Update on Current Research and Reflections on the 2020 Census

While I had hoped that this summer would be full of trips to sunny, salty, sea lion filled Newport to mentor ODFW’s Summer Scholars, unfortunately everyone is still working remotely. Though I have heard from my Newport-based coworkers that this pandemic is not stopping the hordes of tourists from flocking to the coast for celebrations such as the recent 4th of July.

One of the main projects that I’ve been working on this summer while stuck in Bend (there are worse places to be stuck!) is understanding if marine reserves have influenced socioeconomic conditions in communities located near them. To investigate this, I first had to gather information on the socioeconomic conditions of coastal communities over time. I used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates from 2010 to 2018. While accessing data prior to 2010 would be ideal, the first 5-year estimate summary tables were only released in 2010, so we work with what we got.

After collecting all of these data, the exploratory analyses began, as did the true test of what I can remember from those statistics courses long ago and how far my R coding skills can take me. These exploratory analyses include tests and visualizations such as correlation plots, non-metric multidimensional scaling plots, bubble plots, vector analyses, principal component analyses, PERMANOVAs, the list goes on. When working with complicated multivariate data, I have learned that exploration is key to understanding what is really shaping your data.

I have also been trying to figure out what my control and treatment communities should be. With this first approach, I am considering treatment communities as those that are located <15km from a marine reserve. Control communities are therefore all coastal communities located >15km from a marine reserve. Since the marine reserves were phased in over time, I have three separate treatment groups. The 2012 group includes communities located near Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and Otter Rock Marine Reserve, the 2014 group near Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve and Cascade Head Marine Reserve, and the 2016 group near Cape Falcon Marine Reserve. While this approach is a good first step, I will likely need to consider if other groupings or controls would be more appropriate. One method I am currently researching is creating a synthetic control by weighting non-treatment communities based on socioeconomic similarities to treatment communities prior to marine reserve implementation. But I won’t get too into the weeds with that statistical discussion here for everyone’s sake!

As I’ve been working with these census data, I’ve been thinking about the unfortunate timing of the decennial census this year. The Census Bureau conducts a survey every ten years with the goal to obtain a comprehensive snapshot of households in the United States. Unfortunately, the census this year coincided with a massive pandemic leading to significant economic loss and unemployment and the consequences that follow that loss. When future researchers use the decennial census to look at change over time, they are going to see data from 2020 that is not representative of the previous ten years, which will likely impact their analyses. I’m assuming that this data issue will lead to many footnotes in future papers. Luckily I will only be using data through 2019 (once it is made available) since the 2020 data will not be made available until after the marine reserve synthesis report is due.

A Data Scavenger Hunt for a Geographic Location Description

Wow! I can’t believe I am already 8 months into my Fellowship with DLCD, it really has flown by! As I look back, I think one of the main things that have stuck out to me is how close-knit this community really is. It takes several different entities to have a coastal “blue economy” up and running, including resource managers, fishermen, hotel and recreational employees, etc. Each of these people give a unique perspective to coastal management, and I am very excited to continue to grow these relationships in the final 4 months of my fellowship!

My main project has involved looking at the reasonable coastal effects of offshore seafood processing discharge, and writing a document known as a Geographic Location Description (GLD). This GLD will allow the state to review federal activities or federally authorized activities listed in the document, and approved by NOAA. Over the course of my fellowship, I have been able to gather a majority of the data necessary for the state to begin to understand these effects, and map areas of concern. For example, we are aware that land-based processing facilities discharge high impact wastewater; meaning this wastewater has a high Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). Research has shown that certain areas that are being discharged into have also seen a recurrence of low dissolved oxygen waters. One of the concerns is that these waters mix with state waters resulting in larger hypoxic events along the shelf. While these discharge events are not the sole cause of the hypoxia, we can infer that it most likely cannot help. Issues like these have been at the heart of my project, and it has been very interesting collaborating with resource managers, academic professionals, industry officials, and others to help gather the information necessary for the GLD. (I like to think of it as a scavenger hunt!)

Due to the pandemic response, I am also blessed to be working from home on my project. It was definitely an adjustment at first, but I feel like I am more used to working from my living room now! As I am rounding the corner of my fellowship, I hope to have a GLD ready to turn into NOAA. If not, I hope to have DLCD much closer to having one, than when I began!

Working through a pandemic

Times have certainly changed since my last blog post. With all of the COVID-19 health measures in place, the agency I work for (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife [ODFW]) has moved to primarily telecommuting. For me, this isn’t a huge difference since I was already working mostly remotely and have developed a routine to maintain productivity and minimize distractions throughout the day. However, I imagine that it is quite a big change for most of my coworkers that are used to working in the Newport office.

One measure my team, the Marine Reserves Program, has taken to ensure connectivity during these social distancing times is weekly virtual meetings. We start the meeting by each sharing a tip we have learned to improve this isolating experience or a suggestion we’ve heard for how to help out our community during this difficult time. Given the active nature of my team, tips often include taking the dogs on long early morning walks, setting up virtual exercise classes with friends, and making time for lunchtime yoga to keep routine and movement in your day. Suggestions for helping the community include purchasing food from local businesses and getting involved with volunteering where possible (e.g. helping distribute meals or groceries to those unable to leave their house).

Starting our weekly meetings on a positive, team-focused note makes me look forward to these Wednesday afternoon get-togethers. We’ve even started adding in silly components to distract from the seriousness of the real world and allow for us all to have a laugh. Last week we donned silly hats for our meeting, which allowed me to see my boss (Tommy) wearing his daughter’s bunny ear beanie with wire cat ears on top. Quite a sight!

While these meetings are used to keep us informed of any ODFW COVID-related changes, their primary purpose is really to keep our team connected. During this time of social isolation, staying intentionally connected is more important than ever for our mental health. I feel very lucky to be part of a team that takes the time to check in with their coworkers in both a personal and professional manner.

Oregon marine reserves evaluation – what about the people?

These past three months I have been serving as the Natural Resource Policy Fellow (NRPF) with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) Marine Reserve Program. My position is focused on understanding the effects marine reserves may be having on coastal communities and visitors.

First, a little background on the marine reserves. Oregon’s five marine reserves were phased in from 2012 to 2016 and they currently make up 9% of the territorial sea. The territorial sea just means Oregon’s state waters, which are less than three nautical miles from the shore. There are no extractive activities or development allowed in the marine reserves. However, each marine reserve has adjacent Marine Protected Areas where some extractive activities are allowed. These marine reserves can be thought of as being in a trial phase. The Marine Reserves Program, including the management, scientific monitoring, outreach, community engagement, compliance, enforcement, and funding for the marine reserves, is up for evaluation beginning in the year 2022. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) will choose an Oregon public university to prepare a report on the Marine Reserves Program for the Oregon Legislative Assembly.

One of the primary marine reserve goals was to “avoid significant adverse social and economic impacts on ocean users and coastal communities”. This goal was set in 2008 in the Oregon Marine Reserve Policy Recommendations document developed by the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC). This is where my position as an NRPF comes in. To determine if there have been any marine reserve impacts, we must compare socioeconomic data prior to marine reserve implementation and after marine reserve implementation. There are many different approaches we are using to achieve this goal both in house and with academic and professional collaborators. For example, we are comparing changes in socioeconomic indicators (e.g. per capita income) in communities near and far the reserves using census data. We are also looking at the potential economic loss to fishers with benthic species mapping, fish ticket data, and logbooks. We are also assessing whether there are any changes to visitor use at the shoreline adjacent to marine reserves with visitor surveys and observation counts. These are just a few of the many examples I could provide.

During this brief time that I have been a NRPF, I have already learned a great deal. I was even tasked with writing a literature review on stakeholder engagement and creating literature-based definitions for the terms stakeholder engagement (in general), informal stakeholder engagement, formal stakeholder engagement, stakeholder, and outreach. This literature review will be used to help evaluate the communications side of the Marine Reserves Program. I am looking forward to continuing to grow in this position while contributing to a project that I consider an important tool for natural resource management. Now, I will leave you with a picture of my dog (Moose – she’s from Alaska, hence the name) enjoying Newport’s South Beach.

Moose the golden retriever at South Beach, Newport

Natural Resource Policy Fellowship with the Department of Land Conservation and Development

Posted on Behalf of Nick Tealer

I have truly enjoyed my experience at DLCD so far. We have been extremely busy with public engagement meetings, Commission meetings, state agency collaboration, and so much more! It is encouraging to see this many people passionate about conserving our oceans and protecting vital habitat for threatened/vulnerable species.

While there have been many highlights in my 4 months here, I can say that my experience in Florence was the pinnacle. Every fall and spring, the OCMP Team meets with Coastal City/County Planners to help inform them about legislative developments, agency developments, and other information helpful to urban planning in the coastal zone. The amount of enthusiasm and ingenuity at those engagement hearings were great to see, and be a part of. In that same trip, the OCMP team was able to explore the Heceta Head Lighthouse, and the Florence Dunes. While I have been in Oregon for three years, this was one of my first trips to the south coast, and I truly enjoyed learning about this region’s history.

Blue and purple morning sky above the Florence, Oregon dunes.
Florence Dunes in the morning. Photo by Nick Tealer

The relationships I have made throughout this experience have been fantastic. The staff has been extremely accommodating and welcoming to me, as well as other state agency officials that I have had the pleasure of contacting. Ranging from DEQ to ODFW, my experience in coordinating with other state officials has been rewarding. I hope that this trend will continue as I become more experienced in the field of marine policy and habitat conservation.

View of the sunset over the ocean. Heceta Head sea stacks in the foreground.
Beach next to Heceta Head where we had burritos on the beach. Photo by Nick Tealer

From GNRO to OWEB, that’s a wrap

From one government acronym to another, my time as a policy fellow with the Governor’s Natural Resources Office is over, and I am moving on to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board as the Water Vision Coordinator-sounds cool, huh?

I was initially hired to work with marine policy, but I learned about so much more. Along with helping with the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Council, and the Rocky Habitats Working Group, I was helped with legislative projects, as well as pesticides, wildfire, and water policy. I was lucky enough to learn an incredible deal about how the policy I learned about in the classroom, is actually applied on the ground. A plan for ocean acidification is great, but we have to be able to pay for it. How do you balance OAH and a carbon cap-and-trade market? Both address climate change, but both require substantial resources to implement. Luckily that wasn’t my job to figure that out, but it is fascinating to be privy to those conversations.

The most fascinating thing I found about my time in the Governor’s Office was the timescale on which things happen. During the 2019 legislative session, conversations about the 2021 budgets were already happening. In the meantime, strategic legislative decisions are made on the quickly, based on the best available information. The long-term planning and quick, savvy decision-making showed me how incredible of a beast government really is (so overwhelming).

My last project with the Governor’s Office, and new job, is the 100-Year Water Vision, and is a text-book example of long-term planning and quick decision making. The goal is to create strategy to invest in Oregon’s water infrastructure, to ensure that there is clean and abundant water for now, and 100-years into the future. To do that that state must first assess what information we have, and what information we need to make big management decisions, while also engaging local communities now, to develop trusting relationships for the future.

Serving Governor Kate Brown, and being a part of the 100-Year Water Vision has been such an honor, and something that I would have never been able to achieve without Sea Grant. The Natural Resources Policy Fellowship has given me the opportunity to learn from experts in virtually every field, from every agency, and witness policy making at the highest state-level.

This fellowship has allowed me to break into the field, and create invaluable connections. Along with jumpstarting my career in natural resources, Sea Grant has provided me with the skills and a support system to grow and thrive into the future. Thank you!

A Brief History of Oregon’s Marine Reserves

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Oregon’s decision to pilot a system of marine reserves. On July 28, 2009, Gov. Kulongoski signed HB 30131, which directed the implementation of two pilot marine reserves at Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock. The bill also directed study of additional marine reserves using a community process, and as a result of this process, three additional marine reserves (Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, and Cape Perpetua) were designated during the 2012 legislative session. Oregon’s current system includes five no-take marine reserves (40 mi2) and nine adjacent marine protected areas (~77 mi2), an area that totals roughly 10% of Oregon’s Territorial Sea.

Ten years – the merest of moments geologically speaking, but a (somewhat) long time from a human point of view. Because 10-year anniversaries are often a time of reflection, let’s take this time to look back on all the sweet (and less than sweet) memories of Oregon’s relationship with the concept of marine reserves. The impetus for my reflection came from the fact that although my current duties are about looking forward, as Carl Sagan said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” So, I have certainly spent some time trying to better understand the policy landscape surrounding this issue. I have been assisting the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee as they prepare to submit a legislatively-mandated report to Oregon’s Legislative Assembly regarding the status of Oregon’s Marine Reserves in 2023; this report is to include “an assessment of social, economic and environmental factors related to reserves and protected areas” as well as “recommendations for administrative actions and legislative proposals related to the reserves and protected areas.”2 The report is to be prepared by an Oregon university, but making things a bit more complicated is that no funding was allocated in the bill for this assessment process.

But before we continue, we should get on the same page about terminology. Marine protected areas are defined as, “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.”3 Marine protected areas can allow many extractive uses with few protections or they may allow very little extraction with limited exceptions (for example, recreational harvest of certain species). Marine reserves are a special class of marine protected areas, where no extraction of living or non-living resources is allowed with the exception of take for scientific research. Marine reserves around the world have been established for different purposes, but the purpose of Oregon’s Marine Reserves is to “provide an additional tool to help protect, sustain or restore the nearshore marine ecosystem, its habitats, and species for the values they represent to present and future generations.” 4

Oregon’s foray into using marine reserves as a management tool began about 20 years ago; in 2000, Gov. Kitzhaber’s office requested that Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) begin gathering information regarding marine reserves as a management tool. Over the next two years OPAC organized informational meetings with experts and regional natural resource managers, held public meetings with Oregon ocean stakeholders, and collected written comments, which typically landed on one of two opposite ends – very supportive or very opposed. In its 2002 Report and Recommendations to the Governor, OPAC recommended that Oregon should test a limited number of marine reserves, and that those reserves should be determined based on “…an open, public process with extensive stakeholder involvement.”5 The discussions and resulting report set off a contentious debate between industry, conservation groups, and the state government, ultimately postponing what was to come by about a decade. Industry groups and fishing communities voiced concerns that such designations would cause further economic harm to Oregon’s coastal communities, which were still reeling from the groundfish disaster and salmon crises of the 1990s. Various government entities and environmental groups indicated that such measures were needed to help avert such disasters in the future.

What changed in the intervening decade? Sentiment-wise, not a lot as far as I can tell. Staunch advocates remained staunch advocates and vocal opponents remained vocal opponents but political winds were shifting.  A number of major reports, the work of national and international scientific experts, sounded the alarm in no uncertain terms that human activities were causing major and detrimental impacts to ocean ecosystems and thus human well-being 6–8. Increasing interest in wave energy development raised a new set of concerns for the fishing industry and fishing communities.

And so, in 2005, Governor Kulongoski requested that OPAC re-visit marine reserves. OPAC’s Marine Reserves Working Group met several times over the next couple of years and in 2008, Executive Order 08-07 accelerated the marine reserves process in Oregon. In line with the process for extensive stakeholder involvement in siting and planning outlined in EO 08-07, community groups and citizens submitted 20 proposals, and on November 29, 2008, OPAC forwarded its recommendation on pilot sites and sites for further consideration to the Governor’s Office. The following November, after passage of HB 3013 (the legislation that established the pilot marine reserves), ODFW’s newly-established Marine Reserves Program worked with OPAC to form community teams to study the sites recommended for further evaluation. With the aid of a facilitator the community teams worked diligently over the next year, logging a total of 35 meetings and ~25,000 collective volunteer hours over an 11-month period to develop their final recommendations, which were submitted to the legislature in early 2011. Although legislation was introduced during the 2011 legislative session to establish the three new sites, negotiations were unsuccessful and the bill died in committee. Between the 2011 and 2012 sessions, the Coastal Caucus (the bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators representing coastal districts) worked to craft a plan that would receive support moving forward. On March 5, 2012, Gov. Kitzhaber signed SB 1510 and the period of marine reserves planning gave way to implementation.

One of the major concerns among opponents during the contentious first decade of marine reserve discussions was that we don’t understand enough about using marine reserves as a management tool. A common theme among proponents was that we can’t wait until we know all the answers and that science should help guide an adaptive management process.

So what have we learned? A quick Web of Science search reveals that since 2000, over 2000 peer-reviewed articles regarding marine reserves globally have been published, with >100 new papers every year since 2008. Change the topic search term to “marine protected areas” and the number of publications is more than doubled. The oldest marine reserves and protected areas are now decades old, and many publications in recent years have synthesized this wealth of data to examine the effectiveness of marine reserves, both from an ecological and a human well-being standpoint.

And as far as Oregon’s nearshore is concerned, the ODFW Marine Reserves Program’s research collaborations and monitoring efforts have contributed new understanding about Oregon’s notoriously difficult-to-study waters (I encourage you to visit the Reserves News to learn more about the research happening in the reserves). While the Marine Reserves Program’s eyes are on the ocean, the eyes of the nation will be on Oregon as the process unfolds. Nationally, Oregon has a reputation as a conservation leader and also a leader in collaborative governance processes that involve citizens in important land use and coastal management decisions – often referred to as “the Oregon Way.” Such participatory processes don’t usually make any one group happy, but they do have the ability to ensure that people feel heard. And when people feel that they had a place at the table, efforts are more likely to succeed.

What is the future of Oregon’s marine reserves system? One of the points of the mandated assessment is to provide valuable information to Oregon’s ocean stakeholders so that adaptive management as envisioned in OPAC’s 2008 Marine Reserve Policy Recommendations can take place. As the 2023 assessment nears, it is time to start thinking about this important next step. Given the current political climate and the still-raw emotions from the 2019 legislative session, it’s helpful to reflect on the fact that Oregonians can have difficult discussions, make tough compromises, and move forward together.

References

1.            House Bill 3013. Relating to ocean resources; and declaring an emergency. (2009).

2.            Senate Bill 1510: Relating to ocean resources; creating new provisions; amending ORS 196.540; and declaring an emergency. (2012).

3.            NOAA Marine Protected Areas Center. Definition and Classification System for US Marine Protected Areas.

4.            Ocean Policy Advisory Council. Oregon Marine Reserve Policy Recommendations: A Report to the Governor, State Agencies and Local Governments from OPAC. (2008).

5.            Ocean Policy Advisory Council. Report and Recommendation to the Governor: Oregon and Marine Reserves. (2002).

6.            Ecosystems and human well-being: synthesis. (Island Press, 2005).

7.            Pew Oceans Commission. America’s living oceans: charting a course for sea change. A report to the nation. (Pew Trusts, 2003).

8.            US Commission on Ocean Policy. An ocean blueprint for the 21st century. (US Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004).

Plastic Fibers, Anti-Fouling Boat Paint, Aquatic Invasive Species, and OASE Interns!

It’s been a busy spring, and I’ve continued to work on projects ranging from the impacts of synthetic fibers on overall plastic particle pollution, the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint, ways to increase education and outreach to reduce invasion by aquatic invasive species, and providing administrative support for the Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) summer intern program.

It’s common knowledge that plastics are accumulating at unprecedented levels in oceans around the world.  In response, increasing numbers of people participate in beach cleaning efforts, and are changing their daily practices to reduce single-use plastics in their homes (re-usable bags/straws/ cups/ containers).  Although research indicates that large pieces of plastic (bottles, bags, straws, etc.) contribute most to the overall mass of plastics in the oceans, new studies are demonstrating that large pieces produce only a small share of the plastic particles (microplastics).   Of significant concern are the impacts of synthetic fibers from clothing made from nylon, polyester, and synthetic blends, which in turn, break down into microplastics found in our oceans and on local beaches.  These fibers aren’t reaching the oceans because clothing is thrown into the sea.  Rather, hundreds of thousands of fibers (plastic) may be released from our washing machines and into our municipal wastewater effluents every time we wash our fleece pullover and/or spandex/nylon/polyester tights.

As a first step toward understanding the magnitude of the issue, I completed a review of research on the significance of synthetic fibers in overall microplastic pollution, and included recommendations for follow-up.  Suggested studies for the future include projects that will trace the release of synthetic fibers during typical processes of washing clothing and subsequent discharge of fibers through current wastewater effluent systems, and assessing the volume of synthetic fibers that may be re-introduced into the environment as embedded particles in sludge applications on land.

As a joint project for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), I am continuing research on the use of copper biocides in anti-fouling bottom boat paint and potential aquatic impacts in Oregon.  Anti-fouling boat paint is designed to slowly release varying levels of biocides (like copper) on contact with water.  Some paints are called an ablative paint, which is softer and allows the paint to wear off at a controlled rate, and much like a bar of soap, once the boat moves in the water or there is a current and or tide, the outer layer slowly wears away. Ablative paints generally contain lower levels of biocide toxins, but the toxins are released at a steadier rate as fresh paint is exposed. Copper in anti-fouling paint can also be released into the environment during boat maintenance and repainting practices.

  

It turns out that boaters who leave their boats moored at marinas in both salt and fresh water environments often use a biocide in anti-fouling paint on the bottom of boat hulls to prevent the attachment and spread of aquatic organisms, including invasive species.  Originally I thought that the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint in freshwater environments was less common as there are very few organisms that are classified as “boat fouling” that would be of concern for attaching to the bottom of a boat in fresh water.  However, it turns out that fresh water boat enthusiasts may also use a biocide paint that repels the accumulation of slime (biofilm to algae) on their boats, and the most common anti-slime boat paint includes a copper component.

Although copper occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and surface waters and is an essential nutrient at low concentrations, too much copper can negatively impact aquatic organisms, including the ability of fish to successfully reproduce and grow. In fact, numerous studies on fresh water fish and salmon have shown that high levels of copper can reduce resistance to disease, alter swimming patterns, impair respiration, blood chemistry, and more.

I am continuing to collect data, read studies, learn about typical boat cleaning and maintenance practices, and connect with water quality experts in Oregon.  By the end of this summer I will compile a report that summarizes the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint, provides some clarity on current anti-fouling paint practices, and begins to trace known levels of copper Oregon’s salt and fresh water environments.

A new project that I started this month is the development of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) education and outreach materials for boat yard operators. The state of Oregon through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the OSMB has a fairly robust program to educate boaters about the importance of identification and removal of AIS in Oregon. However, most of the current outreach information identifies species found in fresh water boating environments.

I am working on developing materials that will help boat yard operators identify and report species that could invade Oregon shores through marine (saltwater) environments – many of those were recently studied during the examination of tsunami debris from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Approximately 380 species of algae, invertebrates and fish were identified in Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD), and as recently as spring 2017, live Japanese species were still documented arriving on JTMD objects in North America and Hawaii. Although the number of live organisms from JTMD is now reduced, an introduction of AIS from salt water environments is still a significant concern. The new outreach materials will assist boat yard operators to act as front-line deterrents to invasions by providing information on identification and reporting of some of these less commonly known marine organisms.

Last, but not least, the OASE program is off and running for summer 2019. Interns, host businesses, and supporting partners had the opportunity to mingle and hear about this summer’s projects at a Meet & Greet event in May, and our 2019 interns gathered during an Orientation event this month to learn more about the OASE program and goals, expectations and deliverables, project assignments and developing project scopes, Pollution Prevention concepts, and administrative resources and support. I will continue to assist with the organization of the administrative portions of the program and provide mentoring support to the interns during their summer experience. I’ve included a picture of the 2019 Interns taken during Orientation and I wish them much success as they design waste reduction and pollution prevention systems for their host businesses.

(2019 OASE Interns – Anna Burton, RiverBend Materials; Jack Hobbs, Stanley Infrastructure; Nuchwara “Aam” Youngcharoen, Yogi Tea; Maya Hurst, Grand Central Bakery; Lara Andenoro, Stumptown Coffee Roasters; Olivia Bain, Green Hammer; Not pictured – Angelique Brown, AntFarm; Jacob Taddy; Rachel Mattenberger).

A Session Reflection

Sine die is the constitutionally defined date that the legislative session ends. There is an interesting feeling of uneasy calmness at the Capitol. While a large percentage of bills died in the first session deadline in April, there are “zombie bills” still floating around. Zombie bills, are bills that were sent to either the Joint Ways and Means or the Rules committees, which aren’t subject to session deadlines. These bills are often kept alive because they have a very broad “Relating to…” clause, like “Relating to the environment” or “Relating to education”, and can be re-written later during the session.

Because zombie bills can be re-written, policies that may have died earlier in the session, may come back. For this reason, the “bad policies” that were a concern in the beginning of the session, could still be a threat. The importance of soft skills, like analyzing human interactions, has never been so clear to me. Some committees are receiving informational presentations about marine reserves and coastal tourism, and some are approving the Governor’s executive appointments some committees are kind of slow, kind of fast, and definitely ominous.

I’ve had the incredible opportunity to help with passing the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act, which seeks to prevent backsliding of state air and water quality standards that occur at the federal level. I’ve been tasked with developing testimony for Governor’s Office staff and floor speeches for legislators, brainstorming responses to potential opposition of the bill, and collaborating with state agencies to develop strategy. While the learning curve is steep, I feel like this have given me a crash course in communicating and developing policy.

What is the goal of the policy? Defining the goal of a policy is critical in ensuring effective development and outcome, as well as garnering support for the idea. What is the purpose? The next step, is to refine the policy by defining what the mechanisms that will be used to execute the goal. I have found that concise and clear marketing of a policy requires the integration of these two aspect. With 1,500 bills circulating during the session, it is impossible for legislators to understand the ins and outs of all of them. A common theme I have seen during committee hearings and floor votes is that legislators are unaware or unsure of what a policy is or does. Furthermore, when politics are concerned, sewing misinformation about a policy is an effective tool to stall or kill a bill.

In my short time observing the legislature, I’ve also been able to reflect on the degree to which messaging and public relations drive politics. The constant balance of context, timing, and substance is a delicate dance. The timing for the introduction of a policy is all dependent on the type of policy and the current political climate. For example, the timing and context of the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act was in direct response to the Trump Administration rolling back several clean air and water protections. The substance was also important, in that the Governor’s policy protected the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts; three landmark environmental protection policies that, in general, are viewed positively and as necessary. The timing, context and substance of the policy were critically balanced in demonstrating the urgent need for it.

The Oregon Environmental Protection Act based both legislative chambers and was signed by Governor Kate Brown on March 24, 2019.

Pondering the science-policy interface: Active listening and lifelong learning

The last year has been one of transition and change professionally – almost a year ago exactly, I successfully defended my dissertation. I feel very fortunate that I now have the opportunity to further broaden my experiences as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy fellow. My primary role as a fellow is to assist the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) as they carry out the legislatively-mandated Marine Reserves assessment process. The Oregon Legislative Assembly and other stakeholders will use information from a legislatively-mandated report, due in 2023, to inform adaptive management of Oregon’s Marine Reserves going into the future.

Celebrating my defense in May 2018 – smiles all around!

Although I haven’t blogged much in the past (once to be exact), I really enjoy reading science blogs and essays. I notice that many blogs in the marine science community involve a story about how the writer’s desire to work with marine ecosystems stems from the fact that they were raised near the ocean. I will just let you know right now – I was not. I was born in Kentucky, and in case you just consider that part of “flyover country” I will 1) be sad and 2) let you know that it’s roughly 500 miles, east or south, to the nearest coastal ocean.  The nearest beaches were those of man-made dammed lakes like Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, which are on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. Although I didn’t know it at the time, these lakes displaced ~2500 people and inundated many cultural and historical sites. At the time, I simply delighted in the fun that these not-quite-natural wonders offered: swimming, fishing, and hiking are just a few fond memories.

Growing up in a rural community, I wasn’t exposed to many scientists. I never really thought about science as a profession, and then I effectively ruled it out at a too-early age when I decided that math was too hard. Now, if I could go back, I’d like to tell my younger self a lot of things – but not writing off math at such an early age would be a big one. But early experiences like these, along with discovering the wonders of backpacking during my early 20s probably helped lead me back to school a few years later.

So at first, my desire to pursue a career in science was really driven by pure curiosity about the natural world I was spending more and more time in, but moving to Colorado during a major drought and wildfire period very quickly expanded my interests to include better understanding the ways humans both rely on and impact important natural resources. I happened to take my first-ever geology class unintentionally (I was planning to major in biology and it filled a needed elective spot). I arrived bleary-eyed at 8:00 AM so that I could also squeeze in 30 hours of work/week only to have my eyes opened to an entirely new world, and a career in water resources was born. As a master’s student studying how river systems change through time, I realized that I was very interested in applied research (how can lessons learned be translated into effective management actions), and a PhD in Environmental Resources & Policy broadened these interests even more – how do we get to policies that consider evidence from scientific disciplines (life, physical, social sciences) but also address other important concerns?

Although some may consider my outsider status a liability, I choose to look at my journey as an opportunity. I can’t help but be amazed by the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to ponder water and all that depends on it as a part of my academic career. From semi-arid headwaters streams that I could step across in sandals to the nation’s largest river swamp, I’ve had the chance to study water and the many ways we impact this vital resource. As an outsider, I don’t have many preconceived notions about whether marine reserves are “right” or “wrong” as a management tool, but I hope a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far will help me perform my work as I learn more about the relevant policy landscape. A few themes stand out and seem to be common regardless of the resource or its geographic location:

  • We (humans) have often believed natural resources to be inexhaustible in their bounty.
  • We altered/used the resources in many ways without fully understanding the consequences of our actions.
  • Many of these systems are resilient and we didn’t realize the impacts immediately.
  • We now understand that we are at risk of losing vital services these systems have historically provided to us.
  • Often, groups most dependent on these resources for their livelihoods are most impacted even though they are not typically the ones responsible for the major changes.
  • Often, groups dependent on these resources for their livelihoods have been left out of decision-making processes.

Well, these are complicated problems. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how various audiences do (or don’t) engage with science. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how lessons learned from science are used (or not) to make decisions. Many scientists realize the need to share the results of their research and why it’s important, but much evidence points to the fact that just expanding the availability of information doesn’t necessarily translate into science that that’s usable. Another really valuable component that could improve the science-policy interface, perhaps, is realizing that scientific findings are just one piece of information that ultimately affects policy; listening and trying to understand the other pieces are also important. Even though scientists are trained to be objective, the reality is that humans (including scientists!) make decisions based on other valid ways of knowing. I bring this up not because I’m an expert on the subject, but because I am genuinely interested in finding ways to improve “evidence-based decision making for sustainability.” 1

So the initial phase of my fellowship has been an intense phase of learning and listening. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with STAC members and ODFW’s Marine Reserves Team, and their insight and expertise have greatly improved my understanding of the science behind marine reserves. The resources available to me through Oregon Sea Grant – through conversations, publications like this one, and workshops and seminars – have proved to be invaluable resources for learning about coastal issues and how they affect local communities. My deep dive into Oregon’s Marine Reserves process so far has revealed this: the process wasn’t always pretty, it was sometimes contentious, but it has incorporated many of the factors needed for conservation success. And perhaps more importantly, it revealed this – all stakeholders ultimately want the same thing: healthy ocean ecosystems that will provide for current and future generations. There may be disagreement on how best to do this – but that’s where the listening comes in. We may not agree on all the finer points, but we can agree to listen to each other.

Participation in the many learning opportunities available through Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon State University has been a key part of my fellowship so far. Photo credit: James Dewhirst

 

  1. Bednarek, A. T. et al. Boundary spanning at the science–policy interface: the practitioners’ perspectives. Sustain. Sci. 13, 1175–1183 (2018).