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Population Numbers May Doom Salmon

September 7, 2005

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Too many people using too much energy and natural resources make it inevitable that wild Pacific salmon will become extinct over the next century without a major overhaul in the way people live their lives, a group of 30 scientists, policy analysts and advocates concluded.

“If you look at the four places on the planet that salmon runs originally occurred – the Asian Far East, Europe, Eastern North American and Western North America – as the numbers of people increased, the numbers of salmon went down,” said Robert T. Lackey, a salmon biologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Ore., and one of the organizers of the project. “You can’t have high salmon runs – wild salmon runs – and all these people and their standard of living.”

The Salmon 2100 Project will be presented at the 135th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society to be held next week in Anchorage, Alaska.

Lackey said the project was born over beer and pizza after a scientific conference on salmon, where he was struck by the “disconnect” between the short-term optimism of the formal presentations during the day, and the long-term pessimism of the informal discussions in the evening.

“In my opinion, the reason it turned out that way is that in the day you weren’t getting at the core long-term policy drivers,” he said.

William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia who developed the theory of the ecological footprint, said the extinction of salmon is inevitable as long as human populations continue to increase, leaving less energy and resources for all other species, including the fish.

The decline of salmon are a minor regional symptom of a global problem, he added.

“Even if we in the Pacific Northwest come to agreement to slow down our growth, to totally conserve the remaining primary salmon habitat, if the rest of the world carries on in its present development path it won’t do any good,” Rees said. “Because climate change may result in warming of the North Pacific to the extent that salmon migration routes and feeding resources are diminished.”

The contributors are primarily scientists from universities and state and federal agencies, plus a few policy analysts and advocates from environmental groups, a law firm and a consulting firm.

The project follows a 1991 report by the American Fisheries Society titled Salmon Crossroads that brought wide public attention to findings that 214 runs of pacific salmon were in danger of extinction.

“Our goal is that in 2050 or 2100 we don’t want somebody to look back and say, ‘Gee, we didn’t understand what was happening. If somebody told us this was happening we would have made different policy choices,’” said Lackey. “If this is the path society is going down, we want to make sure everybody understands.”

The proposals cover a wide range of new and familiar ideas: imposing an extinction tax on parties responsible, creating refuges to protect the healthiest runs and their habitat, converting the primary role of hydroelectric dams from energy production to managing river flows for salmon, giving up on saving runs too close to extinction, and developing an ethical standard that makes room for salmon.

Brian Gorman, regional spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of restoring 25 populations of salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered, said the wide range of ideas in the Salmon 2100 Project illustrated the complexity of the issue.

“Clearly, if we don’t do anything, I think it’s accurate to say a number of populations of salmon will be extinct or close to extinct in 100 years,” said Gorman.

“That doesn’t mean our approach or our efforts are necessarily wrong-headed or not going to result in recovery,” he added. “I am hopeful that when we release our draft recovery plans and when they become final plans at the end of next year that much of the work that has to be done will be a little clearer, and the kinds of efforts that local entities have to embrace will become a lot clearer.”

On the Net:

American Fisheries Society: http://www.fisheries.org




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