if not now; when?

Been a bit of a jump this week in website traffic… appears that a few posts have some feathers ruffled. I hope they’re not the feathers of a spotted owl…

“Brutal” apparently one of the quotes. “Twisting information” another.

Fair enough… we are all welcome to our opinions; and I don’t tend to hold these against folks. Discussion, debate, and even a little conflict can be a good thing; actually, it’s often a good thing — as long as it’s constructive, respectful, and fairly managed. Things don’t change in a household when all is fine and dandy; things generally change after some conflict or turmoil.

Remember the old bumper sticker (or t-shirt)  from a few years back: “save a tree, wipe your ass with an owl“. This in reference to the northern spotted owl decision of the 1990s when the owl was listed under endangered species legislation after a court injunction. As a result, logging — especially on the Olympic Peninsula and other areas of Washington and Oregon States — had to change significantly to protect the few remaining owls and their habitat.

Loggers, various communities, unions, economists and so on — raged and cried foul. This would destroy the Northwest; people would lose jobs, go homeless and so on.

One study estimated that an owl recovery plan that increased the survival odds to 91 percent for a population of about 1,600 to 2,400 owl pairs would decrease economic welfare by $33 billion (1990 dollars), with a disproportionate share of the losses borne by the regional producers of intermediate wood products, a relatively small segment of the population (Montgomery et al. 1994)

The book Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner suggests:

Consider the effort to save the northern spotted owl from extinction. One economic study found that in order to protect roughly five thousand owls, the opportunity costs – that is, the income surrendered by the logging industry and others – would be $46 billion, or just over $9 million per owl.

Those are some pretty huge dollars — all for a few feathers and puff. Seems though that Levitt and Dubner appear to have taken a few numbers out of context.

The actual fact of the matter was that the timber industry of the Northwest states was already on a downward spiral. A century of hardcore logging, growing populations, and strong export economy had left many a hillside bare with many years needed for regrowth to be marketable. Economically, a study recently published by the University of Washington suggests that: “Spotted Owl Had Little Effect on Olympic Peninsula Poverty, Unemployment…

Annabel Kirschner, a professor in the Department of Community and Rural Sociology at Washington State University, said the peninsula’s economic well-being was already hit hard by changes in the timber industry when harvest limits in spotted owl habitat began in the 1990s. More than timber limits, the industry restructuring continued to affect poverty in the ‘90s. Meanwhile, according to Kirschner’s statistical analysis, Native American and Latino populations were significant and often overlooked factors in the peninsula’s poverty and unemployment.

Kirschner said much of the “jobs versus the environment” debate was based on “export-based” economic theory, which assumes rural communities succeed and grow by exporting their natural resources. However, she said, forest industry technology had grown so sophisticated that it was providing fewer jobs and investments in local communities. Meanwhile, service industries, increasing education levels, a near doubling of commuting opportunities and retirement incomes helped mitigate the forest industry’s decline in the ‘90s.

The other day an avid sport fishing colleague of mine emailed me some thoughts on this Chinook discussion and debate and I think it was about dead-on (with some parallels with spotted owls).

Boils down to “absolutes” vs. “allowances”:

DFO and the Wild Salmon Policy are all about ‘trade-offs’ acceptable to society…..so while DFO will try to look like they are protecting a depressed/endangered stock like early Fraser chinoook….they’re really just minimizing any further damage while trying not to negatively impact all other activities (like sport fishing & commercial fishing in this case). At best they might target some regional closures, or size limits, etc — ostensibly aimed at reducing impact on this early Fraser chinook stock…….And the over-arching goal is to keep the political harassment from all sides down to a tolerable level…

…I would probably venture to say the catch of these fish being caught in various sport fisheries up and down the coast is just ‘one of those things’. Too large a constituency to close the coast for between 5-10k chinook. Plus, I guess there is a real logistical/statistical problem too: if there are so few of the fish the odds of a fishermen off Langara Island [or in Juan de Fuca] taking one is pretty damn small….How do you justify to that guy he’s closed down because he might catch one of a few thousand depressed fish from way down south?? Pretty hard to do.

…When you question managers about this apparent contradiction in policy versus implementation the term ‘allowance’ sneaks out once in a while….definitely not in emails (they have learned their lesson from the 2006/2007 FOI’s). This bycatch is an ‘allowance’ afforded the commercial fleet [or sport fisheries] in order for them to conduct their business……if there was no ‘allowances’….things would come to a grinding halt.

And the most telling comment, that I fully agree with and thus my ongoing riffs and rants: “DFO has all the policy needed or required to save salmon; however they rarely go to the full extent available.” I might go one step further, and suggest never go to the extent required.

If they did, we would then hear the tirades of how much this will cost local economies and so on… My question is always: “if not now; when?”

There are far too many examples on the coast of BC of waiting too long to take real action, making real changes, and thus avoiding the inevitable: Sea otters, whales, rockfish, abalone, commercial salmon fisheries, logging industry, and so on…

And so if in this avoidance of absolutes (avoiding full fisheries shutdown to protect endangered populations) and making allowances (we catch so few that our impact is negligible, thus leave us alone — which avoids the reality that most Chinook populations across BC are in trouble with the exception of a few norther rivers) we are only delaying the inevitable. With so many things, if we delay the inevitable we only slide that much further down slippery slopes, which are that much tougher to clamber and slither back up…

(apologies I’m a bit of a cynic on salmon recovery in the current climate — policy, politically, and physically. Until we put millions of dollars – if not a billion – into habitat rehabilitation and protection — things won’t improve much).

(ghad knows the U.S. is looking at a trillion dollar deficit this year… what is that?… with $700 billion for rehabilitating banks alone)

It”s tough times for salmon, which means hard decisions, brave action, and get out your wallet.

If not now; when?

(side note: I welcome comments on this website — especially if you’re not in agreement. That’s the only way that understanding can be sought. Not necessarily agreement…)

One thought on “if not now; when?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *