arch rocksAmidst the slavering cries to drill pretty much everywhere, it’s encouraging to hear the news from Oregon. The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has just finished accepting proposals for new marine reserves — protected places where Oregon’s maritime ecology can thrive.

A coalition of conservation leaders has developed an ambitious and smart proposal. Now it’s up to the state’s elected officials to make it real.

Strangely — and partly by reason of historical accident — Oregon is something of a laggard in marine protection, at least relative to its West Coast neighbors. Washington has many reserves scattered around its inland saltwaterways plus the vast Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which extends out to sea from Olympic National Park. British Columbia, Alaska, and Hawaii all have taken bold steps to preserve marine ecology. And California is now aggressively developing an extended network of protected areas. Oregon should too. After all, this is a state with a jaw-dropping coastal landscape and a population that cherishes it.

There are obvious environmental benefits to marine protection and some less obvious economic ones. If fish stocks are given a space to replenish themselves, they can produce more bountifully. And that can mean heading off disastrous fishing years like 2008. And that, in turn, means more tasty local wild salmon on my barbeque.

Apart from making a plea for my summer grilling, I don’t have a lot to add here. Except this: a forward-looking approach to ocean protection could be huge. It could earn Governor Kulongoski a place in the pantheon of great Oregon conservation leaders — making him an aquatic version of Tom McCall.

Media coverage from Oregon Public Broadcasting here, the Oregonian here and here, and a press release from Our Ocean here.