1999 Finalist
State of Oregon
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Previous generations of environmental conservation have focused on reducing "point-sources" of pollution such as factories or power plants, but few have taken a holistic view of the functioning of natural systems across wide areas. The consequences of such a narrow focus are beginning to be seen as government agencies are forced to tackle more subtle environmental problems than mere cleanup and punishment of polluters.

In the past decade, over 13,000 miles of streams in Oregon have failed to meet Clean Water Act water quality standards, and as a result, wild populations of salmon, steelhead, and trout have decreased dramatically. There are no easy scapegoats for the salmon's plight; many state and federal agencies administer laws and policies that have an impact on salmon, from fishery harvest management to water quality, habitat protection to production of hatchery fish. Salmon have suffered because their life cycle crosses the jurisdictional boundaries of all the agencies, but no single group was responsible for comprehensive care and management.

In 1995, state officials introduced the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds in an effort to provide coordinated effort and accountability while working toward a shared goal of salmon recovery and watershed health. As part of the Plan, Governor John Kitzhaber established a Salmon Strategy Team, which involved all relevant stakeholders and met bi-weekly to strategize on the overall direction of the Plan. University and state scientists have been working to better understand technical issues relating to salmon, including sustainability modeling, mapping of important habitat areas, and monitoring. On a more local level, the Plan helps farmers and ranchers as they develop local agricultural water quality management plans, and supports a number of local watershed councils across the state with funding and technical assistance.

Instead of passing the blame onto other agencies, under the Plan each state agency has collaborated with the Fish and Wildlife Department in finding novel solutions to the problem of salmon habitat destruction. The Water Resources Department has aimed to prioritize areas where increased stream flows would most benefit fish. The Department of Transportation has worked to replace road culverts that block the salmon's passage to critical streams. The Department of Forestry helps forest landowners replace upslope areas and reduce erosion, and to repair forest roads leading to sites where scientists can monitor salmon.

In 1997, more than 1200 projects were initiated under Plan supervision to help salmon, from stream fencing to grazing management, wetlands restoration to culvert upgrades. In addition, the state has workable water quality improvement plans for all sub-par water basins in the works.