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    Reframing Northwest environmental issues

    Lacking top figures in the Obama administration from the region, area environmentalists are linking forest and salmon issues to a cause Obama understands better: climate change.
    Salmon swimming upstream. (Wikipedia)

    Salmon swimming upstream. (Wikipedia)

    Major federal appointments dealing with the Pacific Northwest environment are still waiting to be made by President-elect Barack Obama. Washington and Oregon candidates do not appear to be in the top tier. As a result, environmental leaders are turning to plans to link Northwest forests and streams to the high priority the new administration will give to climate change.

    Early speculation for Secretary of the Interior, traditionally a Western appointment, had centered on former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a longtime advocate of salmon and wildlife; and Congressman Jay Inslee, a Seattle Democrat with expertise in alternative energy matters. Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, was also being pushed by regional environmentalists, but her name seems to have faded. Kitzhaber is reluctant to move to Washington and expects the appointment of Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a Hispanic who is also supported by a coalition of 106 conservation organizations, according to a letter from more than 78 groups sent to President-elect Obama and released last week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

    UPDATE:The Denver Post is reporting that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar will be named later this week as Obama's Interior Secretary, and also that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has a good chance of being the new Transportation Secretary.

    Of equal importance is the position of Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the U.S. Forest Service, also traditionally from the West. Talk of an undersecretary will await appointment of a Secretary of Agriculture, traditionally from a farm region.

    Climate change is the mantra for scientists, environmentalists and conservationists in the forthcoming Obama administration, and through that huge portal some of the Pacific Northwest's big-picture environmental leaders hope to also advance a progressive agenda for regional forests and streams.

    "Is there a T.R. possibility?" muses Mitch Friedman, director of Conservation Northwest and a longtime defender of wilderness. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first conservation president, and pioneered national parks and federal forests more than a century ago. What could Obama do in a T.R. mode? Friedman envisions the nation moving beyond endangered species' protection to protecting endangered ecosystems. Large blocks of forest are being broken up for development, Friedman observes, and a challenge for the Obama Administration will be reversing this loss of forest, if it is to be used to combat global warming and also to preserve the benefits to society of having healthy farms and forests. Perhaps, he speculates, the public should purchase development rights on threatened forests to prevent sprawl — a T.R.-size concept.

    "Forests are the best places to store carbon," echoes Andy Kerr, consultant, author, and longtime leader of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, now called Oregon Wild. "And the Pacific Northwest forests are the best of all. They grow fast and they live long."

    Friedman and Kerr have been in the environmental field for a quarter-century or more, and were once considered wild men, aggressively challenging federal agencies and corporate land managers. Friedman began his career sitting in old-growth trees, and Kerr was described by Time magazine as "a terrorist in a white collar." Now elder statesmen in the region's environmental leaders, their tactics may have mellowed but their goals for a new administration are aggressive. In separate interviews, both stressed the linkage between global warming and the region's forests and streams. They also underscored the need to move "beyond the rollback of the rollbacks" as the Obama team tries to reverse last-minute actions of the Bush team.

    Kerr sees the region's forests increasingly valued for their ability to sequester carbon. If the nation and world move aggressively to a cap-and-trade system, the value of a mature forest may be greater to sequester carbon than to harvest. Already, Friedman notes, the value of forest real estate is up while commodity prices are low. That means the idea of forests to sequester carbon will compete not with harvesting timber but with housing developments.

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    Posted Mon, Dec 15, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    See New York Times Nicholas D. Kristof's column of December 10 for why President-elect Obama should appoint a Secretary of Food rather than Secretary of Agriculture. Reasons relate to health, climate, energy independence.

    Posted Mon, Dec 15, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    Easy there, before you get too excited.

    I'm not a climate change naysayer, but it is true we don't know exactly what is going on. What makes climate change action through the reduction of greenhouse gases is the degree of risk. Something is up, and we'd best virtually stop greenhouse emissions and hang for awhile and watch, maybe even 50 years or so.

    Unfortunately the logic behind this piece is exactly the sort of global warming science that is completely open to ridicule, and rightly so.

    Salmon protection is an important environmental goal, but it is one that may well be COUNTER to other strategies that will definitely reduce emissions, e.g., hydropower.

    This is a good issue, but it is one of balance and of judgement - to what extent is risking salmon runs justified by the increased use of hydropower.

    Now, the answer is not a simple yes or no, and there are ways in which things on both sides of this interesting environmental conundrum could be mitigated.

    Still, it is a discussion that needs to happen. And, damn sure, it ain't so easy as you'd like it to be.

    Posted Mon, Dec 15, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    given the realism of another 5 - 10 years and a legitimate open discussion of current climate and sun science, it is possible that the liberal media will be forced to kowtow to those who are working to expose the biggest fraud perpetrated upon the taxpayers of this country.

    ask the sierra club where they are hiding all this heat that CO2 has been capturing. is it in the Pacific ocean ? is it in the earths mid and upper atmosphere ? is it in the artic and antartic ice sheets ?

    unless you are truely an undeducated fool, you better look carefully at the CURRENT climate, sun and ice science before you heap praise on Al Gore and his cronies.

    Posted Tue, Dec 16, 7:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    Beware "timber Democrats" pushing things like "ecologically based thinning" of forests. DeFazio's proposed legislation, while it might protect some of the few remaining old growth trees, would do so at the expense of greatly increased logging everywhere else. "Ecologically based" logging is a misnomer, sort of along the lines of "research whaling." It requires far more roads even than clearcutting, a level of roading that might well guarantee the extinction of salmon runs in the affected areas. Nice as it would be if logging were the way to restore forests, it just ain't true. Logging is what has damaged them, and more logging won't make them better.

    Just about all the really good timberlands in the Northwest are in private hands, with a small amount owned by the State. Federal lands (National Forests,) are mostly mountainous, and poor places to cut timber, whether "ecologically based" or otherwise. Far better to just leave them alone.

    The writer makes some good points but he needs to get out and expend some shoe leather talking with more people with more diverse views if he is going to be able to write compellingly on these subjects.

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