Monday, June 25, 2012

Saving the Sound, Saving the Whales

Springer 2002 (Mark Sears)
Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council, gave some powerful opening remarks at last Saturday’s festivities in Seattle celebrating the 10th anniversary of the orphan orca Springer’s rescue in Seattle and reuniting with her Northern Resident family. Here’s an excerpt:

“This had never been done on earth, and to do this we had to learn to work together – across a complex  ad hoc network of scientists, governments, First Nations and tribal communities, NGO’s and legions of concerned citizens, seniors and school children alike on both sides of the border. We had to learn to trust each other, these strangers, in order  to accomplish something audacious and risky, --something that was a matter of life and death for an iconic creature whose beauty and vulnerability made both 6th graders and bureaucrats weak at the knees in awe as the world watched the unprecedented effort unfold.

“’There were risks and unknowns every step of the way,’ said Will Stelle, Northwest regional director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ‘In the end, we were successful because we worked as a team.’

“You all shattered obstacles, historical misunderstandings and preconceptions, you listened to science, let go of ego and attribution, and tried the untested because the community shared the same vision – which was to see her safely home, whatever it took,  and every decision and every act served that end.  And in this remarkable process, you all took a great risk together and chose to trust rather than fear because your vision was laser sharp, your love a mile deep.”

“.... But in the 10 years since Springer was reunited with her family, the population  of the planet has grown by a billion to seven billion.  There is an estimated 4.5 million living in the Puget Sound basin alone with another Portland it is estimated squeezing into this four county region within the next 10 to 15 years whether we plan for it or not. (And there are an estimated 7 million that live around the Salish sea  -- from here to Canada -- today…)

“Our Southern Resident killer whales were listed as endangered in 2005 and are teetering around 89 members. But they are still here among us.

“But do we get it:  the astonishing privilege of being able to live here, have all of this, while sharing the ecoregion.… with them, in what’s called Cascadia or Salmon Nation or to paraphrase the author Tim Egan, any place that salmon can get to, (which is where the orcas roam) or what William Dietrich calls ‘a universe in a mountain cradle,’ this geographers’ delight: the Salish Sea.

“Saving the Sound, and the salmon and orcas it sustains will require the same vision, leadership, shared commitment and urgency as it took to help Springer get home. It will require the same kind of laser focus and imagination you all had 10 years ago.  It took hundreds of people working together for a common good to save the life of ONE WHALE in 2002.  There are 4.4 million of us in the basin today – Do you think we together can protect 88 of them?  That’s about 50,000 guardians per orca if you do the math.  What would that look like?  What is entailed?  We’ll have to make decisions to live differently if that is the case. We’ll have to intentionally walk the whale trail, as it were, with consciousness of our impact.

“These magnificent creatures are remarkable but they can’t save themselves or us.  Let us take this reunion, this celebration of the best of what we humans can muster, and remember that these are just decisions we make to either do something or not.  As Bob Lohn said, ‘I am not going to sit around while this young whale dies; not on our watch.’   We know we can do this together because these are just decision: decisions to do the big thing, the difficult thing, the enduring thing, the thing that’s in the public interest, in our grandchildren’s interest, which in the end is in the planet’s interest and in theirs.”

Martha then closed with a recording of an orca’s vocalization...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rio+20 and the Salish Sea

Twenty years ago Washington and British Columbia activist organized themselves as the sans boundary coalition and faxed a declaration to the Rio summit, 1992.

I recounted this Sound & Straits ‘92 “People’s Agreement” in this blog last fall on October 20 and on October 24 in advance of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference— and, like your crazy aunt, I will bring out the family heirlooms again as Rio+20 convenes.

The “People’s Agreement” averred:

“WE, THE PEOPLE of the Sound and Straits, in pledging to work together to restore the ecological and economic health of our home, DECLARE THAT:

• The salmon shall be the symbol and indicator of the health of our waters, for in saving the salmon we shall save ourselves.
• The most protective environmental standards shall be applied as the minimal standards throughout the region.
• The Sound and Straits shall be a Pollution Free Zone by the year 2011.
• Bold and innovative solutions that protect our resources shall be recognized and rewarded.
• The people of the region shall be informed and involved in all aspects of governance of the region.

And this is what what we thought in 1992 needed to be done to hold "the governments of Canada, the United States, British Columbia and the state of Washington accountable.”

• Timely, effective implementation of all environmental agreements.
• Restoration of salmon habitat, as required by treaty.
• Initiating an International Joint Commission investigation and actions to restore and maintain native salmon throughout the region.
• Applying the most stringent environmental protections on either side of the boarder as minimums throughout the region.
• Involving the public in all decisions which affect the Sound and Straits.
• Creating new jobs for military personnel and redirecting resources to more urgent social, economic and environmental problems.
• Protecting the ecological resources critical to all life in the region through creation of a biosphere/sanctuary regional framework.
• Protecting life and habitat through safe shipping and safe oil transport.

We hadn’t yet become activists around climate change and ocean acidification; we had a pretty full agenda that we wanted federal, tribal, state, provincial and local government— in consultation with their people — to take action on. And we thought in ecosystems, across borders, across political boundaries.

Maybe some would say the progress on the Sound & Straits Salish Sea agenda is a glass half-full; I’d say it was a glass more than half-empty.

I think we let our children down when I listen to Severn Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of David Suzuki. Twelve-year old Severn in 1992 addressed the Earth Summit delegates: “We've come 5,000 miles to tell you adults you must change your ways."

In a Vancouver Sun interview a week ago (Twenty years after Rio warning, we're still in peril ), Craig and Marc Kielburger write that Severn “became known as ‘the girl who silenced the world for five minutes.’”

"’I look back at those documents that came out of Rio, and they were pretty amazing,’ Cullis-Suzuki says. ‘Great promises were made at Rio, then it kind of fell off people's agenda.’

“The hope and promise were short-lived. Cullis-Suzuki recalls that, in the years following the Earth Summit, the global economy slipped into recession and economic constraints meant the environment was no longer a priority.

“Cullis-Suzuki notes the parallels to today, as economic woes again displace the environment as a top concern for world leaders.

“[T]he 2012 Earth Summit will last only three days. U.S. President Barack Obama will not be there, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not indicated if he will attend.”

We let them and ourselves down, didn’t we?

The Victoria Times-Colonist reports that “Instead of clean energy, food, the oceans and other topics scheduled for debate at Rio+20, as the summit is known, political focus is attuned to a teetering Europe, turmoil in the Middle East and a presidential campaign in the United States.  (Environment expectations low for Rio+20 )

Without leadership on environmental protection and restoration, we’ll go nowhere. But we also know that when the people lead, leaders follow. I’d like to think that it’s never too late, that maybe we were older then— and we’re younger than that now.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Take Me to the River

Lunch and respite on the Skagit north fork
Thirty-two souls had a great day of paddling adventure down the north fork of the Skagit River on Saturday, thanks to Lee First and staff of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Denny, Dylan and Morgan of Yeager’s Sporting Goods in Bellingham.

Lee brought together Bellinghamsters and Skagit Beachwatchers, some of whom came with their own canoes and kayaks, others were outfitted by the crew from Yaeger’s.

First the rendezvous at the starting point at the Calhoun Road boat launch on the west bank of the Skagit, then the logistics of shuttling vehicles to the end point under the Rainbow Bridge in La Conner. Finally: ready to launch.

After instructions on safe paddling and performing trash pickup along the way, the boats set out a little before 1 PM and took the first bend down the north fork of the Skagit on a current running about 3 knots. The first stop was to clean up a log jam immediately after making the bend, then the flotilla proceeded down river to a second log jam at a sand bar about 2.5 miles further downstream. Trash prizes? Lots of fishing lures, plastic bottles, cans, pieces of styrofoam, one air compressor tank, one small holding tank about a fourth filled.

The paddling got a lot more interesting after passing under the Fir Island bridge at about another 2 river miles and the headwind picked up. Paddlers got some respite while stopping for lunch about another 2.5 river miles further downstream. The sun was shining and, in anticipation of visiting the late poet Robert Sund’s shack further downstream at Fishtown, folks read some of the poet’s works, one of which went like this:

Summer Solstice
It’s been a busy day.
    one hummingbird, then

Back in the boats, paddlers followed a small idyllic slough off the main channel, rejoined the main river then ventured into an even smaller, sweeper-lined side channel nearly blocked by an old sailboat. Passing that, the boats were back into the main channel where the adventure really began.

The headwind picked up and the going got tougher. The boats found safe haven after another half mile in a sheltered slough leading up to Sund’s fish shack. The tide was moving to flood and whitecaps whipped around the bend. A few boats went up the slough to take a look at the cabin. No time, however, for sightseeing.

With all re-assembled and accounted for, it was time to put paddles in the water and head down river into the wind and rising tide. The boats, re-assembled again in about another half mile in a sheltered slough for one more set of instructions:

“Around the next bend there’s an opening in the breakwater about 20 feet wide which we’ll paddle through,” Lee First advised. “Just be careful and you’ll be fine.”

The opening is known as "Fish Hole" and probably is adequate for fish.  Alas, the tide hadn’t yet risen enough for boats.  The water wasn’t deep enough to paddle through the opening, so the canoes and kayaks had to be carefully portaged through the slippery rocks and knee-deep water of the opening and re-launched. One more adventure, one more challenge met.

From there, another mile of paddle into the Swinomish Slough and up to the landing point under the Rainbow Bridge seemed like a piece of cake as we landed about 9 river miles (a very rough approximation) from where we left 6 hours earlier. Wet and tired but exhilarated, new bonds and friendships tested and made, a great Saturday was enjoyed by all.

Thanks to Lee and the RE Sources staff and volunteers and to Yaeger’s Sporting Goods. (And special thanks to John and Michelle who taught me more about canoes in six hours than I’d ever thought I’d need to know in all my years.)

--Mike Sato

**See North Sound Baykeeper's photos of the day's adventure here.**

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On Saving Puget Sound

PHOTO: KKennell
Dan Chasan wrote a thoughtful analysis in yesterday’s Crosscut [ After 5 years, Gregoire's Puget Sound progress is uncertain ] about the progress toward saving Puget Sound.

I think he’s more charitable than I am about the leadership shown by the first chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Bill Ruckelshaus and its first director David Dicks. You can’t blame everything about the zombie-like progress of Puget Sound recovery on the economic downturn. Ruckelshaus and Dicks chose to coordinate rather than lead and choose to re-study the problem and re-invent solutions, and the Partnership squandered a tremendous amount of social capital, not to mention just plain dollars, in the early years of the campaign.

That said, what next? What or who keeps the save Puget Sound ball in play as we move forward?

It’s true that unless people care about the health of the Sound, there isn’t a political constituency for the Sound. Telling people Puget Sound is sick when they don’t think it’s sick, doesn’t get you anywhere. Let’s try telling people Puget Sound is a pretty nice place and there are pretty neat steps being taken in land use, runoff control, waste reduction and restoration to keep it OK. But make sure to say there’s an urgency to keep it OK.  To make that message heard, it takes a large-scale marketing effort, systematically carried out and more substantial than the feel good of the Puget Sound Starts Here-kind of campaign.

We have to enforce laws already in place to protect the health of the Sound. Enough drinking of the “voluntary compliance” and “mitigated determination of non-significance” Kool-Aid where nobody shows up to enforce laws. On any action affecting the Sound, it might help if the burden of proof was to show how the action will benefit the Sound rather than having to show how it will hurt the Sound. And let the punishment fit the violation to make sure there are consequences to illegal actions.

We need to put real money into local efforts in land use, runoff control, waste reduction and restoration that benefit the health of the Sound. Virtue doesn’t have its own rewards; we need to promote and publicize these good works. And use these good works to build local support and constituency to do more good works.

A reader earlier wrote: “I just recently finished the intensive WSU Beachwatcher Training here.  We had numerous presentations about all aspects of Puget Sound - many by people from agencies and groups that are ‘part of’ the Partnership.  Not one of them even mentioned it and the Partnership itself had no-one come speak to us.  The public outreach has been sporadic and not too effective.”

Who will lead the save Puget Sound charge and keep it front and center on the political agenda?

Norm Dicks won’t be around to bring federal bacon home for Puget Sound recovery. And it doesn’t seem that either candidate for governor has any fire in the belly to make Puget Sound recovery one of his agenda items.

Among conservation groups, the foremost champion of saving Puget Sound was People For Puget Sound, whose leadership presence has waned since founder Kathy Fletcher’s retirement.  Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Washington Environmental Council have leadership presence but have much more limited Puget Sound agendas.

Maybe Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands, an elected official in his own right, can take a leadership role in saving Puget Sound.

Someone better step up and lead this parade— or more people will be finding that Puget Sound is not OK any more.

--Mike Sato

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alice, Let’s Drink

Brave New (Privatized) World (PHOTO: The Herald)
Regular gasoline in my Bellingham neighborhood was $4.49 a gallon last Friday but my purchase of a 750 ML bottle of Jack Daniels from our new privatized retail system was cheaper that the same product from the state liquor store.

The advertised price of $17.99 with “applicable state taxes” in fine print didn’t give much of  hint of what the final cost would be but it did allow some comparison shopping among Rite Aid ($17.99), Haggen ($20.99) and Fred Meyer ($17.49).

I had to grocery shop at Haggen but walked next door to the Rite Aid and my bottle of Jack cost me $24.51, a bit less than the $24.95 charged a week ago at the state liquor store. If I’d shopped at Freddy’s, I would have “saved” a few cents more.

When I’m in Honolulu, Longs Drugs (CVS) and Safeway are next to each other and both use Jack Daniels as loss leaders, selling a 750 ML bottle for $19.99 plus the state’s 4.5% sales tax.

Hawaii retailers include the state-imposed alcohol excise tax in their retail price. In our new privatized Washington system the state taxes are added onto the product cost and retailer markup. (Your next app: hard liquor cost comparisons and tax calculator.)

In either case, if you’re going to drink hard liquor, you’ll pay the state its taxes.

I’m sure a bottle of Jack Daniels in Washington will always be more expensive than in Hawaii, and there will be days here when Jack Daniels will be more expensive than what the state used to sell it for. And there will be days when it’s advertised as a loss leader and may make a difference whether I stop to do my real shopping at Haggen, Fred Meyer or Safeway. Or maybe even Rite Aid.

Hawaii’s a great place to sip Jack Daniels but it’s best not to work, since there’s a state income tax. Washington’s got the highest alcohol tax rate among all the states. Washington’s a better place to work and not pay income taxes, then go to Hawaii to sip Jack Daniels.

Alice, let’s drink.

--Mike Sato