Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Angling Groups Hope for Fish Restoration Under Obama

by: Dan Bacher, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Efforts are underway to restore fish habitats in California's Central Valley. The valley's rivers were closed to salmon fishing this year for the first time, due to the collapse of Central Valley fall chinook salmon. (Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service).

The election of Barack Obama on November 4 in one of the most contentious presidential elections in US history will have wide-ranging implications for California and West Coast fisheries, especially for those in northern California.

Sportsmen were on both sides of the battle, with Sportsmen for Obama and other organizations working hard for an Obama election victory and others, such as the National Rifle Association, campaigning for McCain. However, the election is over, the voters have chosen Obama and anglers need to make sure that our needs and input are heard in the new Obama administration that takes over in January 2009.

Neither Obama nor McCain is an avid outdoorsman, although Obama, in a September interview in Field and Stream, said he frequently spear fished with his stepfather while he was a child in Hawaii. Hopefully, Obama will make a dramatic break with eight years of anti-fish policies by the Bush administration that have resulted in fish kills, massive fishing closures and dramatic declines of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

In his interviews and public statements, Obama has consistently affirmed his commitment to fish and wildlife conservation.

In an interview with Outdoor Life published on September 28, Obama said, "While I did not grow up hunting and fishing, I recognize the great conservation legacy of America's hunters and anglers. Were it not for America's hunters and anglers, including great icons like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, our nation would not have the tradition of sound game management and an extensive public lands estate on which to hunt and fish."

Likewise, on National Hunting and Fishing Day this year, Obama said, "Hunting and fishing are not just recreational pursuits, and they are part of our national heritage. As president, I will protect the right to bear arms, increase access to places to hunt and fish, take on polluters and clean up our streams and lakes, and protect our nation's important wildlife habitat and wetlands. I will enhance programs that encourage young people to hunt and fish and respect and protect the outdoors."

Many sportsmen are greatly relieved that a new regime will be moving into Washington to replace the Bush administration, one of the worst-ever for fisheries and fishing rights in US history. "It's like a big weight has been lifted off our country with the departure of the Bush administration," said Cal Kellogg, Fish Sniffer associate editor.

The Bush administration was notable for engineering the Klamath River fish kill of 2002, the largest fishery disaster of its kind in US history. Over 68,000 salmon perished in low water conditions spurred by a change in water policy that favored agribusiness over fish, fishermen, Indian Tribes and downstream water users.

Central Valley rivers were closed to salmon fishing this year for the first time, due to the collapse of Central Valley fall chinook salmon. Delta pelagic species, including delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass and threadfin shad, have plummeted to record low population levels, due to increased water exports, toxic chemicals and invasive species.

Many examples of political manipulation of biological science by Bush administration officials to favor the timber, agribusiness and mining industries at the expense of our public trust fisheries have been showcased over the last eight years in various publications. In a parting shot, the Bush administration is attempting to rewrite the Endangered Species Act at the expense of endangered fish, wildlife and plants.

Groups See Healthy Fish Populations as Vital to a Healthy Economy

It will take a monumental effort and many years to restore our fisheries just to the level that they were in 2001 when Bush took office, but it must be done! What do key leaders in fishing and conservation organizations think about the prospects of the new administration that takes over in January 2009?

"I'm very encouraged, from what I've heard so far, that the policies of Obama will deal with many of the environmental disasters that we have seen in California under the Bush administration," said Dick Pool, coordinator of Water for Fish. "I look forward to him appointing fair and attentive leaders attuned to the need for fishery restoration to key posts, particularly the secretaries of interior and commerce. I have my fingers crossed that the situation with our fisheries will improve under an Obama administration."

John Beuttler, conservation director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, is cautiously optimistic about the future over California fisheries under Obama.

"I don't think that Obama will let politics override biological science like the last administration did," he said. "However, it will be difficult to assess what anybody could do with the financial situation we're in now, due to the collapse of the mortgage loan industry. We have an economic crisis on hand that could impact funding for federal and fish and wildlife programs."

Beuttler looks at the incoming administration as an opportunity for anglers to demonstrate the billions of dollars that the restoration of Central Valley salmon and Bay-Delta Estuary fish populations will contribute to the economy.

"We need an economic stimulus in all sectors of the economy - and we have the opportunity to make the case to our government of the benefits of California fisheries to the economy - if they are properly managed. This would stand in stark contrast to the way our fisheries have been managed under the previous regime," he said.

"We look forward to working with the Obama administration and the new Congress," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA). "We were concerned that McCain might have kept some of the Bush folks that had declared war on the environment and the fisheries. Bush talked a good line to recreational fishermen and fish processors, but behind the scenes, his policies were destroying the fish stocks we depend on."

"Moreover," Grader continued, "the 'drill, baby, drill' mantra of Bush, McCain, Palin and the oil companies scared hell out of us, as did the Bushies' promotion of offshore fish farming and privatizing fish stocks - turning fishermen into sharecroppers. Obama is a welcome change."

Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River in Sacramento, was also optimistic about environmental prospects under the incoming administration, although he tempered it with concerns about some of Obama's positions on energy issues.

"The expected focus of the Obama administration on energy and global warming is hugely positive given the previous administration's position of denial," said Evans. "But President-elect Obama's views on some key issues do raise a few red flags in regard to rivers, including his strong support for water-consumptive ethanol as an alternative fuel, as well as on renewable energy (which could possibly include river-damaging hydroelectric energy produced by big dams)."

Evans is encouraging fish and river advocates to "take every opportunity to educate the new administration on common-sense environmental solutions, before firm positions are made."

Key Environmental Posts: Sportsmen Endorse Mike Thompson for Interior Secretary

The Obama staff is moving quickly to appoint key members of the transition team and Cabinet. His transition team is focusing first on top West Wing staff and his economic and national security teams in the 76-day transition period. Democratic Party officials are unsure when Obama will make the selection to key environmental posts.

Obama has appointed John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff from 1998 to 2001, as the co-chair of his transition team. Podesta is an outspoken advocate of an end to government secrecy and serves on the board of the League of Conservation Voters. LCV credited him with cleaning up twice as many toxic waste sites during the Clinton administration as in the previous 12 years.

"Podesta started transition planning several months ago out of his office at the Center for American Progress in Washington. On energy and environmental issues, Podesta is leaning on two of his former colleagues from the Clinton era: former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and former Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes," noted Darren Samuelson in the Greenwire on November 5.

In an interview with Field and Stream in September, Obama said that he would probably appoint a sportsman or sportswoman to be the secretary of interior, as well as creating a "sportsmen's committee" that advises the Interior Department and other agencies.

"I think that having a head of the Department of Interior who doesn't understand hunting and fishing would be a problem," Obama said. "And so my suspicion is that whoever heads up the Department of Interior is probably going to be a sportsman or sportswoman."

He continued: "And certainly, the idea of setting up a sportsmen's committee that has interaction, interface with various agencies, so that perspective informs the EPA, it informs Interior, it informs the Department of Energy and other agencies that may have an impact on access to public lands and conservation of public lands, I think is extremely important."

Also encouraging is a report in the Huffington Post on November 5 that Obama is considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for head of the EPA. Kennedy is a strong advocate of fish restoration and recreational, commercial and tribal fishing rights as head of the Water Keeper organization. His law firm is currently involved in litigation against PacifiCorp on the Klamath River for water quality violations. Kennedy said he would serve the next president if asked.

Ducks Unlimited, the American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops and 29 other groups are urging Obama to appoint Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California) as the new interior secretary. Thompson has earned high marks from both sportsmen's and environmental groups. He played a key leadership role in obtaining disaster relief for recreational and commercial fishermen and related businesses devastated by the closure of salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon and in Central Valley rivers this year, due to the collapse of the Sacramento River fall chinook population.

"You have been forthright in your commitment to sportsmen and making their priorities a centerpiece of your land and water conservation agenda," they stated in a letter sent to Obama and his transition team on November 19. "As you review candidates for secretary of the US Department of the Interior, we hope that you will strongly consider Congressman Thompson for this important post."

Obama has a good environmental record in the Senate, though his record has suffered from his frequent absences while campaigning over the past year. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a 67 percent score for 2007 and an 86 percent "lifetime rating."

Not only did Obama win, but larger pro-environment majorities were elected in both houses of Congress. "These election results just confirm what our polls have shown - sportsmen are looking to hear about more than just gun rights," said Sue Brown, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. "They want conservation candidates who'll champion clean energy solutions. They will be looking to our new Congress and new president to deliver clear results on clean energy and climate."

The environmental challenges of the incoming presidential administration and Congress include stopping the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley fall chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, striped bass and other California Delta fish populations. These dramatic population declines were spurred by record water exports by the state and federal Delta pumps, declining water quality and other factors.

Will the new administration and Congress step up and begin the hard work to restore the fisheries - or will they side with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate agribusiness and allow these populations to descend into the abyss of extinction?

Now is the time for anglers and conservationists to exert political pressure on Congress and the incoming administration to make sure that the needs of fish, wildlife and sportsmen are aggressively served in the coming years!


No comments: