Ag key to fish efforts, area NMFS chief says

By COOKSON BEECHER Capital Press Staff Writer


PASCO, Wash. — For Bob Lohn, Northwest regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service, fish recovery is measured by what’s actually happening on the ground.

“My measure of success is not what we’re preventing but what we’re doing,” he said.

He also believes that while the Endangered Species Act is very effective at delaying or stopping harmful federal action or permits, it is coming up short in encouraging fish recovery.

That’s why he thinks it’s critical for agriculture to be an important part of the equation.

“There’s a growing value of working with the agricultural community,” he said. “We need to find ways to assure that land remains in agriculture and that farmers stay in business.”

That was the message Lohn shared with farmers and ranchers last week in his talk to Farm Bureau members during the association’s annual convention.

In an interview after the event, Lohn said that land-use alternatives to agriculture are inevitably worse for fish, wildlife and the streamside environment.

“When land is in agriculture, we have an active steward of the land on the land,” he said.

Some of the benefits that agriculture brings to fish recovery are stream and river conditions that can be achieved only when the ground is open, as is the case in farming.

He explained that having open ground allows underground flows of water to regenerate the waterway.

“Those small upwellings are critical for fish,” he said. “We’re seeing that as salmon use a stream, they’re very sensitive to temperature and can detect a temperature difference of only 1 degree F.”

In many cases, salmon seek out spawning grounds where some cooler water is coming up through the gravel.

“That doesn’t exist unless you have open ground,” Lohn said, referring to the upwellings.

Since water temperature in a stream is never even, the salmon also use areas with cooler water as refuges. Once they’ve rested, they venture out into the warmer water for feed.

“That’s why those underground flows are really important for salmon,” he said. “We don’t want to interrupt those flows.”

Lohn also believes that agriculture plays a key role in maintaining healthy streamside conditions.

“Ag land assures that those conditions will be there,” he said, referring to desirable fish habitat.

Referring to the many benefits that agriculture can offer to fish habitat as “a new crop,” Lohn said he’d like to see farmers rewarded for producing this new crop. He considers the recent Farm Bill, which includes the largest amount of conservation funding in history, as a good source of financial “rewards” for good land stewardship.

“We want to work together with you,” he told the farmers attending the convention.

And he asked: “Is there an interest in making this new crop a successful part of farm management?”

Pointing out that farming is about the value of relationships with family and the land, he said the joy of work and stewardship of the land is an important part of the equation.

“These values are important to all of us involved in the restoration of part of the environment,” he said.

Westside seed grower Annie Lohman said Lohn’s approach to agriculture makes her feel hopeful that there’s room for common sense as the state works toward fish recovery.

“It’s a 180-degree turn from his predecessor’s approach,” she said, referring to Will Stelle, who stepped down from the job last year.

When Lohn took over as regional director for the Northwest, he quickly made it a point to “walk the land” with farmers. On a visit to Skagit County last year, he said he wanted to understand how fish-recovery regulations would affect farmers.

“You can talk in theory about buffer heights and widths, but seeing what they mean on an actual farm helps move us away from a generalized approach,” he said in an interview after that visit. “I place value on the advice of those living in an area because they often have insightful observations to share.”


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