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Former Washington State Governor Gary Locke Helps Us Face the Future by Spending His Keynote Looking Back

While this year’s Salmon Recovery Conference’s theme was Facing the Future Together, the conference spent significant time reflecting on both past successes and trials experienced since the state passage of the Salmon Recovery Act in 1999. Former Washington State Governor Gary Locke (1997-2005) kicked off this spirit of reflection with his keynote, “Salmon Recovery:  Twenty Years in the Making.”

During his presentation, he shared a personal story of President Clinton asking him to secretly negotiate a US/Canada Salmon Treaty in 1998. While at the time, he questioned what he really knew about salmon, he nonetheless agreed to the task. He knew it was a worthwhile cause for the region and both our countries. In the US, the first salmon species had just been added to the extinction list (1997). Locke noted, “While much of our world was prospering in the 90s, our fish were not!” And since salmon are oblivious to international borders, a joint-treaty was paramount for their survival.

Salmon Recovery Conference 2019:  Locke Keynote

While the entire negotiation process sounded quite tumultuous with very vocal opposers on both sides of the border (even in the US State Department), he focused on the result:  1999 was a momentous turning point for salmon. Along with the signing of the treaty, the Washington State Legislature created the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to provide grants to protect and restore salmon habitat, and they passed House Bill 2091 and companion Senate Bill 5896 which are commonly referred to as the Forests & Fish Law. This law is a science-based set of forest practices that protect 60,000 miles of streams running through 9.3 million acres of state and private forestland. He also noted that the US Congress established a Hatchery Review Board during this period (although my Googling says it was in 2000(!)). The Hatchery Reform Project recognized that while hatcheries play a legitimate role in meeting harvest and conservation goals for Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead, the hatchery system needs comprehensive reform.

Shifting his sights to the future, Former Governor Locke gave credit to how far we’ve come. Thousands of people are working together to stop the decline of salmon. “Salmon recovery,” he stated, “has become more complex. We now have to convince people that climate change is real.” For us to be successful going forward, he shared the importance of the following:

  1. Don’t forget we’re all in this together; We need to continue bringing people to the “table” to collaborate.
  2. It will require tough decisions.
  3. It will cost lots of time and money.
  4. Education is key.

This year's Salmon Recovery Conference proved to be a worthwhile couple of days in Tacoma. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to attend this keynote and gain a better understanding about how far we’ve come. Finally, I’ll end this post with something else Former Governor Locke shared during his talk, “We aren’t just saving salmon, we’re saving our way of life.”    

May we all be successful in this mission,