Surprise! The Marine Reserves Bill is Back for Round Two

Hello everyone!

Just like the marine reserves bill, I’m back in Salem for the 2024 session.

This time around, things are going to be a little different. Though the Legislature convenes every year, on odd-numbered years we hold a “long session” that lasts about five months while on even-numbered years there’s a “short session” that only lasts about five weeks. Last session, I wrote a blog post that used the journey of the marine reserves bill (then HB 2903) to provide a high-level overview of the legislative process. Seeing as we just entered the abbreviated short session, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue to use the marine reserves bill (now HB 4132) to do a rapid-fire deep dive into the legislative process. Since I’ve covered it before, I’m not going to rehash what this bill is about and why it’s so important in this post, but if you want to dig into that check out my first blog post here.

Picture of the State Capitol Building in Salem Oregon
State Capitol Building in Salem, Oregon; Credit: RG – stock.adobe.com

Here’s the plan: each week I’m going to focus on a different step in the legislative process – from policy development to a signature from the Governor (fingers crossed the bill makes it that far). In this post, I’m going to cover everything that went into preparing this bill for the 2024 session during the five-month session interim. Let’s get into it!

July – September: The session interim is a time for brainstorming and policy development. First things first, you need an idea. These ideas can come from anywhere, from legislators to staff to advocates to constituents. Once you have an idea, you need to translate it into a bill draft. Typically, this involves forming a working group of advocates, experts, people with lived experience, and other legislators and staff. In our case, a lot of the policy development was informed by conversations with individuals at conservation organizations like the Oregon chapters of Surfrider, Oceana, and the Nature Conservancy as well as community-based organizations affiliated with each of the marine reserves.

Since this working group was formed prior to session last year, we entered the session interim ready to hit the ground running. The moment the 2023 session ended the group began dissecting why the bill didn’t pass and what issues needed to be addressed to set us up for success in 2024. Since our bill relates to a program within the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), we also spent time communicating with ODFW leadership and staff to nail down exactly what resources were needed to address the proposed mandates. After all these conversations, we arrived at the conclusion that the best path forward was to run the exact same bill as last session.

October – November: Once October hit, it was time to start working with Legislative Council (LC). LC is essentially the legislature’s law firm, responsible for drafting every measure and amendment you see during the session. It’s typically the goal to have your bill introduced on the first day of session. In that case, there are several presession deadlines you need to be aware of, one of which is the LC draft request deadline. This deadline typically falls in September for the long session and November for the short session. The moral of the story here is, if you want to work with a legislator on a policy concept, start doing so early. Once these deadlines have passed, especially during the short session, there’s not a lot your legislator can do to address your request until the following session.

Lucky for us, working with LC was a painless process, largely because we were recycling language from the previous session. In no time, LC provided us with a legislative concept (confusingly also abbreviated as LC), which is essentially a formal bill draft with a number and everything.

December: In December, our working group kicked things into high gear, developing outreach materials and lobbying tools designed to build a broad coalition of support for the marine reserves bill. Representative Gomberg’s office also began having conversations with the Chair of the committee our bill would likely be assigned to: the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water. Though each of these steps are always important, the former is particularly critical during the long session when there is more time to drum up support while the latter is crucial when entering a short session when you need the Committee to schedule your bill for a public hearing during the first week of session.

January: Once you have your legislative concept and additional communication materials on your bill, it’s time to start looking for Sponsors. Over the month of January, we were able to drum up support on both sides of the aisle and across the House and the Senate. The goal is to bring on Sponsors who can act as champions for your bill in relevant Committees and in the opposite Chamber (in this case, the Senate). During session, members can only sign on to a bill as a Sponsor when it’s in their Chamber. Therefore, it’s important to get these kinds of Sponsors prior to the start of session so you know that you have someone prepared to guide your bill through the legislative process when it moves to the opposite Chamber.

Once you’ve gathered your Sponsors, all that’s left to do is file your bill with the Chief Clerk’s Office before the pre-session deadline. Oh, and then you have to do everything else required during session to get your bill over the finish line, but one step at a time. In my next post I’ll cover the first week of the 2024 session and do a deep dive into the public hearing process. If you want to stay up to date with the movement of HB 4132 through the legislative process in real-time, check out the bill’s OLIS page and click “e-Subscribe” in the top right corner (photo below). This is a great way to stay up to date with this bill and any others of interest to you during session.

Picture of the OLIS webpage with the link to e-subscribe to a bill.

Well, for anyone who made it this far, thanks for reading! I’ll check back in next week.

An Update on Oregon’s Marine Reserves

Hello everyone!

As promised, I’m back with an update on HB 2903 and Oregon’s marine reserves. Buckle your seatbelt because you are in for a bumpy ride.

Back when I left you in April, everything was full steam ahead. HB 2903 had passed unanimously out of its first House committee and was sitting in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means awaiting the announcement of the state revenue forecast. To give you some context as to what that means, here is some background on the legislative process.

When a bill is created, it can be introduced in either chamber: the Senate or the House. In this case, the bill got its start in the House. Its first stop is the House floor where the bill will be read before the Chamber and referred to a policy committee for further discussion. In this case, HB 2903 was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water. Once a bill reaches committee, it needs to be scheduled for a public hearing, during which individuals may provide public testimony in reference to the bill and its objectives. Following the public hearing, the bill must be scheduled for a work session where a committee can act on a bill (e.g., make amendments or take a vote).

At this point, the committee can vote on the bill and, often, the bill will move back to the Chamber for a full vote. However, if a bill has a fiscal ask, as was the case with HB 2903, it has one more stop before it can be called for a vote on the floor: the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. There are some internal processes that go on once the bill reaches Ways and Means that we do not need to get into here. What is important is, if the bill makes its way out of its Ways and Means work session with a “do pass” recommendation, then it is ready to be put to a vote on the floor.

Once a bill successfully makes its way out of the first Chamber it then makes its way to the second, in this case, HB 2903 would have gone on to the Senate. There the bill will be read, make a procedural pitstop in Ways and Means, and then come back to the second Chamber floor for a vote. Assuming the bill withstands all of that, it will finally be passed on to the Governor to be signed into law.

A diagram of the legislative process describing a bill's movement from it's first reading until eventually being signed into law.
Diagram of the legislative process.

As you have probably gathered, HB 2903 did not make it that far.

The session took a sudden turn when Senate Republicans walked out on May 3rd (I’m not going to dig into it in this blog, but if you want to read more about it, you can do so here and here). In the state of Oregon, the Senate chamber must achieve a 2/3 quorum in order to vote on bills. Therefore, by walking out, Senate Republicans were able to effectively pause all bill movement in the Senate even though the Democratic party held the majority.

By the end of May, there was no sign of the Senate reaching quorum and HB 2903 was trapped in Ways and Means with nowhere to go. It was time to search for other avenues.

On top of policy bills like HB 2903, there are also bills that handle agency budgets. Passing these budgetary bills is one of the most important tasks for the State legislature. While policy bills will just die if they don’t pass during the regular session, budgetary bills must pass, and a special session will be called if the legislature cannot do so during the regular session. Therefore, Representative Gomberg, the Chair of the Coastal Caucus, got in contact with the Co-Chairs of Ways and Means and requested that the fiscal component of HB 2903 be included in HB 5509, which appropriates money from the General Fund to ODFW for a period of two years.

We knew this ask was going to be tough. Each session, the Governor’s office releases a recommended budget, which is essentially a proposal based on state revenue forecasts on how state funds should be allocated. The Governor’s office then negotiates with various parties, including legislative leaders and members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to generate a budget that will be voted on at the end of the session. When Governor Kotek released her recommended budget back in January, funds were looking tight, and many agencies were preparing to make cuts to afford for reduced revenues. One of those cuts was the Community Project Leader position within ODFW’s Marine Reserves program. So, the Caucus wasn’t just advocating for new funding, they were also working against a proposed cut.

On the one hand, this cut made sense: the position related to the cut had been vacant for three years. However, advocates and the Coastal Caucus argued the story around this vacancy was more complex and in part the result of two failed recruitments and a hiring freeze during the pandemic. It was the position of the Coastal Caucus that this context made the situation unique from other prolonged vacancies and that to permanently lose this position would be to permanently sever a critical connection point between coastal communities and marine reserves.

At this point, we had one last option: to advocate for the inclusion of HB 2903 and funding for cut position in the end of session budget reconciliation bill. This bill tends to be comprised of several smaller, often unrelated policies or amendments. Its tendency to have a little something for everyone gave this bill its nickname: the Christmas Tree Bill.

Around that time, the Senate returned to the floor, wrapping up the longest walkout in state history and leaving ten days to move all the remaining bills through the Senate. Now the marine reserves bill was not unpopular. In fact, it was extremely non-controversial and had a lot of community support. However, in the flurry of legislative action that followed the Senate’s return, funding for the marine reserves bill never materialized. It is unclear if under different circumstances marine reserves funding would have been given higher priority, but the pace of the final week of session certainly posed a challenge for legislators trying to negotiate for last-minute additions in the budgeting process.

I guess if I were to sum up the major lesson from this process, it would be **** happens. You can craft a bill to sail through the legislative process and a storm can come out of nowhere and sink it. In the end, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it wasn’t because we didn’t try hard enough, there were just so many incredibly important priorities this session and ours didn’t make the cut. And that doesn’t mean the journey is over. The Coastal Caucus is still very much committed to Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program and is actively strategizing for the coming short session. I’ve learned so much from this experience and I can’t wait to see how the next iteration of this work will turn out.

A photo of a woman and two Senators speaking on the Senate floor.
This is unrelated to marine reserves, but please enjoy this photo of me looking very professional on the Senate floor.

The SCAT and the Hat

Another update from me, Sarah, a Natural Resource Policy Fellow (NRPF) working for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians (CTCLUSI) on their Tribal Spill Response Plan (TSRP). Last week I had the amazing opportunity to visit the places I had only seen on maps in person, with a tour of CTCLUSI’s water resources in Coos Bay and of their forestry lands. I also completed field training for oil spill response, along with members of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, EPA, NOAA, and CTCLUSI. .

SCAT Training using the Shoreline
Assessment Manual at Kelly Point Park.

This SCAT (Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique) training is run through NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and was developed for 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. This is a replicable method of recording the spill type, cover, any wildlife damage, and cleanup method suggestions. Completing this training in person helped me to envision what a real oil spill may look like (without the potential smells) and apply some of the oil spill response information I have been learning about through my work with the TSRP. It is critical that the SCATers identify both environmental and cultural sites of importance and record those for the cleanup operations. Ideally, there would be a SCAT representative from tribal, federal, state, local and any important stakeholder in the area.

If you are interested in signing up, consider registering with your organization!

After completing the training in Portland, I made my way to Florence, Oregon where I was shown the Lower Smith Tract of CTCLUSI’s Tribal Forest. This tract is in the Siuslaw National Forest and is adjacent to some land managed by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This was a fantastic opportunity to see a natural resource of great importance to CTCLUSI, that is outside of my career focus in the marine sciences. Everything is connected – land and sea, environment and culture. I also saw some sites of importance in Coos Bay and surrounding areas, including Coal Bank Slough and a lookout north of Cape Arago State Park. This was an awesome opportunity to connect with the people from the Department of Natural Resources at CTCLUSI and to see the land that we’re working towards protecting.

Logging that occurs in the BLM land.
Forest in the Lower Smith Tract of CTCLUSI’s land.

I was also gifted some CTCLUSI gear, including this hat with a logo created by Ashley Russel, the Assistant Director of the DNR. The logo art is based on a historical tale of a sea serpent that comes to shore to hunt for dear. Looking forward to wearing this the next time I’m out in the field!

Inking Science into Policy

Hello everyone!

I will start off with an introduction. My name is Megan Davis, and I am a second year Ph.D. student in the Menge Lubchenco Lab at Oregon State University. I am broadly interested in the science-policy interface as it relates to the ways in which humans use marine space, from marine protection to energy production to aquaculture. For the past few months, I have had the incredible opportunity to witness how science informs policy (and vice versa) at the state level as the 2022-2023 Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow, working with the Coastal Caucus.

How I spend my time when I’m not in Salem.
Credit: Delaney Chabot

For those of you who have not interacted with this group before, the Coastal Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators that represent the Oregon coast. To put it a bit more plainly (because I certainly did not know what bicameral meant when I first applied for this position), that means that this group is composed of members from both parties from both the Senate and the House. This session, the Coastal Caucus is chaired by Representative David Gomberg (D, House District 10). The Caucus also consists of its Vice Chair, Senator Dick Anderson (R, Senate District 5), as well as Senator Brock Smith (R, Senate District 1), Senator Suzanne Weber (R, Senate District 16), Representative Boomer Wright (R, House District 9), Representative Cyrus Javadi (R, House District 32), and Representative Court Boice (R, House District 1). As the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow, I provide technical expertise on marine and coastal issues to the Caucus members and act as a resource for communication with coastal constituents and key stakeholder groups.

Together, the Coastal Caucus forms a powerful coalition that collectively ensures that marine and coastal issues receive adequate attention at the State level. Much of the strength of this group is derived from the bipartisan nature of the Caucus. When all these legislators come together to support an issue, it signals that it has broad support along the coast and, often, across Oregon. This is the case with Oregon’s marine reserves. This session, the Coastal Caucus put forth HB 2903, which is a fantastic example of how science can be harnessed to inform policy. This past week, I had the pleasure of joining Representative Gomberg and Charlie Plybon (a fixture in Oregon’s marine reserves community) to speak to this bill at the Marine Reserves Celebratory Summit (hosted by The Nature Conservancy and facilitated by Sea & Shore Solutions). I would like to share with you what we discussed at the Summit.

In 2012, Oregon completed the planning and designation of five marine reserves: Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua, and Redfish Rocks. The implementation and management of these reserves is led by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) based on standards established in HB 3013 (2009), SB 1510 (2012), and related administrative rules. As the state’s first long-term, nearshore ocean conservation and monitoring program, Oregon’s marine reserves system has been instrumental in tracking and understanding how our marine ecosystems are changing over time, informing policy and management decisions at the state level. It also represents the first comprehensive human dimensions research program focused on examining the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of the Oregon coast and coastal communities.

On top of establishing the reserves, SB 1510 required that an internal (ODFW) and external (Oregon State University) decadal assessment of the marine reserves be carried out in 2022. These rigorous scientific assessments resulted in a series of legislative and administrative recommendations:

  1. that appropriate funds be allocated to ODFW to continue the Marine Reserves program at the necessary capacity;
  2. that a mandate that supports the development of an Adaptive Management Plan for the ongoing management and evaluation of the program be provided; and
  3. that a detailed, collaborative process through which social monitoring data can be interpreted to affect policy decisions be defined.

For an extra layer of legitimacy, these recommendations were then endorsed by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, the original stakeholder and government policy forum for marine reserves and protected areas in the State of Oregon. Those recommendations were then presented to the Coastal Caucus, who built HB 2903 around them. To paraphrase Charlie Plybon, that’s not just incorporating science into policy, that’s inking science into policy.

So where is HB 2903 now? The bill made its way out of its first Committee (the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water) and now sits in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which is essentially that State’s budgetary committee. Once the State’s revenue forecast is released in mid-May, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means will determine how funds will be distributed to bills with associated fiscal asks, like HB 2903. Available funds are anticipated to be a bit tight this session, but the Coastal Caucus has put their full weight behind this bill, even making HB 2903 one of their priority fiscal asks for this session.

I have been so inspired by the legislators working to take this science-based policy from bill to law, and by all of the scientists, decisionmakers, and advocates who have put in over a decade of work to make Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program the success it is today. I’m excited to continue to work on this topic, both in the context of my fellowship and my dissertation. I will be checking back in (hopefully with an HB 2903 update) at the end of June!

The view from the Marine Reserves Celebratory Summit
Credit: Duncan Berry

Working Together Towards Spill Response

Hello!  

Just a quick introduction – I’m Sarah, a recent master’s graduate of Oregon State University where I worked on a project on ghost shrimp in the Benthic Ecology lab.  I have had an interest in both science and policy throughout my education and the Natural Resource Policy Fellowship provided an excellent opportunity to engage in both!   

These past few months since I started my fellowship with Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians (CTCLUSI) have been an exciting time in which I have learned a slew of information on environmental policy at various governmental levels and emergency response. My specific task is to edit the Tribal Estuary Response Plan which outlines policies and procedures related to hazardous materials spills. I recommend checking out the abundance story map available here, which goes over the history and culture of CTCLUSI. There are three separate languages of the people who inhabited the ancestral territory– Hanis Coos and  Miluk Coos (Coos Languages), Sha’yuushtl’a uhl Quuiich (Siuslaw and Lower Umpqua language). While updating the list of foodstuffs and ecological resources, I learned that the name for ghost shrimp of the scientific name Netorypaea californiensis is ‘wayaq’ in Hanis Coos and Miluk Coos and ‘chimws’ in Sha’yuushtl’a uhl Quuiich.  

At the end of February, I was able to virtually attend an annual meeting for the Region 10 Regional Response Team (RRT10) and the Northwest Area Committee (NWAC).   At this meeting, there were members from tribes, federal agencies, state agencies, local government as well as industry. This included people from the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Interior, Washington State Department of Ecology, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, NOAA, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Makah Tribe, Yakama Nation, the Stillaguamish Tribe, and CTCLUSI. It was interesting to hear everyone’s input, updates, and perspectives on hazmat and emergency response.   

Key takeaways from that meeting include:  

  • The importance of overlap and consistency among regional response plans and local response plans. 
  • The array of spill response methods and opportunities – particularly in industry. 
  • Washington State Legislation SB 5344:  This requires certain vessels transiting in Juan de Fuca to fund an emergency response towing vessel in Neah Bay. I was unfamiliar with this legislation; vehicle towing could be an additional section in our own document.  
  • In the Tribal Subcommittee meeting, the objectives included tribal access, delivery of service to tribal groups, development of outreach and communications, and timely notification of issues and initiatives for tribal feedback. 

These were just a few out of many topics that I learned about from attending that meeting. It was interesting to hear updates from all of the agencies and partners and to see how many people come together to work towards emergency preparedness. I’m looking forward to updating you next time on participating in emergency response training and visiting CTCLUSI on the Oregon Coast! 

Just dune it: Field work on the Oregon Coast

Hello everyone! I’m Carly, a graduate student in the Marine Resource Management program at OSU, and a Malouf Scholar this year. I research Oregon’s coastal dunes, specifically in developed areas where dunes are managed/altered for human benefit. Before coming to OSU for graduate school, I didn’t know much about the Oregon coast or coastal management, so the last 1.5 years have been full of learning and new experiences! In this post, I just wanted to introduce my research and share some highlights from my field work. In future posts, I’ll share more results and implications of what we’re doing.

You can read the section below about Oregon’s dunes and how/why people manage them, but here’s the TLDR version: Over a century ago, invasive beachgrasses spread along the PNW and built dunes that stabilized the shifting sand environment. This allowed for development on and near the beach/dunes, which created the need to manage the dunes to preserve views of the ocean and prevent sand inundation. Now, property owners mechanically move sand to lower the height of dunes (called dune grading) and sometimes revegetate them. We don’t know how dune grading and revegetating affects dune morphology, especially compared to dunes that are not altered in the same way. Ok, now you can skip to the Fun field work section!

History of Oregon’s dunes and dune management

If you’ve ever been out to the Oregon coast, you’ve probably walked near, on, or through dunes. Dunes are really cool coastal features that have the potential to provide many benefits to the humans and the environment, like protection from storms and tsunamis, carbon storage, and habitat for diverse species. But did you know that the dunes we see today haven’t always been there? In the early 1900s, the Oregon coast (and the rest of the Pacific Northwest coast) was subject to a complete landscape transformation through the introduction of two invasive beachgrasses (European Beachgrass and American Beachgrass). Industries and developers planted these beachgrasses with the intent to stabilize the shifting sand environment and allow easier coastal development. Well, their stabilization experiments were successful and the beachgrasses spread up and down the coast, building parallel ridges of vegetated dunes that back many of Oregon’s sandy beaches.

This promoted coastal development and the subsequent need to manage the dunes! Even though the invasive beachgrasses stabilized the more variable sandy environment, there is still plenty of sand that impacts buildings and infrastructure. Dune management refers to methods of altering dunes to preserve views of the ocean or prevent sand inundation via mechanically moving sand to lower the height of the dune (also called dune grading).

In Oregon, dune management practices (specifically dune grading) are regulated at the state level and implemented locally through official dune management plans. There are six communities in Oregon with official plans, and view/preventative grading is only permitted on properties that are within one of these plan areas. Also, property owners are required to revegetate dunes that are graded, but the suggested plant species vary between the areas. Thanks to the great work of faculty and grad students at OSU, we know a lot about the biophysical feedbacks between vegetation and sand supply that affect dune building. What we don’t know much about, however, is how dune grading and revegetating impacts dune form and growth over time, in comparison to dunes that are not graded/revegetated. And that’s where I come in!

Fun field work!

To understand how managed (graded/replanted) dunes change compared to unmanaged dunes, we first have to collect data. From October 2020 to November 2022, we regularly visited all six dune management plan areas (Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nedonna Beach, Pacific City, and Bayshore), plus Nehalem Bay State Park that has a managed dune area (for Western Snowy Plover habitat restoration). At these beaches, we used GPS backpacks and collected topographic data on transects that are perpendicular to the shoreline. Once a year, we also did vegetation surveys to gather data on the present species and vegetation cover.

Everyone who has done any field work knows that it can be challenging, both physically and mentally. But with good snacks, a fun crew, and (hopefully) nice weather, the work goes quickly! Big shoutout to all my friends, classmates, and lab mates who have volunteered their time and energy to walk up and down the dunes with me. In another post, I’ll share what we’ve found from this field work, but for now I’ll just share some pictures from the last 1.5 years of visiting Oregon’s beaches!

Some highlights (and laughs) from my fieldwork:

seasidesurvey
Nice walks on the beach with a cool backpack (Seaside, OR)
lidar
Tripping over nothing and being caught on the LiDAR scan (Nehalem Bay State Park, OR)
survey
Counting grass stems with a view! (Manzanita, OR)
NS_quadrats
Getting trapped in quadrats (Nehalem Bay State Park, OR)
NS_hail
Hail! On the Beach! (Nehalem Bay State Park, OR)
CB_sunrise
Beautiful sunrises (Cannon Beach, OR)
bayshore_sunset
And beautiful sunsets (Bayshore, OR)
plover
A tiny western snowy plover! (Bayshore, OR)
manzanitadune
And lastly, my favorite dune of all time (Manzanita, OR)

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Assessment

Hello Everyone!

Time has been flying by and I wanted to give an update on my Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Fellowship experience. In my fellowship position (which began in December of 2021) I’ve been working with the water quality assessment program team at Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). My primary task in this role is to support the development of water quality assessment methodologies for assessing biological impacts related to Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) in Oregon’s marine waters. Once completed, DEQ will use these methodologies to interpret water quality data and report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on water quality status and trends in Oregon.

2022 was a packed year for me, mainly consisting of coordinating and working with a technical workgroup of OAH research and policy specialists that was convened to assist DEQ in the development of these OAH assessment methodologies. Much of the development process over the last year has been centered around a series of meetings with technical workgroup members to define science and policy questions relevant to this process and synthesize available research and information to help answer those questions. Through this process it has been a pleasure for me to work with such a wide range of leading OAH researchers and experts across the West Coast.

I’m also happy to report that my fellowship has been extended an additional year! So far 2023 has been very different than 2022. This year, the team at DEQ has shifted gears from coordinating and holding meetings with the technical workgroup to drafting the methodologies. We are currently working on two types of documents.

  1. The first is a technical paper that outlines the rationale, process, and approach DEQ is proposing to take to assess OAH impacts for water quality assessment.
  2. The second is a set of assessment procedures, these procedures outline the details of how DEQ will process and use data to determine whether impacts to aquatic life are taking place. We are drafting two assessment procedures, one based around understanding impacts related to Ocean Acidification (carbonate chemistry changes affecting shell forming marine species), and another based on impacts related to Hypoxia (changes in low dissolved oxygen conditions).

As these drafts are finalized, they will be going through a series of review processes, including a public comment period this spring, where the documents will be available for the public to review. I’ll be sure to provide updates on the process!

A Year of Blue Carbon

It’s hard to believe a year has passed already! I’ve been working with colleagues at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to write a report exploring the state of the science for Oregon’s Blue Carbon ecosystems. The report gives a broad overview of existing science of blue carbon pathways in Oregon—including opportunities, limitations, and uncertainties—to a stakeholder audience who may not be familiar with the details of blue carbon as a natural climate solution. We found that extensive research has already been done within Oregon’s tidal wetland ecosystems to understand the dynamics of carbon sequestration and storage within estuaries. There are demonstrated benefits of conservation and restoration on maintaining and expanding Oregon’s natural carbon sinks. The remaining questions are focused on the magnitude of climate mitigation benefits at a site-scale and determining restoration opportunities. Nearshore blue carbon, on the other hand, needs more research. We know that our ocean ecosystems like kelp forests are highly productive, but it is critical to determine the likelihood and amount of carbon that ends up in stable ocean carbon sinks. More details can be found within this report, linked here.

Cover page for the blue carbon report. Top photo: Forest and marshland near Warrenton, Oregon. Photo by Browning (2016). Bottom photo: Harbor seal in bull kelp. Photo by Graner (2015).

I’ve had lovely opportunities to share what I’ve learned with several audiences over the last few months. I was invited to speak about the work of NGOs for a conservation biology class of undergraduates at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. It was a surreal feeling to be on the other side of the classroom since I had been in their seats just a few years prior. I also presented to TNC Oregon’s board about coastal blue carbon as part of the important work we do in Oregon’s estuaries. I felt fortunate as a fellow to be invited into that space to share my work and learn more about high-level functioning and priority setting of an organization like TNC. Lastly, I gave a (long!) talk at the Elakha Alliance’s Sea Otter Symposium where I discussed the details of our blue carbon report and learned about a ton of exciting kelp forest work on the coast.

I’m so excited to continue my fellowship for the next few months and continue sharing about Oregon’s coastal blue carbon and more!

Collaboration is key: Application of Biology to Conservation and Management

While coming to an end with my red abalone conservation and management project with Sea Grant and ODFW, I’ve come to appreciate the resources and reflections I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout this experience.

In particular, through the collaboration of this fellowship between ODFW and Oregon Sea Grant, I was provided with a unique opportunity that allowed me to utilize my biological knowledge of marine species in the Oregon environment and apply that information in a real and effective way. Creating tangible change in the world of biological management can be difficult to achieve without understanding political boundaries, conservation constraints, and management collaboration. I was fortunate enough to be able to combine information I gathered in my master’s program at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology with a key fisheries and conservation issue facing Oregon’s dynamic subtidal environment. Through guidance by fisheries management personnel, I drafted a conservation and fishery management plan for the recreational red abalone fishery in Oregon.

Working with complex and advanced networks of scientists, managers, and administrators came with it’s own set of advantages and complications. One of the most important lessons I learned throughout this process was that effective management can only be implemented through careful consideration of diverse stakeholders, scientific investigation, historical understanding, and contextualization through current socioeconomic factors. A breakdown of any one of these considerations will diminish the long-term application of scientific understanding to conservation and management policies. As an undergraduate at OIMB, I learned a wide variety of biological concepts and processes of marine invertebrates that were fascinating and exciting. However, I rarely considered what the application of these concepts could look like within a social, economic, or historical context. When I began working at ODFW following graduation at OIMB, it became clear that while understanding the biological processes of marine organisms was a vital component of managing resources, it was not useful without proper communication and implementation of this information. In particular, my master’s project focused on increasing the biological and ecological body of information available for a large marine snail that has garnered the attention of divers and fishery participants worldwide, the red abalone. Investigating the history of red abalone presence in Oregon was a particularly fun adventure, as I was able to create a timeline of agency biologists’ involvement with red abalone as a resource and through a changing environment. A favorite of mine was the documentation of an exploratory commercial fishery effort in the late 1950s, in which a series of photos of a biologist at the time, Dale Snow, pictured with a contracted SCUBA diver and a red abalone showed the staging of this particular moment, complete with a pencil behind the ear of the biologist, and a cigarette lit just for the picture in the hand of the diver (see below).

Oregon Fish Commission aquatic biologist Dale Snow (right) and contracted diver (left) posing for a picture with a red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) to document the investigative work of exploratory diving effort performed between 1958-1962 in southern Oregon. Used by permission from ODFW archives, published by Groth and Smith 2022.

Having the ability to look back in time and see the history of work done by agency biologists allowed me to have a deep appreciation for each era of management and science. Moving towards a more ecosystem-based management strategy allows scientists and managers to work together to collaborate on advancing scientific understanding of marine resources and applying that knowledge directly to conservation and management. New technologies have allowed scientists to investigate data-deficient situations, such as the red abalone population in Oregon. I was able to collaborate with scientists at UC Davis in California to add to the body of information on red abalone populations throughout Oregon and California using genetic data. Collecting genetic samples in Oregon required further collaboration with academic researchers, commercial and recreational divers, and agency knowledge from previous biologists that detailed the habitat and presence of the elusive and cryptic red abalone in Oregon.

Utilizing historical understanding, agency management frameworks and advice, and application of modern data techniques allowed me to create a conservation and fishery management plan that relies on the strength of collaboration and inclusion. I have learned how vital positive communication techniques are to the scientific and management process through my Oregon Sea Grant Fellowship with ODFW. I hope to continue to grow and learn more about effective application of biological information through careful communication and informed policy throughout my career. I look forward to continuing to work with Oregon Sea Grant through my next role as a Marine Reserves Science Communications Fellow with ODFW beginning in 2023.

Thank you to all of the incredible collaborators, scientists, managers, and friends that have encouraged me and contributed to this project. And of course thank you to Oregon Sea Grant and ODFW for making this project possible, and the quirky and elusive red abalone in Oregon that I hope to positively affect through this work!

Signing off,

Kendall Smith

Wrapping up my fellowship

It’s hard to believe that I have less than two weeks left for my fellowship! I am currently wrapping up all final reports and there’s one in particular I am most excited to see finalized: A Situation Analysis for Oregon’s Emergent Seaweed Aquaculture Industry.

The report explores the restorative benefits seaweed aquaculture can provide, species options, production methods, high potential locations and co-location opportunities, market opportunities, and policy and regulatory considerations. The final stages of edits have involved working with a graphic designer to incorporate some images and a professional layout.

Cover page for the report. Cover photo courtesy of Sara Hamilton.

I have also been working with our graphic designer and OSG’s communications specialists to ensure that the public report meets federal accessibility requirements so that we may post it to the NOAA Central Library. This has largely involved making sure that the final PDF will be machine readable, which includes alt text for images that can be read aloud to users by screen reader software.

Overall I want to give a BIG thanks to all co-authors, reviewers, contributors, and our graphic designer for all the help and amazing work they’ve put towards the situation analysis. The report will be public on Oregon Sea Grant’s website in the coming weeks (I’ll follow up in the comments with a link)!