OSU professor picked to head federal agency.Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard
FLORENCE - Jane Lubchenco, one of the world's most prominent marine biologists, a staunch advocate of marine reserves and an Oregonian for three decades, will be introduced today as President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The huge agency oversees a wide range of operations, including how the United States deals with climate change, analyzes the weather, regulates commercial fishermen and responds to tsunamis.
Neither Lubchenco nor officials with Obama's transition team could be reached for comment Thursday, but several of her colleagues confirmed that she was en route to Chicago for the announcement, and Jay Rasmussen, director of the Oregon Sea Grant program, announced the news via e-mail. The Sea Grant program is housed at Oregon State University, where Lubchenco is a professor, and is part of the agency she has been tapped to govern.
John Byrne, OSU's former president who headed NOAA during the Reagan administration, said he learned the news from the college's vice president of advancement. Byrne called his colleague a "major international science figure."
"She fits in very well with the Obama philosophy of wanting to bring about change," Byrne said, noting that Lubchenco is the first woman to be nominated to the post since the agency's creation by executive order in 1970. "She's a very intelligent person, very motivated towards maintaining the quality of our environment, to sustainability."
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Lubchenco will oversee a $4 billion budget at NOAA, which represents about half of the U.S. Department of Commerce in terms of funding and personnel, Byrne said. The agency's influence and importance is big, overseeing the National Weather Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and operating the country's weather satellites with personnel stretching from Hawaii to Florida.
Lubchenco's challenges will be lofty, tackling the government's response to climate change, determining how to regulate the lucrative commercial and recreational fisheries that operate in federal waters and protecting U.S. oceans from degradation.
The role of NOAA in determining ocean policy is far greater than individual states', because states have jurisdiction over the sea only from shore to three miles out. From there to 200 miles, the federal government is in charge.
One hotly contested issue that coastal fishermen will watch nervously, for example, involves marine reserves - sections of the ocean carved away from fishing and other uses. After a year of rigorous debate, an Oregon council recently recommended moving forward with two pilot projects for marine reserves here.
Lubchenco, who has spent years making the case for marine reserves and marine sanctuaries throughout the world as a representative of the Pew Oceans Commission, could make something happen on a federal level if she heads NOAA.
The Pew Commission in 2004 released a report that declared the country's oceans in crisis, noting that coastal areas make up less than 10 percent of the nation's land area but half the population lives there. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to 75 percent. One-third of fish populations that the government is responsible for managing are depleted, and 90 percent of the world's large fish stocks - such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, cod and halibut - are gone.
The commission recommended the creation of a nationwide system of marine reserves and a Cabinet-level office of ocean policy that would function at the same level as agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior.
Lubchenco is known among some fishermen as "Calamity Jane" for the concerns she has stoked about climate change and its impacts on the ocean, but many fishermen in Oregon aren't familiar with her.
"I hate to judge a book before I read it, but if you're a real fan of marine reserves, marine protected areas, closing off areas of the ocean, you're probably rejoicing in that selection, because she's a real proponent, and quite frankly wrote the book on a lot of the marine reserves literature that is circulating now," said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. "Most people in the ocean user community are probably holding their breath as to what this means."
Andy Rosenberg, a University of New Hampshire professor and fellow member of the Pew Oceans Commission, applauded Obama's decision, calling it important to have someone so "intimately involved" in conservation science to run NOAA.
"(NOAA) has an important policy role with regard to protecting natural resources," Rosenberg said, "everything from providing services to the public - like weather forecasting and climate modeling - to analysis of things like hurricanes, to the understanding of ocean resources."
Jane Lubchenco is Wayne and Gladys Valley professor of marine biology and distinguished professor of zoology at Oregon State University
Education: Ph.D, Harvard University, marine ecology
Experience: Heads interdisciplinary team of scientists who study marine ecosystem off Washington, Oregon and California: Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans; past appointee of President Clinton to National Science Board; former president, International Council for Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Ecological Society of America; co-chairwoman of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Advisory Group on Global Warming that recommended actions state should take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions; Pew Oceans Commission and Joint Oceans Commission Initiative.
Awards: MacArthur Fellowship, Pew Fellowship, eight honorary degrees (including one from Princeton University), 2002 Heinz Award in the Environment, 2003 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest, 2004 Environmental Law Institute Award (the first scientist to receive this honor) and 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science's Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology
Source: Oregon State University