Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Many More Earth Days Until The Earth Is Saved?

Friday is the 46th Earth Day and hundreds of thousands of people young and old will be doing something good for the Earth. That’s a good thing because every act of recycling, reusing and restoring helps. But honestly, it’ll take a lot more to make our Earth a healthy place.

Hurrah for Earth Day volunteers and weekend warriors but the big, big threats to our planet aren’t addressed by the kinds of incremental actions that supposedly lead to full scale activism. That’s a hard pill to swallow for us educators and activists but, honestly, aren’t 46 years time enough to show some major progress in creating an environmental constituency among the majority of our nation’s people?-- especially given the urgency of the problems?

I sat this week with a group of lively black kids about the age of my grandson who had just got out of the Baltimore’s National Aquarium and they shared with me all the things they saw and did with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that made me want to enlist them in my marine crusade. But what will happen next? They will move into adolescence and young adulthood where the future of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will join other interests and concerns in a grand hierarchy of being alive. How do we keep the flame burning once it is lit in the young?

I sat with scientists and environmental colleagues last week at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., heartened that there was a strong mix of men and women participating but disheartened by the vast preponderance of Caucasian faces. Despite periodic hand wringing, the environmental movement continues to be white. How does environmentalism progress when the white population of this country becomes a minority in the next couple of decades?

I’m not sure how the information that comes out of the Ecosystem Conference will inform public policy and translate into the kinds of concerns that most people have when they think about their environment. In  our everyday lives, the environment comes down to public health, safety and access— our food, our water, streets, our parks and our beaches. In other words, environment and community need to go hand in hand to be relevant and meaningful.

The environmental movement need to become racially diverse if we are to progress beyond annual Earth Day events. The movement needs to speak directly to class differences and address issues meaningful to more than just educated, economically comfortable people. The movement needs to speak with many voices for each of us in the individuality of our ethnicity and our social standing. In doing so, it can speak to our individual responsibility for our environment. It can speak to the opportunities our environment provides us. It can speak to our legacy we leave for our children and their children.

Now let’s go pick up some trash, dig some weeds and plant a tree.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What’s In A Name?

Referring to the inland waters of Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait as the “Salish Sea” makes a difference, I believe, as I wrote about last week in "The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?" So, how about “Jap” and “Nigger” Islands?

Knute Berger in Crosscut reports on how place names are important, full of meaning and capable of firing up intense passions. [Politically correct maps: Damn right.]

Berger writes:

.... In an article about the [Pramila] Jayapal-led name change effort, the Longview Daily News reported that a Wahkiakum County commissioner, Dan Cothren, signaled his dismissal of changing the name of Jim Crow Point there by saying he “would probably tell the person, ‘Well you need to get a life’ ” and calling the ideas “ridiculous.” He later told a writer for the Wahkiakum County Eagle in Cathlamet, “I just don’t like it that folks from the urban setting telling us from the rural setting what to do.”

.... The goods news is that no one is telling the people of Wahkiakum or any other Washington county what to do. Reconsidering a place name allows plenty of room for historical research, local values, debate, public input and disagreement to take place before a decision is rendered at either the state or federal level. It’s an opportunity to learn more about our heritage. Jayapal says she has heard from some folks in Wahkiakum Co. who didn’t know the term “Jim Crow” was at all racial. Another man told her he’s often been embarrassed when tourists visit and ask about the name.

Name discussions can educate all sides in the discussion, and in some cases they result in updated maps that reflect who we are now as opposed to who we were then.

The writer of The Wahkiakum County Eagle’s article, Rick Nelson, supports changing references to Jim Crow. “In my lifetime, the county has had some other name changes. We once had ‘Jap Island’ and ‘Nigger Island’ off the shores of Puget Island, and changing those names was a welcome move to change the heritage we will leave for future generations,” he writes. “Getting rid of Jim Crow in Wahkiakum County would be another welcome move to define our heritage.”

Rick Nelson is publisher of the Eagle and my brother-in-law. I know if you’re running a community newspaper you have to serve your community. That means taking every opportunity to inform and educate that community to move beyond the prejudices of race, class and gender.

Do people living there think “Jim Crow” was a brand of whiskey? It was a black-faced minstrel character created around 1830 who was a slave owned by Mr. Crow and who sang: “"Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

Laws passed to limit black people’s rights were called “Jim Crow Laws” and the term “Jim Crow” is a derogatory reference to African Americans with the connotation of foolish, uneducated and lazy.

Got it? Is that what county commissioner Cothren wants to preserve with his wrong-headed local pride? One Facebook comment suggested that Jim Crow Point could be renamed to honor James Saules who was being honored originally. (How Mr. Saules could have been honored by “Jim Crow Point,” however, is another story, another time.)

No doubt this discussion should go on for a long time in Cathlamet and Wahkiakum County; maybe long enough for me to offer to boycott my next Mother’s Day visit like others have been doing to North Carolina and Mississippi.

But innocent folks get hurt that way. Although it does give me pause to learn that one letter writer to the editor said: “Nazi Socialism succeeded so well in Germany because local newspapers spread it, according to the writer, and Wahkiakum County is so fortunate to have a newspaper doing the same thing.”

“Nazi Socialism?” Who are the innocent? Education opportunities abound.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#SSEC16— Hold On To That Blue Marble

Canadian astronaut and scientist Roberta Bondar gave an inspired and inspiring keynote address to kick off the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC, on Wednesday. Capacity attendance of 1200 folks will be sharing information and experiences during the three-day meeting.

From space, it’s a whole different perspective on the problems and opportunities the conference is addressing in jam-packed concurrent sessions throughout the days. Keeping that perspective is good because I sat and listened to how rising water temperature correlates with sea star wasting disease, learned how higher water temperature correlates to increased shellfish toxins, and how we’re don’t know why tufted puffin populations are plummeting in the Salish Sea while auklet populations are doing OK. And, after all these years, how we still don’t know what works to change people’s behavior to save and restore the Salish Sea.

Sharing knowledge and networking with others are good stuff and the conference does a great job in bringing folks together in that respect. But the urgency of preserving the healthy parts of the Salish Sea and restoring the health of what’s damaged requires concerted actions on both sides of the shared waters, now, more than ever.

Before the next conference in 2018, we should send everyone to outer space to see the world the way Roberta Bondar has seen it. Meanwhile, as long as I’m here at the conference, I’ll do my best to hold on to that blue marble.

--Mike Sato

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?

The Salish Sea (NASA/WikiCommons)
It’s not a good idea to read a Wikipedia entry and think that makes me smart, but it’s not a bad idea to read an entry to remind myself that I don’t know everything. For example, about how the Salish Sea officially got its name.

I’d followed over the last couple of decades efforts to gracefully refer to the shared marine ecosystem shared by Washington state and British Columbia and cheered Bert Webber on in his successful crusade to have these shared waters named “The Salish Sea.”

Reading Wikipedia, “The name was endorsed by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names in late October, 2009... [and] was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names on November 12, 2009.”

What I’d forgotten or maybe never even knew was that the Stz'uminus First Nation (formerly known as the Chemainus First Nation) in March 2008, according to Wikipedia, proposed the name “Salish Sea” and B.C.'s Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong championed the name formally to the British Columbia Geographical Names Office which, in August 2009, recommended adoption to the Geographical Names Board of Canada, which adopted the name contingent on the approval by the United States Board, which was forthcoming on November 12, 2009. [Isn’t bureaucracy amazing?]

Does it matter? I think it does as an important recognition of the First People in this place where we now live sharing resources. And saying “Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference” feels a lot more graceful than the mouthful of “Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Research Conference” or parsing that awful word, ‘transboundary.’

Maybe “The Salish Sea” is a start. When Washington participant travel north to this year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, let them practice saying “Tahoma” and “Komo Kulshan” and “Shuksan” before reaching the border.

Bienvenue a la Mer de Salish.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2016— What Do You Know?

(Map: WWU)
It’s been just about two years since the last Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference brought together scientists, governments and activists and in a week we’ll see how much smarter and resolute we’ve become in preserving and restoring the health of the shared waters of Washington state and British Columbia.

Over the years, the biennial conference has endeavored to bring science and policy together with themes titled,  "The Salish Sea: Our Shared Responsibility,” "The Future of the Salish Sea… A Call to Action,” "Knowledge for the Salish Sea: Toward Collaborative Transboundary Solutions,” “Science for the Salish Sea: a sense of place, a sense of change,” “Applying Science and Information to Sustainability in a Shared Transboundary Ecosystem,” and "Many Voices, One Sea.” You get the idea. Science, projects and people (policy) but no politics. [Proceeding of these conferences are archived at Conference Archives]

Two years ago, one of the big stories coming out of the conference was about pteropods, sea butterflies with delicate calcium structures, being destroyed by an acidifying sea. [New Study: Acidifying Ocean Destroying Sea Butterflies ] There were news reports of a bad oil spill in Virginia when a tanker train derailed. And the Squamish First Nation was in the news with their Liquified Natural Gas project. Seems like we’re still dealing with ocean acidification and fossil fuel transport.

In a series of blogs from the conference last year I wrote about how David Marshall of the Georgia Basin Council gave an example of how science informed a restoration project. He challenged attendees to answer three questions when the conference was over: Give another example of how science and policy went together, identify a specific project that could influence policy, and predict what the Salish Sea would look like in 10 years. [#SSEC14 Day 1: Will Science Inform Policy and Politics? ]

Outgoing Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard laid down another challenge to attendees, one that today is a front-burner issue: He said, “... If in the decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we shall have failed as a university.” Western has just named Sabah Randhawa its new head, but I think Bruce Shepard’s challenge is one for the environmental movement as well and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the complexion and cultures of those attending this year’s conference. [#SSEC14 Day 2: What Will It Take to ‘Save’ the Salish Sea? ]

At the end of the three-day conference in 2014, I tried to channel David Marshall, looking ahead to the next conference in 2016 and asking this year’s attendees, “Did what we learn at the 2014 conference make a difference?” and seeing a sea of hands raised. Then: “Tell me your story about how it made a difference.”

See you in Vancouver at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2016. [#SSEC16]

--Mike Sato

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Future of The Puget Sound

"Return to the Land of the Head Hunters" (Edward Curtis)
“The” Puget Sound. Does reading or hearing that make your skin crawl, your ears ring? How about riding “the” Metro? Go to “the” Husky Stadium to watch the Huskies play? Blame those Californians for polluting the Puget Sound stylebook; they should go back to where they came from. Maybe then we can go back to calling this place "Whulge."

When I edited copy at People For Puget Sound, removing the offending “the” before Puget Sound was a simple line indicating deletion. These days, I hear “the Puget Sound” said every once in a while but I hear all sorts of strange pronunciations and syntax from folks who have moved here and from folks who grew up here. Not being a sensitive-eared native but a local resident for only about 45 years, I guess I’m still trying to fit in with the real Northwestern natives.

Mossback Knute Berger at Crosscut [ Did you just say ‘The’ Puget Sound? ] and KUOW’s Bill Radke [ Stop Calling It 'The' Puget Sound ] seem to be some of the sensitive-eared types living and making pronouncements in Mighty Seattle.

Does it matter? “Puget Sound” and “the Puget Sound” are, for practical purposes, abstractions, a name on a map, a verbal description using one’s hands. I sat through years of focus group discussions listening to participants grapple with describing where Puget Sound is. Folks on the Peninsula live on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Folks in Bellingham live on Bellingham Bay or Rosario Strait. People think of themselves as living on Birch Bay and Budd Inlet, on Hood Canal, on Rich Passage, in Eagle Harbor and, even in Seattle, most likely on Elliott Bay instead of Puget Sound. One woman meekly asked whether she was crossing “Puget Sound” when she went to and from work over the I-90 bridge.

Talk to British Columbia neighbors about the waters of the U.S. Northwest Straits that border their Strait of Georgia and they’ll be quick to point out that those are the Southwest Straits as far as they are concerned. And the folks in the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands? They live surrounded by the Sea of Paradise.

The fact that the Puget Sound and Puget Sound are abstractions has been a challenge and an obstacle faced by folks who worked and are working for the future of Puget Sound: The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the Puget Sound Action Team, the Puget Sound Partnership, People For Puget Sound. The future that people care for is the future that touches them. Our environments are local.

I honestly don’t care if somebody calls it the Puget Sound or Puget Sound as long as they put their mind and their heart and their hands around doing all they can to protect and restore the lands and waters they care for. Judging how people talk is basically off-putting, especially if you think you’re right and others are not. It’s also arrogant to forget that this place had names for its places long before Captain George Vancouver sailed into these waters.

Before Vancouver, this place was called “WulcH,” ( Anglicized to “Whulge” or “Whulj”) from the Lushootseed name. These days, thanks to the efforts of Bert Webber, I like to call the land and the waters of this great place the Salish Sea. And if we’re not all planning to go  back to where we came from, it might deepen our appreciation for living here if we think about living on the flanks and at the feet of Komo Kulshan, Shuksan and Tahoma.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Monster of the Deep

Grant Jones in his skiff (Kaija Jones photo)

Guest blog by Grant Jones

It was early August in 1953 at Richmond Beach. I was rowing out after breakfast on the high tide to drift along the drop off about a half-mile out. I had caught a big English Sole fourteen inches long on a strip of frozen herring. As the tide ebbed out and the farthest-out sandbars came into sunlight, I came up with a plan.

I wanted to find out if there were still big Halibut in Puget Sound. In my fishbox I carried a huge halibut hook four inches on the shank. I tied it securely with a bowline knot onto the loose bight of a twelve-inch spool of thick, waxed handline a thousand feet long. I baited it with the whole body of that big sole, working the hook through the back so its white blind side would be exposed to the sunlight filtering into the deep. I then rowed out over a mile beyond the drop off and played out the handline that coursed through my fingers, drug down by a two-pound lead. It took more than a minute, maybe two, for the weight to pull that big flounder all the way down six‑hundred feet to the bottom below. The tide had turned and was flooding back toward Seattle. I hauled the line in a few feet and quickly dropped it so I could feel the lead bounce along the bottom.

Nothing happened for over an hour as I drifted southward from Point Wells toward Duffy’s Point bouncing that flounder off the sandy channel, six-hundred feet or sixty stories below. Then, almost imperceptively, the line, which had been holding almost straight down, slightly aft from the bow, started to slowly pull between my thumb and forefinger and then play out ahead like a walking dog toward the west. Was I just imagining this?

I let out twenty or thirty feet of slack and tied it off around the front seat, to see if it was just a snag and would hold me suspended in one position, fishtailing me slightly back and forth in the current. Instead the line jerked violently and the skiff veered westward at about three knots, faster than you can walk. Oh, crap!

At six o’clock, after being pulled south in zigzags three miles almost to Jefferson Head, past the Degaussing Station, for two-maybe-three hours, I was getting into the shipping lanes heading for Elliott Bay and would be a threat to navigation. This fish didn’t act like a halibut, didn’t want to head for the beach; it was heading for the deep canyon that reaches 800 feet out in the middle of this great estuarine Puget River. If I wanted to get home that night, I’d have to give up my prize. When I touched my fish knife to the thick, trembling handline, it snapped like a bowstring against my cheek. I noticed that there were two, deep friction grooves in the gunwales of my skiff, one on each side of the bow.

With the severed handline hanging loose in my hands, fear suddenly pressed around me. I started to tremble and the back of my neck felt like burning ice with electric nettles. Had I been experiencing the whole adventure with a friend, this moment would have brought hoots and hollers, but being alone out there was something else, like an all-engulfing prayer, as I fell to my knees out of the wind and felt the warm and fragrant cedar floorboards under my hands to clear my head, as the wind gently rocked the skiff in the riptide.

It was like time had crashed and some huge power of nature held me in its arms. That deep-channel monster fish released me, but in the process became my friend and protector.

It took three hours to row back with the outgoing ebb tide. After dragging the skiff up the beach and over the logs and heaving it on top of the car, I drove the old Falcon station wagon two blocks up the hill to the house and rolled into bed at ten o’clock. It was still light and I couldn’t fall to sleep until after midnight. It was a quarter moon, and its crescent drew a silver line across the Sound out to where I had met my fifteen-foot Sixgill Cowshark, my own real monster of the deep.

Every landscape can surround you if you’re alive to it. It can embrace you with its monstrous spirit, reaching out to both scare and honor you. In my monster fish, I had discovered an earth-mate partner. I would never be the same or even think the same way again about my mission. I hope something like this has happened to you. If it hasn’t, maybe you can go out looking for it. A monster fish like this is your guide to powerful spirits residing in the landscape of the Salish Sea. They can awake your heart. For me, this experience with another being made the land and sea breathe. It made rivers talk and mountains groan. And their heartbeats have been with me forever.

Grant Jones was born a “beach kid,” which means he grew up on the tide flats at Richmond Beach in the North Central Sound Region. This childhood experience helped him become deeply attached to estuaries and rivers of the Salish Sea and to become a landscape poet, environmental designer and steward. He co-founded Jones & Jones in 1970, the award winning architectural and landscape architectural and planning firm, with their first job being to design a conservation plan for the Nooksack River. Now retired, he lives on his farm in the Okanogan Valley of North-Central Washington where he is creating a native plant nursery-arboretum with his wife, Chong-hui.