Like calling in a famous specialist to consult in treating a sick patient after years of dinking around with amateurs, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may propose some painful but necessary remedies.

Among other impressive qualifications, Oregon State University Professor Jane Lubchenco has been a leader of the Pew Oceans Commission and a winner of the MacArthur "genius" fellowship. In the new administration, her agency will oversee Pacific Northwest salmon restoration.

Her obvious talents do not equate to popularity with fishermen, at least in the short term. The Pew commission has prescribed a comprehensive list of medications and therapies for what ails the world's oceans. This includes a system of marine sanctuaries, stricter attention to ending overfishing and working to control the impacts on the ocean from shoreline development.

While elevating objective science to its proper place at NOAA is long overdue, it will be important that Lubchenco listens carefully to those on the coast whose livelihoods depend on sometimes troubled fisheries. In many respects, both commercial and sport fishers are the most passionate and knowledgeable defenders of salmon and other species. It is vital that they be brought along as the nation begins mending decades of neglect.

Considered together with the appointment of Harvard physicist John P. Holdren to be White House science advisor, Lubchenco's nomination marks the end of an exceedingly dark age for intelligent natural-resource management by the upper echelons of American government.

It will be exciting to see what happens next.


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