Riding the Salmon Shuttle to D.C. offers lesson in lobbying effectiveness

Effective lobbying involves extensive homework, hours of briefing, well-rehearsed strategy and talk-until-you-drop energy. The goal? To impress and convince, to exact change, to put the brakes on partisan-driven environmental policies. We asked Gareth Martins, marketing manager for Osprey Packs, to recount his journey to D.C. as a rookie lobbyist working to save wild salmon.
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Effective lobbying has nothing to do with falling asleep in a hotel lobby after you can't find your room following an unfortunate night of drinking 3.2 beers in Salt Lake City. Effective lobbying involves extensive homework, hours of briefing, well-rehearsed strategy and talk-until-you-drop energy. The goal? To impress and convince, to exact change, to put the brakes on partisan-driven environmental policies. We asked Gareth Martins, marketing manager for Osprey Packs, to recount his journey to D.C. as a rookie lobbyist working to save wild salmon. Here then, in his words, lobbying with Martins:

I was invited to Washington, D.C., by Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS), a coalition dedicated to the restoration of the once-prolific salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers. In the late '60s, the Columbia River Basin began to see significant declines in returning salmon. These declines coincided with the construction of four dams on the lower Snake River which meant that Idaho salmon had to negotiate eight dams to make their trip home from the Pacific Ocean. Recent government policy has furthered the salmon's decline. So SOS has shuttled over 100 business representatives, scientists, and Northwestern and Midwestern residents to Capitol Hill to advocate change since 2000.

Dave Knutson of Chaco Sandals joined me in D.C. as part of the Conservation Alliance contingent promoting salmon protection. In 2003, both Osprey and Chaco signed a letter circulated through Congress by SOS criticizing current salmon planning, and highlighting the hundreds of businesses that are being jeopardized by salmon mismanagement. In 2003 there were 400 signers. Today, there are 1,100.

Osprey and Chaco were in D.C. to represent a strong non-Northwest interest in salmon issues. We also represented the economic boost that the outdoor industry provides rural communities, and we were there to demonstrate our strong concern that besides being an environmental tragedy, the decline and potential extinction of Columbia and Snake River salmon is a waste of potential economic prosperity for the Northwest region. Our goal was to gain the support of our Colorado congressmen.

While Knutson and I were "lobbying virgins," we'd been well educated by our SOS hosts. Sam Mace, SOS's Inland Northwest project director, accompanied us on our first meeting to the offices of John Salazar, Dianne DeGette and Mark Udall, all Democrats from Colorado. We talked to them about advocating the partial removal of the four dams that block the lower Snake River before it joins the Columbia near the Washington and Oregon border.

The Salmon Planning Act (SPA) of 2000 included a dam removal option along with 198 other points aimed at preserving salmon. In 2004, the Act was thrown out in Federal Court because it was deemed ineffective and expensive. The Bush administration rewrote SPA without the dam removal provision. The rewrite permitted the continued decline of salmon as long as that decline did not accelerate. It was also thrown out. SOS is seeking support for HR 1615, a bill that would offer a smart approach to salmon planning.

We'd been given general speaking points -- protection of the Snake River, the scientific reasoning behind dam removal, the substantial economic benefits to Idaho and the region as a whole, the history of government planning (or lack thereof) around this issue. But as representatives of the outdoor industry and Colorado companies, Knutson and I spent much of our time on the Hill talking about our businesses, their positive impacts on the rural communities where they're located, the importance of outdoor recreation like river running and fly-fishing to our businesses, and the balancing act between environment and economics. Ironically, right now fish are trucked around the Colombia and Snake River dams and grain is barged up the river through those dams. Neither transportation choice makes good economic or environmental sense.

On our second full day of lobbying, our first meeting was with Ian Lyle, legislative assistant for Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. This was our first "tough" meeting. SOS has not made many in-roads with the senator's office, and it was hoping that our Colorado outdoor business presence would make a difference. It does. Though Allard is not known for being an environmental advocate, he has done a reasonably good job in Colorado on water issues and he played a key role in the designation of Great Sand Dunes National Monument as a national park.

Our main goal on the Senate side was to gain awareness of the issue, and we were trying to establish whether senators are willing to vote against a rider that might be imposed should the current Salmon River plan get thrown out. Our point was heard, and the senator's office stressed that they need to see more support from the Northwest congressional delegation. Knutson and I made a point of dropping by the two Utah Republican senator's offices, Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett.

At 1 p.m., we attended a press conference, featuring HR 1615 sponsor Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. I was especially thrilled to meet the congressman as I lived in Seattle for nine years and voted for him twice. Along with Congressman Thomas Petri, D-Wis., there was an impressive bi-partisan group supporting the bill. Last year's version attracted 110 supporters and the hope is to amass more supporters and ultimately get the bill passed this year.

That afternoon, we met with Rep. Joel Hefley's, R-Colo., office. Hefley co-sponsored last year's House Resolution and we were looking for his continued support. Hefley's legislative director is a Capitol Hill veteran, and while he is a hard book to read, we came away feeling that the congressman will be on board again.

Each day of lobbying ended with a debriefing in which we discussed the day with other Salmon Shuttle volunteers. It's not just outdoor industry folks out for the shuttle. Our crew included Mark and Diane Rockwell of the Federation of Flyfishers; Glen Spain, the Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations; Justin Tatham of U.S. PIRG; Chase Davis of the Sierra Club; and Jim Norton, a fishing and river guide from Idaho. Each of these people represents a unique perspective and passion regarding the state of salmon. Guiding us through the maze of politics and policy were the key representatives of SOS.

One highlight of the trip for me came on day three: breakfast with Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and Clinton's secretary of the interior. It was an absolute thrill to meet him, and for 45 minutes, he held our table of volunteers rapt. Babbitt asserted that despite the tough events of the past five years, environmental policy remains on the upswing in this country as it has for the past 150 years. He promised that we were simply in a dip in the upward trend, and that sound environmental policy will prevail. His words resonated strongly with the outdoor industry representatives in our group even though there is an apparent tendency within the outdoor industry to feel threatened and discouraged by current environmental policy.

Feeling like lobbying veterans, Knutson and I followed our Babbitt breakfast with a meeting at Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.V.) office. Byrd is the oldest member of the Senate -- having served since 1958. His legislative assistant, Franz Xavier Wuerfmannsdobler is from Salida, Colo., on the banks of the Arkansas River. He knows the salmon issue and the politics behind it. As ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, Byrd will be key in heading off any attempts at a rider to reinstall the current salmon plan.

Our last day in D.C., we visited Sen. Ken Salazar, our newly elected Colorado Democrat. Salazar has a strong reputation on the environment and on Native American treaty and land issues. As current salmon legislation violates several tribal treaties, we worked for his support. Salazar's office reiterated that more Northwestern representatives need to sign on to HR 1615.

Finally, we dropped in at the office of Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a congresswoman from a heavily Republican Colorado agricultural district. We were expecting this to be nothing more than a courtesy visit. However, her legislative assistant, Joseph Wollersheim, is a classic gear head! He brought in his Chacos and Knutson took full advantage of the photo op: Wollersheim and Knutson in coat, tie and Chacos in the congresswoman's office. Wollersheim considers himself an environmentalist and thinks that Musgrave could be persuaded to support HR 1615 as long as the policies are not extreme and the economic benefits are sound. We left her office feeling victorious. We had ventured into "enemy territory" and possibly gained a supporter!

As our week wrapped up, I reflected on the inevitable fact that despite the clear economic and environmental benefits of good salmon management, the politics woven around the issue make changing policy, and in this case very bad policy, a long and difficult road. Participating in the Salmon Shuttle was educational, empowering and a great honor for me. This trip helped me remember that the outdoor industry is a viable economic force and that we can influence change on many fronts. We just have to get involved.

To learn more about this issue, or Save Our Wild Salmon, visit www.wildsalmon.org. If your business is in the Northwest, sign onto the business letter. If you've already signed on, call your Congress representatives and let them know you want them to speak out on the issue. To learn more about the Conservation Alliance, visit www.conservationalliance.com.

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