Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Last Minute Shopping Thoughts

If the 25th is your big day, then you really ought to be done with the shopping. Here’s to hoping you stayed within a reasonable budget in giving gifts that, well, mean something. I think affordable and meaningful over the years has become more and more difficult to achieve.

The little ones are the easiest, despite what expectations might be drilled into their heads by television advertising or other kids at school. The older they get, the harder it gets to match taste, budget and expectation. As for adults, the style nowadays is to eschew ‘things’ in favor of ‘experiences’ but one needs to be pretty brave to gift an evening of candles and amateur massage in lieu of a spa afternoon at the Chrysalis.

The gifts I am giving this year fall within my comfort level of used and new books I know well enough to give and items like guides and language aids that might enable an experience to be had. I’ve always admired people who are able to pick out the perfect piece of clothing, jewelry or pottery as gifts. Maybe the affordable part of gift giving is sacrificed for the meaningful; in any case I can’t be critical of something I can’t do.

By the end of Christmas day we will each have opened our gifts and I hope most are meaningful either because of what the giver meant or what the gift means in itself. I hope we will not be surrounded by different but simply more things. Too many things— stuff-- crowd our lives. I don’t mean gifts have to be jaw-dropping experiences or hand crafted; they can be things off the shelf but let them be imbued with a story that give them meaning: “I got that blue casserole dish for you only after knocking down two old ladies and snatching the last one off the shelf!”

Thinking about the equation of things-- where they are made, who makes them, who sells them, who buys them— I know that my part is in the buying end. When I buy, someone gets a wage, fair or unfair; someone gets a return on investment, fair or obscene.  If I think about it too much, I start drawing all kinds of un-Christmas-like conclusions and family members remind me to get with the spirit of the season.

OK. That spirit for me isn’t with Charles Dickens and the old chestnut, A Christmas Carol, but with Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and one of the parts I like best is about presents, things, gifts, stuff:

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles's pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why." 
"Go on to the Useless Presents." 
"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by a mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any color I please, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknel, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons."

It’s a great piece of writing that is my touchstone for Christmas. Read the whole piece here, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Or, listen to the poet himself. Dylan Thomas, 1952: A Child's Christmas in Wales, A Story - Recorded at Steinway Hall, NY 

Merry Christmas.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Got Barotrauma? Watch This.

Barotrauma is what happens to deep water Puget Sound rockfish when are caught and brought to the surface: gases in their swim bladder expand causing their stomachs and eyes to bulge. So what? They’re endangered-- you’re not supposed to catch them. And throwing them back with barotrauma means they most likely will die. We don’t want them to die; we want them to recover from the brink of depletion.

To that end, the federal government last week laid another layer of long-overdue regulatory protection for three species of endangered Puget Sound rockfish — yelloweye, canary and boccacio— by designating about a thousand square miles of deep-water and nearshore habitat as habitat critical for their recovery. Thanks go to the Center For Biological Diversity for pushing the feds after the initial ESA designation in 2010.

According to the Center, the rule  identifies activities that might affect critical habitat, including near-shore development and in-water construction, dredging and material disposal, pollution and runoff, cable laying and hydrokinetic projects, kelp harvest, fisheries, and activities that lead to global climate change and acidification. Those projects would require federal consultations and cannot be harmful to any habitat or life stage of the listed rockfish— deep water adult, larval dispersal in the Sound’s surface microlayer, young-of-the-year rearing in the nearshore. Much of the protected habitat overlaps critical habitats already designated for killer whale and salmon recovery; however, the protected habitats of the three rockfish are similar to other rockfish and protected them as well.

On the fishing and harvest side, the state’s conservation efforts have finally made it unlawful to fish for, retain or possess rockfish in all of Puget Sound and Hood Canal and westward to Low Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That’s great but hard to enforce when rockfish are caught as incidental catch while fishing for salmon and other bottomfish like lingcod and halibut— and suffer from barotrauma when brought to the surface.

There are instructions, advice and pictures on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site, Protecting Washington’s Rockfish describing fishing methods and equipment to reduce bycatch and death by barotrauma. ( “DO NOT VENT! Puncturing the fish’s stomach, swim bladder or other bulging organs is NOT recommended and can cause serious injury or introduce infection.  This practice can lead to death.”)

Isn’t it amazing how torturous solutions have to be to correct situations we humans create? Here’s Kevin Lollar’s news video from the other coast showing some devices that can save the lives of fish suffering from barotrauma. The simple art of saving fish http://www.news-press.com/media/cinematic/video/17723123/  In a longer form, WDFW entertains with, Is Barotrauma Keeping You Up? Try Getting Down with Recompression! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiZFghwVOyI#t=70

(Disclosure: In an earlier life, I installed septic systems on marginal soil and caught many, many rockfish. I consider my current interest in sewage treatment and rockfish recovery small acts of penance.)

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bring Out Your Dead

I thought about Ebola early last month flying at 35,000 feet with a plane full of people I didn’t know. Liberian Thomas Duncan had entered this country by air, took ill with what was diagnosed as Ebola in Dallas, was eventually quarantined and treated, and died. Makes one look around and want to see what all the coughing is about in the seat three rows back.

Over the last two months I’ve followed the news enough to know that protocols are now in place domestically to afford crucial early detection, that Ebola detected early and treated need not be fatal, that doctors and nurses on the front line of treating Ebola are among the bravest people in the world, and that politicians who ignore medical science by closing our borders and imposing mandatory quarantine requirements deserve all the ridicule that can be heaped upon them for their medieval ignorance. ( Bring out your dead )

The Ebola epidemic is serious business and it’s no longer a West Africa disease alone, not when we are in a global economy. Richard Preston’s scary and informative article in The New Yorker ( The Ebola Wars  ) raises the disturbing prospect of various strains of a rapidly evolving Ebola virus that may take as yet-unknown deadly forms.

Despite early missteps, the Center for Disease Control and hospitals have established and trained in equipment and quarantine protocols. Like the veterans we just honored and the armed forces we spend billions of dollars on, first-line doctors and nurses deserve the very best in equipment and training. After all, as Paul Farmer says in the London Review of Books, ( Diary  ) the US “has the staff, stuff, space and systems” to contain any epidemic within its borders.

I wondered after reading Preston and Farmer whether I would have the courage to comfort Ebola patients, even given the proper equipment and training— and I have to say, I don’t know if I would. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to treat Ebola patients in the hospitals of West African nations. Now that the initial panic in the US has passed with the successful treatment of Dallas nurses and New York City doctor Craig Spencer, the news cycle moves our comfort level farther and farther away from the Ground Zero of Ebola in West Africa.

But Ebola and scores of infectious disease outbreaks that risk becoming pandemics won’t simply go away. “Understaffed and undersupplied, front-line health worker in West Africa have good reason to be afraid,” Paul Farmer writes. “We who aim to help them, though better equipped, are afraid too.”

Here in the US, we still argue about affording medical “staff, stuff, space and systems” to all our citizens. Maybe I’m not ready to go to the front line but I’ll share our “staff, stuff, space and systems” with all Americans, West Africans and the people of the world. We're not dead yet.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Chief Business of the American People...

“The chief business of the American people is business.” That’s Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and the quote came to mind right after Hallowe’en when the Christmas (we say ‘Christmas’) decorations began appearing in stores and Black Friday special offers started filling the inbox.

At about the same time, the Republican Party said the American people provided them with some sort of mandate by rejecting the President’s leadership and giving them a Congressional majority and a chance (again) to govern. We’ll wait to see which Republican Party shows up to govern when it comes to immigration reform, climate change, health care and the Islamic State. Or will it be abortion, gay marriage and the right to open carry?

People always say the economy is a primary concern when voting for candidates and issues but who really faults the President’s leadership in our recovery from the economic disaster he inherited upon taking office? The disgruntled are those who wanted to see real change in financial reform and the banks and brokerage houses punished; those folks remain embittered at the President. Democratic incumbents and candidates never rallied around the chant, “It’s the economy, stupid,” tacitly conceding that maybe we weren’t better off today than we were two years ago.  We didn’t see the financial system reformed; we didn’t see tax reform. What we saw was employment and the stock market recovering, wages stagnant, the gap between rich and poor widen. But did people really want “real” change?

After all, this is a capitalist country and “The chief business of the American people is business.” It’s a relentless business: the bizarre coupling of “holiday” (holy day) with “retail” has become an established norm and hawked in the vocabulary of words like “special” and “savings” and “exclusive”-- nonsense, of course, like restaurants that serve “breakfast” all day. Hallowe’en is a big retail holiday; people don’t buy gifts for Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to begin the business of selling holiday gifts right after Hallowe’en.

The church bazaars and holiday craft sales gear up in November and I like those. I think the advertising efforts of the big box stores, Amazon and online spamming are distasteful. But that’s business, isn’t it? What feels so distastefully wrong when experiencing the barrage of every special retail holiday message year round is the lie that all of the American people can fully take part in the business of America. You still drink the Kool Aid that says everyone could become a millionaire? Sure, everyone can and will participate as consumers but more and more people are excluded from doing business as Americans because of their education, immigration status and race. That’s not the way it always was in this country; that’s the way it is now and that is the real sadness of the broken dream of failing to move towards “real change.”

Ring those retail holiday bells; they toll for thee.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 10, 2014

All The News That Fits, They Print

Best wishes to reporter Christopher Dunagan who last month ended 37 years of reporting at the Kitsap Sun. Chris says he will continuing writing his periodic Watching Our Water Ways blog  but for those of us who have followed and worked with environmental “beat” reporters, we’ll miss the deep knowledge and perspective a seasoned reporter like Chris brought to his writing.

Chris’ “retirement” leaves John Dodge at The Olympian as pretty much the last man standing among the beat reporters who can remember writing stories about the early days of the Shoreline Management Act, the state Model Toxics Control Act, secondary sewage treatment and the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. John has moved to feature writing, and the consolidation of newsrooms at The Olympian and The News Tribune of Tacoma has left both papers without any environmental coverage to speak of.

Makes it tough to be an aggregator of Salish Sea environmental news when the coverage gets noticeably thinner.

Today’s environmental reporters like Craig Welch and Lynda Mapes at The Seattle Times are much more selective in to what they report on and work hard on larger, feature stories like climate change and Elwha River restoration. Gary Chittim at KING5, another seasoned reporter, covers stories with a wider feature angle. “Beat” reporting on Sound-wide issues is left to reporters like Ashley Ahearn at KUOW/EarthFix and Bellamy Pailthorp at KPLU who still cover meetings and hearings and press conferences while champing at the bit to do feature reporting. It’s rare to see consistent local environmental news coverage but the Skagit Valley Herald affords reporter Kimberly Cauvel the time and space to cover local issues as a “beat.” Noah Haglund and Bill Sheets sometimes do what might be considered environmental stories at The (Everett) Herald; meanwhile, after the retirement of the tireless John Stark, environmental stories shrank away at the Bellingham Herald.

I guess I still miss the powerhouse duo of Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler (and before them Rob Taylor) at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where online, Joel Connelly is still able, sometimes, to rock the establishment’s boat when it comes to Victoria sewage.

Of course, media animals will always flock to cover coal train and coal port protest stories, oil train and oil tanker stories, ocean acidification and oyster industry stories, and salmon and killer whale stories but the more day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year kinds of stories about nearshore development, restoration funding, pollution enforcement, citizen engagement and just plain poop, both regional and local, that a reporter like Chris Dunagan provided can only be done on a “beat,” paid for by one’s employer publication. And they’ll pay for that kind of coverage if they think environmental stories sell papers.

Perhaps the business model is the reason why we don’t see more environmental news coverage: publishers and editors don’t think they sell newspapers. Environmental news coverage in the McClatchy-owned papers (The Olympian, The News Tribune of Tacoma and the Bellingham Herald) is sadly lacking; it’s flaccid at the Sound Publishing-owned The (Everett) Herald but better at the Peninsula Daily News; and it’s too early to tell at the Scripps-owned Kitsap Sun.

So we should be thankful that it makes business sense to the Seattle Times to invest in the amount and kind of environmental coverage they get from their reporters. And kudos to the Skagit Valley Herald for its local beat coverage. We can thank the competition between public radio stations for the continued environmental coverage. And there’s always Gary Chittim at KING to try to talk into doing an environmental story.

At the Vancouver Sun and at the Victoria Times-Colonist, it’s heartening to have long-time reporters Larry Pynn and Bill Cleverly, respectively, pounding away on the environment beat.

Thinking about the quantify and quality of news coverage in Puget Sound inevitably leads to thinking about who owns the print media in Puget Sound. Sound Publishing owns, in addition to the Everett and Peninsula daily newspapers, 34 weekly newspapers and numerous monthly publications in Puget Sound. Sound Publishing is a subsidiary of Black Press Group, a privately-held media company based in Vancouver BC with ownership of Canadian publications. (Principal David Black is also seeking to build an oil refinery at Kitimat.) Black Press Group also owns the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other island publications.

Like the family farm, the days of the family-owned newspaper are quickly passing.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My First World Series

(PHOTO: Library of Congress)
At the end of the World Series game on October 8, 1956, between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra leaped into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen to celebrate Larsen’s pitching a perfect game in defeating the Dodgers 2-0. For those who are not baseball fans, a ‘perfect game’ is one where a pitcher completes a full game without allowing any player of the opposing team to reach first base by a base hit, base on balls, error, or any other means. Only 23 perfect games have been thrown in regular season play, and none had never been done before 1956 in a World Series game; it hasn’t been done since.

Today’s opening of World Series play brings to mind my first World Series in 1956 growing up in Hawaii. Games on ‘the mainland’ were televised on a one-day delayed basis since game films had to be flown in to local stations. News that Don Larsen had pitched a perfect game sparked my father to hunt down and borrow a used television set from the mercantile division of the company where he worked and invite his shop workers over for beer and to watch the game.

Everyone gathered at my grandmother’s house and began watching but the black and white set’s picture grew darker and darker and went to black. Amidst groans and beer, the set was turned off, then back on and the picture returned before again growing darker and fading to black. “It’s the tube,” someone said, and the solution became to turn the set off when it went to black and to vigorously fan the tubes to cool them, then turn the set back on.

I’d like to say that I recall the thrill of watching the final pitch and seeing Yogi race out and leap into Don’s arms but honestly, I don’t remember any of the baseball game but can see my father with a smile on his face, fanning away at the television set.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beating The Oil and Tanker Combine By Eating Chocolate (Ship) Brownies

Good folks at the San Juan County Fair Safe Shipping booth are selling brownies in four flavors, including Bakken Shale Brownies with Caramel Crude.  Funds raised this week and weekend go to spreading the message of Safe Shipping in the Salish Sea.

San Juan Islanders For Safe Shipping write: “Our goal is to raise awareness of the increasing number of proposed terminal projects that will increase vessel traffic and multiply the risk of oil spills in the waterways just outside our front doors -- the waters that wash up on our favorite beaches. We are especially concerned about increases in tanker traffic transporting crude oil -- crude oil spills are the most damaging and most difficult to cleanup. 

“The specific target of our action at the County Fair is the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project -- poised to increase the number of tankers seven-fold per month. We islanders need to talk to Canada and let them know we won't let that happen without them putting the safest of precautions in place. Right now, Canada is not capable of effectively cleaning up an oil spill, and that is just not acceptable to us -- especially when we stand to lose nearly 80% of our county's economy should such a disaster happen. And for what? 50 permanent jobs for Canadians and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to Kinder Morgan....”

OK, maybe it’ll take more than eating brownies but all that we do to save our Salish Sea should at least include brownies. Eat on!

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

State Extends Comment Period For Changes To Nearshore Fish Protection Rule

August 12, 2014
Contact: Amy Carey, Sound Action, (206) 745-2441

State Extends Comment Period For Changes To Nearshore Fish Protection Rule

After repeated refusals to extend a 30-day comment period, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reversed itself after last Friday’s public hearing by extending its comment period to September 15 on major revisions to the primary state regulations specifically protecting critical nearshore habitats and at-risk fish species.

The decision followed public testimony before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on the department’s proposed rulemaking for the state Hydraulic Code which is intended to protect fish and fish habitat from in-water development impacts of bulkheads, groins, piers and marinas. The Code was established to ensure no net-loss of the state’s critical nearshore habitats.

Prior to announcing its extension of the comment period, WDFW insisted that an extension would make little difference because of the complexity of the code revisions. “[E]xtending the comment period an additional 30 days will not provide those who are relatively new to the hydraulic code an opportunity to gain a more clear understanding of the intricacies of this package,” WDFW wrote earlier and reiterated at the start of Friday’s public hearing.

Sound Action’s executive director Amy Carey thanked the department for extending the comment deadline and acknowledged the complexity of the approximately 400 pages of documents, including 150 pages of proposed rule language.  “The point, however, is that the Hydraulic Code is the state’s primary tool for Puget Sound nearshore habitat protection and the public must always be given appropriate opportunity for involvement in the development of important environmental regulations,” said Carey.

“Although the documents may be somewhat technical in nature, we have a intelligent public throughout the region that cares about the health of Puget Sound and the proposed revisions to this code. Shutting them out by only offering a 30-day comment period was a poor decision and we comment the department for taking corrective action" said Carey.

Sound Action will be working with its membership and partners in the environmental community in the upcoming month to resolve areas of concern in the proposed rulemaking language.

Some major issues include:

·      Maintain the current definition of “protection of fish life” that clearly specifies prevention of loss or injury to fish or shellfish and protection of the habitat that supports fish and shellfish populations rather than changing to language defining “protection” as merely “avoiding or minimizing impacts through mitigation.”

·      Strengthen a definition of “no net loss” by making clear that it means there shall not be a net loss of fish life or loss to the productive capacity of fish and shellfish habitat or functions.

·      Maintain statutory requirements by eliminating use of “may,” “if possible,” and “when possible,” and make clear requirements for both department and applicant actions.

·      Add protective provisions for macroalgae, which is used by herring for spawning and by juvenile lingcod, rockfish and salmonids for refuge and as supporting habitat for important prey species.

·      Strengthen forage fish protections by including protections for potential spawning areas that have never been surveyed  and by including provisions to protect adult fish from construction impacts during spawning and pre-spawning activity. Currently less than 30 percent of Puget Sound shorelines have even been inventoried by WDFW which results in a forage fish protection gap.    

·      Strengthen protections against all shoreline armoring impacts by requiring engineer’s report documenting need in all single family bulkhead proposals and by requiring that least impact techniques be used.

These and other recommendations are included in Sound Action’s comment letter to WDFW.

# # #

Monday, August 4, 2014

[UPDATE: New comment deadline Sept. 15] State Allows Limited Opportunity For Public Input On Push For Major Changes In Nearshore Protection Code

NEWS RELEASE/For Immediate Use
August 4, 2014
Contact: Amy Carey, Sound Action, (206) 745-2441

State Allows Limited Opportunity For Public Input
On Push For Major Changes In Nearshore Protection Code

The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission are moving forward with plans for major revisions to the only state law specifically protecting critical nearshore habitats and at-risk fish species. The department and commission have allowed for a minimal public comment period and a single, middle-of-summer, late Friday afternoon public hearing in Olympia on August 8.

The state Hydraulic Code is intended to protect fish and fish habitat from in-water development impacts of bulkheads, groins, piers and marinas and was established to ensure no net-loss of the state’s critical nearshore habitats.

The nearshore environment in Puget Sound is where forage fish such as herring, surf smelt and sand lance spawn and where juvenile Chinook salmon grow. The decline in Puget Sound populations of killer whales, sea birds and salmon has been traced to disruptions in the prey-predator balance and loss of spawning and rearing habitats in the nearshore.

The state has proposed a full overhaul of the code guiding the application of this law and recently released approximately 400 pages of documents, including 150 pages of proposed rule language, and provided only a 14-day formal comment period with an additional 15 days for informal comment acceptance. A related 150-page draft Environmental Impact Statement was also released with only 30 days for a public comment period to run concurrently with the rule proposal. See here for the Hydraulic Code revision and the dEIS.

“The Hydraulic Code is the state’s primary tool for Puget Sound habitat protection and many of the revisions lead to a weakening, not a strengthening, of protections,” said Amy Carey, executive director of Sound Action. “The documentation and accompanying environmental impact statement are voluminous. Important regulations like these deserve much, much more time for public review and comment than the minimal time period and one hearing opportunity the department has provided.”

Sound Action’s draft comments regarding the code changes are found at “Preliminary Comments on Hydraulic Code Proposed Rulemaking” (pdf)

Carey added that Sound Action and other conservation groups had requested that WDFW extend the comment period beyond the August 15 deadline another 30 days and to provide additional public hearing opportunities in Puget Sound. The request, according to Carey, was rejected by the department.

# # #

Sound Action: Turning The Tide For Puget Sound


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Screw The Land and Water, There’s Gravel In Them Thar Hills

Pit-to-pier terminus (Peninsula Daily News)
 ‘Mining Puget Sound’ sounds like an anachronism, a by-gone day of coal mining which gave us locale names like Black Diamond and Newcastle. Mining these days promises to bring us coal on rail cars for export to far away lands. But what ‘mining Puget Sound’ these days means is ripping the land apart for gravel— and loading and shipping it out to far-off lands via the nearshore.

The most recent poster child for this kind of screw the land and water operation was the abortive attempt by the international conglomerate Glacier NW to mine Maury Island and ship its gravel via shore side barges staged in a state aquatic reserve . After a decade-long battle waged by the local group Preserve Our Islands, actions by newly elected Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and the federal court held up Glacier NW long enough for a buy-out deal to be reached. ['State lawmakers approve funds to buy out Glacier Northwest gravel mine' ]

(Proud disclosure: Preserve Our Islands evolved into Sound Action on whose board I sit.)

Whack-a-mole: Over in Hood Canal Fred Hill Materials had been pushing for years to build a four-mile conveyor belt system to send gravel mined from its Shine pit to a 998-foot pier in the undeveloped nearshore for barging. Fred Hill Materials ran into financial difficulty but the project burrowed back under the ownership of Thorndyke Resources and has been moving forward through the Jefferson County planning process. Many of us thought the permitting process would end when Lands Commissioner Goldmark and the U.S. Navy signed a conservation easement restricting industrial development in Hood Canal waters. ['Wash., Navy sign Hood Canal conservation easement'] Now we find the process alive as a deadline approaches for comment on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The dEIS is found at the Jefferson County site and a county public open house will be held next Monday, August 4, 5:30-8 PM, at the Port Ludlow Bay Club, 120 Spinnaker Lane, Port Ludlow. Written comments with name and street address should be sent via email  by 5 PM August 11.

John Fabian who leads the Hood Canal Coalition explained that, "when hundreds of millions of $$$ a year are out there in one’s fantasy world, people act in the most remarkable ways," meaning that the project proponents will not give up.

The Washington State-U.S. Navy easement restrictions will go to court and most likely be the subject of legislative action. If the agreement holds, the project dies.

The project proponent thinks the project will be allowed despite the conservation easement. Lands Commissioner Goldmark at the state Department of Natural Resources thinks not. ['Project manager: New state, Navy conservation easement for areas of Hood Canal won't halt pit-to-pier']

So the proposal to screw the land and the waters because there’s gravel in them thar hills continues until the project proponent withdraws the permit or lose in court or the legislature.

Well, let’s turn the screw the other way by standing for the land and the waters. Stand up, speak up, write on. It’s our turn now.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy 20th Birthday, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mike Sato

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Hawaiian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mike Sato

Friday, June 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Nuff said.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let’s Get Together With Guns

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

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

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

Nothing weird about our Washington women with their concealed weapons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mike Sato

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Would You Do With $217 Million?

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the San Juan Islander article:

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

The joint-use community dock would consist of:

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

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

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Kind of God Creates Tent Caterpillars?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Commencement 2014: Thinking About What Sally Jewell Didn’t Say At Whitman College

Commencement 2014, Whitman College
First, a loud shout out to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for a fine commencement address at Whitman College’s commencement this past Sunday. She talked salmon and she talked about and quoted Billy Frank, Jr., who is on his way to an iconic, mythic stature. I just hope the graduates really listened and heard Billy’s words.

She saluted past Whitman graduates from the Class of 1964, who had returned for a 50th reunion, and she looked forward to the time when the Class of 2014 would be returning for its 50th year reunion in 2064.

Heady stuff, commencement addresses. I applauded when Sally urged graduates to tackle the hard, complex issue of climate change both on the big policy level and in their everyday lives. I hoped parents, grandparents and friends also really listened and heard her.

I was coming off a week’s high having learned that President Obama had used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act and designated 500,000 acres of New Mexico public lands as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. [Obama names New Mexico monument, says ‘I’m not finished’]

One parent asked me whether I though anyone was going to show up to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. No one did. I spoke with another parent and we hailed the building momentum for removing dams on our rivers. When we parted, she said she loved the speech and what Sally brought to Interior but just wished she and Obama would come to grips with oil and gas exploration on public lands.

After commencement and the festivities, I didn’t think about what Sally Jewell had said until trying to return to Puget Sound via Interstate 90 on Memorial Day afternoon and sitting and crawling westward in two lanes of vehicle traffic from Ellensburg to near the Snoqualmie Pass summit. I don’t usually drive and sit in rush hour traffic so travel like Monday’s gave me a lot of time to think about the irony of living in the 21st century in our Washington and the United States.

Grandchild is in the back seat amusing herself with a game on the hand-held device connected to the internet. I can look on the WDOT web site to see that the road ahead is bright red, indicating we will be in line for a long, long time. Our families are sitting in three different vehicles crammed full of luggage and household goods cleared out from the graduate’s rental and we’re calling and texting each other about the traffic jam.

Communication-wise, we are traveling at the speed of light. Our petroleum-based technology and infrastructure, however, are still somewhere in the mid-20th Century.

That’s what Sally Jewell didn’t talk about on Sunday. She didn’t tell us that on Monday we’d be returning to Bellingham, Ashland, Corvallis and Bellevue from Walla Walla in a clunky, outmoded fashion that would stand as the real challenge to not only meeting the dangers of climate change but also the decline of America’s competitiveness and productivity.

Build me a way to get around without a car safely, conveniently and economically and I’ll use it. Set up a live and interactive video stream that captures important events like commencements and I’ll log on. Reduce and eliminate the sources of carbon emissions and draw the line at extracting carbon out of the ground and maybe, maybe the Class of 2014 and the grandkid playing on the hand-held in the back seat will be around for the commencement address in Walla Walla in 2064.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Antarctic Ice Melting is So Scary We Need A Laugh

Melting ice lifts all floes
News that a part of the the West Antarctic ice sheet is not only in the process of falling off but also there’s nothing much that can be done to stop the process is pretty grim news. Anybody got something funny to say about that? [ UW researchers: Polar ice sheet doomed, but how soon? ]

Whether the world’s seas rise four or 12 feet depends on how long it takes for the entire West Antarctic ice sheet to fall into the ocean and how long that takes depends on how much we humans do to stop the warming process of the earth. The faster the earth warms, the faster the ice melts, get it?

Said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist, “[T]he longer it gets drawn out, the more time people will have to move inland.”

Said Benjamin Smith, who works with Joughin, “While we may not be able to prevent [ocean levels] from rising in the long run, we could make it a whole lot worse.”

Bill McKibbon shows up in Bellingham this week and I wonder how many jokes he’s going to tell? Environmentalists as a rule are a terribly serious bunch and seeing the earth of our children and their children crashing, burning and going down the toilet is no laughing matter.

The poisons will kill you, though, unless we laugh.

Well, check out Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate

Moved some of those poisons out? Feel better?

There’s lots of material out there to riff on:

Upset ocean? Tums turum tum. Kilmer calls for competition to reduce ocean acidity

Remember McGruff? Meet McPoop.
Dogs sniff out bacteria contamination in Kirkland waterways

C’mon, give it a try.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Russian Killer Whales: Something More To Worry About

PHOTO: Evgeniya Lazareva, Far East Russia Orca Project
Orca expert and author Erich Hoyt who is on The Whale Trail’s Orca Tour 2014 gave me something more to worry about when he spoke Wednesday about killer whales of the North Pacific at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s annual meeting.

Now I’m worried about Russian killer whales and the growing capture industry for zoos and aquariums in China, Japan and Russia.

Hoyt, who shared stories doing 10 years of killer whale research during the 1970s in the Strait of Georgia, brings the story of North Pacific killer whales up to the present.

To document the population of resident and transient whales in light of the capture threats, Hoyt and researchers engaged Russian students from Moscow and Petersburg state universities and began a massive project modeled on ID protocols developed in the Salish Sea-- photo IDs, acoustic recordings, limited biopsies— to begin identifying pod grouping and matriarchal lines.

The surveys have identified 13 separate pods and a handful of transients from over 600 photographs and has  long way to go in analyzing the data. Among the whales are found white killer whales like “Iceberg,” a pure white bull. These white whales appear normal in all other aspects.

Immediately after one survey expedition, 25 orcas were captured. Hoyt showed a gut-wrenching extended video segment of a large-scale netting capture in 2003 in which a female orca drowns. Hoyt apologized for the unpleasantness; “like the echoes of Penn Cove,” he said.

The Russian students have become conservationists, Hoyt said. There are more captures being permitted and higher quotas around the Kamchatka Peninsula. “It’s now a full-blown capture industry,” he noted.

There are over 50 large aquariums in China, over 50 in Japan, and 20 in Russia. The market when captures began was $1 million for one killer whale. “I’m sure it’s more than that today,” said Hoyt.

The eastern waters of the lower Kamchatka Peninsula have been designated an Ecological or Biological Significant Area to provide a protected marine area for the Kamchatka orcas. Whether the area is sufficiently large enough to protect the killer whales is to be seen. But it is larger than the small area in the Strait of Georgia’s pristine Robson Bight that Hoyt and others fought for to protect for killer whales from logging and log rafting in the late 1970s.

“Consider it the revenge of Robson Bight,” said Hoyt.

Now I’ll worry about the fate of Russian killer whales. But I’ll know that, by establishing and enforcing large areas of protected habitat where no boats encroach, we can try to co-exist on this planet.

Erich Hoyt speaks in Port Angeles Thursday evening May 8 and returns to Seattle to speak on May 18 and to Vancouver BC on May 20. In the meanwhile, he and The Whale Trail are in Newport on May 10 and in San Francisco, Monterey and Santa Cruz, May 13, 14 and 15. Details at Orca Tour 2014 and Brown Paper Tickets.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On The Subject of Herring

Pacific herring roe (Herring School)
There’s a new website from Herring School that will tell you almost everything you need to know about Pacific herring. Well, almost everything.

Pacific Herring Past, Present and Future will show you why herring is important in the ecosystem, in culture, in the economy— and how climate, harvest and habitat determine the species’ future.

“Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is a small, but hugely important fish to the ecology and the cultures of the Pacific coast.  Fish, sea mammals, and birds rely on this fish and its eggs for food. For thousands of years, this once abundant fish has been central to the social, cultural, and economic relations of coastal indigenous communities.”

Atlantic herring are found in the historical record going back 3,000 years. Called “forage fish” by some, females lay masses of herring eggs on kelp and sea grasses in the nearshore and males fertilize the eggs en mass often turning the water white. Different stocks of herring spawn at different times of the year in customary areas.

Nature’s fecundity ensures that enough eggs and fry survive to provide what must seem like an inexhaustible supply of fish for birds, larger fish, marine mammals, humans— and further reproduction. A Pacific herring can live for 19 years.

Being around in abundance for as long as they have, herring have provided every coastal culture with something to eat. My wife worked as a reporter covering the monthly meeting of the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce at Viking House and how the luncheon smorgasbord was festooned with many varieties of pickled and preserved herring.

Special foods marks the Japanese New Year’s Day meal and one acquired a taste for (or at least tolerated) herring roe, kazunoko, symbolizing fertility for the coming year. More recently available and more palatable is the prevalence of herring eggs on seaweed, komochi kombu.

Then there’s kippered herring (split, gutted and cold smoked) and bloaters (whole gutted and cold smoked) and buckling herring (whole, gutter apart and hot smoked. (Wikipedia/herring/food)

There’s Filipino dried herring, Swedish herring soup, and Tilingit herring eggs collected on hemlock boughs during the spawn and boiled and eaten plain or in herring salad. Nigel Slater gets fancy with Swedish matjes (soused herring) and Jamie Oliver cooks herring linguine.

I’d gone salmon fishing once, cutting perfect plugs from frozen salmon but managing to catch nothing. I went home and, not wanting to waste the bait, fried it and ate it.

Like the orca whale, we’re at the top of the food chain supposedly eating down to the bottom. But I learned that herring, too, feeds down,  growing up feeding on plankton like copepods, tiny crustaceans swimming the world’s oceans. And I learned that ocean acidification dissolves crustacean shells. No herring food, no herring, pickled or otherwise; no herring roe, no fertility, no fecundity.

--Mike Sato

Monday, May 5, 2014

May 2014: 4 Down, 8 To Go

Billy Frank, Jr. 1931-2014 (AP)
We’re now a third of the way through the year and I’m checking on some of the items I said I’d keep track of in 2014:

I’ll miss Bill Frank Jr.’s big hugs and big smiles and tough talk (Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually elder who fought for treaty rights, dies). Maybe it’s fitting that Billy leaves us on the 40th anniversary year of the Boldt decision. (
The Boldt Decision turns 40) Thanks, Billy. We fight on.

A few bright spots about leadership: One is a hooray to Governor Jay for his executive order to limit carbon emissions (Inslee orders a move toward limits on carbon emissions). It will require legislative support and it’s good news that Democrat turncoat Rodney Tom will not be running for re-election (State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom drops re-election bid) and that Bellingham attorney Seth Fleetwood will be challenging 42nd District GOP incumbent Doug Ericksen (Fleetwood plans to challenge Ericksen for state Senate), giving the Democrats a chance to take back the state senate. And, regarding local governance, it’s good to see strong leadership coming from Whatcom County Council chair Carl Weimer and the newly elected members of the county council (Progressive Whatcom council thaws relations with environmentalists).

Still no definitive word on what’s killing our sea stars (West Coast starfish being killed by pathogens, scientists suggest). Watch closely if the disease spreads north of Keystone on Whidbey Island and if the deaths ramp up as the water warms.

Did you know that May is Puget Sound Starts Here month? (It all adds up: How are you going to protect Puget Sound?) 10th Man! Go to the Seattle Mariner’s game on May 10 and cheer them both on.

--Mike Sato