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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

#SSEC14 Day 3: Now What?

Guillemot Group, l-r: Kelly Zupich, Govinda Rosling, Frances Wood
Like all good things, the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference came to an end on Friday, and it no doubt left those who experienced the entire three days of speeches, presentations and festivities exhilarated and as exhausted as conference organizers. Even for those who came for a day, the proceedings proved edifying and sometimes entertaining.

One can’t experience everything and as with all collections and compilations whether it be music, candy or research, one’s tastes and interests prevail. Maybe it’s a feeling of feeling full but not satisfied, that there was too much “social” science and not enough “hard” science, too much “critter” and not enough “processes.” In some of the mixing and matching, it was good to sit with both “dirt” and “critter” scientists discussing the range of Elwha research.

The conference provides a snapshot of some of the science being done in the Salish Sea. Include the posters presented in addition to the presentations and it’s a pretty rich snapshot.

To call out one example: Frances Wood and the Guillemot Research Group authored the poster, “Breeding Pigeon Guillemots on Whidbey Island: A Six Year Study.” It’s one of many good examples of solid research clearly presented and, while it may not look as sexy or dynamic as a talk before a crowded room, it’s an important part of the snapshot as well.

But so what? I love the science and can lose myself in the science and forget that most of my time is spent thinking about the policies and politics of saving the Salish Sea.

In the plenary session that began the conference, David Marshall of the Fraser Basin Council hoped to get a positive response when he asked how many participants had used information published in a previous report on the state of the Salish Sea. No one raised their hand. Uh oh, wrong question.

Nope, right question. Because it would be wonderful if the findings of the Guillemot Research Group were to be used by local officials and community members and activists in doing local land use planning and regulation. It would be great at the next conference if the question, “Did what we learned in 2014 make a difference,” were greeted by a sea of raised hands.

Conference proceedings will be published at a later date and conference science reporters will be publishing articles on conference highlights. Past conference proceedings are found at the conference web site.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, May 1, 2014

#SSEC14 Day 2: What Will It Take to ‘Save’ the Salish Sea?

“Shared responsibility,” “science informing policy,” “an educated public,” “citizen science”.... Clearly there isn’t going to be one silver bullet that will take us into a future where the Salish Sea is restored and protected. One reason to have a conference like the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference  is to identify what’s working, what’s not, and where gaps in strategy and tactics are.

Western Washington University and conference organizers have done a great job this year. I’ve sat through plenary speeches and presentations but have been haunted by Western’s president’s Bruce Shepard’s bold words coming back to me. Shepard said, “" ... if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university."

Ignore for awhile the yahoo responses to his well-considered admonishment and think about how what he said applies to conferences like this in the quest to ‘Save’ the Salish Sea.

The men and women, scientists, students, activists and government staff here are talented, smart and enthusiastic. But where is the racial diversity that reflects the changing demographic of the Salish Sea?

The lack of diversity in the environmental movement is something that, over the years, we talk about, wring our hands about and in most cases throw up our hands in frustration.

The issue, of course, is that the future complexion of the region will be changing and unless the complexion of the people who are working to “Save” the Salish Sea changes to reflect those changes, we will have failed.

We can’t wait and expect the ‘people of color’ to come and join us. President Shepard understands that. Smart companies have their eyes out for budding engineers; successful sport teams are on the lookout for star prospects. It’s called recruitment and nurturing the future talent. It’s what President Shepard is talking about.

Maybe it’s like being the skunk at this fine party but I’ll raise the issue for the planners of the next conference. How about some presentation tracks and candid discussion that address straight on the issue of diversity in our ‘shared responsibility’ to ‘save’ the Salish Sea?

--Mike Sato