Gov. John Kitzhaber is voicing his official agreement with what conservation and business groups have been saying for years -- that a whole new approach is needed to save endangered salmon and steelhead.
In an Oregonian editorial, the governor calls for all sides to sit down together, at the negotiating table instead of in the courtroom. He says the latest federal review of salmon numbers shows some species are not recovering quickly enough.
At the Sierra Club, deputy national field director Bill Arthur says Kitzhaber's vote of confidence in a roundtable approach is an important step toward making it happen.
"We have not had a significant statesman, leader, of the stature of Governor Kitzhaber say, 'Hey, this is broken.' We need to fix it, and we actually need to control a lot of our own destiny here in the region, in terms of how we put together a solution," Arthur said.
Federal agencies have less than 18 months to improve or replace the last salmon recovery plan, called a Biological Opinion, that was already rejected in court.
But whether a roundtable discussion of this magnitude can take place in the hectic weeks before a major election is anybody's guess. Arthur thinks it is possible.
"The federal agencies are, in fact, still doing work, still convening meetings on any number of issues all around the country," he said. "Other Northwest leaders, whether it's the governor of Washington or whether it's other U.S. senators, could also lend their voice. So actually, no, I don't think it does have to wait 'til after the election."
Kitzhaber points out that all sides in the long salmon debate are working on projects for habitat improvement. But after about two decades of legal battles, and three federal salmon plans that have been ruled illegal, he says there could be more collaboration.
Read the editorial in The Oregonian at www.oregonlive.com.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report.