Wednesday, November 21, 2018

20th Annual Northwest Straits Initiative/Marine Resources Committees Conference: A Brief Personal Review

Guest blog by Pete Haase

Skagit Marine Resources Committee member Pete Haase reflects on the mid-November annual conference of the Northwest Straits Initiative.

As a member of the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), I was able to attend this conference along with members from Island, Snohomish, Whatcom, San Juan, Clallam, and Jefferson MRCs and many other attendees from environmental agencies and groups – some 160 in all.  These are held yearly and typically alternate between Port Townsend and Bellingham.

This one was special, it being 20 years since the establishment of the Initiative and so a lot of history and recognition of old timers was included along with presentations, discussions, speeches, and lots and lots of schmoozi …. er … networking.

If you search on “Northwest Straits Initiative” you can find all sorts of information about that and Marine Resources Committees as well as the agenda and speakers for the conference.  Eventually some of the televised materials may be available as well.

Here are some personal learnings and observations:

Many kudos to the planning team – it was so well organized, flowed smoothly, and the setting and facility at Fort Worden so fitting.  The weather was post card gorgeous, as were the ferry rides from Coupeville and back!

It was a fine and moving tribute to the 20 years of this effort, with special appearances by the wife of Representative Jack Metcalf, the 2nd District congressman who co-sponsored the Initiative, and by a “local-boy” representative for Senator Patty Murray, the other co-sponsor so long ago.

Coincidently, November 16, the opening day of the conference, was also the day of the presentation of the ORCA Task Force recommendations to the Governor in Olympia.  I was impressed that many members of the Task Force were at this conference, including Sheida Sahandy who is the leader of the Puget Sound Partnership.  Many of us have long felt like the whole NWStraits Commission and Marine Resources Committees are almost step-children of the great Lower Puget Sound Tong of Ecosystem Fixer-uppers and so this participation was most welcome.

The plight of the Orcas and the hopes for improvement hung like a cloud over the whole event.  Many talks and discussions were flavored by that.  I personally sensed this superficial hope and confidence and commitment underlain by this alternate sense of hopelessness, despair, and sadness.  I got no sense that anyone was going to give up or slack off or stop looking for things to improve – but everything we talked and learned about seemed like so little, so late, and so wrong for those whales.  Like - If we don’t let people go look at them anymore they will prosper.

One of the great aspects of this conference is the networking and connections.  We got much time to visit with our peers in other MRCs, share ideas and experiences with other people doing what we are doing, and make connections to broaden the scope of locally successful projects.  School-kids education, Plastics reduction and Recycling clarification, and use of the application MyCoast are some examples of that.  It also becomes so almost unimaginable – seeing all of the big and little improvements that have been made by this Initiative over 20 years.  Most impressive.

It always amuses me to listen to various people talk about organizations and frequently use wrong names.  We were called Marine Resource Councils, Marine Recovery Committees, etc. 

Which leads me to a final observation – our communication of successes and needs to the “outside world” is pretty sad.  We have yet to enlist the thousands and thousands of “typical people’ in the Battle for the Sea.

We are so good at producing long lists of things we have done and fishes we have saved and shorelines we improved and science findings and so on.  But – unfortunately – the vast majority of the people who live around the Salish Sea do not relate to that and usually do not understand it.  We just can’t seem to figure out how to make messages which appeal to their values instead of ours.  We sell the steak instead of the sizzle.

And many do not particularly want to because their future is in science or research and that requires speaking and messaging in science or research.  Others belong to an organization or agency with a specific mission and that often severely constrains their outreach options.  Further, many of our leaders are of that ilk and so are not always the best examples of public persuaders.  Almost everyone whines about lack of money.  How inspiring is that to a beleaguered tax-payer?

There were some parallel sessions at the conference.  One time you could choose between “Indicators of Straits Ecosystem Health: Actions to Impacts” or “MRC Story-crafting:  Building and sharing our Personal MRC stories.”  More than 100 people went to the first one.  Fifteen chose the one about telling our stories.  I rest my case.  (Sounds like an opportunity to me – let us see what happens!)

It would be good to get other folks impressions and thoughts from the conference.  If you are not able to comment directly, maybe e-mail Mike Sato  and he can post your comments.

-Pete Haase

Thursday, October 25, 2018

I’m voting. Should you?



I got my ballot in the mail and I’m sure you got yours, too. I’m going to vote but the candidates won’t know why I voted so I think it’s important that I say what I mean with my vote.

I’m voting for people who will move our city, county, state and country forward—not backwards to some nationalistic, jingoish fantasy. I want the people I vote for to stand and speak out for immigrants and Dreamers and walk the talk of justice and liberty for all.

I want them to stand with Black Lives Matter, to act on equal pay for equal work, to protect the rights of all genders, to say clearly to the bullies and abusers that No Means No, and to call out liars and obfuscators.

I want those I vote for to take legislative, regulatory and enforcement actions—not talk—to do what’s necessary to slow down climate change and ocean acidification and to help us prepare for a changed world.

I want them to take action – not talk—to make safe housing, healthy food and medical care a right--not a privilege-- for all people. I want them to make sure our streets, schools and businesses are free of weapons and violence, that every kid gets an equal chance for education, and that the poor and mentally ill are clothed, fed, housed and cared for.

Two years ago, I voted to make these things happen. What I got instead was people in power who fattened the pockets of the rich with a tax cut and dismantled affordable health care, greased the skids for fossil fuels and turned a blind eye to climate change, and declared xenophobic war on immigrant families and Dreamers.

This year, I’ll vote again--and, if you and I stand together on what we want this country to do and to be, please vote, too. Otherwise, don’t vote. 

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Waiting for the Tide to Turn …

Pete Haase

Guest blog by Pete Haase

It has been a pretty rough spring and summer for most of us volunteer folks who spend some of our time working to help protect and restore the Salish Sea - one bad news report after another.

Whales failing.  Salmon runs dwindling. Temperatures rising faster than previous forecasts.  Ice melting and seas rising.  Violent weather and fires.  Forest fire smoke.  Acid oceans.  Red tides.  Plastic-plastic-plastic.

Despite the periodic feel-good stories about this estuary expanded or that culvert fixed or more of those native oysters found, the overall picture seems worse and worse.

And the politics – aagghhhh.  Nationally it is a horror story and locally a circus.  Where I live, the update to the Shoreline Management Plan is in its 8th year of work and the “Clean Up the Samish” plan is in its 9th. 

It takes a 45-person task force many months to study and deliberate about whales not having enough food.  And it seems like almost every one of the 45 is being paid by their organization to be sure that whatever is proposed will not cause them pain and/or will promote their agenda.  What is so hard about “Get them Food” … or quit worrying.

I studied the upcoming Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda and found hundreds of proposed “Near Term” Action Items that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with plenty of other actions already ongoing and eating money.  Not a single one was for more outreach to the public about the BIG problems and needed help and actions.

I processed the text of the Action Agenda with an “Ease of Reading” tool and it requires in excess of 4 years of college education – probably specializing in Marine issues.

Did I mention that one boot is leaking?

Oh dear, oh dear.  Put my head under the pillow ….

But we can’t quit. 

Some of us are needing to make up for bad deeds of our distant past and others are needing to better care for the future of their children and grandchildren. 

We all understand “Think Global – Act Local.”  Many feel helpless about the big ocean garbage patch but are inspired to regularly patrol a local beach and pick up trash.  Tremendous amounts of all sorts of local environmental data are being accumulated through numerous “citizen science” activities, like trapping for invasive green crabs or counting herons foraging, with the hope that it will lead to enlightened change.

Our small actions continue.

I’m wondering how others feel and what they are doing to help turn the tide ….

Pete Haase is a Skagit County volunteer and citizen scientist who coordinates the Skagit Citizen Forage Fish Survey Team and serves on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Stewardship Committee.

Monday, August 6, 2018

June 1998: "Extinction of our wild salmon is not an option."

Chinook salmon [Ryan Hagerty/UWFWS]
The 45-member Orca Recovery Task Force assembled by Governor Jay Inslee will meet Tuesday so we''ll keep this short. The quote, to refresh our memories, is from Governor Gary Locke 20 years ago this summer. The whole mouthful goes like this: "People need to know that we can win this struggle and that every fish in every stream counts. We cannot fail. Extinction of our wild salmon is not an option."

Twenty years later we have not recovered our native Chinook and the Southern Resident killer whales are dying. As Ken Balcomb once said, "No fish, no blackfish."

How many Chinook would the whales need? According to a October 2017 study by Robert C. Lacy et al, "Chinook abundance would have to be sustained near the highest level since the 1970s" to provide adequate prey for the whales. [Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans ]

The required increase in Chinook availability could be reduced by a fifty percent decrease in vessel noise, according to the study.

What must be done? First, keep the fish in the water. It's time the state and treaty tribes declare a moratorium on native Chinook harvest until there's real progress on salmon recovery.

Next, stop the disturbance and modification to in-water, nearshore and riparian habits. These places are where humans alter where forage fish spawn and where Chinook spawn and grow up before going to sea. Government jurisdictions should declare a moratorium on these land use actions until there's progress on salmon recovery.

Then, create more spawning habitat by accelerating road culvert and dike removal.

Native fish recovery should be the focus. The only chance the Southern Resident killer whales have for recovery is if we recover the health and abundance of our native Chinook salmon.

Sure, we can dramatically reduce vessel noise and vessel interactions but that only will make a difference if there are abundant prey for the whales.

We will never kill enough seals and sea lions to make more Chinook salmon available to the whales. And if we continue throwing more hatchery Chinook into the mix with native Chinook, we will destroy the native population.

Maybe there will be time to remove dams. Maybe there will be some marvelous technology that solves ocean survival. But unless the state, tribes and federal government take on the hard tasks that haven't been done in the last 20 years, we lose the salmon and we lose the whales.

Having been involved with Puget Sound protection and restoration for the last 30 years, I'm no longer sure if native Chinook and the Southern Resident killer whales can be saved and returned to health. But I know the time for nice, empty words is long past.

Small fixes to the status quo will not do. Demand action. More native Chinook. "No fish, no blackfish."

--Mike Sato



"Will we now commit to saving the Northwest’s orcas? A task force meets Tuesday"  Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times) August 4, 2018

"Orcas headed to extinction unless we get them more chinook and quieter waters, report says"  Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times) October 27, 2017

"Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans"  Robert C. Lacy et al October 2017

"Can the Endangered Orca Whale Save the Sound?"  Salish Sea Communications blog March 16, 2018

"Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth"  Kathy Fletcher March 19, 2018

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Salish Sea Stories We Tell

This year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference opened with many stories — tribal stories and stories told by Dow Constantine, Sally Jewell and Jay Inslee— stories of a what makes these lands and waters special and why they need to be protected and restored.

We do this call for sharing and action every two years alternating between Vancouver and Seattle to underscore the transboundary nature of our mutual interests and challenges. It’s a good opportunity to catch up on highlights of recent scientific research and to meet and greet old friends and fellow travelers.

I’ve been coming to this conference in its various and evolving formats over the years and it’s heartening to see the growing role of treaty tribes at the conference. They opened the conference with song and called forth witnesses. Chairman Leonard Forsman of Suquamish welcomed the participants. They are participants in the various forums on resources and management. They are, after all, independent nations within the Salish Sea, and the Washington treaty tribes are full co-managers of the resources.

This year the plight of resident killer whales was the urgent call to action. But the whales need endangered chinook and the chinook need spawning and rearing grounds and forage fish prey. The future and plight of the whale are the future and plight of the Salish Sea.

My colleague who is not attending these conferences any more but retired and taking pictures and working in her garden congratulated me for making another foray into the issues. She said she’s too impatient to go to these things any more.

It does try one’s patience to know what the tasks are before us and to hear at the “How Do We Pay For It?” session that the funding gap between what we are doing and what need to do is a vast 73 percent. And it’s hard to know by results whether the quarter of the things we are doing and paying for are getting the biggest bang for the buck.

But one colleague said to me that he sees the opportunity of the 2017 midterm state election as the return to a “golden age” of Puget Sound action with changes in the legislature and the leadership of the governor. That’s heartening. Get out the vote.

Will science inform policy and politics? Another colleague who has been to these conferences since its inception found hope in the abstracts of presentations written by scientists. They’re not there yet, she said, but they are getting close. That’s heartening. Speak out.

The last presentation I heard detailed how rockfish have populated the area around the new Brightwater sewer treatment pipes discharging off Point Wells in Puget Sound. So, if you build it, they will come. I’d rather not have to build underwater structures but I’m heartened to know, if our cities along the shore were inundated in the future, they will provide habitat for our fish and invertebrates.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Showers Bring Flowers—And A Lot More



By Sidd Finch

Hi everybody.  I’m kind of new to the area but I have been hanging out now for several months with some “interesting” folks and they bamboozled me into this caper I must recount for you.

First, I hail from the East Coast and have some years under my belt.  I have always been a “woo woo” sort of guy with mysticism, meditation, French horn music, odd philosophy, yoga, Eastern medicine and Whole Foods high on my activity list.  A long ago I had brief stint with professional baseball but it was not to my liking or makeup.  I came out here awhile back to see what the big attraction is. I like it all.  It is good for me.

Early on in my time here in the beautiful Northwest I got a bit disturbed about water pollution and made a couple of comments in some “sort of public” meetings.  It seemed like a lot of money was being spent to clean up pollution in a local river so that a Shellfish Company could prosper, but with little progress over several years.  The next thing I know I am invited to sit around a restaurant table with 4 other similarly pollution-disturbed folks eating oatmeal and cinnamon rolls, bemoaning the problems and recounting old adventures.

Some of the old adventures were about the pollution, but some were just talk.  One guy was telling how he and some grandchildren sometimes buy grapefruits and decorate them with Sharpies.  When the Samish River flows high they throw them off a bridge and then hustle down to the next bridge to see which one shows up first.  Some get there, some don’t.  Another guy says not to stick your finger in that water then – you might get really sick.  I was aware that it is that Samish River pollution that so much fuss was about.

About now the more distinguished-looking, quieter one says that he has a hot tub and uses this plastic blue ball thing with a chlorine dispenser in it to float around and kill the germs.  He says it is just the size of a grapefruit.  First the lights of humor come on – “Wouldn’t that be funny if such a thing could float along and decontaminate the river?”  Then came the shades of mischief – “If we could get a ‘citizens’ grant to ‘Help Clean the River’ we could buy a bunch of these things and …… Hey!  It can’t be odder than a poop-sensing dog.”

It is probably good that cooler heads prevailed and the bad side of putting chlorine in the river was well discussed— and dismissed.  I kind of thought the idea would die but one of the other guys asked us if we had heard about how well mushrooms could cure water pollution.  I had not but others had – pretty amazing I guess.  Wine caps they are called.

Now I’m not much of a “doer,” I more just go with the flow.  But some of this little band of disturbed fellows are doers and they did get a grant recently to try this.  I’m pretty sure chlorine was not mentioned but mushrooms must have been because the money came from the State – I think maybe the Ecology Department.

We regrouped to plan our buying and loading the plastic balls with mushrooms but the talkative one suggested that us throwing plastic balls in the water was a bad idea, even if the Ecology Department approved the grant.  The best alternative containers we could come up with in a hurry were Chinese-food takeout boxes with the metal bails removed and poked full of little holes to let the mushrooms work.  We proudly called that “adaptive management.”

One of the guys bought the boxes – 300 of them - and a couple of 20# boxes of these mushrooms with the grant money.   At least somebody knew enough about rules and permits and such to know that just tossing 300 Chinese-food takeout boxes into a river was not really a good idea.  Nope – instead we made 600 official-looking sticky tags that said REESERCH on them and put them on opposite sides of the boxes.  On the top we put a big sticky note that asked finders to record the latitude and longitude of their find and the date, and send that information to the agency that gave us the grant, but to leave the box in the river as part of vital reeserch.  We spent a fair amount of time in a backyard workshop poking holes in the boxes and stuffing them with the mushrooms.

There are 6 or 7 bridges that cross the Samish River and on the last big rain we tossed an equal number off of each bridge, pretty much all at the same time. The river flows for about 30 miles, winding around a valley and farm land and so some of these boxes could be in there for quite awhile.
After a heavy rain the river flows high and fast so that the boxes have a good chance to move right along and clean the water. We know that some officials take lots of water samples when the river flows like that – to see if they are doing any good trying to clean it up.  We expect some interesting results.

So, go take a good look at the river and keep your eyes out for some Chinese-food take out boxes filled with mushrooms floating down and cleaning up the river. And if you find one, tell the Ecology Department!

See you on the river! Your pal, Sidd.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth

The first Billy Frank Jr. Pacific Salmon Summit was convened on Monday, March 19, at Tulalip Resort Casino. The following lunch time address was given by Kathy Fletcher:

Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth
By Kathy Fletcher

I’m honored to be here today. Thank you, Salmon Defense, President Sharp, distinguished elders, leaders, speakers and participants. And thank you to the Tulalip Tribes and the other sponsors for hosting this gathering.

 Let me also thank Billy for being my friend and inspiration for many years. I know I am not alone in saying how much I miss him. It makes me happy to see so many people committed to carrying on his legacy. Thank you for all that you do for our Sound and our salmon.

 I think one of the reasons I was invited here is that I’ve been around long enough to know where we’ve come from in this long battle to save our Sound and our salmon, but since I’m retired, I’m also able to say whatever I want, so you’ll get my unvarnished thoughts.

 Puget Sound is one of the wonders of the world—blessed with awesome beauty; literally thousands of amazing creatures from orcas to nudibranchs; glaciers, rivers, estuaries; and yes…salmon.  Signs of trouble in this paradise didn’t suddenly appear in the 1980s. Indeed, most of the forests had been stripped a hundred years earlier. The huge and abundant salmon were overfished even then. Dams, pulp mills, fossil fuels, shipbuilding, airplane building, urbanization, leaded gasoline and human sewage have all left their mark over the years.

 But even in the 1970s, when tribal fishing rights were affirmed, most people were more focused on how to share the fish, not so much whether there were going to be fish to share.

 In the 1980s some people began to ask, how healthy is our Sound? Deformed and diseased bottomfish were found in our highly contaminated urban bays. Shellfish harvesting was restricted to fewer and fewer clean locations. People were questioning the conventional wisdom that sewage from outfalls into the Sound was magically “flushed” out to sea. Remember the cleanup of Lake Washington in the 1960s? That “miracle” was accomplished by gathering all the sewage and piping it over to the Sound.

 The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority was set up as an advisory body by the legislature and Governor John Spellman in 1983. It was charged with taking a look at the condition of Puget Sound and making appropriate recommendations. After a year of intense work, the Authority said that because of the many jurisdictions and levels of government and the complexity of the Puget Sound ecosystem, somebody needed to develop and implement a comprehensive management plan. In 1985, the next governor, Booth Gardner, and the legislature transformed the Puget Sound Authority into a state agency with tight deadlines—to come up with a management plan in less than two years. The plan would be the roadmap to restoring Puget Sound’s health by the year 2020. Hard to believe, but that was 33 years ago!

 The 1986 plan was based on a credible and informative State of the Sound Report, a dozen or so in-depth “issue papers” on topics ranging from oil spills to non-point source pollution, and extensive involvement of tribal, state, federal and local governments; businesses; environmental organizations; and the general public.

 At the time, it was felt that Puget Sound was still an amazingly productive ecosystem, but past damage like toxic sediment contamination was in urgent need of cleanup, and many threats loomed on the horizon. The plan called for many regulatory and investment actions to protect and restore habitat, to stop pollution, and to manage land use and transportation, especially in view of stunning population growth projections. Well-received, it was a comprehensive attempt to say what needed to be done, by whom and by when.

 When I say “well-received,” I mean that it was acknowledged to be a good plan. However, when it came to actually doing what it called for—that’s another story. Many business interests and politicians assumed that the report would join the many others on the proverbial shelf. The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority would hold meetings and do a lot more talking, and life would go on as usual. When the Authority made life uncomfortable by actually insisting that actions be taken, the answer was not to get serious about getting the job done, but rather to reorganize, tame and rename the Authority.

 In case you missed any of the bureaucratic shuffles along the way—a simplified version is: the Authority became the Action Team, and the Action Team became the Partnership. Not surprisingly, each new iteration came with new cycles of relocating, re-staffing, blue ribbon commissions, advisory committees, public hearings, comment periods, studying and re-studying, planning and re-planning. But none of these do-overs resulted in materially different conclusions about what needs to be done to save the Sound.

 One of the criticisms of the original Puget Sound Plan was that it was too comprehensive, too much, too many laundry lists, not enough sense of priorities. That sentiment led to the oft-quoted desire to pick the “low-hanging fruit,” or to implement “early actions.”

 As the years have unfolded, fragmentary, voluntary actions have largely substituted for systematic implementation of the plan.  Many positive actions have been undertaken, some of which are truly remarkable. But the long and short of it is that there has been no overall accountability for the original goal—a healthy Puget Sound.

 The Puget Sound Partnership dutifully reports from time to time that we are falling short. Sobering milestones along the way have included the official endangered species listings of salmon and the orcas that eat them. I remember well Governor Locke’s statement in the year 2000 regarding the salmon listings, “extinction is not an option.” Now, our wild salmon, especially Chinook, are close to being museum pieces. And last year, the goal of a healthy Sound by 2020 was abandoned.

 In addition to having a plan to protect and restore Puget Sound, the salmon listings spawned restoration plans for each river system. These plans have in turn led to many positive steps, especially regarding protection and restoration of riparian and estuary habitat. But again, no overall accountability for the goal of actual salmon recovery.

 As we all know, the scale of population growth, land development, pavement, toxic chemicals, plastics, and fossil fuel-based transportation have dwarfed the scale of restoration, with no end in sight, except perhaps the end of salmon.

 Tribes have been absolutely essential to the progress we have made thus far. The tribes are to be thanked for using the Boldt I and II and Raffidi decisions to go beyond catch management into water quality and habitat. Counter-productively, the state has fought the tribes, dating of course back to the Boldt case, and more recently on the issue of removing culverts and in muddling the Hirst case concerning groundwater withdrawals.

 An encouraging development along the way has been the evolving consciousness that Puget Sound is part of the Salish Sea, encompassing the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the waters surrounding the San Juan and Gulf Islands, as well as Puget Sound. Cross-border conversations about our shared waters began in the 1980s, and have become routine, as evidenced by biennial conferences, the next one coming up in Seattle in just a couple of weeks. Transborder collaboration has particularly underscored the importance of using science to inform policy.

 Salmon, orcas and the ever-present risk of oil spills remind us every day that what happens on one side of the border happens to us all. The biggest new threat from the Canadian side is the proposed tripling of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline’s capacity, which would dramatically increase oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea.

 As hard as it might have seemed, installing sewage treatment was the easy part of "saving" Puget Sound. There was federal funding and state cigarette tax money and it pretty much got done.

 But we've never really had the stomach to take on toxic pollution and habitat loss. Those two problems were deemed essentially irreversible by the prestigious 1994 Washington/British Columbia transboundary science panel. Yet the state’s water quality permit program—under the so-called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination requirement of federal law—has never significantly ratcheted down on toxic discharges. This, despite convincing and alarming research results by federal scientists Drs. Don Malins and Usha Varanasi and their colleagues, who as far back as the 1980s documented the effects on the food chain of toxic contaminants in the sediments. This, despite explicit provisions in the 1986 Puget Sound plan.

 Some big sediment cleanups got done, many with habitat restoration—like most of Commencement Bay—but it’s been 30 years after the state clean-up law and nearly 40 years after federal Superfund. Every urban bay should have been cleaned up by now. And we’re adding more toxics every day.

 One of the leading culprits in toxic contamination is stormwater runoff. There has been much talk and quite a bit of action to address this, but look around you almost anywhere in the Puget Sound Basin. There’s more pavement carrying more cars than ever before, a lot less vegetation, and clearly inadequate land-use standards to control runoff—either its quantity or its quality.

 And habitat loss? Lost habitat is usually lost forever. Recovering habitat is expensive and the opportunities are limited. Removing the Elwha dams and re-flooding in the Nisqually and Snohomish River deltas are wonderful success stories. But how many more places in Puget Sound can this be done? The goal of “no net loss” of critical nearshore habitat can't be met when the state Department of Fish and Wildlife can't even enforce its hydraulics permit program. If we don't protect shorelines where forage fish spawn and juvenile Chinook rear, if we don't open streams and creeks to spawning habitats blocked by culverts, if we take more water out of streams to satisfy homeowners and farmers, then we simply can’t restore native salmon.

 Remember the mantra of the four "H's?" Hatcheries, hydro, harvest and habitat as the factors limiting wild salmon recovery?  How many of those limiting factors continue to limit recovery?

 Although there is still talk of taking “early actions” and picking “low-hanging fruit,” it is obvious that the hour is now late, and that even the hardest fruit to reach is critical to Puget Sound health and salmon recovery.

 To bring in a metaphor from a different ecosystem entirely, the biggest elephant in the room is our changing climate. Most of our planning has taken place without accounting for increasing temperatures, more intense storms, more rain, less snow, more prolonged droughts, rising sea levels and ocean acidification.

 So now what?

 Let me ask you, how do we reconcile giving up on the goal of a healthy Puget Sound by 2020 without doing everything in our power to do the things that could make that a reality, if not in 2020, then on a new, urgent timetable?

 We know what to do. Actually we have known what to do for decades. But we have failed to garner the political will to make it happen. We have fallen into “do loops” of planning and studying. Studies and plans are important and needed, but not as a substitute for solving the problems they illuminate and taking the actions they recommend.

 An “authority” with no real authority; an “action team” with little “action”; a “partnership” that has squandered resources and social and political capital. We’ve accomplished a lot and are doing a lot more for salmon and the Sound, but we need to face the fact that while we’ve slowed the rate of decline, we’re not getting where we need to go. In a word, we are failing.

 Through all these years, public comments have been utterly consistent, indeed repetitive: 1) stop talking so much and take action; 2) adequately fund what needs to be done; 3) enforce existing laws; 4) use local knowledge and resources; and 5) don't create more government layers. Instead, we’ve gotten more plans and studies and process upon process.

 How many meetings have we all attended, where some holy grail of the ever better ecosystem indicators, the ever more detailed risk analysis, or the ever more complete study, has been discussed ad nauseam, while the pollution, the habitat destruction and the climate change continued apace?

 Now we face climate change largely outside our region’s control; ocean acidification that will change the fundamentals of our ocean chemistry; and the possible extinction of Southern Resident killer whales dependent on the same Chinook we have failed to recover.

 Insufficient funding for Puget Sound recovery has plagued the effort from the beginning. But it’s a little too easy to start and stop with this problem to explain where we are today. Inadequate funding is just another way of saying lack of political will. And funding has never just been an issue of how big a check will come from the state or the feds. There are many pieces to the funding issue—direct government funding for sure, both to support the staff necessary to make things happen, and to pay for on-the-ground actions like habitat restoration; requirements for private expenditures to clean up and prevent pollution; rate-based funding for sewage and stormwater to spread the responsibilities to all of us; and charitable donations as well.

 And think about the fact that strict enforcement of our environmental laws doesn’t cost more than lengthy negotiations and compromises with polluters. It’s not all about money. It’s about the will.

 Nobody said it would be easy to restore the Sound and bring back our salmon. Think about the following list of actions:

 -No more shoreline hardening or other damage

-Anticipate sea-level rise by creating natural buffers at the water’s edge

-Stop withdrawals of groundwater affecting salmon streams

-Remove the dams and culverts blocking streams and spawning habits

-Put a moratorium on Chinook harvest

-Ban farming of Atlantic salmon—oh wait, we did that!

-Stop the flow of persistent toxic chemicals

-Complete the cleanup of Puget Sound’s toxic sediments

-Drastically reduce run-off from land and infrastructure development

-Stringently regulate vegetation removal, including forest practices


It’s important to keep the focus on restoring a self-sustaining ecosystem, so I would caution against relying on hatcheries. Just as hatcheries were once seen as the answer to dams, and fish farms the answer to extinction, relying on hatcheries now could end up excusing a lack of action on the more difficult challenges.

 So which actions will we agree to take to achieve restoration of native salmon and Puget Sound?  Can we tackle the big underlying challenges of reducing our human footprint on the land, of ending our dependence on fossil fuels and plastics, and of closing the cycle on waste of all forms?  We are way beyond being able to reach only for the low-hanging fruit.

 Exactly one day after I was born 68 years ago, the Seattle PI ran an editorial called “A Good Start.” They were applauding a move by the state pollution control commission to require four major pulp mills to install sulfite waste controls, in order to preserve Puget Sound salmon.  The PI had run a series of articles a few months earlier on what it called “the alarming depletion of one of the most important of the state’s natural resources” (that is, salmon). The 1950 editorial concludes by saying, “If the same spirit is shown by all the other interests involved, it is safe to predict that eventually every obstacle will be overcome and our priceless salmon will be preserved for both the pleasure and profit of posterity.”

 They didn’t say when “eventually” might be—I’m sure no one imagined it could later than 2020—and it’s pretty clear that the “spirit” hasn’t yet been shown by all the other interests involved.

 And yet, in spite of it all, I still think it’s possible to save Puget Sound—its salmon, its orcas, its biodiversity, and yes, its people. Let’s not be overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the task. Let’s be clear-eyed and frank about what’s right and what’s wrong for the Sound and for the salmon.

 When sustainability first became a “thing” in the 1980s, the UN set up a commission chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Their 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Turning that definition into action, the idea is to ask at every decision point, does this help or hurt? Does it move in the right or the wrong direction? If it moves in the right direction—ok—but if it moves the other way, don’t do it! It’s kind of the environmental version of the question, what would Jesus do?

 Let’s take inspiration from the salmon themselves—their innate abilities to explore, populate and thrive. Remember that they came here as the glaciers receded, looking for a place that could meet their needs, and in turn, they contributed to our amazing forest and water ecosystems. If given half a chance, they will survive and thrive again. If only we humans give them that chance.

 Thank you.

[Kathy Fletcher served as chair of the state’s Puget Sound Water Quality Authority and was the founder and executive director of People For Puget Sound. She currently serves on the board of the Georgia Strait Alliance.]