|Vital signs status(2013 SOS, Page 70)
The authors of the 2013 State of the Sound report issued last week wrote: “Puget Sound remains in crisis...It is increasingly likely that we will not reach our legislatively established targets by 2020.” (As reported in “New Report: Puget Sound Still In ‘Critical Condition’ But Don’t Unplug Life Support Yet”)
The 2013 report issued last week reads like the 2012 report: things got better in a few areas, things got worse or didn’t get better in other areas, and, due to a lack of data for some things, the Partnership couldn’t tell what’s going on for the better or the worse.
Maybe the best that can be said is that the goal of 2020 was unrealistic and that the things that are getting worse or not getting better (orca population, chinook salmon recovery, eelgrass beds, marine water quality, nearshore habitat) are too hard to do.
The Partnership’s Leadership Council chair Martha Kongsgaard chose to put it this way: “Indicators like acres of restored habitat and reopening shellfish beds respond more quickly to management strategies if they are given the proper resources. In contrast, herring or orca populations are examples of more complicated indicators for which meaningful improvements might not be seen for decades.” (Puget Sound Partnership E-Newsletter, November 5 )
I don’t think the health of the Sound has decades left. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t get any sense of urgency that the health of Puget Sound is a priority any more. If there is no deadline tied to a goal, what’s a goal worth, really?
I received a couple of comments when I posted the news story last week about this year’s State of the Sound report:
One reader wrote: “"Ecology has already issued regulations (NPDES) that will cause the remaining Puget Sound basin to be developed in (effectively) the same way that the first half was developed. PSP has acquiesced. No amount of protest by the 14 scientists or People for Puget Sound (now deceased) has been able to shift Ecology or PSP. I think that we have already unplugged life support."
Another reader made four points in response:
“One: The Puget Sound Partnership and its key, major members should stop doing so much “Good Tidings” publicity and be much more realistic in their bloviating. What little “Public Relations” they use is way, way off the mark of what the situation is and what needs to happen. They create no sense of urgency.
“Two: Probably the 21 Targets are not quite the right way to measure the condition of Puget Sound. I think the three strategic initiatives of Shellfish, Stormwater and Habitat might, instead, each have a couple of targets that are directly influenced by the various planned actions. Then we could better assess the benefits of various actions – which we can’t do now.
“Three: The PUBLIC needs some simple, consistent, factual, realistic messages about conditions, causes, and actions needed. So far those that have been presented are honorable, Pollyanna spits in the proverbial bucket. I suspect this will need to come from non-profits because the messages will mostly not be very politically palatable.
“Four: The esteemed, nice, credible, caring Leaders should LEAD. Pretty much all they do is sit in meetings and mainly nod with the presentations and now and then suggest a change/ask a question. But they set no goals, they don’t demand changes, they are not out in front championing the effort, they don’t stand for hard things like “Quit approving building permits in flood-ways”, they don’t coach the team members and they are not responsible for anything remotely related to actually improving the Sound. They just make sure documents get released according to schedule.”
There’s urgency in the campaign to save the Sound right before us— if we choose to see it. For example, the state Fish and Wildlife Department is revising the Hydraulic Code, the permit system that is meant to ensure that no in-water construction (like piers, bulkheads, discharge pipes, marinas, oil and coal and gravel terminals) results in net loss of critical nearshore habitats or destroys or disturbs spawning and rearing fish habitat. There’s urgency to fix the current administration of the permit system and to improve the rules to truly protect nearshore habitat in Puget Sound-- if we choose to see it.
But maybe specifically saving Puget Sound nearshore habitat is too hard politically when private interests are involved; maybe saving Puget Sound in general is too hard. The new urgency today is climate change and ocean acidification, but if you think saving Puget Sound is hard, think about meeting some meaningful targets under real deadlines to reverse climate change and ocean acidification.
How far do you want to take the medical metaphor in applying it to Puget Sound? When the patient is in “critical condition” and in “crisis,” you don’t prescribe vitamins and teach wellness exercises. You do all that’s necessary to maintain vital signs and stability; you triage. For the Sound, that means moratoriums on development, prohibitions to prevent more harm, harvest closures, creating protected areas and reserves-- politically unpalatable and unpopular stuff to gain time to bring the patient back into a state of balance.
You can change the metaphor but not the reality.
What do you think?