Numerous local, state, and federal policies and regulations govern the conservation of habitats that are essential to coho. Examples include the management of habitats and protection of water quality on forest and agricultural lands, development of floodplains, management of beaver, management of rural-residential development, regulation of instream gravel removal etc. Since before the initial ESA listing, the state of Oregon has relied heavily on voluntary stewardship of working and residential lands as a tool to recover coast coho. Today the state stands as a national leader in creating and maintaining a model of governance that provides the financial, technical, and social capacity necessary for landowners to drive a voluntary statewide recovery effort.
Despite this, NMFS final listing determination for Oregon Coast coho salmon in 2011 stated, “We remain concerned that regulation of some habitat altering actions is insufficient to provide habitat conditions that support a viable ESU.” The OC Coho Recovery Plan explained:
Regarding spawning and rearing habitat (including estuaries), however, the state of Oregon and numerous stakeholders prefer reliance on voluntary actions, not regulatory mechanisms, to protect the environment and achieve coho salmon recovery goals. These volunteer efforts are vital to habitat restoration efforts, but may not be enough to achieve long-term coho salmon recovery without additional regulatory protection. The question NMFS must consider, therefore, is if the combination of voluntary measures and regulatory mechanisms is adequate to ensure the long-term health of Oregon Coast coho salmon habitat.
While NMFS is encouraged by the multiple voluntary and regulatory revisions by state, federal, and non-governmental organizations, as our 2016 5-Year Review (NMFS 2016c) states “at this time we do not have information that would reveal improvements in (ESU-wide) habitat quality, quantity, and function.” Consequently, we remain concerned about the adequacy of existing voluntary and regulatory mechanisms to stop habitat conditions from further decline in the future.”
While the Coast Coho Partnership is focused on accelerating the voluntary restoration of watersheds and not on species management and land use regulation, these issues play an important role in the value of watershed restoration. If current policies are insufficient to protect existing watershed function than restoration will not be able to provide the net benefit intended. In fact, in this scenario it will only serve to offset (subsidize) the adverse impacts of ongoing management and regulatory deficiencies. It is imperative, therefore, that sufficient regulatory certainty exists to safeguard watershed function, so the cumulative benefits of voluntary restoration actions coast-wide can be realized and lead to species’ recovery.