Salmon Recovery is Fishy Business, says biologist
Tonasket, WA - Government agency and tribal managers blocked attempts to include public input in the Okanogan and Methow Sub-basin Plans, according to biologist Michelle Boshard of Rural Resource Associates. The plans are currently in a brief public-comment period which ends May 10th. The plans will guide the spending of many millions of dollars in BPA salmon recovery funds.
"I was hired by the Upper Columbia Group specifically because of my training and experience in building community watershed planning committees in the Canadian part of the Okanagan Basin. UCG, which receives state and federal funding to represent community interests in salmon recovery, had negotiated contracts with both sub-basin planning managers to coordinate community input for the plans and this was included in the original budgets," Boshard said in a press release dated 5/3/04.
"UCG got an email from Okanogan County saying that the contracts would be signed the next week," Boshard stated. "Based on that the group spent money on equipment and staff because they were told they had to start the day the contracts were signed. I was scheduling community meetings and preparing presentations when suddenly we were told the contracts would not be signed. And we never got a clear explanation. Now they have released plans that have no real community involvement and have given the public two weeks to respond."
Ms Boshard is working with former Upper Columbia Group Executive Director Larry Bailey on a book titled "Fishy Business" about their years in the salmon recovery world. The two coordinate many sessions at scientific and community conferences and have written scientific papers on how to include rural landowners and communities in salmon recovery and other government processes. They are posting drafts of the book's chapters and many of the relevant documents and web links on a website at http://www.fishy-business.us and have launched a companion site at http://www.fishy-business.info which has a message board and other means for public discussion of the salmon recovery process and other rural issues.
"Unlike the agencies and tribes and special interest groups who are well-funded, there is almost no funding for public input into these plans," Bailey says. "They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on staff time and consultants for more than a year collecting 1600 pages of documents then only make 400 pages available, and expect the public to "comment" in a two week period. Obviously none of them could digest the material that quickly. Afterwards they will complain that the landowners and communities don't understand what they're doing and won't support it." Bailey says he will submit any comments on the subbasin plans that are emailed, faxed or mailed to him along with the comment he and Boshard are preparing for inclusion in the final report.
"This whole salmon recovery business needs a lot more daylight," Bailey says. "Everyone sees the problem. The ones who will admit how screwed up it is argue that if you say anything it will just get worse. Ron Sando, the Executive Director of the Portland-based Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, told the Columbia Basin Bulletin, 'Agencies have to come to grips with the idea that they have to let loose of the controls. They have to lead from behind. This is not about controlling people and making them do things. It's about enabling them to do their best. People really respond to that. The vast majority of people want to do things to make things better. But mostly they don't have the ideas of how to do it. Or they don't have the resources to get it done.' "
Bailey continues, "but that hasn't changed the attitudes of the entrenched bureaucrats and the consultants who are making millions from this program. Now the Bush administration and others are arguing for an end to salmon recovery funding because so many billions of dollars have been spent with little provable effect." Bailey is an author and newspaper writer who has written several novels and many non-fiction articles about rural life and politics. His family home is Republic, Washington, a small mountain community near the Canadian border. "My people," he says, "watched most of the projects which caused the damage we're now trying to fix with the same distrust they have for this one, and they see the same old patterns of corruption and mismanagement."
"Any time there are billions of dollars involved," Bailey says, "the scramble for the money isn't gentle. Many consultants maneuver themselves onto the boards and committees that control the flow of the money, usually as 'at large' or 'sport fishing' representatives. During my three years managing the Upper Columbia Group I was repeatedly threatened by consultants over various issues including one consultant who was chairman of the state advisory board which oversees the RFEG program. He resigned from his position after admitting he had tried to influence the UCG board of directors, made false statments about the group and threatened to cut off our funding. In another situation, a member of the UCG board who was the wife of a consultant refused to resign as required after her husband got a UCG contract and then as the group's treasurer directed that her husband's invoices be paid ahead of other, older invoices. And it isn't just consultants who operate this way. A tribal fish & wildlife official called me at one point and said we would never work with the tribes again if we let go an employee who was married to a tribal member. After we did lay her off, he told people UCG was "dead in the water, they just don't know it." This is just a little of what we will detail in the book, and these are not the worst things I saw."
Michelle Boshard says the book is being written in an unusually open process with drafts and supporting documents posted on the websites during the writing. "We want everyone involved with salmon recovery help write this book," she says. "We've provided many different ways to have input into this project and we hope people will take a little time to participate. The facts in this book will have links to supporting documents or other research and be a place people can see for themselves what's going on."
Anyone who would like to submit comments for the Okanogan and Methow Sub-Basin plans through the Fishy Business website can do so at http://www.fishy-business.us, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax them to 509 486-4835 or mail them to P.O. Box 921, Tonasket, WA 98855.
CONTACT: Michelle Boshard
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