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Why Obama's Pick for NOAA Matters: Jane Lubchenco

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President-elect Obama has shown that he is serious about picking the right person to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with his choice of Jane Lubchenco, an expert in overfishing and climate change who should have firsthand knowledge of the collapse of fishing along the Oregon coast.

As reported in The Environmentalist last April, "Salmon Fishing Canceled off the Oregon and California Coasts", the Chinook salmon run in the Sacramento River has collapsed:

Scientists are studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.

Fisherman who normally loathe to shut operations supported the cancellation of the season in the desperate hope they would see a return of salmon to the river in 2009.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said before several close votes led to the fisheries plan for 2008.

As the Pacific Fishery Management Council relies upon NOAA to approve such plans, it becomes imperative that NOAA's mission is not impeded by politics or greed as was reported in this related article from the Washington Post that explored Vice President Dick Cheney's possible involvement with the earlier Klamath Falls, Oregon salmon collapse.

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in. First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

There could not be a more timely appointment to head the agency whose mission is to "to understand and predict changes in Earth's environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our Nation's economic, social, and environmental needs."

Under the outgoing administration, far too much emphasis was to the economic over environmental and social, all with disastrous results for the economy, the environment and society at large.

With Jane Lubchenco, a Harvard trained Oregon State University professor who specializes in overfishing and climate change, and a president (and vice-president) to support her, that will hopefully now change.

It is an appointment that matters.

More on this topic at The Environmentalist

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