Don’t be fooled by the logos in this post, I think you will find it relevant.
Lots of projects start with metrics and deep quantitative analysis, and people who have worked with me in recent years know how much I love to get quantitative, but I always start by making sure everyone is clear and specific about the outcome people want, and then ask what will cause that outcome. It sounds pretty basic, but I see the mistake made almost every day.
Twenty years ago I was a paralegal in the corporate division of one of Seattle’s biggest law firms, working for an attorney named Steve. Steve told me that one of his big clients needed to start operating a new business and that would require a 50-state filing, a pretty self-explanatory effort that would license them to do work across the US. So I went out and did the research for the cost to file in each state and came back with the price tag, by state. One of the states was very expensive, and Steve pointed to that state and asked “what’s the enforcement provision?” which is a question that has since echoed in my head many times since that day. Steve’s point was a simple one; yes it’s legally required to be licensed in that state, but if there is no specific penalty for not having the license (the enforcement provision), why would we bother to pay the fee and get the license?
NOAA recently got a new leader, Jane Lubchenco, and one of the issues Dr. Lubchenco will have to address is the severely threatened salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. Already the debate has started about what was done during the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and what the right measure of success is for this problem. That’s the wrong question to start with and in my opinion if NOAA and Dr. Lubchenco stay on that path, she will find herself in a one-legged kicking contest. That’s because she doesn’t control enforcement, and enforcement is what will cause the desired behavior, and that is what will get the outcome we need.
Enforcement on this issue starts at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Having been born and reared in the Pacific Northwest, I grew up reading the annual rules and regulations for a variety of activities managed by WDFW. My Dad and I have always had all of the necessary licenses, stamps, punchcards, parking stickers, and so on (and yes, the list does go on) needed to legally participate in these activities. But one of the things that troubles me, particularly as salmon, steelhead, and crab populations get more pressure and lose habitat, is that I haven’t seen a game warden anywhere for over 20 years. I see people poaching crab and fishing where they aren’t supposed to (both sport and commercial people), and they often say they didn’t even know a license was needed (that’s just sport fishers). I think it’s not so different from running a stop sign – people see others get away with it, and then they get away with it, why would you ever stop at a stop sign again if it’s never enforced or unless you see a car coming? It seems a lot of people think like my old boss Steve.
No one wants NOAA to be more successful than I do, but until there is better enforcement in the Pacific Northwest, there’s no way Dr. Lubchenco will succeed by any measure because NOAA alone doesn’t control the outcome of the situation. I think there are some pretty simple ways to get more people to buy licenses, which will provide better funding to WDFW, which will allow better enforcement, and then we will be on the right path.