Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, an internationally known marine ecologist who is deeply concerned about climate change and overfishing, has been picked by President-elect Barack Obama to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The news circulated widely among Oregon scientists Thursday, and Lubchenco’s colleagues told The Oregonian that her appointment would be announced today or Saturday.
Her selection signals the incoming administration’s focus on aggressive environmental and marine protection and raises the profile of OSU’s strong ocean research program.
Lubchenco would be the first woman to head the prominent science agency, which encompasses about half the work force of the Department of Commerce and has a budget of roughly $4 billion. NOAA’s many divisions conduct the nation’s study of oceans, weather and global warming.
Those divisions include the National Ocean Service, National Weather Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which has jurisdiction over ocean fishing and is charged with protecting imperiled Northwest salmon and steelhead.
The fisheries service’s responsibility for salmon gives it a dominant say over activities that affect Northwest fish, from logging to the operation of hydroelectric dams.
Lubchenco has been advising Obama’s transition team on science issues, said Jack Barth, another OSU professor. Lubchenco had been on a trip to Australia in recent weeks, but she interrupted her travels there Thursday to head to Chicago, where Obama is announcing his appointments.
“I’ve always been amazed by her ability to see the big picture and cut to the chase,” Barth said. “She’s going to be a very strong voice for oceanic and atmospheric science and marine ecology.”
Lubchenco has actively encouraged fellow scientists to better communicate their research to the public and has urged controls on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. She helped lead a panel created by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to develop an Oregon strategy on climate change.
John Byrne, a former OSU president who headed NOAA during the Reagan administration, learned of Lubchenco’s selection Thursday and said she is an ideal pick. “It’s been great for Oregon State to have her here, and it’s a big kudo for Jane and for Oregon State,” Byrne said.
A former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Ecological Society of America, Lubchenco has won many of the top awards in her field, including a so-called genius MacArthur Fellowship. She is widely respected within the science community and has long spoken strongly of the need to protect marine ecosystems.
But her advocacy of setting aside marine reserves has made her something of a lightning rod in some parts of Oregon. Coastal communities, for instance, are suspicious that such reserves will close off important fishing grounds.
“It’s somewhat disappointing that they are not getting someone who’s a little bit better versed in fisheries,” said Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association in Portland. While it’s positive to have an Oregonian so high in the Obama administration, he said, “I hope she remembers there’s a seafood industry that’s important to our coastal economy.”