OLYMPIA–Erik Neatherlin, a scientist and longtime manager in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been selected to lead the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, which coordinates statewide and regional efforts to return salmon from the brink of extinction.
The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office coordinates the efforts of 25 community-based watershed groups and 7 regional organizations across the state that are charged with implementing federally approved recovery plans for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
“Erik is a longtime champion of salmon recovery and will bring his considerable knowledge of the science, the partners and the issues to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which is home to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “He has the perfect skills to lead the way forward and help us return these iconic fish to healthy levels.”
Neatherlin, of Olympia, Wash., has been science director and policy lead for salmon recovery with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife since 2011. In that role, he managed 200 employees and a $26 million biennial budget, and represented the agency on the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Neatherlin started at the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2003 as a biologist and worked his way up to a leadership position, working with many external partners, such as tribes, local and federal governments and the Legislature and Congress. He has bachelor and master degrees in science from Florida State University and the University of Washington, respectively. Before joining the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Neatherlin worked as the conservation program director for the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in Portland, Ore.
“Erik is a very thoughtful leader and, as a scientist, understands the need to make decisions based in facts,” Cottingham said. “He knows a lot is riding on our collective success to recover salmon and their habitats. If we don’t recover salmon, many people will lose their livelihoods and we may lose the southern resident orca whales. It’s important that we have a leader experienced in salmon recovery at the helm and we’re very excited for Erik to join our team.”
Across the Pacific Northwest, salmon populations have been decimated. As the number of people grew and demands for water, power and land increased, salmon habitat was altered or destroyed. In the early 1990s, the federal government began listing salmon species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1999, some salmon populations had disappeared completely and listings affected nearly three-fourths of the state. Today, federal agencies have listed 18 species of salmon, steelhead and bull trout as either threatened or endangered.
In addition to being an iconic fish, salmon are big business in Washington. Many businesses, such as bait and tackle shops and charter fishing companies, rely on the world-renowned Pacific salmon. Today, commercial and recreational fishing are estimated to support 16,000 jobs and $540 million in personal income.
“Recovering salmon is paramount to our state and our region,” Neatherlin said. “We know how to recover salmon and we have many talented people already doing this important work, but to be successful, it’s going to take all of us pulling in the same direction. This includes the tribes and our existing partners, as well as new partners who may be new to the salmon recovery table. I come ready to listen and learn.”
The federal Endangered Species Act and Washington State law requires development of plans to recover salmon. Washington residents have been working for nearly 20 years to reverse the fate of salmon, and those efforts are beginning to pay off. For details, visit the State of Salmon Web site.