Kenneth Phippen

Kenneth Phippen, Oregon Coast Branch Chief for NOAA Fisheries, presents on “Breathing Life Into the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan” on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Seaside Public Library as part of the Necanicum Watershed Council’s Listening to the Land lecture series.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a roadmap for getting Oregon Coast coho off the endangered species list, but it relies on cooperation from partners, including community members, conservation groups, and timber companies.

The purpose of setting a goal for recovery is to ensure “we have those species around for future generations,” according to Kenneth Phippen, the Oregon Coast Branch Chief for NOAA’s West Coast region.

On Feb. 20, he presented on “Breathing Life into the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan” as part of the Necanicum Watershed Council’s Listening to the Land lecture series, hosted in partnership with the Seaside Public Library.

NOAA’s long-term strategy for de-listing coho salmon — and keeping them off the list — is outlined in the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, which was finalized in December 2016. The plan builds on past and current efforts to restore the coho salmon, particularly with a call for “continued actions to repair the ecosystem processes that influence the health and stability of the rearing habitats for juvenile coho salmon,” according to a plan summary. Using the plan as a foundation, the department can develop focused annual work plans with specific milestones.

Too often, Phippen said, bureaucrats put together plans that sit on the shelf without leading to tangible action, when “they’re supposed to be living documents.” Nine months after the recovery plan was approved, the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Workshop Team worked to develop a vision statement to ensure the document remained tangible and fresh.

Additionally, the plan is supplemented by a Recovery Implementation Strategy, which includes excerpts for each of the five strata on the Oregon Coast. Clatsop County is in the North Coast Stratum, which includes the Necanicum, Nehalem, Tillamook and Nestucca rivers.

What does a recovery plan do?

Out of 28 salmon species from the West Coast currently listed as endangered or threatened, the coho is relatively the closest to recovery, Phippen said, adding there is still work to be done.

While there are multiple variables at play, he added, “We really need to dig down deep and figure out what we as NOAA Fisheries can do to implement the plan.” To that end, the agency developed a ground strategy with several proactive and specific goals, one of which is managing the riparian area along rivers and streams and increasing the quality, quantity and diversity of winter and summer juvenile rearing habitat.

Other goals include establishing focused protection and restoration efforts within forestry and agriculture; promoting actions that strengthen coho populations along with sustainable local community and economies that rely on working lands; and enhancing monitoring programs and science.

“We’re actually making very specific commitments in our daily work in association to our recovery plan,” Phippen said, adding the ground strategy does not amend or revise the recovery plan, but rather “identifies and prioritizes actions NOAA will take unilaterally or in partnership with others.”

For the first time, he added, NOAA Fisheries is developing its annual work plans alongside the agency’s Restoration Center staff to ensure their work is complementary and progressing toward similar objectives.

As Phippen pointed out, success is not measured by merely getting coho salmon de-listed as an endangered species, but also through creating the infrastructure and environment for the species to continue thriving so it does not become re-listed a few years down the road.

Making a difference

Phippen said they have seen success in the state when a couple smaller watershed councils or other conservation organizations build a coalition and consolidate their efforts. His agency can provide support through funding and by helping groups identify opportunities for working together.

Additionally, community members can contribute to the recovery effort by sharing detailed information at the population level to help develop and implement strategic action plans alongside the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies and local stakeholders.

“You know that ground,” Phippen said, adding that level of localized familiarity is especially valuable. “The bottom line question is, are you going to continue this exciting journey with us?”

The Listening to the Land series runs through May. Each lecture takes place at 6 p.m. at the library. In March, Jakob Shockey, a wildlife biologist and the owner of Beaver State Wildlife Solutions, will present on “Resolving Conflicts with Beaver Using Natural Science and Design.”

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