Tuesday, January 31, 2012

They Shoot Sea Lions, Don't They?

I’ve been trying to get into the mind of the person or persons shooting and killing sea lions in Puget Sound.

Thus far, eight are dead.

Back in March 2010, a total of 10 sea lions had been found shot to death in three months.

When there were lots and lots of salmon, humans and sea lions all got their share.  Now there are less salmon and sea lions eat salmon and sometimes screw over fishing gear. Some salmon fishermen don’t like sea lions.

I’ve heard both a tribal and a non-tribal fisherman talk angrily about sea lions and how they ought to be shot. Back in the late ‘90s, the sea lion dubbed “Herschel” and his friends stationed themselves downstream from the Chittenden Locks in Ballard feasting on the few Lake Washington steelhead making their way up the spillway.

In 2001, author and former Seattle Times science editor Bill Dietrich wrote a good Pacific Northwest piece laying out the dilemma posed by conflicts between two protected species— salmon and sea lions: Conspicuous Consumers

I recall one salmon fisherman described the orca whales and sea lions as “taking food off my kids’ plates.” Salmon, marine mammals, fishermen— all in danger of extinction.

But I’m still trying to get into the mind of someone who would shoot a sea lion.

I was once angry enough at a raccoon who was taking my hens from the chicken coop at night that I sat in wait with a .22 rifle and a flashlight. By the time I got the ‘coon in the light and in my sights, he’d step into the darkness. After a few clumsily missed shots, it became clear that taking matters into my own hands had resulted more in comedy than anger.

There’s talk about shooting and then there’s actually taking up the weapon and shooting. Salmon can’t shoot and neither can sea lions. That’s where I have a hard time getting into the mind of the person or persons who do shoot sea lions.

Until I do, I say they can go to hell.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 16, 2012

Invoking God

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Seattle Times)
The National Football League’s Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow invokes God when playing the game. He shows his thanks to God after scoring a touchdown by praying on one knee and gesturing to the sky. He talks about God to sports writers.

Many young players are reported to have found his on-field gestures meaningful and are imitating Mr. Tebow.

A poll of Americans found that, among the 70 percent who were familiar with Mr. Tebow’s beliefs and actions, a little over 40 percent believed that there was divine intervention in the game of football.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, God doesn’t play football.

“First, I’d like to blame the Lord for causing us to lose today,” the football player is saying to the sports reporter in a cartoon in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.

Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye sits in his prep school chapel service listening to one of the school’s alumnus talk about how Jesus has led him to be a successful undertaker.

“He started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down on his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God - talk to Him and all - whenever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. Even when he was driving in his car. That killed me. I can just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs.”

Point is: God’s busy— and if you’re going to invoke God, make it for a worthwhile reason.

“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

“This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning  ‘My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!’

‘And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

I am celebrating this day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and reaffirming my commitment to work for justice and peace in this world.

How about you?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Putting A Price On Nature

(AP Photo/Maritime New Zealand, Graeme Brown)
I’ve been thinking about oil transport and oil spills after reading some of the stories about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project and oil tanker routes in British Columbia.  So have a few other readers.

Liz commented on an article posted about the dangers posed by supertankers laden with the pipeline oil from the Kitimat port on the B.C. coast. She pointed out: “While it is not a tanker, the mammoth cargo ship over in New Zealand provides a sobering example of how difficult it can be to contain a wrecked, sinking large vessel.” That would be the Rena, grounded since October and now sinking off the east coast of New Zealand.

It’s always after spill and cleanup efforts that a cost is put on the social, economic and natural resource damages. That’s when we get some kind of order of magnitude when a Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster unfolds or a Nestucca or Rena or Exxon Valdez spills its oil.

Why not before the fact, another reader asked? Is anyone modeling and calculating the social, economic and natural resource cost if an spill were to occur in or around the supertanker routes in Hecate Strait?

There’s a good map at the Globe and Mail depicting the tanker routes, Where the Gateway leads: Tanker routes to Kitimat

There’s a YouTube video modeling what a spill might look like and what will be affected, Tar Sands and Tankers Part 4: Modeling a BC Spill

As reported by the Vancouver Sun’s Larry Pynn, project proponent Enbridge has made its own estimates of how a spill would affect the tanker transit areas.

“Enbridge environmental studies suggest that the condensate would evaporate relatively quickly, producing ‘short-lived toxic effects.’

“It would take up to five years for the Kitimat intertidal zone to recover from a spill of 250 cubic metres of bitumen, as much as two years for condensate, Enbridge calculates.

“A major bitumen spill from a tanker would be much more serious, affecting all levels of the food chain, fouling the feathers of birds, contaminating fish spawning and rearing areas, invertebrates and marine mammals.

“The depth and longevity of effects would depend, in part, on the amount spilled, location and time of year.

“An Enbridge study calculated that a spill of 36,000 cubic metres of bitumen — on the order of the Exxon Valdez spill — in Wright Sound would contaminate 240 kilometres of shoreline in 15 days.

“It could take four years for exposed rocky shores to recover, up to 12 years for sheltered shores.” ( What if a supertanker tanks? )

So how much in dollars (Canadian, if you want) would the social, economic and natural resource costs be for spills like this? What’s that kelp bed worth? That nesting duck? That salmon stream? The years of closed fishery? The loss of a culture?

And wouldn’t it be reasonable for these costs to be agreed upon in the project permitting process and for project approval be contingent on the project proponents insuring with a performance bond the amount of damages risked by its operations?

Oil guys claim all the time that an accident won’t happen. That’s date cheap talk and we’ve seen unthinkable accidents happen again and again.

Until a fair price is paid for using the people’s marine waters and insuring it won’t be damaged, risks continue to be socialized and profits privatized.

It’s not up to the government on behalf of the people to prove that risks in the project exist; it’s up to the project proponents to prove that they will minimize the risks and be responsible for any damage that might occur— from the smallest incident to the worst-case scenario.

I recall giving a talk once about what a wetland was worth and finding a couple of birders rather upset in referring to how wetlands help avoid paying for expensive runoff pollution facilities. They would have preferred the worth to be limited to the natural and aesthetic.

So would I but in a capitalist system we use the tools we have to accomplish what’s right and fair— and in this case it happens to be putting a price tag on nature.

(On the subject of putting a price tag on nature, you must read — in a completely different vein— Carl Safina’s current blog “Bluefin Tuna: New Record Price for Carcass Further Devaluates the Fish” where he bemoans how the news media reported the story of a single bluefin tuna selling at wholesale auction in Tokyo for a record $736,000. Good stuff.)

--Mike Sato

Friday, January 6, 2012

This Great Ark of Islands

I’m sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific under the branches of a massive monkey pod tree watching a gecko drink the water condensing on my plastic cup.

It’s staggering if I think too hard about how all the flora and fauna on this island either came from somewhere else or evolved from what came from somewhere else.

My friend and classmate says that there weren’t geckos like these when we were growing up here. True, there weren’t chameleons either. Neither were there the green sea turtles that now feed and haul out in the shallows of Alii Beach Park. And, if some bad actors stop harassing and killing endangered monk seals, those will have a chance to live here as well.

When I was growing up in Honolulu, I’d take for granted the mynah birds, the grey doves, the Chinese ringed-neck doves, house finches and mejiro. Over the years returning to Oahu, I’ve seen cockatiels, parrots and parakeets in the trees in Manoa Valley and the black and white-capped, pink-beaked Java rice birds in the lawns and playgrounds.

My mother’s house needs to be treated for termites that can eat through the foundation and joists. She keeps a clean house so the cockroaches and ants stay outside. A few years ago, there was an infestation of white flies that killed a number of the ubiquitous plumeria trees.

The classic cases of unanticipated consequences is the introduction of the mongoose to control the rat populations in the sugar cane fields. The mongoose ate birds and bird eggs and reproduced like — well, mongoose. Only the islands of Lanai and Kauai have been spared the invasion of the mongoose.

The African snails that invaded Oahu in the ‘50s weren’t as big as the monster snails being found these days in Florida but big enough to clear cut through local succulents. They were controlled by introducing the rosy wolfsnail which, unfortunately, devoured all kinds of snails.

These are islands and efforts are made to keep infestations isolated. The latest battle involves the coqui frog whose booming population infests the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui and now is being found on Oahu and Kauai. Besides having a voracious appetite for insects and spiders, the din of the frogs at night soon passes from a quaint appreciation to a maddening nuisance. (Listen here)

I think about how all the flora and fauna on this island either came from somewhere else or evolved from what came from somewhere else. I’m staggered.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What’s a Beach Worth Without Sand?

Waikiki Beach is worth big money.

Big enough money that the state, the Tourism Authority and the Kyo-Ya hotel chain are replenishing the beach by moving about 24,000 cubic yards of sand from deposits 1,500 to 3,000 feet offshore at depths of 10 to 20 feet.

A visitor industry study calculated that if the beach were allowed to erode, there would be a $2 billion loss in overall annual visitor expenditures, a $150 million loss in tax revenue and a job loss affecting 6,350 people.

So, next Monday and over the next three months it will cost $2.3 million to replenish 1,730 feet of beach shoreline from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to the Duke Kahanamoku statue.

A suction pump guided by an excavator arm will draw sand from the ocean floor.

The sand and water will be pumped to shore through a six-inch discharge pipe.

The sand and water mixture will be deposited in an onshore collection area and dried.

After drying, the sand will be sent down a plastic pipe running along the beach and pumped by air on the beach to add about 37 feet of shoreline.

The process promises be minimally disruptive to beachgoers.

Anybody think this might not be a good idea? Nope. The local Surfrider Foundation says it isn’t for or against the project but wants a comprehensive plan for Waikiki beaches, including enhanced beach access and water quality.

Make it so.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

‘Eddie Would Go’ and Trustees Should Keep the Trust

The west and north shores of the islands will see 25- to 35-foot-face waves rolling in later today and Wednesday. The surf is described as “ginormous” by a National Weather Service forecaster.

The local newscasters choose to call the waves “Eddie-size,” referring to lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau, who was lost at sea In 1978.  The surf is expected to subside by Thursday so most likely Quiksilver’s Eddie Aikau Invitational won’t be convened. The invitational is held only when ocean waves reaches 20 feet (a wave face of over 35 feet) and has been held only eight times since 1985. 

Of course, the high surf attracts lookie loos and many surfer wannabes and keeps many City and County lifeguards busy. Eddie Aikau, in addition to being a big wave surfer, was a stellar lifeguard doing his duty in the high surf. The story has it that Quiksilver officials one year were trying to decide whether waves were too big to surf safely.  “Eddie would go,” someone said, referring to Aikau's willingness to do his lifeguard job in big surf.

If you’ve been to Oahu when surf’s up, you know the traffic jam the big surf brings to the North Shore and the town of Haleiwa and the Sunset Beach and Pupukea communities. This used to be country in ‘da olden days,’ sugar cane mills at Waialua and Kahuku and a leisurely ‘round the island trip on two-lane blacktop roads.

Some of the land in Hawaii was and still is held in trusts passed down from the Hawaiian monarchs and chiefs via marriages with missionary and American business families. It’s fiction but Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, The Descendents, and Alexander Payne’s new movie of the book handle the theme of trust, both personal and political, in a pretty satisfying way. It’s not Hawaii Five-0 or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Go read. go see.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year’s Fireworks, Price of Ahi, Marine Reserves and Civil Unions

Happy New Year.

The President leaves today to go back to work. I'm here for a few more days.

This New Year’s Eve was the first celebrated with an island-wide ban on Oahu on personal aerial fireworks. None of those black-smoker sparklers either. Fewer permits were bought to pop firecrackers. Finally, after all the years of discussion and debate, rules were in place to keep the evening’s air cleaner and fires prevented.

Good to allow people to breathe on New Year’s eve, good to keep roofs and hillsides from burning, and good to make life bearable for the dogs, cats and birds that have had to suffer through the nights. How strange, having grown up with fireworks and coming "home" to Honolulu all these years for New Year’s celebrations, to see a tradition — controversial, no doubt — fade. There were still firecrackers popping as midnight approached and some personal aerials filled the skies but it was noticeably a much more subdued welcome for the new year. But I missed, on the morning after, seeing the ubiquitous flakes of red firecracker paper littering the streets and the powder burns streaked across the blacktop.

Another New Year’s tradition closely reported on is the price of ahi, or yellowtail tuna, eaten raw as sashimi on New Year’s Day. Ahi is prized for the day’s feast because, besides being tasty, it maintains its freshness and firmness on the serving plate. There will always be demand so supply determines the price of ahi by the day before New Year’s day. I think that the price topped $30 by New Year’s eve. Try that with Chinook or halibut one of these days.

Two other changes took place when the clock struck midnight and 2012 began in Hawaii.

In Honolulu, fishing opened in the Waikiki-Diamond Head Shoreline Fishing Management Areas bounded by the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium to the Diamond Head lighthouse. The area is closed in odd-numbered years to allow fish stocks to recover. The area of the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District from the Natatorium to the Kapahulu sea wall remains closed to fishing.  (If you’ve been to Waikiki, you will understand that.) in any case, the signs along the shoreline make the demarcations and regulations clear.

And, as of the new year, civil unions are legal and recognized in Hawaii. Congratulations. Hauoli makahiki hou. Aloha.

--Mike Sato