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White House Picks New Leaders for Fisheries Service

by Dan Hansen, Staff Writer
The Spokesman Review, September 8, 2001

National Marine Fisheries Service gets national director, Northwest director

There's a new man in the hot seat.

The Bush administration on Friday announced that Bob Lohn will be Northwest director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In addition, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans named William Hogarth as national director for the agency. He has been its deputy assistant director since July 2000.

In recent years, it's the regional post, not the national one, that has been the lightning rod for contentious Northwest issues, including dam breaching and salmon recovery, the Makah Tribe's hunt for gray whales off the Washington coast and a recent proposal to add Puget Sound killer whales to the endangered species list.

The regional director is nearly always at odds with some group with a stake in the salmon debate, whether fishermen or farmers or Indian tribes or environmentalists.

Lohn's predecessor, Will Stelle, at times was vilified both by those who would like the government to breach four Snake River dams and those who consider the very idea folly.

Lohn, 53, is a Missoula native and Harvard-educated attorney. Since 1999, he has been director of fish and wildlife for the Northwest Power Planning Council, a position he previously held with the Bonneville Power Administration.

Lohn contends it won't be necessary to breach dams if work is done promptly to restore tributary streams. He gives qualified support to the federal policy of barging fish from the Snake River to the ocean, saying further data is needed about barging's long-term impact on salmon populations.

He contends the National Marine Fisheries Service should set recovery goals, then give communities more latitude to find ways of meeting those goals. The agency at times has been criticized for not paying enough attention to local concerns about the economic impact of government-mandated fixes.

"President Bush has made the statement that trusting local people to find local solutions is the right way to go. That really resonated with me," he said.

Those stands give Lohn broad support from traditional critics of the agency.

"I believe he will bring balance to a process that has too often been captured by narrowly focused interests that have threatened -- and sometimes caused -- economic harm to our region," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Environmentalists say they're just glad to have the position filled. It's been nine months since Stelle resigned to become a private consultant on endangered species issues.

"Frankly, you can't find anybody more knowledgeable" than Lohn, said Tim Stearns, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation. "At the same time, he's worked for institutions that haven't stepped up to the salmon issue."

"We all know the tributaries need attention," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association. But that won't prevent the extinction of wild salmon runs if the dams aren't also addressed, she said.

Stearns and Hamilton say the Bush administration is providing far too little money for salmon recovery. The federal budget roughly holds the line on salmon spending; the Clinton administration had said a twofold increase would be needed to recover wild salmon runs without removing dams.

Lohn said the money is adequate, if it is used judiciously.

Lohn's region doesn't extend to southern Oregon's Klamath Basin, where farmers have been in a summer-long standoff with federal regulators over water that's been left in drought-plagued streams rather than used to irrigate fields.

But he may face a similar crisis in Washington's Okanogan County, where an irrigation district has so far refused to make government-funded changes that agency officials say are necessary to protect salmon. About 250 small-acreage irrigators may not have water next year if the district doesn't meet a court order to make changes by April 1. Negotiations between the district and government agencies have not resolved the differences.

"We were very hopeful for an outcome that would satisfy (the Endangered Species Act)," Lohn said. "I remain hopeful."

Lohn's new boss, Hogarth, directed the agency's Southeastern and Southwestern regions from 1995 until he was appointed deputy assistant last year. Previously, he was director of the North Carolina state Division of Marine Fisheries, an appointed position he held under both Republican and Democratic governors.

Hogarth angered commercial fishermen in the early 1990s by shutting down a flounder season to protect endangered sea turtles. The fishermen had hoped Hogarth would refuse the closure, which was demanded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, said Jerry Schill, president of North Carolina Fisheries Association Inc.

"He succumbed to that pressure," Schill said. "It did not make him very popular and it certainly didn't protect any sea turtles because there were already protections in place."

Schill said he worries Hogarth won't have what it takes to stand up to "doggone attorneys" and "bureaucrats from the NMFS who are being manipulated like puppets on a string by the radical environmental industry."

Nevertheless, Schill said he supported Hogarth's appointment.

"He's always been very good about keeping his doors open and talking out problems," said Schill.

Dan Hansen, Staff Writer
White House Picks New Leaders for Fisheries Service
Spokesman Review, September 8, 2001

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