Umpqua Watersheds Blog


Restoration Update

Published June 18th, 2019 in Restoration

Restoration Committee……Stan Petrowski

Day after day we hear reports of ecosystem failures and species loss. Anyone that spends time in nature is fully aware that our ecosystems are changing and degrading at a rapid pace. Meanwhile many millions of dollars, from the various State and Federal tax sources, and restoration/conservation institutions is being spent in a desperate effort to stop the loss of biological diversity. Certainly there are success stories and exciting responses to some of these efforts but what is the scope and scale of this effort and what are the actual results?

Let’s begin with one example for review to set the context with which to understand what is going on. The Bonneville 2018 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program Costs Report tells us that very near one half of a billion dollars was spent in 2018 to address the adverse impact of the Columbia river dam system on the natural world by BPA. Those dollars are derived directly and indirectly from the public in the form of grants from government agencies (tax dollars), power user expenses (electric bills) and loans. Given so much of an investment by the public in restoration efforts, what level of success can we see? The Columbia River once supported a Chinook fish run averaging eleven million fish. This figure is based on salmon canary records from the early nineteenth century. Since the beginning of its effort in 2007 to address just the Chinook run collapse as well as other fish and wildlife species losses BPA has spent close to 8.2 billion dollars. In their most successful year to date 250 thousand Chinook have returned!

Why am I bringing this up?

We all know that when the Northern Spotted Owl was noted to be on the verge of extinction that it was seen as a symptom of environmental mismanagement. As a result, the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was put into place to stem the tide of species extinction, not just spotted owls, but other species dependent on the same ecosystem. Now, over 20 years have gone by and the owl is still in decline. Habitat degradation is still taking place. We, as concerned citizens, have been relying on the agencies and relevant departments within them to deal with the problem. We collectively pay dearly for it in tax dollars. Why is a restorative effort failing? We may have slowed down the pace of destruction in some sectors but the system as it presently operates isn’t working.

There are two main reasons for this. One on the list is our own lack of the sense of ownership of the problem. It doesn’t matter what sector in life we operate in. We should not abdicate our awareness of responsibility and ownership of the current situation entirely to others. Agencies alone are not the answer. Even though agencies are staffed with experts. Even though they are professionally trained to do what needs to be done. It is an enormous error to rely strictly on them alone to do the work. Yes, they are mandated to stem the tide of species diversity loss that we are experiencing. That does not take away the onus of active engagement with which we, as individuals must be involved. We must be self-educated. And we must act as people of place and as agency partners. We must each individually intervene in the current species decline. It is important for us to become aware of what is going on ecologically where we live and work and to do something about it. Both individually and collectively in the communities in which we dwell.

The second tangential reason is the politic of economies. Don’t be deceived. We are in the fix that we are in because of greed and ignorance. Our concept of the resilience of nature has been molded by our ignorance and willful misuse of nature and how it functions.

I’ve heard many people tell me that God has given us dominion over the earth. I would agree, in as much as it is understood that we are an apex predator species with the capacity to thrust the entire planet into oblivion. That can happen quickly by one button pressed at the wrong time or slowly by the gradual consumption and maltreatment and waste of natural resources. We can devour the world under the guise of dominion. Funny how that command is the one my Christian brothers and sisters really excel. My push back is that if you accept the idea that you were given dominion over the earth then realize that such a mandate was given to humans when they were in an entirely different state of being, not in the current condition of dysfunction and wanton disregard of the laws of nature. The mandate in the hands of a creature driven by greed and uncontrolled self-interest manifests itself as the disaster we see in our world today.

Nestled in between these reasons is the reality that the agencies mandated to address natural world decline, tremble at the political pressure placed upon them. Money and power are clearly controlling the level and type of response we as a society are applying to our emergency. The billions of dollars invested in the USA targeted for restoration ecology are eclipsed by the dollars seeking to use up the earth and dissuade us from doing what needs to be done. I have had many discussions with capable leaders, academics and scientists who are yielding to political pressure. Indeed, I have been told by individuals, who I would otherwise deeply respect, that science is on par with politics for making decisions. That manifests itself as a mandate to stick strictly to the letter of the law rather than an unrelenting passion to actually fix the problem of species decline.

You are responsible for shoring up the weakness in our system. Rebuff the groundless conspiracy theories saying that the conservation community is sounding a false alarm and that all is well. Do not listen to the rationale that limitations on the destructive forces unleashed by manipulated markets is merely a ploy to limit your right to be free to do as you please with what you have. Our rural communities are rife with this stuff. Sure, even the clear decline of the natural world can be co-opted for political and monetary gain. I see it all the time. That’s no excuse to cast aspersions on our movement to protect and restore. If political power is what agency personnel consider equal to the laws of nature then this is a singularly wicked problem. One of our major tasks then is to exert political power in the opposite direction. Here. Now. In our communities. The positive answer is to discover solutions and make them happen…together.