“infrastructure” spending on salmon habitat?

When the economy goes into the crapper — like it has over the past couple of years — governments begin mass bail-out programs. There was the un-imaginably massive TARP program of the U.S. to bail-out big banks (who should have known better; they do employ the world’s smartest economists don’t they…?) — how much is $700 billion, really?

There have been various bail-outs of auto manufacturers (who were far past due for a crisis). And now in Europe, Greece is being bailed-out by the European Union. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men are trying to put Hump… I mean, Iceland back together again.

In Canada, we are bombarded daily with the Conservatives, whoops, I mean federal government’s various advertisements for Canada’s Economic Action Plan. (All those “shovel-ready” projects does make me wonder what we’re shoveling…).

Over $7 billion in infrastructure, over $3 billion in apparent tax relief (I do wonder though, in BC, if this apparent tax relief ends out in a net-gain with the HST kicking in?). And there’s the $2.2 billion invested in “industries and communities” — somewhat of an oxymoronic statement these days…

Regardless of my cynicism on the subject; I’m sure that some of this funding is helping some Canadians, somewhere — especially the construction companies building bridges and upgrading roads. In northern BC, the Premier recently announced it will be the busy road construction season ever — isn’t that appealing to anyone driving down to Vancouver this summer, or a tourist heading north, or an average BC family on a road trip for summer vacation? (I know I love nothing more than being stuck in a hundred car line-up, in 30-degree weather, with three kids in the back seat, with more “how-long-till-we-get-there’s?” then vehicles waiting in the line-up…)

Paradoxically… when salmon runs go into the crapper, do governments immediately jumping in with Salmon Action and Recovery Plans?

At times in the past, we have; somewhat.

The old Fisheries and Oceans Habitat Conservation and Stewardship Program (HCSP) combined with the Habitat Restoration and Salmon Enhancement Program (HRSEP) of the late 1990s. In the neighborhood of $100 million invested in salmon initiatives throughout BC and the Yukon. Sad thing, it only lasted five years, one salmon life cycle.

Presently, though, following the worst returns of Fraser River sockeye in history?

We get another $20 million “public inquiry” — Cohen Commission — that is shaping up to be about as “public” as Elizabeth Taylor’s next wedding — which is apparently upcoming, her ninth. Sure you can send Liz a letter to congratulate her, but will she actually read it?

Or, we get from the Pacific Salmon Commission the joint U.S.- Canada organization responsible for implementing the Pacific Salmon Treaty — a press release about the Restoration and Enhancement Funds:

As you are aware the continuing global financial crisis has had a significantly negative effect on Fund investments and the financial position of the Fund. Given the prolonged volatility in the stock markets, the Northern and Southern Fund Committees are not yet prepared to announce a Call for Proposals for 2010.

Like you, we are disappointed by these developments, which clearly are beyond our control. However, by applying sound investment principles and adhering to our investment policies, we are confident that we will see the present circumstances turn around.

Is it me, or does this sound suspiciously like the great movement afoot to try and blame salmon declines on changing ocean conditions and climate change — things which are “clearly beyond our control”?

Choosing to invest $75 million and $65 million in Northern and Southern Restoration and Enhancement Funds, respectively — into stock markets is inviting disaster — in other words: fully within one’s control. I could be reading a little further into the statement then need be, however, my experience with “sound investment principles” is not to put significant amounts of money only into the stock market. (but maybe that’s just me).

The Agreement for these funds apparently: “stipulates that ‘annual expenditures shall not exceed the annual earnings from the invested principal’ of the funds, a provision that essentially makes them permanent endowment funds.”

By my rough calculations, if the funds earned a respectable 3-5% annually by investing in things like GICs and other stable investments outside of the stock market, that means there could be a potential $2.3 – $3.75 million available on an annual basis (minus some admin. costs).

Hmmm?

In, my experience with the HCSP and HRSEP program of the late 1990s… I worked with a community group on Haida Gwaii utilizing simple habitat rehabilitation techniques — almost all with hand tools and hard labour — on twenty small streams, all with decent historic populations of chum and coho salmon. Almost all the streams had seen over 80% of their watershed area clearcut logged. This meant substantially more water reaching the stream course after every rain storm (Haida Gwaii is a pretty wet place — it rains over 300 days of the year on average). And all of the streams had seen substantial declines in chum and coho — some streams down to their last few pairs of genetically distinct spawning coho.

Every summer for three years, a crew of at least six of us would slog away in these creeks — pulling in old logs, building rock weirs to catch gravel for spawning platforms, stabilizing eroding stream banks, and so on. The crew was comprised of commercial fisherfolks that basically saw no fishing openings anymore, loggers out of work, and at least two students home for the summer. These folks would get at least six weeks of solid work, plus another three or four folks would keep working on other various projects through most of the year — stream assessment, counting spawners, hatchery work, etc.

Fantastic, meaningful work, that for a large part is actually making a difference in many of those streams — to this day.

What if we carved the smallest piece out of that $7 billion in infrastructure spending as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan — and put it into salmon habitat “infrastructure”? Say $100 million? – what is that: about 1%?

Put that $100 million into coastal and inland communities intimately connected to salmon populations. How many people could that employ? And just imagine the positive “social capital” that would result as people actually felt like they’re making a difference for crashing salmon populations — hands in streams, feet in creeks… as opposed to, for example, putting faith in a $20 million “public inquiry” run by legal-advocates, in downtown Vancouver, who will simply be writing a list of recommendations, for one species of salmon, on one BC river

If we really want to “conserve” wild salmon in BC — what are we willing to pay? What are we willing to do?

Would investing in THE totemic fish species of B.C. also have a positive economic impact?

Should wild salmon be part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan?

2 thoughts on ““infrastructure” spending on salmon habitat?

  1. Shirley Kricheldorf

    Hello Dave,

    Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your articles. I loved working with Kimiko at Haida Gwaii Marine Group and was always impressed by the Streamkeepers’ work and all those restoring salmon habitat. It was sad to see that funding go. We could use those types of job on-island right now for sure. Perhaps you should send this to Nathan Cullen or Gary Coons and others that might be able to influence both the provincial and federal governments to do something like this again on the coast.
    Keep up the great writing.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    Much appreciated Shirley — thanks for the note, and I’ll take your suggestion and forward this along to Nathan and Gary.
    Best wishes to you, family, and others that were close to Kimiko — she was one heck of a strong voice in the Marine Resources Group and other organizations. I remember her early days arriving the islands assisting with coordination of the HRSEP funding, Fisheries Renewal, etc.

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the posts; I’m having a lot of fun emptying my head of years of salmon-thoughts. And, yes, totally agree — that sort of funding can do wonders for coastal communities that are reeling from all sides these days. Maybe a little less focus on multi-laning highways and a little more focus on rehabilitating our surrounding environments… (just a thought).

    thanks again.

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