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Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


PORTLAND, Ore., October 9-- Environmental economics students of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, have gotten their feet wet in a rare, collaborative effort to research how people view and value the salmon populations of the Pacific Northwest.

In July 2000, when the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service issued a draft of their plan to restore 12 threatened and endangered salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin, economics professors Noel Netusil at Reed and Jan Crouter at Whitman took notice. "We thought it would be helpful to collaborate due to the local and regional consequences of some of the proposed programs to restore the salmon," said Netusil.

Since the government announced the proposals, the colleges have undertaken a cooperative course project to study how the public values the restoration of Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. The students will use information from confidential responses to a survey posted on the World Wide Web to analyze factors that affect the worth people place on these runs. For this project to be successful, the students would like to have as many respondents as possible by October 23 to the survey, found at

"The goal of the survey is to estimate the benefits associated with a program to restore salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake River," said Netusil. "Willingness to pay -- that is, how much people are individually and at an aggregate level willing to support salmon and steelhead restoration -- has important policy implications for the region."

Salmon and steelhead populations are important both to the economy and culture of the Pacific Northwest. On the Snake River, chinook salmon populations have fallen from an estimated 140,000 spawners per year in the 1960s to a mere 3,000 today. Such declines signal dramatic changes for the region, affecting everything from commercial and sport fishing to fulfillment of treaty obligations with Pacific Northwest Indian tribes and general ecosystem health.

On the educational side of the project, students are being exposed to real-world economic challenges. "The students are gaining hands-on experience with a technique used by economists to value environmental goods and services that are not sold in markets," said Crouter. She hopes the project will "provide students at both campuses a chance to understand the issues from a broader perspective."

"Working on the survey has not only helped enlarge my understanding of an extremely complex issue, but it has also encouraged me to look deeply at my own values and ethics," said Malena Marvin, a Reed senior history major from Ashland, Oregon, working on the project. "To me this is an example of the way solutions-oriented environmental projects have to work."

Students from both colleges also were instrumental in creating the survey web site. Owen Merrick, a Reed economics senior from Escondido, California, created the survey maps in ArcView, and Whitman sophomore Eric Jacks wrote the computer code that makes the survey function.

Jan Crouter is currently studying litigation and settlements of Native American water rights disputes in the U.S. West. Noel Netusil is currently analyzing the effects of preserving open spaces in Portland, Oregon. Both professors attended graduate school in economics at the University of Illinois.


Press contacts: Nadine Fiedler, Reed College News Office, 503/777-7590;

Lenel Parish, Whitman College News Service, 509/527-5156;