Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Chamber Leadership Conference
October 9, 1998
I want to begin by thanking every one of you for being here today, and for sitting through speech after speech after speech about how to save salmon. I know that listening and learning are very hard work, and that you have to care deeply in order to do it, especially at three o’clock in the afternoon and especially when you could be out enjoying this magnificent city. Your presence here encourages me to believe that there just might be enough political will in our region to save our salmon. And heaven knows, it’s going to take every ounce of political will we can muster.
Like many of you, I grew up in Washington State. And as far back as I can remember, our family and friends talked about salmon, went fishing for salmon, and enjoyed wonderful salmon dinners. My uncles and aunts took us kids salmon fishing. I took my kid brother salmon fishing. It was part of growing up in Washington State.
In our family, we knew instinctively that abundant salmon meant that Puget Sound was healthy as well as beautiful, and that the streams and rivers that the salmon returned to were filled with clean, cold water. It never occurred to us that all those things we took for granted – all those things that made growing up near Puget Sound so wonderful – were in jeopardy.
But they are in jeopardy. And now I look at my little Emily and wonder what her world will be like when she is my age. Will there be wild salmon? Will she be able to take her children fishing? Will she have clean air to breathe, and water to drink? Will she be able to take a walk in a quiet, majestic forest, or see Mt. Rainier from Olympia or Seattle on a sunny day?
The answers to these questions are in our hands, and the responsibility for our children’s future is on our shoulders. I am passionately committed to making sure we find the right answers. For Emily and for every child in Washington, we have a sacred obligation to save our salmon, and to protect the natural resources that sustain the salmon and make our state such a unique and wonderful place.
Because we waited so long to come to grips with this problem, saving our salmon is going to be one of the hardest things we have ever done. And most people don’t begin to understand just how hard it will be, how long it will take, or how much it will cost. But neither do most people understand that if we succeed at saving salmon, we will also succeed at preserving clean water for humans, managing growth wisely, and achieving a higher level of harmony between economic growth and environmental preservation. Fish and people have more in common than we think.
Our biggest difference is that fish don’t have long meetings or wear name tags. And fish can operate by instinct. They don’t have to write plans.
In state government, most of what we’ve been doing so far is planning. A year ago May, I convened a Joint Natural Resources Cabinet to bring together the state agencies that will play a role in saving salmon. After an almost embarrassing number of meetings, they’ve produced a 250-page draft strategy. Now we’re taking that document out to local and tribal governments, business and civic groups, and citizens for their review and advice.
By the end of this year, we hope to have completed the process of refining this strategy.
And by next summer, we hope to be actually implementing the strategies we’re investing so much time and effort developing.
That’s not to say we haven’t been doing things right now. In fact, legislation passed last year has put money in the hands of local groups to restore habitat. Local governments, tribes and citizens are already removing stream barriers, planting native vegetation on stream banks, and restoring spawning grounds. But as important as these projects are, we need a much more comprehensive approach. That’s why we’re investing so much time and effort into the state’s draft strategy.
This planning stage takes a lot of patience, a lot of paper, a lot of meetings, and a lot of talking. Frankly, all of that makes me impatient, and I’m sure many of you feel the same. Every time I go to another meeting about salmon, I ask "Why can’t be just get on with the task of saving salmon?" But we have to keep a sense of proportion about this.
True, talk won’t save a single fish. But we have to remember that it took 50 to 100 years to get where we are today, and it will take time to educate ourselves and change our ways. And the sad truth is, we have a lot more talking to do – and a lot more listening – if we’re going to forge the agreements and tough actions that will save salmon. And in spite of my impatience, all the talking we’ve been doing is moving us in the right direction.
We have excellent examples of the great things that happen when people sit down and talk to each other: the Tri-county efforts of Bob Drewel, Ron Sims, and Doug Sutherland; the Southwest Washington counties who have organized to develop a steelhead recovery strategy for the lower Columbia; and the wonderful new collaboration between the Bullitt Foundation and the Washington Roundtable under the leadership of Bill Ruckelshaus and Dennis Hayes.
These conversations are not always easy. Every state agency, every local government, every tribal government, every agricultural group, and every environmental or business organization has a different angle of vision on this issue. Frankly, right now most of these groups think we can solve the salmon problem if only the other groups change their behaviors or practices.
Within our Joint Natural Resources Cabinet, we’ve agreed that the state’s action plans should be guided by five clear and simple principles. The first principle is that we will work to create and implement collaborative, incentive-based actions. This means that state government will convene and encourage the local and regional partnerships that can develop and carry out specific action plans. It means we believe that local groups can develop action plans tailored to their geography better than Olympia can.
This is the approach that Oregon emphasized, and we agree with Governor Kitzhaber that collaboration and incentives ought to take precedence. However, as we all now know, the federal court doesn’t believe that this approach will be sufficient by itself. That’s why we have four more principles.
Our second principle is that where local collaboration and incentives are insufficient, default actions by the state will kick in. This principle is kind of "an incentive on steroids." It makes collaboration a lot more attractive.
Our third principle is that we will fully enforce existing laws. This sounds pretty mild, but those of you who know land use water allocation and environmental law know that this is a big change and a huge challenge. We have many areas where water is over-appropriated, and where the state has the authority to stop the further issuance of permits for wells. In certain counties, we have rampant illegal water use. And there are numerous local governments that are out of compliance with the requirements of the Growth Management Act.
Our fourth principle is that we will take immediate actions where they are urgently needed. As much as we value collaboration and incentives, there may be instances where our salmon just don’t have time to wait for us to work out collaborative agreements. For instance, where there is so little water left in a stream that salmon cannot spawn, we might take immediate action to get water back in to that stream.
Our fifth principle is the rudder for our efforts. This principle is that we will set specific performance measures, and monitor our progress towards achieving them. To put that more bluntly, this means we will set high standards, and hold ourselves and everyone else accountable for meeting them.
I want to add something else that isn’t in our list of principles, but is an embedded philosophy. One of our top priorities will protecting the habitat of currently healthy and abundant salmon runs from degradation as opposed to just restoring damaged habitat with hopes of bringing back salmon. That’s such a common sense thing to do that it might be easy to overlook – but it’s critically important.
We are listening very carefully to what people are telling us about this draft. Some say too general an objective was to prompt and encourage suggestions. We want the conversation about this draft to help us set the course – and the pace – for salmon restoration. I want to go as far as we can, as fast as we can. I want state government to provide real leadership. But how far and how fast we go depends on the degree to which all of us can build understanding of the magnitude of the problem; and acceptance of the pace and scale of our efforts.
The pace of our efforts will also depend on the condition of the state budget. We know that saving salmon will cost millions of dollars – not just in one year, but for many years. I’m encouraged by the efforts of our Congressional delegation to secure federal funding to help. And I’m committed to beefing up our state efforts. But we are constrained by a strict spending cap, by forecasts of declining state revenues, and by urgent needs for new investments in our public schools and our higher education system. How we are able to resolve these conflicting demands will ultimately depend on the will of Washington citizens.
The stakes are very high. The overriding goal of our strategy is to restore healthy and abundant runs of wild salmon – and to control our own destiny. We want to solve this problem ourselves – not to have solutions dictated to us by a judge in San Francisco
or a federal official in Washington, D. C. As Bill Ruckelshaus pointed out last week in his speech to the Association of Washington Business, federal solutions will be much blunter, cruder, and potentially more damaging to our economy than those we craft ourselves. It is frightening to realize just how easy it could be to lose control if our plans don’t pass muster with a federal judge or with federal officials.
But this difficult dilemma of how to save our salmon is also a golden opportunity. If we do what it takes to restore salmon, we will gain much more than healthy runs of wild fish. We will gain a new and higher level of harmony between economic development and environmental preservation.
Equally important, we will gain a greater capacity for democratic decision-making. Time after time, our conversation about saving salmon circles back to our ability to exchange short-term gain for long-term, sustainable benefits. It comes back to our ability to compromise our own narrow interests for the benefit of the common good. And it comes back to our own ability to put aside old ways of thinking and either/or choices, and focus instead on achieving the balance that moves us forward.
The effort to restore wild salmon runs will make history in bigger ways than we usually realize. If we succeed, it will be because we have created a new synthesis of democracy, science, economics and ethics. Saving salmon is a stunningly ambitious goal, full of risks and replete with consequences we barely understand. But extinction is not an option, and it’s up to us to make the history we want for our children and our grandchildren.
I am committed to using all the powers of the office of Governor to doing this. But ultimately, this is a goal we can only achieve by working together. So I want to end by asking for your help, and your promise: to listen with an open mind, and to focus on the common good; on the long-term view; and on the wild salmon that are, waging a heroic struggle to survive.
Thank you very much.