Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Praise of the Blue-Spaced “Wows!” in Aquariums

"Wow!" Baltimore Aquarium Shark (George Graff)
One of the 12 Sound Resolutions promoted in 1991 by the now-extinct People For Puget Sound included visiting an aquarium, zoo or museum to learn more about the Sound and its critters.

A critic complained that attending aquariums and zoos should not be encouraged because they were bad places where wild animals were kept in captivity against their wills; wild animals should be allowed to be wild. “Thank you for calling and sharing your concerns” was the only way to end that call.

While growing up, I’d been to some pretty sad zoos and aquariums but I haven’t felt that way recently. Especially not when returning today to visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore and hearing the first “Wow!” from the kid standing next to me upon reaching the first level viewing area exhibit, “Maryland: Mountains to the Sea.”

That “Wow!” and the excitement of parents and adults brought back to me the article by Michael Roberts in Outside about marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols (The Touchy-Feely (But Totally Scientific!) Methods of Wallace J. Nichols ):

“THE PHILIPPINE coral reef tank inside the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is 25 feet deep and holds 212,000 gallons of water, making it one of the largest exhibits of living coral anywhere in the world. It is the centerpiece of the academy’s Steinhart Aquarium and hosts hundreds of coral species, a couple thousand colorful fish, plus sharks, stingrays, and numerous smaller creatures, like sea anemones and snails. There are five windows affording looks inside, the biggest of which, at 16 and a half feet tall and almost 30 feet wide, makes a sweeping arc in front of a dimly lit standing area backed by several rows of benches. It was designed to offer visitors a panoramic, theater-like view of life in the tank and is among the museum’s most popular attractions. It’s Wallace J. Nichols’s favorite spot in the building....
“Whether it’s a 92-year-old or a two-year-old, when they come into that blue space, something happens,” Nichols says. They grow quiet and calm, but there’s more to it than that. When couples walk in, they frequently start holding hands. He says that if you ask people here what they’re feeling, they’ll struggle for words. Nichols finds this fascinating. He also believes that if we can understand what really happens to us in the presence of the ocean—which brain processes underlie our emotional reactions—it could bring about a radical shift in conservation efforts. If we learn precisely why we love the ocean, his thinking goes, we’ll have an immensely powerful new tool to protect it.”

I’ve been to the Steinhart, too, and I didn’t go quiet. For me it was, “Wow!”, the same as that kid standing next to me in Baltimore. And it was “Wow!” in Monterey. And “Wow!” standing before the Seattle Aquarium’s big tank display in the lobby.

These are magnificent exhibits and in many ways they work hard to present the conservation message in the context of the “Wow!” but I don’t think we’ve come very far in understanding, as J. Nichols hopes, “why we love the ocean” and discovering any new tools to protect it.

Today, we watched the Giant Pacific Octopus with fascination, looked for birds and monkeys while walking up the levels of the tropical rain forest in the heavy mist, and spiraled down the levels of the Atlantic reef tank until reaching the sharks cruising the bottom below. But it’s hard to get a sense of what’s at the crux of conservation: that it’s the relationship of the land and the waters, that it’s the relationship of what goes on on the land that affects the critters of the waters, that it’s what goes on in our hearts and minds that determines the conservation of the oceans and its critters.

Until that “Wow!” comes with understanding that relationship, we’re doomed to lose much of what today might prompt our “Wows!” in our aquariums, zoos and museums.

It’s been fun exploring in the other Washington the American Indian Museum, the Air and Space Museum and the Hirshhorn, and finishing yesterday there at the U.S. Botanic Garden (but no monkeys in their tropical rain forest.) Not as many “Wows!” there as in the few hours today at the Baltimore National Aquarium but, after all, I was visiting from the Salish Sea.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Earth Day 2013

April is like high church season for environmentalists and Earth Day on and around the 22nd its culmination. Writing about this year’s Earth Day became tough this week after Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon and yesterday’s Senate actions and inaction on gun public safety.

I wanted to reflect and write about the power and the limitation of a movement like Earth Day but instead was being informed about how to construct and detonate a pressure-cooker bomb. Getting a phone call on Monday alerting me to what had happened in Boston brought back many of the same feelings I felt when I first learned about the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma and the 9/11 terror attacks: shock, anger, impotence, sadness...

These were the same feelings I felt when I learned about mass shootings, murder and woundings, the last coming during the December high church season at Sandy Hook Elementary. Again, people wanted change to improve public safety. Alas, shame on our state Senate Republicans for refusing to vote on gun public safety. And shame shame shame on U.S. Senate Republicans for voting against gun public safety.

I wanted this week to write that Earth Day represents people power, people demonstrating how volunteers working together on behalf of the Earth’s health can accomplish a lot. It is serious work but meant to be celebratory. We like to say, “Every day is Earth Day,” and you can really feel the power this time of year.

But it’s hard not to feel like people, ordinary people, aren’t powerful but just victims when something like pressure-cooker bombs explode, kill and maim at the Boston Marathon. That people who join in to write and call to ask for change to gun public safety are no match for the powerful interests of gun manufacturers, Second Amendment zealots and the NRA.

Many people will work together this weekend and on April 22 in celebration of Earth Day. That’s good. My celebration is tempered this year by knowing that our work in the environment has to be looked at in a much wider community safety perspective— and by knowing the limitations of collective action when facing powerful special interests.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Fresh Breeze From The Herald Wafts Over The Partnership

Check out the editorial voice Peter Jackson and his editorial writers at The Herald are establishing. Over the last three weeks, they've opined on coal exports, the San Juan Island National Monument, food fish safety and coal trains.

Earlier this month, the subject was saving Puget Sound and praise for Governor Jay Inslee's proposed natural resources budget.

Specific to Puget Sound, the editorialists wrote:

"Most of Inslee's recommendations dovetail with the priorities of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for the Sound's recovery. The partnership has become a lean, efficient bird-dog of state funds, ensuring oversight and accountability. Coordinating and leveraging federal dollars also falls on the partnership, as well as developing indicators of a healthy Sound consistent with its 2020 restoration goals. The partnership no longer gets scapegoated as too top-heavy or PR oriented, with an evolving bipartisan consensus. The reason centers on tangible results such as restoring shellfish beds previously off-limits because of contamination."

The "lean, efficient bird-dog" description and no longer "top-heavy or PR oriented" description had me checking out the Partnership staff web site since I'd not heard much from or about the Partnership since its executive director Tony Wright resigned earlier this year. I couldn't tell how much leaner or efficient the Partnership had become by perusing its staff roster but I did learn that Marc Daily is now serving as Interim Director.

With all due respects to Marc Daily, having an interim director for an agency charged with saving Puget Sound unfortunately doesn't inspire much confidence in the state's pursuit of this important task.

Nevertheless, The Herald editorialists see a new day for the Partnership thanks to delivering "tangible results such as restoring shellfish beds" and to "
developing indicators of a healthy Sound." That led me to check out how well the Partnership (and Puget Sound) is doing in meeting the 2020 benchmarks that measure how 'fishable, swimmable and diggable' our Sound is. 

The Partnership's colorful Vital Signs display shows a few tangible results-- but we're clearly running out of time as the Partnership moves closer to 2020. What's disturbing is how many of the indicators of Puget Sound recovery don't show progress and some don't have interim targets to measure progress.

Sadly, the Partnership has never told its story or the story of Puget Sound very well since its inception in 2007. Maybe better "PR" -- in place of or in addition to its campaign of picking up dog poop -- would have resulted in more Puget Sound residents seeing the waters of the Sound as at risk. In 2007 about three-fourths of people polled thought the health of Puget Sound to be good or excellent; five year later, the Partnership's polling found little change in that public perception. ( General Public Opinion Survey 2012 ) 

It's a good thing that The Herald newspaper still thinks the Partnership and the need to save Puget Sound are important enough to editorialize about.  The issue is too important to fade from public awareness. How about Puget Sound environmental groups and other major news media do their parts to watch dog the Partnership and put the "action" into its Action Agenda?

--Mike Sato

Gimme That Gun! (Or, Lessons Guns Have Taught Me)

Gun safety is public safety and the U.S. Senate begins its deliberations this week. Our state legislature seems to have already tucked its head neatly into the sand on the issue, despite state legislators going on a shooting junket last week ( Legislators answer a call to arms for fun, education ).

Seattle Democrat Jamie Pedersen, prime sponsor of a background-check bill, said, “We are having serious policy discussions about guns and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for people to have some experience of holding them and knowing what it feels like to shoot one who don’t have that experience.”

Maybe you need to handle a gun to have any cred in talking about gun safety as public safety. OK, so gimme that gun. Here’s what guns have taught me:

My first gun was a Daisy BB pump rifle. We lived in the country and at 10, I’d shoot at targets I set up on the wall below the second floor back porch. One day I aimed at a small gray dove on the wall. I shot it and it fell over— dead. Lesson: Shoot something and it dies. (The other lesson was being made to eat every little bit of that little dove: what you kill, you eat.)

My father liked to show off how good he was hitting targets from the second floor back porch. One Saturday afternoon he was standing with the BB rifle pointing upward and my baby brother crawled over the pulled the trigger. The BB hit the roof overhand and ricocheted onto my father’s chest. The BB gun was put away after that. Lesson: Sh*t happens and you most likely would shoot out your eye.

While in high school, my father’s friend Mr. Nakamura took me to the Koko Head Shooting Range and let me load and fire his .38 revolver. Everyone started yelling, “Shoot the rat, shoot the rat!” as a big brown rat appeared out near the targets. The place erupted in yelling and gunfire. The rat disappeared. The only other time I’d heard that kind of urgent yelling was from my uncle suffering in his final days from Parkinson’s Disease and hollering, “Shoot the green man, shoot him now.” Lesson: Guns and moving live targets bring out very strange human behavior.

One dark night on Lopez Island, I finally cornered the coon that had been killing the hens in my chicken house. I held the flashlight beam on him and raised the single-shot .22 rifle but dropped the flashlight and couldn’t see the coon any more. I picked up the flashlight and saw the coon frantically digging under the coop corner to get out. I put the flashlight down and aimed in the dark at the corner and pulled the trigger. The hens cried out the began fluttering around the chicken house off their roost. I picked up the flashlight and saw the coon still digging in the corner. I took out another .22 bullet and reloaded, then turned to the corner with the light as hens fluttered back and forth. The coon had almost dug his way out. I dropped the flashlight and I shot again, the hens cried out— then all was quiet except for nervous clucking and my heart beating. I shined the flashlight beam at the corner. No coon, just a big hole. Lesson: Seeing your target and shooting at your target are two very different things.

OK, so there. You can have your guns after we close background check loopholes, ban military-style assault weapons and sales of magazines of more than 10 rounds, increase police protection at our schools and on our streets, and increase access to mental health services. These measures don’t infringe on rights afforded law-abiding gun owners; these measures balance those Second Amendment rights with our rights to life, liberty and happiness.

What’s your gun story?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Watchdog Group Audit Finds Serious Flaws in Protection of Puget Sound Nearshore Habitats

April 9, 2013

Contact: Amy Carey, Sound Action (206) 745-2441


(Seattle, WA)  Organizers who defeated an international company’s efforts to mine and ship gravel from Maury Island today announced the launch of Sound Action, a new environmental group dedicated to using science, activism and law to protect Puget Sound’s natural nearshore habitats.

“The Puget Sound nearshore is the nursery of the Sound,” said Sound Action’s Executive Director Amy Carey. “But Puget Sound today is documented as a critically imperiled waterway in part because regulatory agencies are failing in their mandated role as environmental protectors.

According to Sound Action, regulatory agencies regularly ignore existing laws prohibiting environmentally damaging nearshore developments during permit review and approval and fail to condition how work done should protect species and habitat productivity.

Sound Action recently conducted an audit of nearshore development permits issued under the state’s Hydraulic Permit Approval (HPA) program and found serious deficiencies in how the program is administered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Negative impacts to the nearshore area – which is the Sound’s most ecologically productive part of the food web – occurs with almost every bulkhead, dock and stormwater outfall allowed,” said Carey.

Review by Sound Action found that approximately 90% of the permits approved did not contain appropriate timing restrictions to protect forage fish when spawning and over 95% lacked protections for lingcod and rock sole – which are listed as species of concern.  30% of the permits approved contained no protection for juvenile salmonids.

As a result of these findings, Sound Action will be working to review all future nearshore HPA permit applications under WDFW consideration, providing oversight to ensure that the agency follows the existing laws that were developed to protect vital Puget Sound ecosystems. In the event these laws are not followed, Sound Action will utilize legal actions.

“Our work may expand to other regulatory areas in Puget Sound but our first task is to focus on the HPA program and make sure each permit does what the law requires,” said Sound Action board president Susie Kalhorn.

For more information, visit Sound Action’s website.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Eat More Fish— Live Longer or Die Sooner

Eat Fish (Wikimedia Commons)
We have a problem here: scientists and doctors tell us that eating seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids can extend our lives— while reporter Robert McClure tells us the state of Washington is failing to deal with toxic chemicals in seafood which can shorten our lives.

First the good news: As reported in Science Daily ( Eating Fish Associated With Lower Risk of Dying Among Older Adults: Risk of Dying from Heart Disease Significantly Lowered ), a new study by Harvard School of Public Health and University of Washington researchers found that older adults who had the highest blood levels of the fatty acids found in fish lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with lower levels.

On the other hand, Robert McClure at InvestigateWest reported last week ( Business Interests Trump Health Concerns in Fish Consumption Fight ) that state efforts to protect the health of Washington residents who regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in fish from local waterways has been stymied by Boeing and other business interests.

"The problem," McClure writes, “lies in Ecology’s estimate of how much fish people eat. The lower the amount, the more water pollution Ecology can legally allow. So by assuming that people eat the equivalent of just one fish meal per month, Ecology is able to set less stringent pollution limits.”

But: “(T)he state Department of Health advises people to eat fish twice a week, eight times as often as the official estimate of actual consumption. The state knows that some members of Indian tribes, immigrants and other fishermen consume locally caught seafood even more often than that and are therefore at greater risk of cancer, neurological damage and other maladies.:

Does it matter? Of course it does. Will anyone in a position of leadership do anything about re-calibrating these scales of environmental justice? We’ll have to wait to see-- or we can start making more of a ruckus demanding action.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When The People Lead, Leaders Will Follow

Mahatma Gandhi
“When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Gandhi supposedly said that. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Senator Maria Cantwell and Representatives Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene sort of said that at Monday’s event in Anacortes to celebrate the San Juan Islands National Monument.

Skagit Valley Herald reporter Kate Martin wrote:

“We had a choice,” (Senator Cantwell) said. “Do we want to toss it up for the future to see what this land might become or do we want to say it’s so special that it will be preserved? The community was loud and clear. They wanted the latter.”

Cantwell said designations like the San Juan Islands National Monument don’t happen overnight.

Cynthia Dilling, who has lived on Lopez Island for more than 35 years, said the effort to protect lands in the San Juan archipelago began in earnest in 1989, when a hiker noticed trees on the backside of Chadwick Hill were marked for logging. Supporters spent a week gathering 600 signatures to stop the logging operation.

But the group was told it had to create a larger vision, which has now been included with the 450 acres on Chadwick Hill. Dilling said the group realized about four years ago that the rest of the BLM land did not have any protection at all. The effort to create a national monument here came from that moment, she said.

“It may have started in a living room on Lopez Island,” Cantwell said. “But it traveled all the way to the Oval Office.”

( San Juans celebrated as new national monument )
I think everyone involved in this process is happy with the way it turned out. I also think it’s obvious that the proposal to protect these lands drew widespread support and very little substantive opposition. If this was an easy one, why did it take such a long time?

And if an ‘easy one’ like this is hard to get done, is there any wonder why hard policy decisions never get made?

And what does this say about the “leadership” leaders are supposed to demonstrate?

Permanent protection of these San Juan Islands lands took a long time because of a failure in leadership. Legislation creating a San Juan Islands National Conservation Area was introduced by Congressman Rick Larsen but never moved through the House of Representatives because of the failure of leadership demonstrated by Washington’s 4th Legislative District Congressman Doc Hastings(R-Yakima) who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee thanks to Republican control of the House.

(Electoral sidenote: In 1992, Jay Inslee defeated Hastings for the open 4th Congressional District seat; in 1994, Hastings defeated Inslee, who then moved west of the mountains to represent the 1st Congressional District before being elected governor.)

People can lead as much as they want; leaders like Doc Hastings will not follow.  ( Rep. Doc Hastings disputes San Juans, other national monuments )

So leaders had to make sure that a presidential declaration as a national monument was OK with “the people” if Congressional legislation as a National Conservation Area was a dead end because of Doc Hastings.

“The people” said “yes,” it was— but by then the president was in re-election mode and not available to provide leadership. The big anxiety throughout the summer and fall was what would happen to the national monument proposal under the leadership of a Republican president.

So, when the people lead, leaders will follow? Sort of.

But think about all the other decisions that leaders make on behalf of “the people” based on the input and influence of lobbyists and campaign contributors. Thinking too hard about that might make us cynics.

I’m glad we have a San Juan Islands National Monument. Now the real work begins to engage with the Bureau of Land Management in the management of these lands.

I’m hoping “the people” step up for that. Our leaders will have gone back to doing what they were doing before.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pacific Coast Gets First Whale Trail Sign At Olympic National Park's Kalaloch Lodge

April 2, 2013 NEWS RELEASE 

Visitors to Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula’s Pacific Ocean shore will learn about gray whales, sea otters and endangered orcas that frequent the area, thanks to a partnership between The Whale Trail, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Olympic National Park.

The first Whale Trail sign to be installed on the Washington outer coast will be dedicated at Kalaloch Lodge on April 11 from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. The ceremony will feature a keynote address by Jefferson County Commissioner Phil Johnson, and representatives from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Olympic National Park and The Whale Trail. The event is free and open to the public.

The program will also feature Hoh tribal storyteller Viola Riebe, Director of Cultural Resources. Viola was featured in the film Run to High Ground!, a Native American story about tsunamis and earthquakes, and co-author of the chapter on the Hoh Tribe in the book, Native Peoples of the Olympic Peninsula: Who We Are.

“Whale Trail signs are simple but powerful reminders that orcas and other marine mammals live in our waters,” said Donna Sandstrom, executive director of The Whale Trail. “The Kalaloch sign encourages visitors to look at this spectacular seascape with a deeper understanding of the diversity of life it supports, and our role in protecting it."

Twenty-nine species of marine mammals live in or pass through the waters of the sanctuary. At vantage points in the Olympic National Park, visitors might spot migratory gray whales, sea lions, harbor porpoise, harbor seals, sea otters and orcas.

"I was a commercial fisherman for 12 years," said Jefferson County Commissioner Phil Johnson. "I had the opportunity on many occasions to observe these amazing creatures up close and spotting a pod of whales was always the high point of a trip."

“No one walks away from an encounter with an orca or grey whale without being awestruck and hopefully eager to learn more,” said Carol Bernthal, Superintendant of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. “The health of the ocean is challenged right now by big issues like climate change and ocean acidification and it will take the political will and actions at the local and international level to make the necessary changes in policy to better protect our ocean.   It starts with awareness of the need to protect these places and animals.”

“We are happy to have provided the funding and staff support for producing signs at Kalaloch, Snow Creek, and Port Angeles in partnership with The Whale Trail and Olympic National Park,” said Bernthal.

The Whale Trail sign at Kalaloch is the first sign placed within the Olympic National Park.

"We are pleased to host this stop on the Whale Trail and grateful for the strong partnerships that have made this possible," said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.

The Whale Trail has also identified whale-viewing sites at La Push (Quileute Nation) and Cape Flattery (Makah Nation) and dozens of other sites on the Olympic Peninsula and in Puget Sound.   Through its current signs alone, including two on every Washington State ferry, The Whale Trail reaches more than 22 million people each year.

Click here for more information on The Whale Trail

# # #
CONTACT: Donna Sandstrom, The Whale Trail, (206) 919-5397
                  Kathy Steichen, Olympic National Park (360) 912-2770
                   Jacqueline Laverdure, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (360) 457-6622 x21

Monday, April 1, 2013

Salazar Brings Gift of ‘Monument’ to San Juans

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will lead ceremonies in Anacortes Monday morning and on Lopez Island Monday afternoon celebrating establishment of the San Juan Islands National Monument. The public is invited to both events.

Event organizers learned over the weekend that the Secretary will be unveiling three monument possibilities at the Monday celebrations. The options include a Stonehenge model, an Easter Island model, and a Fremont Troll model.

“To say we were a bit surprised is to put it mildly,” said one Lopez Island organizer not authorized to speak for the group Islanders for a National Conservation Area Now Called a National Monument (INCANCANM). “We thought a National Monument was, well, not quite like ‘Washington Monument,’ if you know what I mean.”

Neither Salazar’s office nor the offices of Senators Murray and Cantwell or Representatives Larsen and DelBene indicated any preference for what kind of monument would be appropriate for the San Juan Islands.

“I think something that shows some personality, like the Easter Island heads or the Fremont Troll, would be my preference,” said a Salazar staff member not authorized to comment. “But the Secretary’s a short timer, you know. Maybe you ought to try calling Sally Jewell?”

The staff member gave complete assurance that a lengthy process will be forthcoming to receive every last public comment before any decision is made. “That’s the way they do it in the islands, I hear. Thank goodness we didn’t have to establish a monument along the Seattle waterfront.”

--Mike Sato