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Bill to 'clear the way' for reserves

Posted: Friday, Mar 25th, 2011

In December 2010, members of Oregon’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) gave consensus support to recommendations from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) pertaining to three additional marine reserve sites in the state’s territorial sea (out to three miles from shore). Those recommendations went to the governor and legislators for further review and discussion and development of a policy bill and potential funding package.

Oregon’s Coastal Caucus announced on March 17 that they had filed legislation to launch the process for the state’s “marine reserves experiment.”

House Bill 2009 would put in place no more than six marine reserves and marine protected areas, and would require a two-year baseline evaluation, an ongoing monitoring plan, and enforcement mechanisms for a 10- to 15-year period. It puts yet another piece into the state’s marine reserve puzzle.

“We fully understand the realities of how important our coastal economies are to the entire state,” said Rep. Jean Cowan (D-Newport), who chairs the caucus. “That is why the bill reflects the necessary compromises to shield our coastal communities from adverse socioeconomic impacts, while at the same time protecting our valuable marine ecosystems.”

The Coastal Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators, who represent Oregon coast areas and the Klamath River Basin. In addition to Cowan, members include Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), Sen. Joanne Verger (D-Coos Bay), Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), Sen. Doug Whitsett (D-Klamath Falls), Rep. Debbie Boone (D-Cannon Beach), Rep. Wayne Kreiger (R-Gold Beach), Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), and Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie).

Kreiger and Kruse said this bill “clears the way” for Oregon’s “marine reserves experiment” in the wake of HB 3013, passed in 2009, that established the initial design to explore and develop a scientifically-based system of marine reserves and marine protected areas in the territorial sea along Oregon’s shores.

That plan - based on recommendations OPAC sent to then Gov. Ted Kulongoski at the end of November 2008 - established two pilot marine reserves projects at Otter Rock near Depoe Bay and Redfish Rocks near Port Orford, and provided what legislators called “a balanced and diverse procedure” to assist in shaping potential marine reserve sites at Cape Falcon north of Manzanita, Cascade Head north of Lincoln City, Cape Perpetua south of Yachats, and Cape Arago-Seven Devils south of Coos Bay.

Getting started

Kulongoski’s March 2008 executive order calling for a system of marine reserves “individually or collectively large enough to allow scientific evaluation of ecological benefits, but small enough to avoid significant economic or social impacts” set the process in motion.

OPAC reviewed 20 site proposals from various groups and organizations for marine reserves and marine protected areas clustered around nine ecologically significant areas along Oregon’s 363-mile coastline. After a lengthy public process, the council settled on recommending the two pilot reserves and a detailed plan to shape the establishment of four other sites. While OPAC’s decision moved the process forward, it was a mere shadow of Kulongoski’s original vision of designating a National Marine Sanctuary along the entire Oregon coast, and even a much whittled-down version of the governor’s initial consideration for marine reserves.

Still, most folks acknowledged - some grudgingly - that it represented a major step in the right direction.

Sen. Johnson said HB 3013 represented “a pivotal turning point” in the longstanding, often divisive debate about marine reserves, calling it an opportunity “to move forward with a process that embodies transparency, community involvement, and good science.” It led to the Oregon Marine Reserves Work Plan and the beginning of the new phase of the overall process restarted in 2005. It created the foundation for a process driven by - among other things - “good science” and community involvement. And it provided a critical source of funding. The governor and the co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee included the bipartisan bill in their respective budgets, earmarking surplus settlement funds from the grounding of the New Carissa to underwrite the marine reserves effort.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) was designated as the lead agency in developing the plan through “collaborative involvement” and public input. OPAC weighed in on the final recommendations during their December 2010 two-day session in Newport.

A few tweaks

While the recommendations for Cape Perpetua and Cascade Head mirrored community team recommendations, ODFW altered the recommendation for Cape Falcon and - based on OPAC input - added other modifications, focusing on details regarding review and evaluation of sites, commitment to funding, community involvement, monitoring and research, and mitigation associated with activating those potential sites. If approved and funded by the legislature, Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head, and Cape Falcon would join the Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks pilot projects.

ODFW Fish Division Director Ed Bowles said those initial sites are moving along toward full activation and enforcement by July.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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