A s we prepare to embark on our 60th year, I want to pause for a moment to look back at 2019.
In many ways, 2019 was a year of transition for the Northwest Steelheaders. We hired a new Executive Director, Chris Hager, a new Operations Manager, Alix Soliman, and we brought aboard a new Ameri-Corps Education and Outreach Coordinator, Allena Vestal. I and our board of directors are extremely excited to have each of them on our staff. Individually, each brings energy, enthusiasm, and experience to our organization. Collectively, they represent the “Next Generation” of Steelheaders that is vital to our organization’s growth, effectiveness, and continued tenacity.
While we propel forward, it is important to recognize an enduring aspect of Northwest Steelheaders: the commitment of our people. As an organization, we’ve been working for “a place to fish, and fish to catch” for almost 60 years. We’ve had some great victories during that time – such as making steelhead a game fish and protecting public access to our rivers and streams. Unfortunately, we’ve seen some significant losses as well – such as dam construction on the lower Snake River (but we’re not giving up on this one, as you’ll soon hear more about). We’ve also seen both fish runs and our membership numbers cycle up and down over the years.
Northwest Steelheaders has endured these cycles because passionate individuals are dedicated to our mission to protect, conserve, and enhance our fisheries, fish populations, and the watersheds upon which they depend. On that note, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the commitment of one such Steelheader for his work this past year—Bob Oleson.
Bob is a Northwest Steelheaders lobbyist. I suppose Bob technically works for us, but given what little we pay him, and that last year he donated a portion of his salary back to Steelheaders, he’s more of a professional volunteer. Bob has been with us for 12 years. He’s our eyes, ears, and voice in Oregon’s capital. Although Northwest Steelheaders is a small fish in a big pond of corporate lobbyists, political insiders have noted that our organization consistently “punches above its weight.” This is in large measure due to Bob’s quiet work behind-the-scenes with legislators. Without his presence in Salem and the relationships he’s cultivated, we would be nowhere near as effective as we are.
Our legislative victories in 2019 reflect this. Working cooperatively with Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA), and others, Bob led Northwest Steelheaders’ efforts to secure funding for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) sea lion removal program, operation of the Leaburg Hatchery, and the North Santiam summer steelhead program. He also directed our work in concert with conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited (TU) and The Nature Conservancy to successfully amend an agricultural bill to include measures to protect essential salmon and steelhead habitat.
Bob’s devotion to working for fish conservation represents the fortitude that Steelheaders brings to the conservation and sport-fishing arena. I need not remind you of the significant challenges that fish and fisheries face, but with experienced and passionate representatives like Bob forging the legislative path and Chris, Alix, and Allena shaping the Northwest Steelheaders’ future, I’m proud to have talented and capable hands on deck as we surge into 2020. Your contributions make it possible for us to leverage our staff and volunteers where they are most needed, allowing us to advance our small but enduring and respected organization.
Thank you for another year of support and friendship. I wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and a safe and prosperous new year.
President Tom VanderPlaat
Association of Northwest Steelheaders