Two of President Obama’s top environmental leaders were in Portland Tuesday, listening to the Northwest’s best science and policy minds. They were meeting about how to recover threatened salmon.
The closed-door drew some demonstrators outside, as well as tribal, state, and federal officials, inside.
But as Rob Manning reports, there’s little indication yet, of how federal salmon policy on the Columbia River might change.
The backdrop to the meeting is a court case over threatened Northwest salmon: fishing and environmental groups, the state of Oregon, and Nez Perce on one side; the feds, and several other Northwest states and tribes, on the other.
Jane Lubchenco called the meetings. She’s the new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a former marine scientists at Oregon State University.
Officials say she wants to listen to regional experts so she can decide whether to alter the salmon plans currently in dispute before Portland Judge James Redden.
Only tribal and state leaders were on the meeting’s guest lists. Fish activists rallied outside. Marty Sherman is a sport-fishing advocate who wanted to be inside.
Marty Sherman: “Well, I think, what I would say, my understanding is the best science shows that removing those four lower Snake River dams is the best way to bring those salmon and steelhead runs back.”
According to at least one observer who was inside, scientists only briefly discussed the Snake dams.
Commercial and sport fishermen weren’t the only ones annoyed at the way the meetings were put together.
The Yakama Tribe differs with fishing groups on the Snake River dam issue and is on the opposite side in the court case. But Yakama leaders criticized their federal allies Tuesday because they were given short notice about the meetings. They also criticized the narrow focus.
And the Yakama were allowed inside the hotel where the meetings were held.
As for the discussions themselves – they had a certain “inkblot-test” quality. Observers may have seen what they wanted to see.
Ed Bowles heads the fish division at Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Oregon has argued in the case now before Judge Redden that the current salmon plan isn’t supported by science. He says that was upheld in the talks.
Ed Bowles: “From my perspective, having a frank discussion with some of the scientists is very helpful. The key will be to have that science brought out in an unfettered atmosphere, that’s not constrained by some of the policy positions.”
Bowles says scientists underscored conflicts between what technical advisors said about the recovery prospects for fish, and what the federal plan said.
But Army Corps of Engineers’ spokesman, Rock Peters, disagrees with Bowles’ assessment. He says the science arguments have been made before.
Rock Peters: “I think it’s consistent, it’s nothing we haven’t heard, they’re just now presenting them to the new administration.”
The new administration isn’t done gathering information from various experts. Wednesday, Jane Lubchenco plans to tour the Lower Monumental dam – one of the controversial dams on the Lower Snake River. Sport fishing advocate Marty Sherman says he thinks that’s a good sign.
Marty Sherman: “She’s out there looking at it, I think that’s an improvement. The fact that she’s from the Pacific Northwest, I think makes her aware of the situation out here. I trust that she’s probably a good scientist, will look at the research.”
After Lubchenco’s tour of the Snake River dam, Wednesday, she’ll visit Seattle, Thursday. Then she’ll fly back to her new home, in Washington, D-C. Lubchenco has suggested she’ll announce the new administration’s approach by the end of June.