Monday, November 20, 2017

Puget Sound 2020: Enforce the Law to Save the Whales

Guest blog by Amy Carey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They need a little thing called Action.

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


  1. The issue of strong enforcement of existing regulations that would do much for the environment seems to often be mentioned as necessary. But I think politics, money, turf wars, interpretation of regulations and a frequent reluctance to encroach on individual "freedoms" (and probably other reasons as well) all get in the way. It must get kind of lonely doing battle for stronger enforcement. It surely is not something the whole Puget Sound Partnership conglomeration wants to address!!

  2. Right on, Amy! I have long advocated that endless studies supply good jobs and that is why they will never die - in contrast to our species who, for lack of Action, are on the road to extinction.

  3. I meant to say "our marine species" are on the road to extinction.

    1. Well, Connie, in my darker days I think you may be right in both cases of extinction.

    2. "The very willow-rows lopped every three years for fuel or powder, - and every sizable pine and oak, or other forest tree, cut down within the memory of man! As if individual speculators were to be allowed to export the clouds out of the sky, or the stars out of the firmament one by one. We shall be reduced to gnaw the very crust of the earth for nutriment." Thoreau.

      Can't give up!!!!