Our resources require better management

Sen. Frank Girod

Oregon has some of the most abundant natural resources in the nation. With responsible management, untapped assets can become pots of gold or barrels of oil. However, the government has done a poor job of managing these resources, especially salmon and timber.

The so-called environmental community has given us two types of salmon. I am not talking about Coho and Chinook salmon, but rather hatchery and native salmon. The way you tell them apart is if the adipose fin has been clipped or not. Hatchery fish have this fin clipped. The reality is that fish hatcheries had been in existence in this state for scores of years before the practice of fin clipping.

Genetically speaking, there is little, if any difference between a native and hatchery fish.

Despite a few mistakes, the hatcheries were able to strengthen salmon runs as a whole across the state.

Some runs are dependent on fish hatcheries such as the North Santiam run because the dams have taken away the historical spawning grounds. So, what is the solution to this mess?

Besides promoting wild fish habitat we need to upgrade to a new and improved fish hatchery. Each run needs to have their own hatchery so the fish stock imprints with the river water. Each modern hatchery should include feed that comes from below so as not to train fish as surface feeders which can leave them prone to predatory birds. Second, we need a rocky bottom in hatchery pools to prevent the rubbing of belly scales, which makes them prone to disease. Finally, we need to introduce a fish predator to the tank to teach young fish how to survive in the wild.

Increased hatchery production is only one part of the solution. The eco-system is out of balance with predators gone wild. Cormorants that kill hundreds of thousands of salmon smolts every year need to be controlled. This is a migratory bird that should have a hunting season. The second major predator is sea lions, whose population has exploded. In the 1930’s when fish runs were at their peak, there were roughly 1,000 sea lions. Today there are approximately 300,000. We need to cut their numbers in half or more.

Finally we need to make some tough choices as to how we harvest the salmon resource. It is time to eliminate the gill netting of salmon in the Columbia River. Gill netters kill fish that they are prohibited from taking such as wild salmon and steelhead.

The sport fisherman should have priority, as they can easily release wild salmon and certain steelhead with a low mortality rate. Also, it is the sport’s fisherman that has the largest impact on the economy and will pay the majority of the cost for recovery.

Just like our fish, our forests have been mismanaged. The major problem here is the pseudo-environmental community that have made it almost impossible to effectively manage our trees for both healthy forests and healthy economies. Their narrow sighted, knee-jerk policies have created two disasters.

The first type of disaster is the looming economic crisis that every Oregonian will pay for. Oregonians have been locked out of the forests and now some counties are facing insolvency. They can no longer provide basic mandated services like sheriff deputies, 911 service, health clinics and road repairs. If you want better schools like I do then we need to keep our forest healthy and harvest timber with sustainability in mind. Millions of dollars directly go into the school fund from timber harvests.

Besides an economic disaster, the way we manage forests is the largest environmental disaster in the state’s history. The largest emitter of green house gases is not the burning of fossil fuels but the burning and decay of our forest.

When trees burn in a forest fire, millions of tons of green house gases are released into the atmosphere. If the tree is cut and the carbon is locked up in the construction of a house, there is no release of green house gases. In one year, preventable forest fires that raged out of control because of mismanaged forests have released the equivalent of 11 million cars burning fossil fuels.

Science says that controlling the levels of fuel that accumulate in our forests is the environmentally responsible thing to do.

We need to get our forests healthy again and this requires a balanced approach. We need to reduce the fuel source for a fire. We need firebreaks for containment. We need to thin strategic areas. After a fire we need to harvest what is salvageable and replant. And yes, we need to set aside some stands of old growth trees. Good timber management is just simple common sense.

For too long people who don’t know the difference between a fir and a pine tree have run this naturally resource rich state. They do it under the guise of being environmentally friendly, but nothing is further from the truth. Enough is enough.

State Sen. Frank Girod serves the 9th Senatorial District, including Sweet Home.