Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy 20th Birthday, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Olympic Coast NMS
Twenty years ago this week the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was dedicated, the nation’s 12th marine sanctuary authorized under the Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (full name: Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 aka Ocean Dumping Act).

Today, it’s impossible to imagine Congress passing such comprehensive environmental legislation. And having President Richard Nixon, a Republican, signing the legislation, as he did the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the regulatory controls of the Clean Air Act in 1970.

Congress still was a different place in 1992 when it passed the Oceans Act of 1992 which, among other things, authorized consideration of the Northwest Straits and the Olympic Coast as “active candidate” sites for Sanctuary designation.

The National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which administers the Sanctuaries Program chose to begin with the Olympic Coast designation process and, despite missteps in government-to-government consultations with coast treaty tribes, managed to hold public hearings, celebrate the official designation, and begin the management planning for the Sanctuary.

The basic regulatory framework of Sanctuary designation  is relatively benign (no drilling, digging, removing archeological items, taking and disturbing wildlife) and is meant to work in concert with other federal, state and local regulations within its borders. Prohibiting Navy bombing practice within the Olympic Coast Sanctuary and requiring vessel traffic to skirt its boundaries are two specific prohibitions. (Sanctuary Regulations)

When NOAA and Washington state were ready to begin the designation process in 1994 for what was to be called the Northwest Straits National Marine Sanctuary (extending from the Canadian border to include the straits of Haro, Rosario and Juan de Fuca to Admiralty Inlet to the Pacific, the political flames were being fanned hard against the federal government. Newt Gingrich was leading the “Contract With America” Congressional charge, land use and conservation regulations were politicized as “takings” violating property rights, and local citizens and elected officials in the proposed Northwest Straits Sanctuary area talked of United Nations black helicopters and federal government takeover.

NOAA and Washington state agency representatives at public meetings predictably withered in that politicized heat. The basic regulatory framework in a Sanctuary designation, while benign, seemed irrelevant to address real issues within the planning boundaries, and, worse yet, because they were so benign, were seen as a kind of Trojan horse that would result in more draconian federal management regulations once a sanctuary was designated.

Local governments in the Northwest Straits counties passed resolutions against a Sanctuary designation. Second Congressional District Representative Jack Metcalf inserted in federal legislation a requirement that a sanctuary could only be designated with the consent of the counties involved (without specifying what that consent entailed). But that was enough for NOAA and the state to pack their tents and call the process off.

Rep. Metcalf and Senator Patty Murray, however, agreed to address the marine issues of Northwest Straits with a local process involving local governments and citizens in the Sanctuary planning area. That’s today’s Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative -- non-regulatory, citizen-based research and education involving and involved with, but not coordinating, federal, tribal, state and local jurisdictions.

Olympic Coast NMS
It’s a good time to celebrate the success of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It’s also a good time to reflect on how things might be different if there were a Northwest Straits National Marine Sanctuary, what difference it might have made in protecting and recovering endangered salmon and Southern Resident killer whales and addressing the forecasted increase in coal and oil vessel traffic through the Northwest Straits.

--Mike Sato

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Hawaiian?

Laksa at Panya Bistro
The best part of thinking about what it meant to be Canadian was to be in Montreal during St-Jean Baptist Day eating hand-pulled Nouilles de Lan zhou in a large bowl, spicy, surrounded by people speaking Chinese.

Over the last couple of weeks, the best part of thinking about what it means to be Hawaiian was to be in Honolulu eating the laksa at Panya Bistro and the Belly Bowl ramen at Lucky Belly restaurant and driving my mother to hula lessons at the Alama Sisters’ hula studio.

My great-grandparents and grandparent emigrated to Hawaii from Japan, which makes me Japanese. But people who live in Hawaii are Hawaiian, like I guess I’m a Washingtonian when I’m living here along the Salish Sea. Sometimes my being Hawaiian when I’m Japanese gets confusing, especially when Polynesians in Hawaii speak for their native Hawaiian sovereignty.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior the last few weeks were holding public listening sessions with native Hawaiians on all the islands about if and how the federal government should approach recognition of native rights and claims. They listened and heard a long list of grievances from people who spoke of the injustice suffered from the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 and the subsequent annexation of the islands by the U.S. government in 1898. According to news accounts, passions ran high and any proposed recognition with government-to-government relations similar to Native American tribal relations would be rejected. Restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom seemed to be the rallying cry.

True, unlike Native American treaty tribes, no treaties were signed ceding land and rights in supposed exchange for federal protection. Land was taken when the monarchy was overthrown and land became private and federal when the islands were annexed. Who are the legitimate heirs to the land unjustly seized and what would restoration of a sovereign Hawaiian government look like in the 50th state of the union?

Ironies in Hawaii abound. Native American culture hasn’t penetrated Northwest living except for place names and maybe the ambiance of Ivar’s Salmon House and the opportunistic faux-Salish logo motifs. Whereas in Hawaii, you can fly to and fro on Hawaiian Airlines, get your electricity from Hawaiian Electric, watch Mormons dance and sing at the Polynesian Cultural Center and imagine yourself at a broadcast of “Hawaii Calls” from the Moana Hotel (the First Lady of Waikiki), if you didn’t want to join the other tourists at the “Pink Lady,” the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

But there’s also too much of the faux-”A-looow-ha” and ugly his-and-her matching prints, badly mixed mai tais, rip-off coral jewelry; you know, the tourist stuff. But hula continues to be very popular, as is Hawaiian music, and my mother, as fully Japanese and as Hawaiian as when I’m in Hawaii, still goes to Saturday hula lessons taught by Puanani Alama (sister Leilani recently passed away) and Miss Yamauchi (Makaleka). Not far away at Yama’s Fish Market, you can get more good Hawaiian laulau, kalua pig, poki, poi, lomi lomi salmon and haupia than you can eat. And go deep into Hawaiian Art Deco, currently the major exhibit at the Honolulu Art Museum, or get lost in the Hawaiian and Polynesian exhibits at the Bishop Museum, or listen to the Royal Hawaiian Band on Fridays in the park for free....

If we are what we eat, then in Hawaii I was Hawaiian, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Chinese. Didn’t get to Italian or Filipino this time.  On the Fourth of July, the flags were unfurled, the editorials written, the fireworks shot off. I made a bowl of baked beans, roasted some hot dogs and mixed up a potato salad for the family. I guess we were Americans that day.

Which brings me back to the bowls of noodles. To the laksa, the traditional Singaporean/Malaysian/Chinese dish made any number of ways with noodles, egg, shrimp, fish cake, beef strips, bean sprouts in a broth of beef stock, coconut milk, curry, fish sauce. "Noodle dishes are important in all cultures," Alice, the co-owner, says in a news interview, calling the food at Panya “comfort food.”

Belly Bowl at Lucky Belly
And the artisan ramen at Lucky Belly goes somewhere beyond all cultures. The Belly Bowl features in its broth belly bacon and sausage with bean sprouts, soft egg, wakame (seaweed), sesame seeds, green onion and ginger. Oh, and the noodles.

Next time we have something hard to talk about, we start with a bowl of noodles.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

Nouilles de Lan zhou
I ask that having being in Montreal these last three days, reading signs in French, conversing with bartenders in English and having a great bowl of Nouilles de Lan zhou in a tiny restaurant in Chinatown where everyone was speaking Chinese.

And today is Saint-Jean-Baptist Day, a provincial holiday looked upon by the politically-motivated as an annual reminder that Quebec is French, not English, by others as a day off to party, and by others as a day somewhere in between. I did not meet anyone today agitating for an independent French Quebec; it rained today so I didn’t go the big parade or the music festival in the evening; I did go to Chinatown to have that wonderful bowl of hand-pulled noodles, beef slices, green onions, cilantro, white radish rounds, garlic and red chili oil in a broth of “30 natural  spices and Chinese medicinal herbs,” according to the colorful placemat given only to me, the only ‘foreigner’ in the place.

I’ve never asked my British Columbia colleagues what it means to be Canadian. If anything, they’ve stressed that they are not Americans. And anyway, those of us who inhabit the Salish Sea north and south of the border probably have more in common with each other and the Salish Sea than with the rest of our respective countrymen and women.

Except in rare instances, we do speak the same language. I don’t have to practice my French (poorly) when I go to Vancouver. I did before going to Montreal, the same way I practiced (poorly) before going to Brussels. But in Montreal,  the taxi driver from the airport spoke English and listened to gypsy jazz and broke into French when I ask if he spoke French. He also gave us a demonstration of Louisiana French, along with a brief linguistic analysis. You have to go to Quebec City, he said, if you want to hear only French— but even there, if you speak English, they will want to speak and practice their English.

But on the streets of Montreal I hear French: elderly gentlemen, young ladies, children, women in headscarves, black man with dreadlocks, even some Chinese. Carlos the Air Canada flight attendant announced in English, then French, en route to Trudeau Airport.

But the English-speaking bartender who grew up in Montreal shrugged when I asked him about Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Oh, he said, that’s something bigger in Quebec City.

French is the official language of Quebec and Canada’s official languages are French and English. Language has been both the flash point and the proxy for political and cultural battles in Quebec and between Quebec and the Canadian government. Today, if you believe the man on the radio talking this morning about what Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day means, to be a Quebecer is to be the best of both French and English. He said he was proud to be Canadian.

I’m not Canadian but I think it would be great if being French and English and Hispanic and Native American and Chinese were what it meant to be Canadian. Americans usually don’t think they can learn anything from another country. We might from our northern neighbor.

--Mike Sato

Friday, June 13, 2014

“When You Go To Victoria, Don’t Flush”

Mr. Floatie (PHOTO: Chad Hipolito)
Two years ago in these pages we heralded what we thought was the light at the end of Victoria’s sewer discharge pipe after the Canadian government, the province of British Columbia and the Capital Regional District put $782 million down for a long-awaited sewage treatment system. Alas, we were wrong. [“Victoria Sewage: Now Can We Flush?”]

Those who follow this never-ending story were perhaps not surprised when the regional district township of Esquimalt adamantly refused to house the planned sewage treatment plant, thereby driving planners back to new site acquisition and additional costs of hundreds of millions above the $782 million already committed. [“Victoria region's sewage bill could rise by $100 million]

Now, enter Washington Governor Jay Inslee into the fray with a letter to BC Premier Christy Clark saying the sewage issue poses health and economic issues, threatens intergovernmental relations, and should not be pushed out to 2020. BC Environment Minister Mary Polak has responded that, “We have made it clear that sewage treatment will happen; this is not up for debate" and that regional district taxpayers could face up to $500 million more in costs if they can’t decide where a treatment plant will go. [“Victoria sewage fouls Washington-BC relationship”]

Resurgence of the Victoria sewage treatment issue has brought out many of the same arguments aired throughout Puget Sound in the ‘80s when local jurisdictions faced major capital costs to install secondary sewage treatment. [The Victoria regional district filters but does not treat its 34-million gallon-a-day discharge.] Like Victoria today, the arguments then against sewage treatment were based on the benign ‘flushing’ action of our estuarine waters and the unreasonable high cost of treatment to be passed on to resident and business rate payers. Same old, same old.

My Canadian colleagues and “Mr. Floatie” find the Victoria sewage issue deplorable but I’m not sure welcome the huffing-and-puffing self-righteousness from this side of the border. [Mr. Floatie retired two years ago when it seemed like a sewage treatment plant would be built but has reportedly come out of retirement for a “second movement.”] After all, those on this side of the Salish Sea have their hands full with stormwater, toxic bays and estuaries, toxic fish and shellfish, sewer overflows, closed shellfish beds, ocean acidification, oil and coal trains, and depleted salmon and forage fish habitats.

I’m sure every time the Victoria sewage treatment issue arises, our neighbors feel chagrin, that frustration followed by shame. No need to pile on. Twenty years is such a long time to suffer not only polluted shorelines but awful puns and being the butt of jokes. May you move smoothly forward.

July 10, 1994/ Seattle Times
VICTORIA, B.C. - A U.S. environmental group has some advice for tourists: If you go to Victoria, don't flush.

A brochure produced by the Seattle-based People for Puget Sound praises Victoria's "unique, old-world charm" but says the charm is dulled by the dumping of raw sewage into the Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits.

The 17,000-member group says that until the city has primary sewage treatment, it will remain the only West Coast city between Anchorage, Alaska, and Tijuana, Mexico, that dumps raw sewage into the ocean.

The group also notes Vancouver dumps and spills untreated sewage into the Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia and sewage is spilled every year by U.S. treatment plants into Puget Sound.

[“Victoria A Great Place To Visit, But Not To Flush?”]

‘Nuff said.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let’s Get Together With Guns

Weren’t those Sunday Seattle Times pictures of women and their concealed weapons wonderful? Photographer Erika Schultz captured them well, as did the reporters in their story, “Pistol permits skyrocket, especially for women.

I thought they were a lot better than the Washington Post photo that accompanied a story earlier this week about ‘open carry’ demonstrations in Texas, “Assault rifles at the neighborhood Chipotle? Even the NRA thinks it’s ‘downright scary.’

“Downright scary,” “downright weird,” “downright foolishness,” the NRA said about the demonstrations. “Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way," the NRA said, as quoted in “NRA Calls 'Open Carry' Rallies 'Downright Weird.'

Nothing weird about our Washington women with their concealed weapons.

What was weird was that the politically ferocious NRA was taking such a — how to say it?-- moral position on the ‘open carry’ demonstrations, calling them lacking in “consideration and manners.”

This week’s  weapon stories brought to mind how guns can bring us together. Take this year’s state legislature with a deeply divided state senate basically unable to move any legislation forward. Neither House nor Senate, however, had any difficulty passing SB 9556, which legalized owning a short-barreled rifle (one with a barrel shorter than 16 inches). Federal firearms regulations still apply, and the measure had nearly unanimous bipartisan support and the Governor signed SB 9556 into law on April 2.

At a legislators’ meeting with constituents, the question of what is the public good in legalizing short-barreled rifles was met with silence, then finally answered with the reason: elected officials are afraid of the NRA.

That was a refreshingly candid answer but sadly depressing. Elected officials aren’t afraid of teacher unions, they aren’t afraid of environmentalists, they aren’t afraid of Native American tribes. They oftentimes can’t enact legislation because they are deadlocked politically--- but they are able to work in a bipartisan fashion to legalize owning short-barreled rifles. Ultimately because they are afraid of the NRA.

But who is the NRA afraid of? The NRA got a blistering volley back from demonstration organizers Open Carry Texas. And, a few days after taking such a statesman-like moral position on ‘open-carry’ demonstrations, it reversed itself in “NRA Retracts Statement Calling Open Carry Rallies 'Downright Weird',” claiming that its statement wasn’t an organization position but that of a rogue staffer.

The NRA, Open Carry Texas and gun owners and users across the land closed ranks. Another good example of how people can get together with guns.

And seeing all these pictures this past week of women with their concealed weapons and demonstrators with their ‘open carry’ weapons made me think about a way I could get together with folks who liked their guns. I don’t think I’ll ever have much to do with the NRA but I like to see pictures of people holding their guns and it seems like people are happy to be seen holding their guns.

If you think it’s a good idea, we can set up a web page where folks can share their picture of them with their gun. No names, just a photo of you and your gun.

That’s one way I can think of how we can get together with guns. What do  you think?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Would You Do With $217 Million?

The former Mar Vista Resort site (San Juan Islander)
Buy a big stretch of San Juan Island shoreline, cut down trees along the shoreline, and propose building a 271-foot dock in a pocket beach to moor six boats up to 30 feet long for six single-family residences? You’d still have a lot of change left even after all that.

That’s the story thus far about Virginia Powerball winner David Honeywell who won $217 million in early 2013 and, with wife Nancy, bought and is developing the 29-acre island property previously owned and operated as Mar Vista Resort. [ “Virginia Powerball winner: Dave Honeywell identified as $200 million-plus winner” ]

David and Nancy, who both left jobs at the Defense Department, look like nice enough folks and donated $4 million to the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region’s food bank and Habitat for Humanity. [ “Fredericksburg Powerball Winners Donate $4 Million to Charity”  ]

On San Juan, however, the Honeywells got crosswise when they cut down and acre of trees along their property’s shoreline without getting a permit. Worse, many felt that San Juan County’s penalty of $1,000 woefully didn’t fit the crime.

As for the dock, San Juan County, according to an article in the San Juan Islander [ “Dock proposed at former Mar Vista Resort”  ], has determined an environmental impact statement is not necessary and the permit department will not require any additional mitigation measures. The Honeywells say they will hire a marine biologist to monitor marine mammal activity during construction.

Orca Watcher Monica Wieland has a lot to say about the dock proposal in here blog, “What's wrong with a dock?

According to the San Juan Islander article:

The area borders a reserve used by the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs.

The joint-use community dock would consist of:

  • An existing 10 x 6 foot wooden pier head shore mount.
  • An 810 sq-foot pier consisting of two fixed 6-foot wide pier sections totaling 135 feet in length.
  • A 4'8 by 45' long fully grated ramp (210 sq. feet) attached to the seaward end of the pier running to:
  • An 8'x 90 foot (720 sq. ft) moorage float
  • Ten 10" diameter galvanished steel piles.
  • The total area of the pier, ramp and float is 1,779.7 sq. ft (excluding the 23.3 ft. ramp float overlap area. The total length of the dock is approximately 271 feet.
  • The entire decking of the fixed pier, ramp and float would be constructed with light penetrating grating which would allow approximately 70 percent of the sunlight falling on the dock to pass through the structure to the seafloor below.
OK, so that’s what you can do with $217 million with change left over. And, like I said, David and Nancy Honeywell look like nice folks. After all, they probably were just like you and me before becoming millionaires.

If you have anything to say to the county about this dock permit, say it by Wednesday, June 4, and say it to the Planning Department.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Kind of God Creates Tent Caterpillars?

Tent caterpillars (KOMO)
‘Tis the season to ask the ultimate questions about divine design when the tent caterpillars swarm, the carpenter ants emerge, the mosquitoes buzz and the slugs begin chomping down in the garden.

If your world view requires there be some kind of purpose or point to all this swarming, emerging, buzzing and chomping this time of year, you might be hard-pressed when the trees in the yard are covered in webs and out of those webs emerge those wriggling, squirming caterpillars leaving black flecks of poop all over the branches and leaves they’ve denuded.

Why are there tent caterpillars? Because they show up in annual cycles and we’re in one of those cycles this late spring. Editors sent reporters out before and during the long weekend and everyone was writing and showing caterpillar stories. See? “Tent caterpillars: What's their story, what do the moths look like?” by Jessi Loerch and “Pesky Western caterpillars are back and busily munching on Whatcom County trees” by Kie Relyea. You can even see what KING reporter Gary Chittim looked like in 2002 in his story, “Tent caterpillars set up camp in Western Washington.”

But really, if you were to look for purpose, it would be hard to find one in tent caterpillars or mosquitoes. You will need to show me a bird eating one of those hairy things is you want me to believe they actually provide sustenance for others. That’s like saying the purpose of the plague of locusts was to provide something for Utah seagulls to eat. Oh, some say that— and go on to say the whole point was about the divine and the Mormans.

With tent caterpillars, like with much of the natural and human-wrought disasters in the world, the default regarding divine purpose is that it cannot be understood by mortals. A simpler explanation is because there is no purpose, no point. Did it just happen, thrown together, random, chance? No, there are circumstances out of which everything arises and most of the time we can try to understand the circumstances out of which tent caterpillars and the moths appear: There’s an environment that’s not too hot or cold or wet or dry, food that’s available, no predators. Change some or one of those circumstances and maybe the tent caterpillars will be gone and we’d have yellow-bottom stink beetles falling on our heads instead.

Looked at this way, we humans can be seen to occupy an ecological niche no different than niches occupied by all the rest of the flora and fauna around us. Except we happen to be able to adapt and modify our circumstances and prevail through our short history— thus far— and create world views that include a purpose or a point to existing.

Some might take this the wrong way and get angry or despondent thinking about being just like a tent caterpillar, a bedbug, a mosquito, a yellow jacket wasp. Don’t. It’s still about you but it’s just not all about you. I find it both humbling and comforting to look around and see that we-- me and the tent caterpillars-- are sharing this world.

--Mike Sato