Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Association of Counties
June 10, 1998

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about the future of salmon – and by implication, the future of people – here in Washington. Because it’s a mistake to think we can ever discuss one without discussing the other. We inhabit the same world. We depend on the same rivers and streams and estuaries and wetlands. If our rivers are too polluted for salmon, they are also too polluted for humans.

Saving salmon is about keeping our ecosystems from unraveling. And saving salmon is about facing ourselves in ways we’ve tried too long to avoid. We have known for many, many years that our salmon runs were declining. But it has taken the threat of federal intervention under the Endangered Species Act to focus our attention on saving them.

In several Puget Sound watersheds, our wild salmon have less than a decade to live, unless we act now. And in many more rivers and streams, if the status quo continues, our wild salmon will be gone before my daughter Emily graduates from high school. So we just don’t have any time to waste. For better or for worse, we are about to make history.

To make history by saving salmon rather than letting them become extinct, we need three things:

First, we need a higher standard of collaborative decision-making than ever before. That high standard has already been set by the work of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, and by the counties and cities of the Lower Columbia.

But all across our state, we need ordinary citizens, local governments, tribal governments, state agencies, developers, loggers, farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists at the table. We need to practice democracy and collaboration more intently than ever before. And that means a relentless focus on the common good. It means that we, as elected leaders, must keep calling every stakeholder and every interest group back to that principle: that the common good comes first.

All of us must be willing to change, and to do whatever it takes to spread or share fairly the sacrifices that will be required. We must not put the burden of saving salmon only on rural communities, or fishermen, or farmers, or timber communities.

Second, we need a higher level of public understanding and citizen engagement than ever before.

We have to be careful not to take the wrong lesson from the recent court decision that declared Oregon’s coastal recovery plan insufficient because of the heavy reliance on voluntary, citizen-led restoration efforts. The court ruled that wasn’t enough. Talking about saving salmon won’t cut it! Hoping citizens will voluntarily change behavior and restore salmon won’t cut it! But that does not mean that we can save salmon only with mandatory efforts and regulation and without voluntary, citizen-led efforts. On the contrary, there is just no way we can save our salmon without sustained and expanded citizen participation. So we need to invest in public education, in citizen involvement, and in nurturing the sense that all the people of our state are engaged in a unified effort.

Third, we need to wake up every morning ready to challenge the status quo.

We all prefer to shepherd this issue along in ways that don’t upset people. We’d like to make progress without creating any opposition. That’s an important and worthwhile goal, but it won’t always be possible. And in part, that’s because we have, in the past, been guilty of fostering unrealistic expectations.

We have let people believe that our water supplies are infinite that suburban sprawl is inevitable; and that private property rights are always more important than public objectives. Now we must foster a new understanding: the understanding that all of us must simply stop degrading the natural systems we’re a part of.

There are real risks involved in even delivering that message, much less acting on it. There is, after all, that age-old tendency to shoot the messenger. But we cannot save salmon by doing business as usual. Our role as elected leaders is to take the heat, and to use it to generate forward momentum.

These three things - a deeper level of collaboration, greater public education and engagement, and a greater willingness to challenge the status quo – are our most powerful tools for saving salmon.

Let me give you some examples of how we must use these tools.

In some places, we have issued so many water rights that more water has been granted to water users than there is available. And there’s not enough for salmon. To make matters worse, many of these watersheds are areas where significant growth and development are occurring. That’s why the Joint Natural Resources Cabinet is looking at whether we should close these basins to any more water rights permits. The Cabinet is considering whether we should allow any more exempt wells near these streams and rivers.

The state has the authority under current law to take these actions. But I’m committed to collaboration, so I would much rather solve this dilemma in cooperation with local and tribal governments. In many areas, we could achieve the same effect if local governments fully enforced their own, local zoning and growth management laws. But this issue – the issue of enforcing the laws already on our books local and state – is one that we must take very seriously. And I want to state very clearly that I’m committed to full enforcement of existing state laws.

Here’s another example. The federal EPA and the state Department of Ecology have documented that over 650 bodies of water in our state are polluted. In many cases the pollution levels are harmful to both fish and humans. The biggest sources are non-point pollution -- pollution caused mainly by agriculture, timber harvest and urban run-off. This pollution not only threatens salmon; but also violates the federal Clean Water Act.

Since last November, the parties to the Timber, Fish and Wildlife process have been negotiating new statewide forest practice rules that will help save both salmon and clean water for people. I’ve directed Curt Smitch to work with the TFW, the appropriate Joint Cabinet agencies and Jennifer Belcher, the state Lands Commissioner, to help bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion by the end of this summer.

And I have been impressed by the timber industry’s willingness to step up to this challenge. Perhaps because of their experience with the spotted owl, they understand what’s at stake, and their leadership has been exemplary.

Steps have also been made to address the pollution caused by agriculture. In this year’s supplemental budget, we set aside six million dollars in state money to initiate a new program provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. This program provides a four-to-one federal match for funds to acquire easements along riparian areas on agricultural lands. Over the next four years, Washington can expect to receive nearly $175 million in federal funds for this program.

We are also working with local, state and federal agencies to develop a common set of standards and guidelines for agricultural lands that will protect and restore our salmon. I’m hoping the first draft of those guidelines will be completed by the end of this year. These guidelines will be voluntary, but if they aren’t effective because they’re ignored, they will have to be supplemented with mandatory measures. And I have directed the Joint Cabinet to develop a set of options to address this possibility.

We all want to rely as much as possible on incentives rather than regulation. But our ability to rely on incentives will depend on whether we, as elected leaders, can truly inspire the citizens and stakeholder we work with to do the right thing. And that, in turn, will depend on our ability to craft solutions that don’t have farmers or other landowners making all the sacrifices, while city dwellers or other stakeholders do nothing.

And that brings us to the third -- and in many ways the most difficult cause of water pollution -- urban run-off. By paving the land around our streams, rivers and wetlands, we pollute our streams, raise the temperature of the water, and thereby harm salmon. We simply have to change our land use practices to solve this problem. Currently, the Joint Natural Resources Cabinet, along with the counties and cities, is reviewing Growth Management and Shoreline Management plans. They are analyzing whether full implementation of existing laws will be enough to solve this problem. The initial phase of this analysis will be done by September. And if the laws need to be changed, we will need to step up to this challenge, too.

All of the actions I’ve described will cost money – local, state, and federal money – which of course is all taxpayers’ money. So I have asked all state agencies to identify what additional existing resources they can direct to salmon recovery in the next biennium before seeking new money. I’ve also asked the Joint Cabinet – in conjunction with local government and the tribes – to evaluate enforcement activities to determine if they need additional tools to protect and restore salmon. And I have asked for this information by September.

At the same time, we are developing a long-term strategy for requesting and allocating federal funds. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Murray and Gorton and Congressman Dicks, the state stands a very good chance of receiving approximately $25 million for salmon recovery in federal fiscal year 99, which begins in October. We want to thank counties – your staffs – for working with us to identify priority projects for that federal money.

New federal money will help, but the real work still has to begin at home: in our neighborhoods and communities and in our cities and counties. People have to see that we can win this struggle, and that every fish in every stream counts. Your role as local elected leaders, visionaries and motivators will be critical.

Thirty-five counties and 240 cities have adopted Critical Area Ordinances under the state Growth Management Act. These ordinances are powerful tools for the recovery of our wild salmon. But if these ordinances are not adequately enforced, their effectiveness is lost. I expect each county and city to adopt and fully enforce critical areas ordinances. I know this isn’t easy, but it’s the law – and it’s the right thing to do.

These examples show just how difficult this issue will be in the months and years to come. But we have a very clear choice: We can work out these solutions among ourselves, or we can turn over control of our state and our future to the federal government. We can save our watersheds and our salmon, or we can be the last generation to live with the mystery and wonder of these wild fish. We can listen to what the plight of the salmon is telling us, or we can consign ourselves to the continuing degradation of the natural environment on which all our lives depend.

Every action we take commits to one choice or the other. And every day that goes by without action also commits to a choice. If wild salmon become extinct, they will be followed by many other species that depend on the same rivers, streams, estuaries, wetlands, and marine waters.

So the history we are about to make is about far more than fish. It is about our understanding of how all living creatures – including ourselves – depend on the health of the natural world. It is about our ability to be fair to each other, to govern ourselves, and to focus on the long term future. And more than anything else, saving salmon is about our capacity and our willingness to make sacrifices for our children, so that they too can experience the inexpressible wonder that has been the birthright of every Washington resident since the first humans settled in this state: seeing or even catching a wild salmon.

We cannot fail. Extinction is not an option. And so we must work together, respect each other, inspire and sustain a broad public commitment to this goal, and do what’s best for our salmon, our citizens, and our future.

Thank you very much.
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