by Carmen Macdonald
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees rarely create policy. Instead, they implement and manage policy.
If those couple of sentences make complete sense to you, there's nothing to read in this blog. If you're scratching your head, keep on reading.
My introduction to fisheries meetings and management was a huge wake-up call. I walked in with an exceptional amount of preconceived notions, virtually all of which turned out to be untrue.
With just a little bit of understanding about state government, I had known that the amount of general fund funding of ODFW had been in a downward spiral. Rather than an agency being funded by all citizen's tax dollars, the agency's budget was funded most prominently by license fees. I knew that hunters and anglers funded the largest portion of the budget, first through direct license fees, and secondly through federal taxes paid by manufacturers on all the recreational gear we buy (commercial gear is exempt) then redistributed to the states based on the number of anglers.
My mistake was that, given the funding, I felt that the department naturally put anglers and hunters first. That's not necessarily true. As a state agency, everybody has their say. It matters not that general fund dollars and commercial fishing fees each equal just 2% of the agency's budget.
But even more importantly, I thought that the agency's meetings were where policies were created. Like most anglers, I confused the payment of my fees to the agency with a responsibility on their part to be responsive to my needs. In my erroneous vision, I pictured department employees entering their office everyday with a focus on what could be done to create more and better fishing and hunting. That's not immediately false, but it's also not completely true. I would say that attitude upon entering their office is 100% dictated by the personal beliefs of the agency employee in question. And even more so, it's dictated by political climate and if the subject at hand has strong feelings behind it at the legislative level.
It took years of packing the halls with fellow anglers, speaking within public processes and shooting emails to ODFW to truly realize that while I saw the agency as responsible for policy, that policy was actually being created, shaped and directed elsewhere.
There are two places where ODFW policy can truly be effected. The first is within the legislature and the second is the ODFW Commission. As a state agency, though funded primarily by anglers and hunters, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is responsible to the state legislature and members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission (which is appointed by the Governor, so in a sense is simply an extension of the governing body).
To be effective, anglers and hunters need to communicate with the Governor, members of the state legislature and the Commission. It's at these levels that policy is truly being created, then passed to ODFW for shaping and implementation.
Just look at how many times the names Kitzhaber, Krieger, Johnson, Dingfelder, Olson, Ferrioli, Witt, Boone and others are quoted in articles about ODFW policy. Or watch as Commission members shape policy in front of everyone at Commission meetings.
To be effective, sporting, conservation, preservation and extractive groups pool membership resources in order to afford representation at the state capitol via professional lobbyists. Whatever your passion, there are groups that share your goals.
In the end though, there is no substitute for direct communication. Too often, when frustrated by impending action, sportsmen unleash upon ODFW. I don't want to say that path is worthless, but it can be futile. That same note or letter, written to members of the legislative body, is ensuring it's reaching the people responsible for advancing policy.
For most sporting people I know, jumping into letter writing and mixing with politicians is something that can be difficult. Generally, we're the people that work, pay our taxes and look to enjoy ourselves during our limited free time. We're not zealots, but reasonable thinkers, and we expect the same from government. This is no longer workable, however. Fish and wildlife management has become a social engineering platform.
When urban Senator Jackie Dingfelder positions herself in a gateway position to hatchery funding and wolf management, one has to wonder what the hell she's doing there, and why, as an urban legislator she would preclude a vote on wolf management that would allow the counties that actually have wolves to manage their living spaces. Senator Dingfelder also needs to understand that Oregon hatcheries were fixed in the 1990's and rather than advocate for less hatchery fish, we're at a point where some reflection on what, if anything, has been accomplished by the sweeping changes of the late 1990's. Or perhaps, Dingfelder could pay closer attention to the lost habitat associated with the Bull Run complex and the suite of regional holdings by Portland-based PGE.
Governor John Kitzhaber's first administration was in charge during the massive El Nino of the mid-1990's. Within this first two terms, many of the sweeping changes in Oregon hatchery policy and operations were initiated. He is now in a unique position, more than a decade later, to be Governor again. Our politicians are rarely around to feel the long-term effects of policy. Governor Kitzhaber needs to hear from sporting Oregonians about where his first term policies have landed us today. You know where I'm at. From all I can gather, we reduced hatchery fisheries, ejected the economics associated with them and wild runs of steelhead show no appreciable growth. Emphasis placed on hatchery fish conveniently offers a pass to dam operators and municipalities.
Also to Governor Kitzhaber, strong kudos and support are due for maintaining Oregon's participation in the ongoing Columbia River BiOp. Washington sold out, and it's only Oregon that's holding the Bonneville Power Administration accountable for their ongoing impact to the Columbia River.
Representative Wayne Krieger is deserving of many thanks from our communities. The man takes the time to show up, listen, and engage on the issues.
And if you're really in a writing mood, there are the federal players involved. The Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Land Management, each hold key responsibilities, yet generally receive about zero input direct from anglers and hunters.
When the Corps drops press releases about "surplus hatchery fish," Colonel John W. Eisenhauer can certainly be reminded that surplus wild fish were not an issue before the Corps dams cut off Willamette basin spawning habitat and completely restructured river flow and temperature regimes.
NOAA needs to hear that emphasizing hatchery reform as a means to recovery is a complete cop out. They need to start holding those responsible for major impacts to fish populations truly accountable, or convene the God Squad and declare the damned (pun intended) fish extinct and move on. "Recovery" has been allowed to become an industry all its own, with fat budgets that appear to have a goal of doing nothing meaningful.
Many express feelings that they go to meetings only to feel like the outcome has already been decided. When pressure has been applied in the background by the legislative body, those feelings have merit. Will the impending Coastal Multi-Species Management Plan be a representation of community wants and needs, or dominated by special interests? Make your voice heard.
For most all of us, recreational fishing is simply that- something we enjoy when away from work, not something that should necessitate additional work. The modern reality is that resource management continues to become more and more political. More threatening it seems, is that within this reality, radical preservationists are able to find common ground with big industry and their common goals include elimination of angling opportunity. On both sides their target is hatchery fish, though for different reasons. As a recovery plan it holds no weight. It's a diversion.
In so many instances, whether fish or wildlife, it's time for the common man to call bull. The quiet but powerful voices behind policy need to address the large limiting factors directly and meaningfully, or acknowledge the lack of will do so and get back to maintaining promises made. ODFW in many occasions is a middleman, an insulator of the power brokers. It's time to engage the source.