Salmon population recovery is one of our priorities in Oregon, especially because of their importance in the recovery of the southern resident orcas. But Oregon House Bill 2381 would have allowed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill any predator species that prey on salmon populations in Southwest Oregon. This bill included provisions that would allow culling of threatened and endangered species as well, which would have made it a huge threat to Oregon Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Salmon runs have declined and disappeared throughout the Salish Sea and Columbia Basin due to a variety of factors, the main one being ecological degradation of their habitat because of industrial and economic development. Salmon are an important prey species for several marine and avian species in the region, including the critically endangered southern resident orcas. They are also indicators of healthy river and marine ecosystems — as habitats degrade and disappear, so does the salmon. We therefore recognize the need for taking a systematic, long-term approach to salmon population recovery in the region. However, the bill proposed in the Oregon House Natural Resources Committee, focused on a narrow, scientifically questionable solution to salmon recovery.
Salmon decline cannot be pinned on individual species alone — whether they are pinnipeds, birds, or other aquatic species. Oregon attempted it with cormorants and it backfired on us and collapsed a colony of a species. Many factors have led to the decline in salmon population, including warming ocean temperatures, habitat loss caused by human activity, industrial development that pollutes water and creates barriers to salmon runs, and overharvesting.
Removing natural predators to compensate for core issues that are human-caused is short-sighted and dangerous. We have limited understanding of how such a measure will impact the ecosystem overall — the target predator species most likely do not prey on salmon alone, they also eat other species and provide other ecosystem services, some of which we are still in the process of uncovering. It is a complex ecological web and without adequate research on the overall ecosystem implications of such a measure, such policies are just a flinch reaction to a deeper problem.
Allowing the killing of individuals of protected species (that are listed or petitioned to be listed under the State ESA) is an archaic approach that defies core conservation principles. This sets an alarming precedent for the killing of protected species and represents a serious step back in the state’s policy to protect its vulnerable natural resources. And it would create an enormous exemption to the Oregon Endangered Species Act.
For effective and sustainable recovery of Oregon’s salmon population, we should focus on restoring prime salmon habitat, removing barriers to salmon runs, and reducing pollution. Such recovery measures will take time to show its impact on salmon populations, which is why we should also concentrate on meeting immediate needs by increasing spill over dams, removing non-native species, removing non-functional dams, and investing in improved hatchery programs. It will take a combination of short-term and long-term measures to bring salmon population back from its exponential decline.
Defenders’ written testimony played a very important role in the Natural Resources Committee’s decision to not move ahead with this bill. We were the only ones to submit any testimony in opposition and played a large role in killing the bill. We could not support a bill that proposed a short-term, scientifically questionable approach to salmon recovery while creating an enormous exemption to the Oregon Endangered Species Act. While making such crucial natural resource policy decisions, we need to consider the well-being of healthy ecosystems in Oregon for present and future generations of both our human and wildlife communities.