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.