The tales we tell…

Stories are a near universal aspect of human existence. They define who we are as a people, illustrate the values we hold as individuals, and provide a common medium by which to communicate the shared human experience. The more that I delve into my work and examine myself, the more I realize how integral storytelling is. On any given day, any single aspect of my work can ultimately be related back to some form of narrative, whether that is looking for a shared narrative or spinning some of my own novel yarns.

One way that we use stories is to connect the public, or some subset of it, to the places, resources, and activities that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) manages on their behalf. By invoking imagery, cultural values, and common experiences associated with the resources that we manage, we are able to better communicate the results of our stewardship and inform the public.

A great example of this is the outreach and education materials that the Marine Reserves Program produces.You can check out some of their work on their website. Some of this material describes the structure of the program or the status of recent monitoring trips while others communicate issues of concern, like Ocean Acidification (OA). They have produced a wonderful the wonderful video below where you can learn about what causes it and how it relates to the Oregon coast and see many of the great people that I work with.


Sometimes the stories we tell are not to convey new information but demonstrate involvement and commitment to an issue. This last week, Cat Dayger and I have been editing press releases describing the work of the Ocean Acidification Alliance (alliance). The alliance is the nonprofit we helped launch to elevate OA on the international stage. The press releases are intended to highlight the West Coast regional efforts to address OA in light of the alliance attending the Ocean Conference hosted by the United Nations in New York this upcoming week.

The alliance, as well as California, Oregon, and Washington, are all making voluntary commitments towards Sustainable Development Goal 14.3 to continue their work on global ocean change and OA. The narrative here was not to tell a new story about OA but to keep the spotlight on the issue and communicate that work is underway to understand and address it. Sometimes the issues or status of a topic can be more effectively told not with words or other traditional media but through other means…

Everyone has heard the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most people, however, don’t usually bring charts, tables, or maps to mind when they hear this phrase, let alone matrices or databases. But data is essentially the building block, or base-unit, that scientists work with. Every dataset has a story that it can tell and part of what scientists do is to use visual, mathematical, and statistical tools to piece together the plot points of a dataset’s story, identify its main characters, and expose the details hidden beneath the surface.

During my time with ODFW, I have been hard at work creating an interactive toolset to illustrate the story behind  the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) Monitoring Inventory which is one of the main projects I work on. The OAH Monitoring Inventory is a catalog of monitoring assets (buoys, moorings, sensors, etc.) and research projects related to OAH that helps determine where OAH is already being monitored and where it needs to be monitored more. This is very similar to the inventory a restaurant manager takes at the end of a week before ordering more supplies. However, before we can decide where to place new instruments, we must understand the “lay of the land,” as it were, by identifying where assets are located, what they are collecting, and how long have they been there. These are are just a handful of the 70+ odd bits of descriptive information that were recorded. To communicate the complexities of this in a typical narrative would be almost certainly lose some of the finer details of the inventory’s story. Unfortunately, this interactive web app still needs some refining but I hope to be able to share it soon.

Storytelling is an innate practice permeating nearly every facet of our lives. When we are at home playing a game, reading a book, or watching netflix we are ‘listening’ to the tales presented before us. Moving out into the real world to telling stories with friends around a bonfire, tall tales on social media, or drafting a press release we move from consuming to weaving our own tapestries. Framing and polishing a narrative to reflect either how we want to be perceived or best fits the situational context. Medium is yet another facet that can change the experience. Some elements of a story will be more apparent in one format and lost via another. When watching a movie of a popular book your favorite character can take on an entirely new light due to how they are portrayed. With technical information this is no less true. The takeaways one has looking at a table of values will be far different than those represented on a map or plotted in a chart. All of these differences demonstrate how deeply saturated we are in stories and how they color our perceptions and, in turn, our own personal narratives.

I look forward to the opportunity to continue to ‘tell my tales’ here to you and to the audience of my professional work.

The Legislative Session is Coming! The Legislative Session is Coming!

It’s started folks, the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session is here, as of Feb 1. Working in the Governor’s office I could feel the wave building, a collective anticipation of the impending deluge of legislative concerns around the office. I won’t say that folks braced for impact, but there was the feeling of straightening of shoulders and a clearing of decks.

Already one week of the session has passed and I’ve already learned so much about how government works. Before Session, I knew in the back of my mind that bills introduced to the legislature would be posted online, or would at least be subject to public records requests. I hadn’t ever gone looking for what my legislators were up to or what issues where the topic of discussion in the halls of the Capitol. If I came across legislation at all, it was filtered through an advocacy group telling me I should care about it via an email or a petition circulated through social media.

Now, especially given the increased interest in activism since the Presidential election in November, I tell everyone I know to go searching. Until very recently, I was in the position of not quite knowing how to find out what’s happening in the Oregon legislature. Fear not, here are three steps to get plugged in:

Step one: Find out who’s introducing what. Go to the Oregon State Legislature’s Oregon Legislative Information System On the top left corner, you can click “Bills” and you can search by bill text (that’s keywords), bill sponsor (that’s which legislator(s) supports the bill by sponsoring it) or by bill number (good for if you’re already familiar with a bill from another source, like a newspaper article). If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you might guess that I searched “ocean” right away and you’d be correct (26 bills with some mention of ocean in the text!).

Step two: Do some research. You can read the bill on OLIS…they often aren’t nearly as dense and unreadable as you might think. You can read about any considerations regarding financial impact on various industries. If the bill has received any hearings in committees* you can read summaries and testimonies. You can even WATCH a video or live feed of the hearing! On the subject of committees, once a bill is introduced (or “dropped” if you’re hip to the lingo), it gets assigned to a committee of legislators with knowledge of the subject area. Figure out what committee your bill of interest is in.

Do an internet search for the bill or the associated keywords and see who’s talking about it. Maybe there’s an analysis or opinion from a news organization, or an advocacy group which you could read critically to inform your opinion. Talk to your friends and family (civil discourse y’all…) and see what they think. Is there a bill that you like or don’t like a whole bunch?

Step three: Tell your legislators what YOU think (find your legislator and their contact info here). Which legislators are on the committee considering the bill? Contact them too. Is the bill up for a hearing? Go testify at the hearing, or if that’s logistically unfeasible or too intimidating, submit some written testimony (on the committee page there is a link to an “exhibit email”).

They listen, truly. I know because I’m now occasionally party to citizens telling their government what they think about the decisions being made. Sometimes folks voice their support for a decision or a bill. More often, folks speak up when they don’t like something. Maybe that’s human nature.

You can do the same thing for the US Congress in Washington, D.C. You can search the bills that have been “dropped.” You can find your legislators in the Senate and House.

Go forth and be informed!

Cat Dayger meets Collaborative Independence in Salem

Welcome to the first blog post of the 2016-2017 Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow! It feels like an impressive title compared to PhD student, the hat I’ve been wearing for the past 5 years. Basically everything about this fellowship is different from what I experienced as a full-time PhD student and I find that I can’t stop marveling at the contrasts.

For one thing, I have a regular schedule. My husband has heard me say a million times “Science waits for no one” to explain why I unexpectedly needed to stay late at the lab, work weekends, and go into the lab early in the morning.

An imposing building to work in to go with my imposing - maybe just long - title.

An imposing building to work in to go with my imposing – maybe just long – title.

Bench science – experiments in a lab – often take more or less (ha! never!) time than expected, which means making plans with friends and family are constantly derailed or postponed. Now, as a Policy Fellow working in the Governor’s office, my schedule is largely confined to regular business hours. There are holidays! I find the more predictable schedule refreshing.

For another, I am surrounded by colleagues excelling in the career I see for myself pursuing. I knew fairly early on in my PhD career that I was not interested in a career in academia, at least not at an institution primarily focused on research. I love doing bench science and field work, and I love the teaching and mentoring I’ve done, but the prospect of packing grant writing and academic service on committees around research and teaching only fills me with dread rather than excitement. I find that I am inspired and focused in ways I haven’t felt in a while because I’m immersed in the field I’m most interested in. I guess I’m also relieved to feel like I’ve made the right choice.


The State of Oregon coffee (tea) cup I bought the first day at the Capitol.

Not everything is so different though. I still work primarily independently, at least so far. I spend some time working as part of a team on projects with tight deadlines, which I’ve always perversely found enjoyable. And I still drink tea almost constantly at my desk. How do people live without hot drinks?

One of the unexpected surprises of my first few weeks has been the commute to Salem, OR. I was dreading it, frankly, but I’ve been riding the Amtrak train and watching the sunrise over the farm fields recalls to me the time I spent driving through corn fields to feed horses and go to horse shows early in the morning when I lived in Michigan and Illinois. It seems I still have a soft spot

The tumble of morning glories on my walk to work.

The tumble of morning glories on my walk to work.

for early mornings in rural America. I’m also enjoying exploring Salem itself on my lunch breaks. I keep finding this beauty out of the blue that stops me, literally, in my tracks.

I don’t have much to report on the actual work I’m doing yet. I’m still getting on all the right people’s radar so they know I’m the person to contact about ocean and coastal issues. Today, I look forward to attending the Oregon Shellfish Task Force meeting where they will finalize their recommendations to the legislature. I’ve been hearing about the progress of Shellfish Task Force for more than a year from Kessina Lee, my predecessor and PSU Biology colleague, so it’s exciting to see the product of all that work.

Next time, I hope to be able to outline the projects I’ll be working on and maybe highlight some of the neat architecture and sculpture I get to walk by every day working around the Oregon State Capitol.



Report from Oregon Ocean Science Trust Science Summit

For two days in Newport in May, over 40 natural and social scientists and agency natural resource managers met to discuss research and monitoring priorities in Oregon’s nearshore. Convened by the Oregon Ocean Science Trust with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Sea Grant, and the Packard Foundation, the goal of the workshop was to identify and prioritize research and monitoring funding needs, scalable to budget resources available, to provide baseline and trend data and inform key research questions. These research questions could relate specifically to changing ocean conditions such as ocean acidification and hypoxia, marine habitat, fish and wildlife, and the vulnerability and resilience of coastal communities to changing ocean conditions and the effects on marine resources.

The Oregon Ocean Science Trust is intended to serve as a funding mechanism for research and monitoring in Oregon, and by convening an interdisciplinary Science Summit to prioritize funding needs, the Trust will better be able to direct available funds to the most relevant and urgent areas. The attendees at the Summit were a Who’s Who of oceanography, fisheries science, marine ecology, geochemistry, economics, sociology, and anthropology. It would have been enough to be a fly on the wall for this event, but I was fortunate to be one of the breakout session facilitators. The breakouts were organized to spread representatives of different disciplines out among all the groups, making the groups as academically diverse as possible. Each group was then tasked with generating research and monitoring plans at three different budget levels that would address key nearshore questions. There were great back-and-forth discussions, and it was fascinating when all the groups came back together, to see how each group had approached the tasks. As a facilitator, I used a much lighter touch than I otherwise might have because it seemed like a good idea to let the conversation and exchange between group members really develop, and then bring everybody back to the template we were given. The end result will be a report with key research themes, questions, and monitoring approaches identified, as well as a plan for a comprehensive research and monitoring program for Oregon’s nearshore with three budget levels identified. The event, which was conceived of in late January, came together quickly and nearly everyone invited was able to attend, and produced substantial results which can be used to guide funding for important efforts in the nearshore as we face changing ocean conditions and the related impacts on communities. Definitely one of the coolest gatherings I’ve gotten to attend in my time with OSG!

Shellfish Initiative: Oregon’s efforts in a nationwide context

When I last wrote about the Oregon Shellfish Initiative, the bill to create it was working its way through the 2015 legislative session. House Bill 2209 passed both houses and was signed by the Governor, and a whole new phase of work began. The bill created the Oregon Shellfish Task Force, an 11-member group charged with producing a report to the 2017 Legislature with recommendations related to shellfish in Oregon. The issues to be addressed by the Task Force include creating an efficient permitting process for shellfish growers–eliminating regulatory overlap and gaps where possible and encouraging communication among regulatory agencies, establishing best management practices for cultivated shellfish in Oregon, protection and restoration of wild and native shellfish stocks for conservation as well as recreational harvest, supporting ocean acidification research in collaboration with shellfish growers, and assessing the socioeconomic impacts of commercial and recreational shellfish on Oregon’s coastal communities.

Around this same time, my term as the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow was coming to an end. Fortunately for me, I was able to move across the street to the Governor’s staff offices and into the position previously occupied by the fabulous Kaity Goldsmith as the Natural Resource Policy Fellow working on ocean and coastal issues. Though the Governor’s office doesn’t have an official role with the Task Force, I’ve been able to support the work in an unofficial capacity, providing an informational presentation at the first meeting, and meeting with committee staff to provide background information and help ensure that interested stakeholders are at the table.

The Task Force convened in November and has been meeting approximately every other month. The fourth meeting is coming up next week, and this halfway point in their process seems like a good time to weigh in on their work to date. After an initial organizational and informational first meeting in November to bring up to speed those TF members who were new to the conversation, the January meeting was held at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and focused on shellfish research in Oregon, particularly related to the effects of ocean acidification and changing ocean conditions on oysters and other bivalves. The meeting also included a tour of the research facilities at HMSC where Oregon State researchers Chris Langdon and Burke Hales research the effects of changing ocean chemistry, including Dr. Langdon’s Molluscan Broodstock Program which aims to select oyster broodstock that is resistant to increased CO2, temperature, and other fluctuations. The third meeting, held in Salem at the Capitol, focused on the role of federal and state agencies in the shellfish industry, as well as conservation concerns related to wildstock and native oysters. Representatives from several federal and state agencies discussed their role in permitting and regulating the shellfish industry in Oregon. It was a very productive meeting, with some agencies presenting efforts they are already making to simplify the permitting process, and several others bringing recommendations for opportunities to increase inter-agency collaboration and communication in order to make the process more efficient. Dr. Bill Hanshumaker, Oregon Sea Grant Chief Scientist, also presented to the Task Force on work Sea Grant will be doing to support development of a coordinated statewide program to support Oregon aquaculture, expansion of new and existing shellfish operations through reduced regulatory barriers, and supporting shellfish aquaculture operations in being more diversified and sustainable in the nearshore, offshore, and estuary environments.

On a related note, I was invited to represent Oregon in a Shellfish Initiatives session at the World Aquaculture Society triennial conference in Las Vegas in February. The session was kicked off by Michael Rubino, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture in Silver Spring, Maryland, who gave an update on the National Shellfish Initiative, introduced in 2011. The presentations then started with Alaska and proceeded south with Washington, Oregon, and California, and then to the Gulf states and up the East Coast including Maryland, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It was fascinating to hear where other states are in their Shellfish Initiative process and how they’re approaching supporting their shellfish industries. It was also the first time I had a clear sense of where Oregon falls in this larger context, and I was pleased to note that we are right in step with the other states–not as far along as Washington, Maryland, and Rhode Island, all of whom started before we did, but further along than other states who haven’t had the support of legislators like our Coastal Caucus who have really helped drive this process.

I do work on other issues besides shellfish, but it’s been great to have the continuity with this effort for the last sixteen months or so, and to see the  results taking shape.

In my next post I’ll try to encapsulate the other things I’ve gotten to work on:  ocean acidification, marine debris, and the launch of the Oregon Ocean Science Trust.


HUD’s Natural Disaster Resilience Competition

The State of Oregon is currently applying for HUD’s Natural Disaster Resilience Competition, and there is an opportunity for you to comment on the proposed projects. Check out the draft application, and send comments to  Please include “HUD NDRC Application Phase 2 Public Comment” in the subject line of the email.

Oregon Coast Economic Summit

Next month, there will be a number of interesting panels at the 4th Annual Oregon Coast Economic Summit (OCES), which is sponsored by the Oregon Coastal Caucus. See the invitation below:


Coastal Caucus Logo



It is with great pleasure and much excitement that the Oregon Legislative Coastal Caucus invites you attend the 4th Annual Oregon Coast Economic Summit (OCES), which will take place on Wednesday, August 26th and Thursday, August 27th at Spirit Mountain Casino in Grande Ronde.  This year’s theme will highlight the collaboration necessary to help young people prepare for our region’s and our state’s rapidly changing economy.

The Summit will feature highly informative panel discussions on a wide range of topics with a focus on the Oregon coast’s unique economic diversity.

We are also pleased to announce the return of the very popular “Taste of Oregon,” a reception that allows attendees to sample locally made food and beverages from the Oregon coast, including products of the Dungeness Crab Commission, Pelican Brewery, Kruse Farms, 7 Devils Brewing Co., Tillamook Cheese, and many more.

The attendance of more than 400 policy decision makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as the numerous educators and representatives from the private sector promise to make this Summit a vital think tank for the exploration of new ideas and new approaches to problems and challenges that face our communities.

Registration for Oregon Coast Economic Summit

Hotel Accommodations:

Please note that a block of rooms has been reserved for guests at Spirit Mountain Casino for Wednesday and Thursday nights at a special group rate. In order to secure a room at the discounted rate, please call the Lodge at Spirit Mountain Casino at 503-879-2350 for August Summit.  Registration Code 603248.