Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revisiting “Extinction Is Not An Option”

Quinault fishing (Edward Curtis, 1913)
Remember Gary Locke? He gave a fine speech in 1998 as governor after our Puget Sound Chinook salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act. He talked about the challenge facing us in recovering the species. He ended with the dramatic, “We cannot fail. Extinction is not an option.”

I’d been thinking about then-Governor Locke’s dramatic oratory (it’s a good speech— you ought to read it) this week while scanning the news and lamenting the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, cheering the anticipated arrival of the Puget Sound humpy (pink salmon) run, and learning from Bill Sheets in The Herald that “Snohomish County waters still rich with salmon, trout.”

So, glass half empty or glass half full? On the road to recovery or on the road to extinction?

Of course, what Governor Locke was referring to was recovery of wild Puget Sound Chinook. And there’s been a lot of money, time and effort spent on restoration projects large and small. We’ve been guided by a Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon and, in Puget Sound, by an Action Agenda.

The Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs Indicator for Wild Chinook Salmon reports that “Chinook salmon in the Sound now are about one-third as abundant as they were in 1908” and “For the 22 remaining populations of Puget Sound Chinook salmon, one increased and one declined in abundance from 2006 to 2010... The total number of Chinook salmon has not increased, and most populations remain well short of their recovery goals.”

The best that can be said? “Nonetheless, the fact that we have any natural-origin Chinook left is testament to the success of our restoration and harvest reduction work so far.”

Do we know what we’re doing, what we’re supposed to be doing to recover our salmon? Maybe not.

This Wednesday there’s a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium launching a Washington-British Columbia effort called The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project spearheaded by Long Live the Kings and the Pacific Salmon Foundation bringing together “US and Canadian federal, provincial, state, tribal and academic scientists and managers for an ambitious, precedent-setting new initiative to improve understanding of salmon and steelhead survival in the Salish Sea.”

Why? Because, as their media advisory says, “Something alarming is happening in the shared inland marine waters of the Salish Sea: salmon and steelhead are dying. What's the cause of this mortality? We don't know. The research hasn't been done. Without that knowledge, our substantial efforts to recover these populations and provide sustainable fishing may be for nothing.”

Honestly, I don’t know what I don’t know. What I do know is that Washington state propaganda about salmon recovery can be found in a very polished, 10-minute film, State of Salmon: Restoring a Washington Icon, produced for the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

I know there must be more to salmon recovery than what’s shown in the film, although there is some reference to “making the tough decisions every day,” whatever those decisions are supposed to be. The words “regulation” and “growth” and “pollution” are never mentioned.  Even Governor Locke and the state Joint Natural Resources Cabinet knew in 1999 that tough decisions would have to be made and carried out regarding hydroelectric dams, fish hatcheries, reduced harvest, and protection and restoration of critical spawning and rearing habitats. And the real big ticket item would be reducing the flow of toxic chemicals from our homes and businesses into the estuaries of the Sound.
Regarding salmon recovery, your lifestyle most likely isn’t much different than it was in 1999  when extinction was not an option. Maybe we’re living like how we lived in the madness of an Iraq War that never touched our daily lives unless our family was serving our country there. What was the point of that awful war anyway, what was accomplished for the good? When it’s business as usual while we go about saving our iconic wild Pacific salmon, when there’s no sacrifice required, what can you expect to be really accomplished? That salmon populations may not get better but hopefully they won’t get any worse?

C’mon, we can do better than that.

--Mike Sato


  1. In every bay and watershed reach of the Salish Sea the local property owners love their landscape place and worry about the health of their chunk of their nearshore and offshore undersea domain. Ask them if they want support to preserve and restore their reach and look after their share of it's upland watershed and they'll say: "Of course. Who can help me build my own raingarden and restore my piece of the creek? We can do it ourselves with a little advice and some financial support. We don't need the government to tell us what we can't do. We can do it ourselves with our neighbors." There are organizations like Stewardship Partners that help private property owners find funding and help them work with their neighbors. More organizations like Stewardship Partners need to be established as advocates to guide these property owners. Grant Jones

  2. Comment received via email from T. Holz: "Gary Locke was a good speech maker and that is about it. When the tribes suggested that to keep extinction from being the default option we must regulate land use, Locke came down on them like a ton of salmon offal. Talking was OK. Meaningful action was verboten. Developers were not to be irritated."

  3. It is good to remember that none of the Puget Sound Salmon runs are actually listed as "Endangered", only "Threatened".. also that there is a substantial recovery plan, plenty of active groups, and lots of money. Many non-profit groups like Grant mentions do major "on-the-ground" work with the local public.

    On the other hand, the material you will find (and also not find) on the Vital Signs Indicator and in that beautiful 10 minute film filled with snippets have not a whit of what the common average public citizen resident needs to know about the problem and what can and should be done to improve things. It seems like far too many of our leaders here feel like their glitzy natterings of success are what will keep the progress coming. Bah humbug! As the rabbits would say - "They need a good thumping."

  4. We have spent tens of millions of dollars, probably hundreds of millions of dollars, on salmon restoration schemes and we have not seen any substantive effect on the size of the runs in this state.

    What I wonder is whether we would have seen any difference had we NOT spent the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars we have spent. There is a massive "green" industry that is both government and private that we have accreted around salmon, and that vast establishment is quite happy to continue to take the money ladled out. Unfortunately, as with most spending, there is a minority of people that would actually like to see good effect for all of that cash. I'm glad to see you calling out the emperors clothes.

    I'm a farmer. It's a bit like the green mafia for me. "hi there. nice farm you have here... be a shame if a wetland buffer happened on it. If you hire this consultant and file a salmonid species and resident killer whale habitat plan, why, you'd be just fine. That'll be $3,000, please. " and if you don't you don't get your building permit.

    And the best part is that for your $3,000 you get a document that says "no take", and there is absolutely no change to your building plans, and it does indeed take care of the problem.

    Stuff like that make me tremendously cynical about organizations that purport to save the salmon. We should just through the money into the fire. At least we'd be warm.

    Bruce king / blog.bigpig.net


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