Monday, October 17, 2011

B.C.’s Bragging Rights in the Salish Sea

Orca Pass Stewardship Area
The British Columbia provincial government and the Canadian federal government will have good news to share with Americans when the 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference convenes next week in Vancouver, B.C.

As reported in last Friday’s Vancouver Sun, the governments have announced that a Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area will be in place in a year.

The proposal to protect the habitats and species of the province’s waters and habitats adjoining the U.S. border began 15 years ago and will now move ahead after the province ceded jurisdiction over its seabed to the federal government.

The final management plan is yet to be developed in consultation with First Nations and local governments but the government will be expected to ensure that recreational and commercial activities will not further degrade water quality, habitats or species populations. B.C. conservation groups want no fishing in and around critical habitat areas in the larger conservation area.

It took a decade and more to place a rescue tug funded by the shipping industry at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to put all the pieces in place to restore the Nisqually Delta, and to take down the Elwha River dams. Damn, these things take time.

The Georgia Strait conservation area proposal was one of the key elements of working towards a transboundary stewardship area extending from the Southern Gulf Islands to the U.S. San Juans.

Ten years ago, conservation groups working on both sides of the boarder developed a GIS methodology to identify and map habitats of species diversity and richness. The stewardship area was call the Orca Pass International Stewardship Area.

Here’s a nice description of Orca Pass, “From Orcas to Oystercatchers: A Community-based Campaign to Protect Transboundary Marine Resources.“

In 2004, San Juan County passed a resolution designating all county waters as an educational stewardship area.

Pulling all the pieces together is hard work: How to bring the rules and regulations of two nations, Washington state and the Province of British Columbia, First Nations and Washington treaty tribes, and local governments together in the spirit of transboundary stewardship has no doubt inspired many a School of Marine Affairs paper and a few presentations to sessions of the BC/WA biennial ecosystem conference.

One strategy to move the transboundary process along was to work in parallel on each side of the border to establish protections and thereby raise the bar for the other side to rise to. Earning and using bragging rights, as it were.

In 2009, a research conference session examined the progress of transboundary efforts since the signing of the 1994 Washington British Columbia cooperation agreement. It inspired many who hadn’t been part of the painstaking process.

This year, the conversation continues in at least one session: “Marine Protected Areas in the Salish Sea – A transboundary exploration.”

Maybe by exercising their bragging rights, the Canadians will prompt tribal, federal and state governments on this side of the border to step up.

--Mike Sato

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