July 31, 2008

West Coast States Develop Ocean ‘Action Plan’

By Winston Ross, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.

Jul. 30--FLORENCE -- The governors of Oregon, Washington and California produced a plan on Tuesday that they said would help protect the ocean the three states share, by unifying key segments of their approach and speaking with a single voice to the federal government.

The three states introduced a "West Coast Action Plan," promised in 2006 when the governors signed an ocean health agreement pledging to tackle some of the problems that face West Coast shores.

The plan's goals are to keep coastal waters and beaches clean, restore habitat in coastal areas, fight some of the detrimental effects of offshore development and expand research and monitoring efforts.

It outlines 26 ways to combat runoff and marine garbage issues, battle invasive species, investigate alternative energy possibilities such as wave energy and respond quickly to oil spills and other offshore problems.

"Together, we can sustain our marine resources and the communities that depend on them," Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said. "Oregon has a legacy of innovation and leadership when it comes to our ocean."

The initiatives would:

--Restore habitats in estuaries and coastal wetlands by at least 10 percent over the next 10 years.

--Map the territorial sea floor (as far out as three miles from shore) by 2020, which will give researchers better information about how best to identify problems and solutions in the ocean.

--In response to growing interest in offshore development, look for alternative energy sources and examine the potential effects of development such as drilling for oil.

--Provide long-term maintenance and updating of ocean research programs and monitoring efforts.

Along with Kulongoski, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a joint letter to Congress on Tuesday seeking $5 million in federal support for implementation of the action plan, and four federal agencies announced that they'd be working with the states to make some of the plan's key items a reality.

Kulongoski said it's important to understand the changing economies of the coast, searching for success stories and the best avenues for bolstering the small communities that have seen fishing and timber revenues dry up in recent decades.

"We can learn how to better create productive, accessible waterfronts with water-dependent businesses and activities," Kulongoski said. "Not waterfronts overrun by condos and T-shirt shops."

He specifically mentioned wave energy development, which has been a controversial subject among fishermen and some conservationists, as a renewable, clean and reliable resource, urging the three states to evaluate the burgeoning industry's effects.

Onno Husing, executive director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Agency, said he welcomes coordination among the three states, as "we share the same ocean," noting in particular how California's management of important salmon-producing rivers has had huge impacts on Oregon's fishing fleet.

Husing also said the federal government holds significant power when it comes to the siting of offshore oil, gas and wave-energy facilities, which makes unity among the West Coast states critical if they want to have much influence.

A key question, however, involves money, Husing said.

"I only really get excited when I start to see budgets move," Husing said.

"Show me the money. These states have roller coaster budgets. We don't have a lack of imagination or vision about this stuff. We have a lack of money."

There will be an attempt to find state funds, at least in Oregon, said Jessica Hamilton, the governor's natural resources policy adviser. The Department of State Lands will ask the Legislature for $2 million in the next budget for seafloor mapping, for example, and the Department of Land Conservation and Development will seek money to help coastal communities prepare for climate change.

Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson said he was impressed with the plan, especially its focus on sustainable economic development for coastal communities.

He worried about a mention of "ecosystem-based" management, which aims for sustainable ecosystems but allows for some economic purposes.

"Ecosystem-based management is a great goal to try to achieve, but we have some stumbling blocks created by other federal laws," Thompson said.

Thompson said fishermen feel besieged by federally protected sea lions, which number in the hundreds of thousands along the West Coast.

The plan provides a good "backbone," said Susan Allen, director of Our Ocean, a nonprofit coalition of conservationists, scientists and local leaders. It also has the flexibility for states to tailor it to meet their individual needs. Demonstrating the link between preserving the marine environment and the coastal economy is key, Allen said.

"Reserves and protected areas are exactly the kind of insurance policy the coast needs," she said.


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