Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Salish Sea Protection and Improvement: Cases for Patience … And a Little Optimism

Pete Haase (Skagit Valley Herald)
Guest blog by Pete Haase

I read the recent State of the Sound report produced by the Puget Sound Partnership and I was conflicted.  There is a lot of so-so news, too much not-so-good news, and not much good news. There are a lot of pretty pictures.  It is especially troublesome to read that so much money has been spent and that so many of the “Action Items” are finished or at least going well but the “Indicators of Success” are pretty well stuck.  As you might expect, by diving into the Action Agenda from 2012 and 2014, you will find far too many of the Action Items involved studies, meetings, reports, and organizing-- with only a few being of the “fix things” sort.

But I think there are reasons for hope and here are a few:

First, the 2016 version of the Action Agenda will be focused on strategic activities (both “on the ground” and “in the water”) that are expected to directly impact the indicators of success.  That need has been clearly understood by the Partnership.  There are many more actions in work around the greater “Puget Sound” that will be good for the future yet are outside the funding scope and/or direct purview of the Puget Sound Partnership.  Some are in Canada and others are small, local actions with no avenue or interest for inclusion in the grand Action Agenda. Some not-so-small campaigns (such as the relatively grass-roots resistances to coal and oil and increased vessel traffic) don’t even have a place at the Puget Sound Partnership table, yet have massive public participation and direct impact on both sea level rise and ocean acidification.

Here is another reason for hope:

 “Something fishy: AmeriCorps crews work with DNR” is a video that highlights work done by the small group of Washington Conservation Corp (WCC) youth with the Department of Natural Resources Aquatics Reserves program.  Regardless of the positive impact of the work, imagine what these folks will keep bringing to the table for the rest of their lives – and the influence they can have for a better environment.  Then think of all the other AmeriCorps youth (WCC is an AmeriCorps program) we have working in the environment throughout the greater Puget Sound – there are maybe a dozen or more here in Skagit County where I live.  We’ve all known some – maybe many – of these amazingly capable youth, and we get a new batch every year.  All these enthused folks with experience and first-hand knowledge about how to make it all better over time will be a force to be reckoned with and many probably already are as they have dispersed far and wide.  Programs like this were not in place 35 years ago when big damage was happening to our lands and waters.

And another reason:

Recently I helped our local Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group work with a large group of 8th graders during a day of “see-and-learn” visits throughout their local watershed. They had lots of hands-on water sampling and dabbling in topics like wetlands, nearshores, beaches and human impacts.  This event is part of a year-long program for these kids (and for several other schools in the area as well) to get in-depth exposure to their unique outdoor environment and to experience it.  Here’s another program that was not in place for our last generations, and one that is bound to help equip these folks to make better choices and policy about their environment.  We are pretty sure they already have had a bit of a positive effect on their parents, neighbors and families.

And finally:

Here in the northern counties of the greater Puget Sound we are fortunate to have the Northwest Straits Initiative and the seven County Marine Resources Committees that the Initiative supports.  Recently the whole group had their day-and-a-half annual conference in Bellingham with about130 people attending.  Besides the variety and impact of the various projects and activities showcased by these folks, it was striking also to see the almost equal distribution of male and female and likewise “young” and “old."  This is not a “dying” operation!

So, yes, it will take more money and more time and more effort – but we have done well at preparing and activating a youthful bunch that will easily multiply the efforts of the recent past.  Give them time and a chance.

[Pete Haase is an energetic environmental volunteer in Skagit County.  He likes being in the field with teams, doing things that he hopes will make a difference.  Much of what he does is citizen science.  Pete also likes engaging the public, helping them appreciate volunteer efforts and getting them to add their voices in support of protection and restoration. Pete has been named by RE Sources as a 2015 environmental hero.]

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