonstrated that it helped others to make environmentally sustainable personal and business decisions. Judging criteria included market economics, success kills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, environment sustainability and business ethics. The final criterion was program sustainability, which encompasses a team’s entire program.

Heading the OSU student project were Kelly Fitzpatrick, a sophomore in accounting and finance, and Kim Pendergrass, a sophomore in marketing and art history. “We are very proud and excited of the progress that we have made in just a short amount of time,” said Fitzpatrick.

Pendergrass said Think!BLUE is planning to expand its product line and establish an online presence soon. She added the OSU team plans to return to the competition next year with more projects to help build national recognition.

Profits from the bottle project go toward teaching sustainability and carbon footprint reduction to middle school students in the Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program. Sandy Neubaum, associate director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program at OSU and the club faculty adviser, said her students aren’t just looking to make money, “but give back as much as they make.”

Students in Free Enterprise is a non-profit social entrepreneurship club devoted to making a positive, sustainable difference in the global community.

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Sandy Neubaum, 541-713-8042

'Ten Commandments' Could Improve Fisheries Management

SAN FRANCISCO – Poorly managed marine fisheries are in trouble around the world, researchers say, while ecosystem-based management is a powerful idea that in theory could help ensure sustainable catches - but too often there’s a gap in translating broad concepts into specific action in the oceans that successfully meets these larger goals.

To address that, Mark Hixon, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, today modified a very old set of rules and issued “Ten Commandments” for ecosystem-based fisheries science, in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Co-authors on the report include Robert Francis, a professor of fisheries at the University of Washington, and three biologists in the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The first commandment – what they call the basis for all the others – is to keep a perspective that is holistic, precautionary and adaptive, Hixon said.

“We must consider whole systems, we must fish with more caution, and we must learn by testing new approaches,” Hixon said. “Instead of talking about ecosystem management, we refer to ‘ecosystem-based’ management, because it’s misguided to think that we can totally understand or completely control entire marine ecosystems.”

However, a great deal is already known that could form the basis for broad actions that would greatly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of marine management, Hixon said, and it’s not really even a question of funding – many of the necessary steps could be done within the context of existing knowledge, approaches, and regulatory mechanisms.

“As much as anything, the real challenge here is changing our world view,” Hixon said. “We must accept the need for change in how we approach fishery science and management. There are still many people who think we can accomplish our goals in the oceans by managing one species at a time, if we just do it right. But the weight of the evidence is now showing that only consideration of entire ecosystems will succeed in the long run.”

Even on a single Pacific Northwest topic such as salmon management, Hixon said, the reality is that a successful approach must consider dams, terrestrial water quality, forest management, spawning habitat, marine food sources and predators, changing ocean conditions and global climate change.

“This may sound overwhelming, but given the right mindset, many ecosystem-based tools are ready to go,” Hixon said. “That’s why my colleagues and I developed these action items to help get things moving in the right direction.”

Their “second commandment” is to question every assumption, no matter how basic it is or what the conventional wisdom suggests. For instance, Hixon considers the traditional fishery goal of “maximum sustainable yield,” which has been in place for decades, to be a flawed concept. A better approach is careful monitoring of catch characteristics to assess whether fish stocks are being sustained.

Among the other commandments:

  • Maintain an “old growth” structure in fish populations, since big, old and fat female fish have been shown to be the best spawners, but are also susceptible to overfishing.
  • Characterize and maintain the natural spatial structure of fish stocks, so that management boundaries match natural boundaries in the sea.
  • Monitor and maintain seafloor habitats to make sure fish have food and shelter.
  • Maintain resilient ecosystems that are able to withstand occasional shocks.
  • Identify and maintain critical food-web connections, including predators and forage species.
  • Adapt to ecosystem changes through time, both short-term and on longer cycles of decades or centuries, including global climate change.
  • Account for evolutionary changes caused by fishing, which tends to remove large, older fish.
  • Include the actions of humans and their social and economic systems in all ecological equations.

Nowhere in the world are all of these “commandments” being followed perfectly, Hixon said, although more progress has been made in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council – the Alaska fisheries – than in many other places. Not coincidentally, those fisheries are comparatively very healthy and hugely productive.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages Washington, Oregon and California marine fisheries, is about at the same place as the rest of the U.S. on these topics, Hixon said – just getting started.

“It would be nice to say that we’re a lot further along, but it was just recently that the council even adopted a definition of ecosystem-based management,” Hixon said. “But I’m seeing a lot of positive attitudes and approaches by many people that give cause for optimism. This approach can work, and we just have to get moving with it.”

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Mark Hixon,
541-737-5364