Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hey, Puget Sound! It’s A “New Path Forward!”

That’s what the Puget Sound Partnership says Governor Inslee has done by reconstituting the Partnership’s Leadership Council. And, having named a new executive director, Governor Jay has his new team now to make or break Puget Sound recovery on his watch.

“Gov. Inslee has appointed longtime environmental advocate Stephanie Solien and former Ecology director Jay Manning to the Leadership Council, the Puget Sound Partnership’s seven-member governing body. Diana Gale, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs, was reappointed to fill the remainder of David Dicks’ term [who had earlier resigned].”  Gov. Inslee builds new path forward with appointments to PSP's Leadership Counci

Partnership chair Martha Kongsgaard sounded positively ecstatic with the new appointments in her March 11 letter, characterizing executive director Sheida Sahandy as “whip smart, curious, articulate, wise, and arrives firmly acquainted with our mission.” Gracious as ever, the chair praises departing members David Dicks (who started as executive director), Steve Sakuma and Dan O’Neal and warmly welcomes environmental activist Stephanie Solien and former Ecology director Manning. The position vacated by Sakuma still needs to be appointed by the governor. Kongsgaard, former King County executive Ron Sims and Billy Frank, Jr. of Northwest Indian Fisheries are the other members of the Council, with Gale and Frank the only ones from the original board organized when the Partnership was launched.

Well, will this make any difference, this “new path forward”? It’s hard not to feel like the old path built thus far by the Partnership has been into a quagmire, a morass of bureaucracy and squandered moral capital, built by the best and the brightest.

Is Puget Sound recovering or not? Do we know or not?

Asked by reporter Bellamy Pailthorp, the Partnership’s Jeaneatte Dorner, its Director of Local Ecosystem and Salmon Recovery, said it is not possible to give recovery a grade because the grading system isn’t in place:

“And until we actually have that system in place, it’s sort of like we don’t have the test scores to actually give a grade,” she said.

Dorner added, it's more like the agency needs to discuss reasons why it deserves  a no-credit grade of incomplete. Because -- despite millions of dollars spent on restoring habitat --the Puget Sound Partnership doesn't fully understand or know how to measure its progress in protecting endangered fish.

“If you talk to folks and get expert opinion, I think most would say that we are not making the progress that we need to; there’s still more habitat that we’re losing than we are gaining from the restoration work that we’re doing,” she said.

One big problem, says Dorner, is that many philanthropists and environmental organizations or contractors enjoy seeing habitat restoration, so they donate to set aside specific areas. But terminology used in the patchwork of efforts is different, and can’t be easily entered into databases that would help clarify which kinds of conservation measures work best. State Of Our Salmon The Focus Of 2-Day Puget Sound Partnership Meeting

Candor like Dorner’s is refreshing but might lead one to ask what, since 2007 when the Partnership was created by the legislature, has it been doing such that, six years to its original 2020 goal of a Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable, “we are not making the progress that we need to; there’s still more habitat that we’re losing than we are gaining from the restoration work that we’re doing.”

A simple answer would be to suspend, stop, prohibit the loss of any more Puget Sound habitat so that restoration actions effect a net gain. To do that requires leadership, regulatory authority and political backbone. Not more agendas or studies or plans or systems and systems within systems within systems.

If this “new path forward” takes us to stopping the loss of Puget Sound habitat, I cheer Governor Jay and Martha K. If not, it’ll be more of the same so somebody can tell me when it’s ‘game over.’

Where do you think we’re going now?

--Mike Sato


  1. Certainly wish the new council well and hope for good results. It is quite a change-over and the old saw about new groups working .. "Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing" .. will most likely be operative. Having a new leader for the PSP staff also means more time to change any direction or emphasis. So it might not yet be "game over" but it is not much "game on" either.

    One thing I will continue to ask for, and watch for, is simple, clear, and hard-hitting public awareness and education efforts that have a hope of resonating with the different components of the general public and giving them reasons to participate and engage.

    Pollyanna stories about the joys of hiking and molly-coddly approaches to hard issues like herds of cattle congregating within one foot of stream banks won't do that. People in the know mostly roll their eye balls to such actions and the others just think we are mis-guided tree-huggers.


  2. Thanks for the summary, refreshing to get a different, seasoned perspective.

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