Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Next Steps to the San Juan Islands National Monument

President Obama established by executive order the San Juan Islands National Monument last March and this week activists on Lopez Island met Bureau of Land Management Interim Monument Manager Marcia deChandenedes (pronounced, she says, like the white wine we all enjoy.)

It’s good to see that the BLM is committed to keep up the momentum of the public push to establish the monument. Marcia’s job is to kick start the process of developing a management plan for the monument and, to that end, the BLM is hosting three island ‘listening’ sessions to gather the public’s vision of what the monument’s protection should accomplish.

There's also the opportunity to work out better coordination of state and federal resources for protection of lands and waters in the islands. 

The meetings will be held on:

Orcas Island - Thursday, September 26, 6-8pm
Senior Center, 62 Henry Road, Eastsound

San Juan Island - Friday, September 27, 10am-noon
Friday Harbor Grange, 152 N 1st Street

Lopez Island - Friday, September 27, 6-8pm
Woodmen Hall, 4102 Fisherman Bay Road

One good way of keeping abreast of monument news and the management plan developments is to check in with Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revisiting “Extinction Is Not An Option”

Quinault fishing (Edward Curtis, 1913)
Remember Gary Locke? He gave a fine speech in 1998 as governor after our Puget Sound Chinook salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act. He talked about the challenge facing us in recovering the species. He ended with the dramatic, “We cannot fail. Extinction is not an option.”

I’d been thinking about then-Governor Locke’s dramatic oratory (it’s a good speech— you ought to read it) this week while scanning the news and lamenting the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, cheering the anticipated arrival of the Puget Sound humpy (pink salmon) run, and learning from Bill Sheets in The Herald that “Snohomish County waters still rich with salmon, trout.”

So, glass half empty or glass half full? On the road to recovery or on the road to extinction?

Of course, what Governor Locke was referring to was recovery of wild Puget Sound Chinook. And there’s been a lot of money, time and effort spent on restoration projects large and small. We’ve been guided by a Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon and, in Puget Sound, by an Action Agenda.

The Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs Indicator for Wild Chinook Salmon reports that “Chinook salmon in the Sound now are about one-third as abundant as they were in 1908” and “For the 22 remaining populations of Puget Sound Chinook salmon, one increased and one declined in abundance from 2006 to 2010... The total number of Chinook salmon has not increased, and most populations remain well short of their recovery goals.”

The best that can be said? “Nonetheless, the fact that we have any natural-origin Chinook left is testament to the success of our restoration and harvest reduction work so far.”

Do we know what we’re doing, what we’re supposed to be doing to recover our salmon? Maybe not.

This Wednesday there’s a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium launching a Washington-British Columbia effort called The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project spearheaded by Long Live the Kings and the Pacific Salmon Foundation bringing together “US and Canadian federal, provincial, state, tribal and academic scientists and managers for an ambitious, precedent-setting new initiative to improve understanding of salmon and steelhead survival in the Salish Sea.”

Why? Because, as their media advisory says, “Something alarming is happening in the shared inland marine waters of the Salish Sea: salmon and steelhead are dying. What's the cause of this mortality? We don't know. The research hasn't been done. Without that knowledge, our substantial efforts to recover these populations and provide sustainable fishing may be for nothing.”

Honestly, I don’t know what I don’t know. What I do know is that Washington state propaganda about salmon recovery can be found in a very polished, 10-minute film, State of Salmon: Restoring a Washington Icon, produced for the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

I know there must be more to salmon recovery than what’s shown in the film, although there is some reference to “making the tough decisions every day,” whatever those decisions are supposed to be. The words “regulation” and “growth” and “pollution” are never mentioned.  Even Governor Locke and the state Joint Natural Resources Cabinet knew in 1999 that tough decisions would have to be made and carried out regarding hydroelectric dams, fish hatcheries, reduced harvest, and protection and restoration of critical spawning and rearing habitats. And the real big ticket item would be reducing the flow of toxic chemicals from our homes and businesses into the estuaries of the Sound.
Regarding salmon recovery, your lifestyle most likely isn’t much different than it was in 1999  when extinction was not an option. Maybe we’re living like how we lived in the madness of an Iraq War that never touched our daily lives unless our family was serving our country there. What was the point of that awful war anyway, what was accomplished for the good? When it’s business as usual while we go about saving our iconic wild Pacific salmon, when there’s no sacrifice required, what can you expect to be really accomplished? That salmon populations may not get better but hopefully they won’t get any worse?

C’mon, we can do better than that.

--Mike Sato

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ban the Bomb

Nagasaki, August 9, 2013 (PHOTO: AP)
Today marks 68 years since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The bombs and the aftermath of radiation killed 90,000 to 166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 people in Nagasaki. I wish the bombs that were dropped had not been named “Little Boy” and “Fat Boy.”

Today is a beautiful August day in the Salish Sea and a bit difficult to think deeply about something that happened 68 years ago in another time and to another people. Most of the world probably has come to feel the same about our 9/11.

There wasn’t much news or commentary today about this 68th anniversary but that’s understandable since we don’t tend to follow up on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy or the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, although the woes of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant continue to worsen.

But unlike those natural disasters alleviated by human heroism or compounded by human folly, the atomic bombings, like the 9/11 terror attacks, were planned and carried out by our fellow human beings.

Maybe I’m not alone in having a difficult time putting myself into a mindset that allows me to plan and execute the killing of tens of thousands of people. There’s been a lot written about the building of the bomb and the political and military reasons for using them to end the Pacific war and ultimately to save more lives. The victors get to write the history. In the case of 9/11 and terrorism, the fight goes on with little understanding of the mindsets of terrorists. Instead we are frisked and listened in on as the “war” goes on.

But consider that for 68 years we’ve managed not to drop another atomic bomb and for that, many of us who grew up during the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear diplomacy based on “mutual assured destruction,” should be thankful. But just like with all these guns around us in the hands of the good guys and the bad guys, somebody’s finger is on a trigger and sometimes accidents happen, sometimes things get out of hand. Consider which ones of your elected officials or candidates you’d trust with a loaded gun or the firing code to our nuclear arsenal.

Those who advocated “Ban the Bomb” were sneered at by the “hard-headed realists” as being cowards and dupes. Hell, ban the bomb. Beat them into plowshares. Not the “hard-headed realists;” the nuclear arsenals. And throw the guns in as well, and ammo, too.

Need a reminder about nuclear weapons? Around every August 6 and 9, take a look at the 1964 Peace Little Girl (daisy) political ad and gather some friends and family around to watch Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Bring popcorn.

--Mike Sato

Monday, August 5, 2013

Animals as Friends, Animals as Wild Creatures

Monk seal at Sandy Beach (V. Eleganza)
A few weeks ago our loyal and good friend Joe Spike the Dog was suffering in his infirmities too much and I made the hard decision to say good-bye and having him euthanized.

Losing a good animal friend might have made me a bit more sensitive to animal news and encounters these last few weeks— and made me reflect on how we humans stand in relation to animals and to the wild.

There’s been a happy conclusion to the plight of an orphaned baby seal crying for a couple of days which prompted a shoreside resident to demand some kind of rescue effort. The NOAA Fisheries advised against any human “rescue” of a marine mammal and the baby seal ended up nursed by an adoptive mother.  (Seal pup finds a mother's love)

A notable exception to the “no rescue” rule was the rehabilitation of the orphan whale Springer and reuniting her with her Northern resident pod ten years ago. Last month, we learned that Springer gave birth, adding to Northern resident numbers. (Springer the orca is a new mom)

On the other hand, Luna, separated from the Southern resident L-pod seven years ago, was not “rescued” and died after being hit by a boat in Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. (Luna’s legacy of love and loss)

As a lover of animals of most kinds, I don’t think I’m much different from most folks who are moved by stories of animals in jeopardy and have an impulse to do something to help.

But unlike a dog who, for whatever reasons, may choose to live by my side and give to me what he will in exchange for what I may provide him, these are wild animals and our relationship to the wildness of animals is much more complicated.

We can “save” them by leaving them alone. Giant Pacific octopus will remain wild in the state’s Puget Sound marine reserves and not end up as sport or on anyone’s dinner plate.  (After diver kills octopus, new rules in Puget Sound)

But there are wild animals in our zoos and aquariums. There are wild orcas and other marine mammals who are trained to perform for our entertainment. Maybe we won’t be as entertained after seeing the movie, Blackfish and Tokitae will be set free--but really, there’s no accounting for taste. (Do Six-Ton Captives Dream of Freedom? ‘Blackfish,’ a Documentary, Looks Critically at SeaWorld)

In our wilds, there are now only 82 orca whales in our three Southern Resident pods (Where Are The Whales?) and, while NOAA Fisheries recently reaffirmed their distinct genetic status that justifies their protection under the Endangered Species Act, the requirement to effect the orca’s recovery by recovering salmon prey and reducing toxic contamination has not moved beyond the easier requirements of minimizing human contact. (Orcas still ‘endangered’ as next steps contemplated) As Fred Felleman once said, the point isn’t to list them as endangered but to recover the species.

While orcas and seals and sea lions have not been traditionally the fisherman’s friend, both now stand on the short side of the equation: no fish, no blackfish; no fish, no fishermen. On the other side of the equation: our civilization with its toxic chemicals, bulldozers and cement.

And bullets.

The recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal, described by NOAA Fisheries as “one of the rarest marine mammals in the world,” is especially complex and frustrating, as recounted in Jon Mooallem’s detailed New York Times Magazine article, “Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?”  The species is endangered, declining at a rate of about four percent annually and is down to about 1200 individuals. Those individuals who frequent the main Hawaiian islands encounter more human competitors for fish resources as well as non-traditional allies in their recovery.

The recovery of the honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle, seems to be going much better and on Oahu’s North Shore’s Laniakea Beach there are often more folks on the beach looking than turtles resting and the real danger is the roadside traffic rather than endangering behavior.

We can get close but not touch the honu, respect the red tape set up around the resting monk seal, and establish 200-yard, no-go viewing zones around the orcas but we have a hard time doing real important things like reducing toxic pollutants and protecting and restoring critical habitats for their real recovery and survival.

They’re wild; they are not our friends and we are not their friends. We’re fellow creatures sharing with them a world, an ecosystem, of limited resources. And unfortunately we’re not doing a very good job of sharing.

--Mike Sato