Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wow! “Clean Up Puget Sound— Now”

(PHOTO: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Hadn’t heard that in a while so it got me excited last Friday when I saw the Seattle Times editorial headline, “Stop political inaction, clean up Puget Sound — now. The problem, according to its editorial board, is — guess what? -- politics.

The solution, according to its editorial board, is — guess what? -- more politics. Specifically passing federal legislation elevating Puget Sound to the status of having “national significance,” which would “align federal efforts and coordinate a united recovery strategy with the state.” And presumably bring more federal dollars to Puget Sound protection and recovery.

Strange to put progress towards cleaning up Puget Sound in hoped-for action from a Congress more skilled in deadlock and now in majority-party disarray. Disheartening to have the loudest editorial voice in the Puget Sound region shift focus to the Never-Never Land of Congressional politics and away from scrutiny of the State’s own efforts— that of the Puget Sound Partnership— and progress towards making Puget Sound “swimmable, fishable and diggable.”

Getting results in governance doesn’t come from having good ideas. It comes from having people, lots of people, supporting an idea. That’s called a constituency, something that causes like gay marriage and legal marijuana and $15 minimum wage have. That’s the kind of constituency cleaning up Puget Sound needs.

In the not-so old days we used to ask, “Who speaks for Puget Sound and who holds accountable all those who are responsible for its protection and restoration?” Does Governor Inslee? Does the Puget Sound Partnership? Does the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance?

A lot of money and social capital has been spent by the state on defining what “swimmable, fishable and diggable” means.  So I’m sure someone can give a report on progress to that end that maybe folks will listen to.  But, as the editorial points out, folks don’t know Puget Sound is ill. And even if they did, how would it make a difference?

An environmental group board member once punctuated a discussion about the need to educate people about Puget Sound by saying, “Is that what you want? A bunch of educated people watching Puget Sound go down the toilet?”

No, what Puget Sound needs is an organized constituency that speaks for the Sound and holds accountable all those responsible for its protection and restoration. It is a constituency that demands action by saying, loudly and clearly, “Clean up Puget Sound— now!”

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When Drones Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Drones

First of all, I won’t identify the drone operator in my neighborhood by name because I don’t want to inspire others by glorifying his actions. I’m sure he bought his drone legally and thinks he is exercising his God-given constitutional rights to fly it above my house. If someone’s going to take his drone away, they’ll most likely have to kill him first.

On the other hand, it may be as simple as his receiving an “accommodation” based on some religious grounds that allows buzzing over my house. No, the Pope is not going to have the last say in this matter.

Maybe nobody has the last say except the perpetrator. While I, Man of the House, stood in front of the barbecue grill fuming and shouting obscenities and raised the middle finger salute to the contraption whining back and forth over our back yard, the Woman of the House sat quietly nursing her gin tonic, looked upward and said, “That’s enough.”

With iron fist in velvet glove, she marched out to the street and, five minutes later, the whining whirr stopped and she returned home with her report:

“It was (name deleted),” she said. “I asked him to stop flying it.”

“’Why?’ he said. ‘Because I don’t like it flying over my house,’ I said.”

“’Where do you live?’ he said. ‘Down at the corner,’ I said. ‘You can fly it somewhere else.’”

Maybe (name deleted) will take personal responsibility and fly his toy where it won’t bother anyone, where it won’t crash and hurt someone. No different than responsible owners of firearms who take safety training and secure their weapons not because the constitution allows them to, but because they take responsibility for their health and safety and that of the people around them.

Those who are unable or incapable of being responsible for their health and safety and the health and safety of those around them should be guided by the iron fist: no drones, no weapons. And there are places and times where and when we just don’t take drones and weapons. [ FAA Proposes Nearly $2 Million Fine To Drone Operator For Restricted Flights ]

Was anyone in the 12th Man crowd filling the stadium last Monday night packing drones or weapons? No. Did those who could not bring drones or weapons feel like their God-given constitutional right was being violated? Nope. And you know what? Qwest Field was one of the safest places to be in Seattle during Monday Night Football.

--Mike Sato

Monday, September 21, 2015

UPDATE: Holy Father the Chemist

Pope Francis

Pope Francis and His Little Fiat - The New Yorker

Transcript: Pope Francis’s speech at the White House 

Transcript: Pope Francis's speech to Congress 

There have been some strange twists and turns in religiosity the past few weeks perhaps foreshadowing Pope Francis’ visit to our country this week. No doubt Kentucky county auditor Kim Davis is both deeply religious and an upstanding civil servant but not to choose one’s religious faith and resign from one’s sworn duties as a civil servant when it comes in conflict makes a mockery of both the faith she holds and the duties of the office she had sworn to perform.

The trouble with people like Kim Davis invoking their belief in God as the final argument is that it ends civil discourse. It’s like saying the spirit gods of the ancient forest say clear cutting is bad. You can say it and believe it but It’s awfully hard to have a discussion about the pros and cons of clear cutting with you.

Around the time the Kim Davis circus was in high gear, there was a report about a study that found that people who live in beautiful places are more likely to have lower rates of religious adherence. ( Live In A Beautiful Region? You're Less Likely To Be Religious ) A modest proposal would have been to invite Ms. Davis to this side of the Cascades and let her chill a bit. But that’s not the way religiosity works itself out.

You’d think a rich and smart man like Ben Carson who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination would have spent time in beautiful places with trees, lakes and mountains but it certainly didn’t affect his heart or his brain when he wears his Christian faith on his sleeve and declares that no one who believes in the Muslim faith should be president of the Unites States. Because being a Muslim is not consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Whereas Kim Davis who is a Christian is of a faith that is consistent with the constitution of the United States. But she will not, due to her Christian faith, uphold the laws under the constitution of the Unites States.

See how complicated it gets when folks get religiosity and civics mixed up?

Then, again, I still remember the national discussion when John F. Kennedy ran for president and whether a Catholic (presumably with a hotline to Rome) should be in the White House. Some folks even had qualms about Mitt Romney, a Morman, possibly becoming president but maybe that was because of the underwear thing.

At a dinner this past weekend, I said that, when Pope Francis comes to this country, he will be talking to politicians about climate change and social justice and probably invoking God the same way Kim Davis invokes God as the final authority. Makes talking about climate change hard when you invoke God, I said.

No, my dinner host said, Francis is a chemist.

(According to Thomas Reese, “Pope Francis studied chemistry and worked as a chemist prior to entering the seminary. But Jorge Bergoglio never graduated from university prior to entering the seminary. What he did do was graduate with a título in chemistry from the Escuela Técnica Industrial No. 12*, which is a state-run technical secondary school.” Does Pope Francis have a master's degree in chemistry? )

So, I said, as long as he speaks to climate change as a chemist and in terms of sciene, he won’t be like Kim Davis and those religious fanatics?

True, and that’s great. I look forward to hearing and cheering on the Holy Father the Chemist.

[See: Pope Francis’s Environmental Encyclical: 13 Things to Know and Share  (Catholic Answers)]

[If you’d like to taste an example of being spiritual in telling stories based on chemistry and not invoking God, check out Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table.]

--Mike Sato

Thursday, September 10, 2015

News Release: Killer Whale Expert and Author Erich Hoyt In October "Orca Tour 2015" Talks in BC, Puget Sound

News Release
September 10, 2015
Erich Hoyt


Internationally-renowned author and killer whale expert Erich Hoyt will speak in October along the Whale Trail at locations in British Columbia and Puget Sound.

“Orca Tour 2015” celebrates the seasonal return of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales to central Puget Sound and builds awareness of the whales throughout their range in the Salish Sea and along the Pacific Coast. This transboundary tour is especially timely with the birth of the fifth calf in the Southern Resident Killer Whale pods since December 2014.

"The birth of five new calves in J, K and L pods gives us five more reasons to recover this population. The collaborative nature of the Orca Tour demonstrates our shared commitment to restore salmon, reduce toxins and create quieter seas," said Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale Trail.

Organized by The Whale Trail and local sponsoring organizations, Hoyt’s talks are scheduled for:

·      Oct. 3- Saturna BC. “Creatures of the Deep” hosted by Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society and sponsored by the Capital Regional District at the Saturna Community Hall;

·      Oct. 6- Sidney BC. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and Raincoast Conservation Foundation at the Centre;

·      Oct. 10- Olympia WA. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by The Whale Trail at the Olympia Friends Meeting Hall;

·      Oct. 11- Tacoma WA. “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific” hosted by Citizens for a Healthy Bay at the UW Carwein Hall; and

·      Oct. 13- Seattle WA. “Ants, Orcas and Creatures of the Deep” hosted by The Whale Trail at the Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle.

Tickets for the Washington talks are available through Brown Paper Tickets,  (search Erich Hoyt). Tickets for the Saturna talk are available at the door for $10; call the Centre (250.665.7511) for Sidney ticket information.

Erich Hoyt’s first killer whale expedition to Johnstone Strait sailed from Victoria, BC in June 1973. He proceeded to spend parts of the next 10 summers with orcas, culminating in his now classic book Orca: The Whale Called Killer. He is the author of 22 books including The Earth Dwellers and Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. His most recent book is the greatly expanded Creatures of the Deep, with state-of-the-art photographs and stories of amazing species new to science.

In 1999 Hoyt, a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Research Fellow, co-founded the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) to learn more about orca pods targeted for aquarium captures and to get Russian students involved in science and conservation of killer whales in Russian waters. Now in its 15th year, FEROP has recorded the Russian pods and photo-IDed some 1500 orcas off Kamchatka and in the Commander Islands — including three white orcas found so far in the study areas.

“We are living in an era and in a part of the world where whale research has exploded,” said Hoyt. “And we’ve got some amazing orca stories to tell here—mostly positive, some heartbreaking, but all compelling.”

“Orca Tour 2015” celebrates the growing transboundary success and collaboration between British Columbia organizations and The Whale Trail — a model for conservation everywhere. The Whale Trail is working closely with the BC Cetacean Sightings Network and other groups to add new Whale Trail sites from Victoria to Prince Rupert.

Interpretive panels will be installed at five locations this fall, and 30 sites in the southern Gulf Island will be marked with distinctive Whale Trail markers. East Point, Saturna Island was the first BC Whale Trail site, and the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney is the most recent.

"The Centre serves to inform people about the Salish Sea and our keystone mammal-- the orca," said Mark Loria, executive director of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. "Erich is an important figure in the world of orca conservation and protection and he will have much to share with our members and the public. Our partnership with Raincoast Conservation Foundation serves to strengthen our efforts in public programs and initiatives."

"Erich is such a knowledgeable speaker about the sea. He clearly has a deep love for all that lives in there and it sparkles through in his talks,” said Maureen Welton of the Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society. “He told us his exciting orca stories last year and we've brought him back to talk about the unusual, little known species in the sea. His book is fascinating and we know his talk will be, too."

In Tacoma, The Whale Trail is partnering with Citizens of the Bay. "We are so lucky to live in a place as beautiful as the Puget Sound with animals as fascinating as orcas,” said executive director Melissa Malott.  “Orca populations are a great representation of the health of the Puget Sound, which we at Citizens for a Healthy Bay are working to protect.  We are excited to have Erich Hoyt speak to learn more about these amazing creatures and our environment.”

“The Whale Trail and its partners in British Columbia and Washington State share a deep commitment to marine education, conservation and the recovery of the southern resident killer whales,” said Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale Trail. “Erich is a legend and an inspiration. We are thrilled to bring him back to the northwest, and provide our communities with the incredible opportunity to hear from him first-hand.”

Orca Tour 2015 marks an historic return to Olympia, where Erich gave his first presentation in the region almost 40 years ago. Erich spoke during the first Orca Symposium at Evergreen State College in 1976. The Symposium coincided with orca captures in nearby Budd Inlet that led to their banning in Washington State.

For more information on The Whale Trail and Orca Tour 2015, go to: and and

* To schedule an interview with Erich Hoyt, contact Mike Sato (206) 229.2844 *

Local event partners can be reached at:

Maureen Welton, SIMRES, (250) 539.3698
Mark Loria, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, (250) 665.7511
Chris Genovali, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, (
250) 655.1229 x225
Melissa Malott, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, (253) 383.2429
Donna Sandstrom, The Whale Trail, (206) 919.5397

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are You An Environmental Racist?

(PHOTO: Angela Waye)
Think about it: The disappearance of the wild and its wildlife is often attributed to too many people. Who do you think “those people” are? Do they look like you, talk like you, share your values? If they don’t, who are “those people?”

At the root of American environmentalism are the values of a white, aristocratic class that extolled eugenics, elevated Nordic culture and feared the dilution of that culture, according to Jedehiah Purdy in a New Yorker article, “Environmentalism’s Racist History.”

The creation of America’s national parks and forests by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were guided by a vision to preserve in the wild nature’s aristocratic qualities, “the moose, the mountain goat, and the redwood tree,” writes Purdy. Roosevelt also engaged John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, “who felt fraternity with four-legged ‘animal people’ and even plants, [but] was at best ambivalent about human brotherhood.”

Purdy: “For each of these environmentalist icons, the meaning of nature and wilderness was constrained, even produced, by an idea of civilization. Muir’s nature was a pristine refuge from the city. Madison Grant’s nature [ a Roosevelt fellow traveler better known for his views on eugenics ] was the last redoubt of nobility in a leveling and hybridizing democracy. They went to the woods to escape aspects of humanity. They created and preserved versions of the wild that promised to exclude the human qualities they despised.”

Recognize anybody you might know? Most likely not. But put another way, how many environmentalists would agree that their environmental values of protecting the wild in the wilderness is in some sense better than those in cultures that clear rain forests, hunt whales, and kill animals for their fins, ivory or gall bladders? If those perpetrators’ skin color is different from yours, some might call you — loosely speaking-- a racist. (racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular group is inferior to others.)

I say “loosely” because the term these days gets thrown around in heated arguments and polemics. If you spend time saving the whales and ignoring immigration reform, will you be called a racist? If you say, saving African elephants is my issue, not voting rights, will you be called a racist? What happens when a Black Lives Matter activist takes the microphone away from Denis Hayes ala Bernie Sanders when he wants to talk about climate change?

Have environmentalists been racists? I’ve listened to a card-carrying green complain about the people who don’t speak English coming down to the shore at low tide and stripping it bare of the sea weed and limpets. There are California Sierra Club members who have had a hard time dealing with immigration. Good friends deride Canadians for clogging up the local Trader Joes and Costco. The subtext here isn’t hard to figure out (Southeast Asians, Mexicans, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese) but I’m not sure the speakers felt superior as much as beleagued by a foreign “otherness” that seemed beyond their control.

I’m also not sure how exclusive our cultural value of protecting wild creatures in the wilderness is but much of this country’s wildernesses, parks and environmental laws are the result of environmentalists who are white, educated and not poor. The membership and leadership of environmental organizations are almost exclusively white. The causes, however, are not about protecting wildlife and wild places from other races but from businesses that threaten their destruction. To prevail in those causes like climate change and Arctic drilling and species protection and recovery, the environmental movement needs to expand its constituent base.

To do that requires more than trying to diversify the complexion of their boards and staffs and printing more brochures in other languages. It will required understanding why a phrase like “people of color” rings hollow (the redoubtable Hazel Wolf said, I’m white, that’s all the colors) and why asking the families of Mexican farm workers to take part in a weeding and planting restoration day makes no sense. Show some respect: People who don’t have the economic luxury of being able to save the polar bears don’t need to be educated about polar bears and climate change. And, it’s important to remember when working in a community on environmental justice issues that the organizers get to go home; the community living with the toxic crap is at home.

The strength of the environmental movement is based on the values of protecting wild things in the wilderness and those are the values of its white, educated and not poor members. OK, that’s not necessarily the values of most of the world or non-white cultures in this country. Saving the whales or the polar bear or ancient forests isn’t the environment for the people environmentalists want to reach. The environment for these folks is health and safety: safe water, safe food, safe streets, safe parks.

Are you ready to write the new environmental manifesto that clearly expresses how we protect the wild and the wilderness by protecting and restoring the health and safety of our communities?

The need to do that if the environmental movement is to grow and move forward has been recognized by folks like Scott Miller of Resource Media: “Many organizations, like Resource Media, with their roots firmly in environmental advocacy, now understand that a greener world is part of something much bigger. We have long contended people have a right to clean air, clean water and places to experience nature. Now we are intentional about saying that list includes rights to adequate health care, safety, equity, economic well being and... human dignity.“

Take a moment to read Jedehiah Purdy’s article, and let me know what you think.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Citizen Scientists – Are They For Real?

Citizen scientists (Toby Ross/Seattle Audubon)

Blog Post By Pete Haase

Nowadays, in this business of volunteering in the environmental community around Puget Sound, I see citizen scientists behind every tree and on very beach.

There are often many of them grouped together doing their work.  They might have clip-boards, binoculars, square PVC things with strings in them, laminated cards with all sorts of critters and weeds on them, or a fancy GPS device. They often wear boots and sometimes are even up to their chests in the water.  Sometimes they just sit and watch and make a note now and again.  Other times they stride out like they are measuring with their legs.  You can see their lips move as they silently count.  Sometimes they are planting plants, sometimes they are measuring plants, and other times they are digging them up.  They are even in meetings.  They like eating donuts and drinking hot chocolate and coffee. I think possibly every family has one, maybe even two.  Little school kids can be one and training for it might even be part of the mandatory curriculum.

I’m one.  I know this because several “real” scientists have told me so and thanked me for being one!   Since about 2009, the rather official definition of “citizen scientist,” as agreed to by Washington Sea Grant and the Puget Sound Partnership, is one who “provides rigorous cost-effective data collection for research, monitoring, and management needs.” As an example, a person who knows some birds, can count and keep numbers straight, and can print legibly with pencil on Rite-in-the-Rain paper and participates in the Christmas bird count is a citizen scientist.  So is a person with a head-lamp who goes out at night at low tide and peeks under rocks to count and record the condition of wasting sea stars.  I think you get it. (Cheap, follows directions, has good all-weather gear.)  A worthy expense of time and effort.

But the combining of the two words, citizen and scientist, troubles and confuses me, although I am easily confused often, I admit.  (Frankly, anyone who is in the environmental volunteering business but is not often confused is lying.)

Can a “real” scientist be a citizen scientist, too?  Can a citizen scientist be a “real” scientist, too?  I say it is “no” and “no.”  You are one or the other – period.  This I know, again, because I have been told so often by the experts – the real scientists.  No: real scientists are scientists but citizen scientists are just partly scientists, the part that does grunt work but generally does not do much brain work.  That is odd to me because I know lots of volunteers who once did science as a job but are now retired and volunteer for fun. It seems like they can still be scientists, but I think generally they have to be the common citizen variety, too, maybe just with a bit more experience – the “old timers.” It’s like somebody did not think this term through too well – or it was maybe a committee result.  It is catchy.

I suppose that what makes the difference is mainly a combination of education and experience, the breadth of science work you are currently doing, who you are employed by, and how much you have published.  Miss the mark on any one of them and you are back to (or stay in) the slag heap of citizen scientist.  Why don’t they just call us scientist minions or such?

Do you know any citizen dentists? Citizen lawyers?  Citizen police officers?  Citizen teachers?  No – we citizen scientists belong to our own special guild, proud as we may be for the recognition but forever banned from making up experiments, doing research, posing hypotheses, teasing meaning from data, publishing, or speaking in garbled terms to esteemed audiences.

I think it is time to define a Senior Citizen Scientist - one who can design experiments, think for himself and herself, pose and test hypotheses, etc. There are, I bet, 25 citizen scientists right now for every real scientist, and many of them would qualify. Imagine how much more good work could be done! Senior Citizen Scientist  That IS a catchy name; scary, but catchy!  We need a logo.

[Pete Haase is an energetic environmental volunteer in Skagit County.  He likes being in the field with teams, doing things that he hopes will make a difference.  Much of what he does is citizen science.  Pete also like engaging the public, helping them appreciate volunteer efforts and getting them to add their voices in support of protection and restoration. Pete has been named by RE Sources as a 2015 environmental hero.]

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Old Japanese Pitcher Throws No-Hitter

Hisashi Iwakuma (Associated Press)
Japanese-born Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a no-hitter on Wednesday in Seattle. At 34 years old, Iwakuma is the oldest pitcher since Randy Johnson threw a non-hitter in 2004. That’s according to Tim Booth, the Associated Press sports writer.

I cheered and cheer for Iwakuma and the Seattle Mariners. My friend Michi who was at the game doing play-by-play for Japan TV wrote, “Although I was there for work, I almost cried.”

Did it matter that Hisashi Iwakuma (name notwithstanding) needed to be identified as Japanese-born by the sportswriter? When Mariner pitcher Felix Hernandez pitched his perfect game no-hitter (a much more difficult achievement in facing the minimum 27 batters in a game), Seattle Times sportswriter Larry Stone  didn’t think it necessary to identify Felix by his ethnicity or by his age.

Maybe the presence of Japanese-born major league players is still mezurashi (uniquely interesting) to sportswriters and followers of the game but, as Tim Booth points out, Iwakuma joins fellow Japanese-born pitcher Hideo Nomo in the no-hitter ranks and, as we in Seattle know as we cheered for Ichiro, we didn’t need to identify him as Japanese-born.

Age of ball players reaching some level of achievement seems to be newsworthy, however. When athletes who are very young excel, they are lauded for their discipline and maturity. Older players who perform well, say, an Ichiro or the recently honored pitcher Jamie Moyer, are looked upon as rare examples of physical prowess and endurance. Baseball’s a young man’s game and Iwakuma at 34 is relatively old. Einstein published his theory of general relativity when he was 35.

Since in the Northwest we’re still grappling with how to talk about race and ethnicity, especially after the Bernie Sanders affair last weekend, it’s good that the sport reporting references to Iwakuma’s ethnicity and age stir no controversy.

It did bring to mind, however, my getting a haircut years back at a three-chair men’s barber shop on Roosevelt Avenue in Seattle where the barber (the one with the sharp instruments cutting my hair) got into a discussion with some of the clients about the Mariners playing exhibition games in Japan. “Won’t be much of a contest,” he said. “Those Japanese players just don’t play the same caliber of ball that we do in the States.” To which I demurred, saying that there were players who could play in our major leagues. He countered by going down the Mariner lineup, starting with Edgar Martinez, and worked to even out my sideburns. As he proceeded with the lineup to Jay Buhner, the sideburns kept getting adjusted side to side shorter and shorter until I called a halt and got out of the chair.

I’ve thought about that haircut and the ethnic stereotypes held by that barber when I watched and cheered Ichiro and Kaz and most recently Iwakuma. And I thought about the racial stereotyping that kept blacks like Lloyd McClendon out of managerial positions until recent years. (The end of the haircut story: My next stop was Super Cuts where I asked the cutter to even out my sideburns. I started explaining why they were uneven and she said, “Oh, no, we never discuss politics here,” and I shut up.)

So, does it matter that Iwakuma is Japanese-born? Nope. Anyone who can pitch like Kuma and Felix I want on my team. When they get older and can’t pitch like they do today, that’s another ballgame.

--Mike Sato