Monday, January 22, 2018

“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone”

Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk"*
Guest blog by Tony Angell

A song echoes in my mind these days as I read the news about the condition of our natural environments here in the Pacific Northwest. Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi includes the refrain, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?  Pave paradise, put up a parking lot."

We continuously read about the dire conditions of our regional fisheries and the resulting effects on populations of marine life, from orcas to marine birds, which depend upon them as a source of sustenance.  The pace of timber cutting is far faster than the efforts to restore and sustain our forests.  With the loss of our woodlands, specific species face extinction and the biological diversity within them is compromised.   The services these natural systems give us, such as providing sustained food sources, reducing our carbon burden, retaining and purifying our water supplies or moderating our weather conditions, are also lost.

My long-standing concerns for our environment here in the Pacific Northwest span more than half a century. Much of what is being said today by way of concern has been said years ago.  It's clear to me we continue to expect a lot from the Puget Sound and Salish Sea but give relatively little back.  It is arrogant greed when we take for granted that this region is ours to use and consume without investment, reservation and stewardship.  It is ignorance when we do not inform ourselves of the consequences of unbridled consumption, disposal of wastes and land use policies that remove and jeopardize the integrity of ecosystems.

 I recognize and applaud the outstanding environmental organizations that are seeking to do habitat preservation and education, but the pace of their actions seems insufficient to win the race to recover and sustain our region. But organizations can't do the job that individuals must apply themselves to.

It is a subject unto itself that our reliance on technology is detaching us from our natural environments.  In part we are allowing ourselves to be enveloped by iPads, computers and games that cut us off from genuinely embracing nature where we can apply the full range of our senses and learn lessons essential for a healthy future. And it is not enough to simply walk through nature. We need to touch, smell, see, hear, taste and move with nature to begin to understand and appreciate our place in it.  A machine will not be the salvation of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. The job will be done by willing minds and hands working in company armed with knowledge and wisdom gained from experience with the earth and waters of our region.

In the early l980s, when Ken Balcomb and I wrote our book, Marine Birds and Mammals of Puget Sound, we took the pulse of the region and noted the conditions and populations of the species that provide the character of where we live.  With few exceptions those populations of birds and mammals, along with their habitats, have dramatically diminished.  Yes, with legal protections, eagles, snow geese and harbor seals have done well as measured by their increased numbers.  Hundreds of other species have not and given the tide of toxins we know resides within the populations of marine birds and mammals, some of these will decline as well.

In cherishing this place we call home, take a minute to consider what you might do to preserve it.  If we remain on the sidelines and don't collectively do something, then the meaning of Mitchell's song will sadly be realized.  Next time you look around from some familiar spot, it will be true that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

* Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk," for Seattle University. Titled "Aspirations," the piece was cast in bronze and will be installed and dedicated this spring. (Photo courtesy Tony Angell)

Artist, author and environmental educator Tony Angell lives and works in Seattle and on Lopez Island. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are You Worried About The Bomb? I Am.

If the debacle of last Saturday’s nuke attack alert false alarm in Hawaii had happened a week earlier, we’d have been on the way to the airport to fly back to the Northwest. Makes me think about what I’d have felt in the 38-minute interval before the alert was rescinded.

Some of us are old enough to have grown up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. I remember in 9th grade assembling in school in Hawaii to be told about how Russian ships were sailing towards US ships blocking Cuba and that we should be prepared for a possible nuclear war.

That was October 1962 and what we lived through was subsequently called the Cuban Missile Crisis. It didn’t lead to nuclear war but led to decades of nuclear arsenal buildup and policies like “mutually assured destruction.” But fear and anger are what I felt during the crisis.

Fear of dying or even surviving after a nuclear explosion. The only images I had were terrible images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the survivors. And anger, deep anger, that people far away were deciding whether I, a 15-year old, would live or die. (There was a lot more fear and anger a few years later when people far away were deciding whether young men would live or die in Vietnam.)

Of course, in Hawaii no one died last Saturday and the best thing that can be said about the screw up is that it showed we aren’t ready for nuclear war. Now they’ve fixed the alert procedure so that one person can’t screw it up. But they’re going to have to figure out how the state and feds and military coordinate if there is a real nuke alert.

I wrote to friends and family to make sure they were OK after their bad Saturday morning and everyone was fine although shaken up. The biggest irritation wasn’t the mistake but the inordinate amount of time it took to recall the alert. One colleague responded: “Anyone who knows anything about PR emergency would have said ‘Get out in front of this story immediately.’ That is either the head of Civil Defense or the Governor of the State should have been in front of cameras explaining what happened. To just put out a text message that it was a ‘mistake as people changed shifts’ was simply not good enough.”

I’m sure the alert procedures will be improved and tested and found to be adequate. But I worry about Trump and Kim Jong Un and China and Pakistan and India and Israel with fingers on their proverbial nuke “buttons.” And some terror group wanting to make a name for itself with its little “dirty” nuke bomb. And I worry that, like most anthropogenic disasters, the screw up will be human error, technological malfunctions or a sad and deadly combination.

Maybe if an alert is “for real” we will have 15 or so minutes to prepare. But for what? My cousin described her feelings as “so is this how it is going to end?” After discussing what had happened on Saturday with others and watching the local news, she described what seemed to be a tendency for young people to be more upset and panicked than older people. “I thought about it and decided that it is because they have their lives to live. We seniors have lived our lives... It would be awful to have it end so abruptly in such a violent way, but we have lived our lives,” she wrote. “It seems to me that in as much as we all need to voice our thoughts about the idiocy of the administration in DC at this time, the young need to really fight because it is they who will have to live with the consequences of the actions of the idiot in the White House.”

I think I still have enough fear and anger to go another couple of rounds but really, it’s a fight for the young. Fight for it, save it, protect it— it’s your world.

--Mike Sato

“Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.” -- Maj. T.J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Martin Would Go. You In?

In Creative Battle (Mark Ulriksen)
Deport the Dreamers. Kick the Salvadoran refugees out. Raid Motel 6 and 7-11s for undocumented immigrants. Cut medical funding for poor children. Cut medical subsidies for poor people. Build The Wall and hire 100,000 more ICE agents. Give big tax breaks to corporations, banks, oil companies and the super-rich. Remove financial safeguards. Open up Alaska wilderness and coasts for oil drilling. Deregulate to make profiteering easier. Reverse gay and lesbian rights. Bust pot users. And, oh yeah, remember that the ‘genius’ has a bigger nuke button than ‘rocket man’...

Had enough? Don’t say you can’t believe it’s happening— because it is. Don’t say it will all work out somehow— because it won’t. Don’t say you just can’t deal with all this shit—because there is more, a lot more, to come. All in the name of Making America Great Again.

At the first anniversary of the Trumpian administration and his Republican congress collaborators, I’m especially grateful to be reminded to stand with Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the women and men who stand up and speak out for dignity and equality under law. I’m grateful to be reminded that voting even in Alabama, especially in Alabama, can bring change without violence and hatred. I’m grateful to see states and local governments taking actions to stand up to unjust federal mandates. We will feed and house the homeless and the poor when Trump turns his back on people. We will provide safety and sanctuary when Trump’s border patrols breaks up families. We will reduce pollution and carbon when industries  despoil the land, waters and atmosphere.

Suffering some “outrage fatigue,” the exhaustion that comes from too much outrage, the weariness of anger and powerlessness? Buck up, take a cue from Martin: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We have a lot of challenge and controversy in our way and coming our way. Martin would go. I’m in. How about you?

--Mike Sato

Monday, December 25, 2017

America—Made Great Yet?

It’s been quite of year, hasn’t it, this new age of Trumpism? Probably a bit early to see whether America has been made great again.  But there are steps in that direction—

There’s a big tax cut for the rich and for corporations… lots of money for the military… right-wing judges for the federal courts… a ban on Muslims entering our country… deporting law-abiding Mexicans and soon children… undoing Affordable Health Care… warmongering in North Korea... Bullying in Jerusalem... dissing global warming… extolling oil and coal… and even supporting an anti-woman’s rights child molester for the U.S. Senate.

Trump and his Republican supporters say this makes America great again. Not my America. In less than a year of governing, Trump and his collaborators have shown no decency, no shame.

Post-election earlier this year, talk was about how it was important to understand Trump supporters in order to heal the country’s divisions.  Trump and his fellow travelers have shown no interest in governing to heal divisions but to exploit national divisions. What’s clear months later as this first year of Trumpism comes to a close is that the Civil War never ended, the Vietnam War continues at home, race and religious bigotry is alive and well, a woman’s body is still not her own, and big money swears and rules.

Remember that safety pin? You wear it on your lapel to show you will provide safety and shelter to anyone being harassed and threatened by bullies and bigots. Get that safety pin out and wear it when Trump’s federal courts reverse gay and lesbian rights, when “Dreamers” start being deported, when the ICE Gestapo drives up to take your Mexican neighbor away.

But wait, there’s more: Wait to see the other GOP shoe drop with measures to cut poverty, social and environmental funding to reduce the ballooning deficit caused by rich folk and corporate tax cuts. Go ahead, take the year-end bonuses and hourly wage increases from the big banks and corporations— the money they could have given workers years ago— but don’t be a sucker for their shameless PR antics.

Maybe the Robert Mueller investigation will clean traitors out of the White House. Maybe, maybe not, depends on the rule of law, doesn’t it, in America? My America and Trump’s America.

Maybe disclosures of sexual harassment will reach beyond the political and entertainment industry and make all workplaces safe and decent places to work. Maybe, maybe not, depending on the owners and managers of workplaces in America. My America and Trump’s America.

More cynical pundits now write about how Trump could prevail despite his unfavorable public ratings because he will please his political base, the economy will chug along, and his failures will be the fault of others and bad news never to be trusted. Sort of like the first year of the Trumpian presidency.

Cynical and disheartening as that might be, there might be folks who, although not happy with Trump and his Republican collaborators, are also weary of the constant barrage of incoming bad news and controversy. Or folks who for political, economic or social reasons decide it’s easier to go along to get along,… stop talking politics among friends and family… find something easier to engage in like sports, drugs, video games…

It’s understandable to be weary but that’s not the way we take our America back again. We only need to have more votes than the other side. Doug Jones energized enough voters in Alabama to win his election despite nearly half the voters voting for Trump’s child molester candidate. It took just one Washington State Senate seat win this past fall to control both houses of the state legislature. Winning elections is a matter of getting out enough people voting for the values of our America to win. The hard part, the real art of governing, is to get enough of the people’s work done so that you get to come back to continue the work of the people.

I’ll be there in 2018; will you? No illusions-- civil and cultural wars are not easy. I’ll have my safety pin on and ready to stand up against bullies and bigots. Will you? I’ll vote for diplomacy and education and equal opportunity, for diversity and welcoming borders, for jobs and the environment. I’ll hold elected officials, government officials and business leaders accountable for honesty and transparency, for getting the people’s business done.

That’s my America. You in? Happy New Year.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 20, 2017

Puget Sound 2020: Enforce the Law to Save the Whales

Guest blog by Amy Carey

The last time he was seen alive, beneath a setting sun in September, the two-year-old Southern resident orca calf named Sonic was emaciated and struggling to stay afloat. His mother stayed close at his side, helpless to do anything as he slowly starved to death.

And with seven other whale deaths in recent months, he wasn’t the only one to lose the fight to survive as the salmon the orcas rely on becomes so hard to find.

We know that to grow big and become whale food, juvenile salmon need nearshore marine habitat. State permitting agencies like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife administer the Hydraulic Code permitting nearshore development in order to protect fish and their habitat. Unfortunately, multiple studies, conducted over the course of decades have found that the laws designed to protect the nearshore during development permitting are often ignored.

Truth be told, the heartbreaking domino effect of habitat loss, forage fish impact, salmon declines, the near extinction of the orcas, and a Puget Sound on the razor-thin edge of being lost forever hasn’t happened despite state agencies doing their job – it’s happened because they
aren’t doing their job.

And unless this regulatory gap immediately changes, we won't win the fight.

Which is why it is always so puzzling to see what should be a critical first step – directing the state agencies to fully apply the law during permitting decisions – missing in every version of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, State of the Sound reports or near term Actions.

Instead we see tasks related to “evaluating” or “monitoring” for effectiveness of the permit program even though the problem has long been identified.

But the forage fish, the salmon and the orcas don’t need more studies. They need a top-down, boot-on-the-ground commitment to the immediate and consistent application of habitat protecting regulations.

They need a little thing called Action.

Amy Carey is Executive Director of Sound Action, a watchdog group established in 2013 to reform the broken Hydraulic Code permit system. Sound Action reviews every marine HPA issued in Puget Sound – more than 550 each year – taking legal appeal action if a permit doesn’t protect habitat or is issued in violation of state law.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hello? Puget Sound Partnership?

Guest blog by Pete Haase

Hello?  Puget Sound Partnership?  Do you suppose you could take a little break from meetings and planning and strategizing and round up some ammunition to send my way?

I am a volunteer, a “Salish Sea Steward.” I’m just one of probably thousands like me, all over the greater Puget Sound region, on the very front lines of the daily battle for the protection and betterment of our special environment.  During our “work” we collectively see and visit with hundreds of regular folks, every day, and do our best to help them learn to “do the right things.”  They always want to know more about what those “right things” are and they always thank us for the efforts we put forth.  But we rarely have satisfying or proper answers.

It would be a big help if we had some crib notes or cheat sheets or little reminder cards that explain the “right things” in a few words and catchy graphics.

Instead, right now, we are needing to attend talks, read long documents, articles and papers, or try to find someone to enlighten us.  That takes a lot of time and some of the material is awfully complicated. It is too much to ask of volunteers.  I know my brain is already too full.  I wind up “winging it” quite a bit!  So, for me, it needs to be concise, attractive, and stick to the big “Vital Signs – Targets.”  Tell us what we “citizens” need to do to help get to those targets.

I know it is not easy to create these material.  Everything is complex and interwoven and you do find out new things all the time.  Many of the actions the common citizen can take mean advocating for policy and regulation changes and better enforcement of existing regulations – not just rethinking their own behavior.  Sometimes the whole solution is not yet known.  Most things are very costly.  Besides that there is this terrible need to overload every piece of literature with more pictures and more words.

But you did not sign up for the easy work, and some few examples could be done for us to try out and critique.  Possibly the work can be farmed out to regional groups so that the local perspective comes through but with you assuring that the style, the message, and the prescription is consistent everywhere.  Certainly key things for citizens to get active about in King County are not the same in San Juan County.

It is well recognized that the “general public” around the Salish Sea must become much more educated, excited about, and engaged with the betterment of it.  Here is one of many possible ways.  Give it a try.  Guys like me will do our best to make it work.  These things could become collector’s items!!!

(Pete Haase is an environmental volunteer in Skagit County doing citizen science with others in the hope that it will make a difference.)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Throwing In the Towel on Puget Sound’s 2020 Goal

Guest blog by Kathy Fletcher

The Puget Sound Partnership has now officially thrown in the towel on the goal of restoring Puget Sound to health by the year 2020. From press accounts of this latest report, one might have concluded that the 2020 goal was set only 10 years ago, when the current version of the Partnership was established. Actually, the goal was set more than 30 years ago by Washington State, in 1985 legislation that created the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority.*

Coincidentally, a new report on the status of one piece of the job to save the Sound--the cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor's toxic sediments--has announced a new timeline for completion: 2029 or perhaps 2032. Does anyone besides me find it shocking that 20 years after the polluting mill closed, the responsible agencies have not even come up with an approach to the cleanup?

Governor Inslee seems genuinely concerned, and wants to inject "urgency" into the restoration of the Sound. Great. But we have been here before. Governors Gardner, Lowry, Locke and Gregoire all pledged before him to do right by the Sound. But throughout these decades there has been a huge gap between words and actions, between promises and the guts to make it happen.

What, if anything, will be different this time?

(Kathy Fletcher served as Chair and Director of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority and was founder and Executive Director of People For Puget Sound.)

* RCW 90.71.300
Action agenda—Goals and objectives.

(1) The action agenda shall consist of the goals and objectives in this section, implementation strategies to meet measurable outcomes, benchmarks, and identification of responsible entities. By 2020, the action agenda shall strive to achieve the following goals:
(a) A healthy human population supported by a healthy Puget Sound that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem;
(b) A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning Puget Sound ecosystem;
(c) Healthy and sustaining populations of native species in Puget Sound, including a robust food web;
(d) A healthy Puget Sound where freshwater, estuary, nearshore, marine, and upland habitats are protected, restored, and sustained;
(e) An ecosystem that is supported by groundwater levels as well as river and streamflow levels sufficient to sustain people, fish, and wildlife, and the natural functions of the environment;
(f) Fresh and marine waters and sediments of a sufficient quality so that the waters in the region are safe for drinking, swimming, shellfish harvest and consumption, and other human uses and enjoyment, and are not harmful to the native marine mammals, fish, birds, and shellfish of the region.

(2) The action agenda shall be developed and implemented to achieve the following objectives:
(a) Protect existing habitat and prevent further losses;
(b) Restore habitat functions and values;
(c) Significantly reduce toxics entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters;
(d) Significantly reduce nutrients and pathogens entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters;
(e) Improve water quality and habitat by managing stormwater runoff;
(f) Provide water for people, fish and wildlife, and the environment;
(g) Protect ecosystem biodiversity and recover imperiled species; and
(h) Build and sustain the capacity for action.

[ 2007 c 341 § 12. < Laws/Senate/5372-S.SL.pdf?cite=2007 c 341 § 12.> ]