I spent this morning in an ocean policy listening session at Portland State University. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chief Jane Lubchenco headlined a panel on the country’s first ocean policy, which President Obama approved last year.
Lubchenco described the policy as “a framework for people across the U.S. to come together and … find a way to keep oceans healthy while keeping the economy strong.”
Obama’s executive order set in motion a National Ocean Council and a strategic plan that’s now up for public review. Hence, the “listening session,” which seemed to consist more of the public listening to officials than the other way around.
But as the talks drew on, it became abundantly clear that none of the officials expected such a big turnout. The house was packed (roughly 100 people by my count). And, as NOAA organizers noted, on the Friday before the three-day Fourth of July weekend no less!
“It is exciting to see so many of you in the room,” said organizer Kris Wall of NOAA.
“I’m really pleased with the turnout here. It is spectacular,” Lubchenco said.
Eileen Sobeck, deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Department of the Interior, said the Portland session drew more people than any of the other 11 listening sessions around the country.
Why such a big turnout here? Maybe, as U.S. Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Wash.) and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) both noted, it’s because Oregon and Washington are “leaders” in ocean policy.
The Pacific Northwest has already made inroads on key goals set out in the national ocean policy, the congressmen said. Oregon, in particular, has a Territorial Sea Plan guiding new development in the ocean, marine reserves roping off protected fish habitat, and a process for scoping out wave energy potential off the coast.
“Oregon’s already a leader in marine spatial planning,” said Schrader. “We’ve made great strides in this area already. We’re also working on establishing marine reserves. This means, I think, for a little federal investment you get a lot of bang for the buck. We can deliver much faster results than some of the other groups that are just now geting involved.”
“Oregon and Washington area really in front — they’re models for the country,” said Ranker, who sits on the National Ocean Council. “While the president’s executive order says we should do this throughout the country, the reality is there are some bright shining lights that could be models of success. Oregon and Washington are two of I would say five states in the country that can demonstrate succes for the president’s national ocean policy and coastal spatial planning.”
A cornerstone of the national policy is the establishment of nine regional ocean planning bodies, charged with mapping out a future course for protecting the ocean ecosystem while allowing economic prosperity.
Lubchenco said the plain aims for “regionally based, bottom-up decisionmaking for coastal and ocean management.”
Only trouble is nobody knows yet who will be representing Oregon and Washington on the West Coast board. Those appointments won’t be made until the fall, according to Alisa Praskovich, ocean policy advisor for the National Ocean Council.
As with many strategic planning documents, the ocean planning goals are broad and optimistic. They include tackling some major environmental issues including:
- reducing habitat and water quality degradation from coastal development
- forecasting and preparing for climate change, including ocean acidification and sea-level rise
- reducing invasive species and replacing lost coral reefs
- studying dead zones to prevent mass fish kills and lost coral reefs
- reducing trash and marine debris
- reducing public health risks from water pollution
- studying, monitoring and mapping the ocean
- saving the Arctic from the consequences of massive ice and permafrost melt-off
- managing the entire ocean ecosystem instead of just single species or activities
- planning for sustainable use and long-term stewardship of the ocean, the coasts and the great lakes
Now, who wants to help build a more specific plan for the West Coast?