By Andrea Malmberg

Long before I went through Holistic Management planning processes, I walked people through creating policy and designed research holistically. I still refer back to the original textbook, Holistic Resource Management, where the “modes of application” are described at length. While most are likely aware of the planning processes and the “diagnostic mode” to decipher the root cause of a problem, many are less familiar with using Holistic Management to analyze and design policy and orient research.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to take a deep dive into the “policy mode” in a way that can have a significant regional impact. Here is a little background:

Tony and I ranch on Little Creek and Catherine Creek, headwaters to the Grande Ronde, Snake, and Columbia rivers. Along with a growing number of agricultural producers in our region, our practice of Holistic Management builds soil, slows and saves water, captures sunlight and carbon, benefits threatened species, and increases biodiversity, thereby reducing our risks to weather, markets, and regulations. We are doing all we can to restore the stretches of these creeks on our private land. We have even put some of our allotted irrigation water back instream for fish on the brink of extinction while increasing production thanks to Holistic Management. But our efforts are for naught if we don’t acknowledge that the future of cultures, agriculture, and our economies are dependent on the health of the entire Columbia River system. Our common lot depends on the viability of these lands, water, and biodiversity that we collectively manage.

Catherine Creek was historically one of the major drivers of wild spring Chinook runs in the Snake River Basin. Our salmon and steelhead are in crisis, and the truth is, they have been for decades. This year, a mere 77 steelhead returned home when there used to be 20,000. Imagine the impact on the mineral cycle when so few anadromous fish come back to spawn, die, and decay. The reasons are many, but the four dams on the lower Snake River, which directly impact every stream and river that flows out of Northeast Oregon, have an outsized impact.  

Early this year, Representative Mike Simpson’s (ID-R) proposed to breach the four Lower Snake River dams to help restore the critically endangered Idaho salmon populations. This Columbia Basin Initiative seeks to breach these dams and restore the Snake River’s flow after adverse impacts on power generation, irrigation, recreation, and transportation are assessed and mitigated. As Tim Copeland, Executive Director of the Blue Mountain Land Trust states, “The proposal is well-intentioned, far-sighted, complex, expensive, and controversial.”

I was convinced that breaching these dams was necessary ever since Dr. Ken Casavant walked my senior Ag. Econ class at Washington State University through calculating the externalities. However, even though I now am witness to ecological, economic, and cultural devastation they cause, I never thought the dams would come down because a solution that addressed the entire whole was never proposed.

The Simpson Plan gave me hope, and I urged my senator, Ron Wyden (OR-D), to endorse it. His response, (in summation):

I would like this to be done the Oregon Way. If you can get people in NE Oregon together from all walks of life and create an Andrea Plan, we can get this done.

The basis of the plan that is way too holistic to be called the Andrea Plan is that we need to create an upstream economy. The headwater communities of the extensive Columbia Watershed primarily rely on shipping resources downstream for others to be the price-makers, thereby reaping the benefit of any added value.

In recent years, historic drought, fires, water shortages, supply chain breakdowns, urban-rural political polarization, and the Covid-19 pandemic have urgently shown the fault lines of this one-way export-based system. At the same time, an extinction crisis looms for Snake River salmon and steelhead. Tony and I believe that extinction is never an acceptable outcome. We also understand that the closer these listed fish come to extinction, the more likely drastic mandates to save them will impact producers like us, as has happened in the Klamath Basin and elsewhere.

The hope for salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest runs through Northeast Oregon, a good part of that through family-owned ranches, farms, and tribal land. We believe that we need to use our leverage and expertise to regenerate our rangelands, forests, rivers, croplands, communities, and economies to support and safeguard our way of life now and in the future. That means land, water, and biodiversity stewards should help design stepped-up salmon recovery on our lands and waters.

Update: We have been encouraged to see Oregon’s Governor Brown and Senators Wyden and Merkley join with Washington’s Governor Inslee and Senator Murray to commit to a collaborative process, on an accelerated timeline, to deal with these interconnected existential challenges. If you would like more information on how you can support or participate in efforts to use the Holistic Management framework to create sound policy, reach out to Andrea Malmberg.

You might also enjoy: