Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Future of The Puget Sound

"Return to the Land of the Head Hunters" (Edward Curtis)
“The” Puget Sound. Does reading or hearing that make your skin crawl, your ears ring? How about riding “the” Metro? Go to “the” Husky Stadium to watch the Huskies play? Blame those Californians for polluting the Puget Sound stylebook; they should go back to where they came from. Maybe then we can go back to calling this place "Whulge."

When I edited copy at People For Puget Sound, removing the offending “the” before Puget Sound was a simple line indicating deletion. These days, I hear “the Puget Sound” said every once in a while but I hear all sorts of strange pronunciations and syntax from folks who have moved here and from folks who grew up here. Not being a sensitive-eared native but a local resident for only about 45 years, I guess I’m still trying to fit in with the real Northwestern natives.

Mossback Knute Berger at Crosscut [ Did you just say ‘The’ Puget Sound? ] and KUOW’s Bill Radke [ Stop Calling It 'The' Puget Sound ] seem to be some of the sensitive-eared types living and making pronouncements in Mighty Seattle.

Does it matter? “Puget Sound” and “the Puget Sound” are, for practical purposes, abstractions, a name on a map, a verbal description using one’s hands. I sat through years of focus group discussions listening to participants grapple with describing where Puget Sound is. Folks on the Peninsula live on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Folks in Bellingham live on Bellingham Bay or Rosario Strait. People think of themselves as living on Birch Bay and Budd Inlet, on Hood Canal, on Rich Passage, in Eagle Harbor and, even in Seattle, most likely on Elliott Bay instead of Puget Sound. One woman meekly asked whether she was crossing “Puget Sound” when she went to and from work over the I-90 bridge.

Talk to British Columbia neighbors about the waters of the U.S. Northwest Straits that border their Strait of Georgia and they’ll be quick to point out that those are the Southwest Straits as far as they are concerned. And the folks in the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands? They live surrounded by the Sea of Paradise.

The fact that the Puget Sound and Puget Sound are abstractions has been a challenge and an obstacle faced by folks who worked and are working for the future of Puget Sound: The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the Puget Sound Action Team, the Puget Sound Partnership, People For Puget Sound. The future that people care for is the future that touches them. Our environments are local.

I honestly don’t care if somebody calls it the Puget Sound or Puget Sound as long as they put their mind and their heart and their hands around doing all they can to protect and restore the lands and waters they care for. Judging how people talk is basically off-putting, especially if you think you’re right and others are not. It’s also arrogant to forget that this place had names for its places long before Captain George Vancouver sailed into these waters.

Before Vancouver, this place was called “WulcH,” ( Anglicized to “Whulge” or “Whulj”) from the Lushootseed name. These days, thanks to the efforts of Bert Webber, I like to call the land and the waters of this great place the Salish Sea. And if we’re not all planning to go  back to where we came from, it might deepen our appreciation for living here if we think about living on the flanks and at the feet of Komo Kulshan, Shuksan and Tahoma.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Monster of the Deep

Grant Jones in his skiff (Kaija Jones photo)

Guest blog by Grant Jones

It was early August in 1953 at Richmond Beach. I was rowing out after breakfast on the high tide to drift along the drop off about a half-mile out. I had caught a big English Sole fourteen inches long on a strip of frozen herring. As the tide ebbed out and the farthest-out sandbars came into sunlight, I came up with a plan.

I wanted to find out if there were still big Halibut in Puget Sound. In my fishbox I carried a huge halibut hook four inches on the shank. I tied it securely with a bowline knot onto the loose bight of a twelve-inch spool of thick, waxed handline a thousand feet long. I baited it with the whole body of that big sole, working the hook through the back so its white blind side would be exposed to the sunlight filtering into the deep. I then rowed out over a mile beyond the drop off and played out the handline that coursed through my fingers, drug down by a two-pound lead. It took more than a minute, maybe two, for the weight to pull that big flounder all the way down six‑hundred feet to the bottom below. The tide had turned and was flooding back toward Seattle. I hauled the line in a few feet and quickly dropped it so I could feel the lead bounce along the bottom.

Nothing happened for over an hour as I drifted southward from Point Wells toward Duffy’s Point bouncing that flounder off the sandy channel, six-hundred feet or sixty stories below. Then, almost imperceptively, the line, which had been holding almost straight down, slightly aft from the bow, started to slowly pull between my thumb and forefinger and then play out ahead like a walking dog toward the west. Was I just imagining this?

I let out twenty or thirty feet of slack and tied it off around the front seat, to see if it was just a snag and would hold me suspended in one position, fishtailing me slightly back and forth in the current. Instead the line jerked violently and the skiff veered westward at about three knots, faster than you can walk. Oh, crap!

At six o’clock, after being pulled south in zigzags three miles almost to Jefferson Head, past the Degaussing Station, for two-maybe-three hours, I was getting into the shipping lanes heading for Elliott Bay and would be a threat to navigation. This fish didn’t act like a halibut, didn’t want to head for the beach; it was heading for the deep canyon that reaches 800 feet out in the middle of this great estuarine Puget River. If I wanted to get home that night, I’d have to give up my prize. When I touched my fish knife to the thick, trembling handline, it snapped like a bowstring against my cheek. I noticed that there were two, deep friction grooves in the gunwales of my skiff, one on each side of the bow.

With the severed handline hanging loose in my hands, fear suddenly pressed around me. I started to tremble and the back of my neck felt like burning ice with electric nettles. Had I been experiencing the whole adventure with a friend, this moment would have brought hoots and hollers, but being alone out there was something else, like an all-engulfing prayer, as I fell to my knees out of the wind and felt the warm and fragrant cedar floorboards under my hands to clear my head, as the wind gently rocked the skiff in the riptide.

It was like time had crashed and some huge power of nature held me in its arms. That deep-channel monster fish released me, but in the process became my friend and protector.

It took three hours to row back with the outgoing ebb tide. After dragging the skiff up the beach and over the logs and heaving it on top of the car, I drove the old Falcon station wagon two blocks up the hill to the house and rolled into bed at ten o’clock. It was still light and I couldn’t fall to sleep until after midnight. It was a quarter moon, and its crescent drew a silver line across the Sound out to where I had met my fifteen-foot Sixgill Cowshark, my own real monster of the deep.

Every landscape can surround you if you’re alive to it. It can embrace you with its monstrous spirit, reaching out to both scare and honor you. In my monster fish, I had discovered an earth-mate partner. I would never be the same or even think the same way again about my mission. I hope something like this has happened to you. If it hasn’t, maybe you can go out looking for it. A monster fish like this is your guide to powerful spirits residing in the landscape of the Salish Sea. They can awake your heart. For me, this experience with another being made the land and sea breathe. It made rivers talk and mountains groan. And their heartbeats have been with me forever.

Grant Jones was born a “beach kid,” which means he grew up on the tide flats at Richmond Beach in the North Central Sound Region. This childhood experience helped him become deeply attached to estuaries and rivers of the Salish Sea and to become a landscape poet, environmental designer and steward. He co-founded Jones & Jones in 1970, the award winning architectural and landscape architectural and planning firm, with their first job being to design a conservation plan for the Nooksack River. Now retired, he lives on his farm in the Okanogan Valley of North-Central Washington where he is creating a native plant nursery-arboretum with his wife, Chong-hui.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Would Dr. King Do?

W.F. Woolworth sit-in, 1960
I’m thinking today about the terrible civil disruption black people cause sitting down in all-white lunch counter restaurants and sitting in the front seats of city buses because they wanted to be treated as equals. I’m thinking today of the inconvenience it cause people when folks in Baltimore gathered downtown to protest the death of Freddy Gray because black lives matter and forced a cancellation of an Orioles baseball game. I’m thinking today of First Nations folks occupying where the Site C dam is planned to be built in northern British Columbia because that’s sacred tribal grounds. I’m thinking today of five activist who were convicted last Friday of trespassing because they chained themselves to railroad property protesting coal trains coming through Puget Sound.

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I’m thinking about making a statement in what you believe in with your voice, your body and your heart.

And then I think about guys with big cowboy hats and rifles occupying an Oregon nature reserve because they want federal lands given back to local governments. I think about Americans who set off bombs that killed and crippled people in Oklahoma City and at the Boston Marathon because they believed in some militant cause.  I think about Islamic State militants with guns and suicide belts shooting people and bombing hotels, concert halls, markets, and restaurants because they want religious and political power.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I think about how, if we care, we have causes that we believe in and speak out for, march for, sit in and occupy for. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I think about how we can discuss and  understand and argue about the differences in our beliefs and our causes.  But the line is drawn in discussion when the gun and the bomb are at hand. There is no discussion until the gun and the bomb are put down, there is no legitimacy to a belief or a cause while the gun and the bomb are brandished, there is no justice that comes out of the barrel of a gun.

On MLK Day, we speak out, sit in and march on.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why “Tug Weather" And Tugs?

Jeffrey Foss [Joel Kifer/Marine Traffic]
A reader of the Salish Sea News and Weather news blog this past weekend asked why the news clippings end with report of the “tug weather” forecast for the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To explain: The daily “tug weather” report keeps our focus on one of the most vulnerable places in our Sound and Straits where large vessel mishaps would prove disastrous.




I began including “tug weather” from the mid- to late- ‘90s in the news clips when the citizens’ group People For Puget Sound worked with other environmental groups, elected officials, local governments and treaty tribes to station a rescue tug at Neah Bay to respond to any vessel in distress at the entrance of the Strait and along the coast. What might have seemed to be practical good sense and cheap insurance that would avoid disaster in an area where tug assistance was not readily available for oil tankers and bulk carriers proved to be a 10-plus-year campaign.

Through the efforts of many people we first got a Navy rescue tug temporarily stationed at Neah Bay thanks to the political prowess of Representative Norm Dicks, followed by a rescue tug paid by the state and stationed at Neah Bay during the winter months. But, as activist Doug Scott quipped, “Captain Hazelwood [of the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster] didn’t just drink in the winter,” the goal was to have a rescue tug on duty throughout the year. Today, a rescue tug stands by all year long at Neah Bay and is paid for by the shipping industry.

Worth it? You bet: Last week the tug Jeffrey Foss responded to the bulk carrier MV Gallia Graeca which lost power outbound near the mouth of the Strait and towed the vessel to Victoria [Bulk carrier loses power at entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca; vessel tugged to Victoria].

Cheap insurance? The SeaDoc Society and Swinomish Tribe have documented the risks posed by plans of six projects to make the Salish Sea a coal- and oil-port Mecca [Energy development impacts for the Salish Sea] and the risks of damage to marine resources should a vessel accident occur in Puget Sound and Georgia Strait transboundary waters. Increased vessel traffic calls not only for continued response tug presence at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca but also increased tug response capabilities, spill response equipment and trained responders, and enhanced US/Canada spill coordination in the Haro and Rosario straits waters.

Most improvements in vessel safety and oil spill response have come after a disaster. Sometimes good sense and cheap insurance comes out of strong leadership before a disaster occurs. With the lifting of the ban on exporting US oil to foreign countries, reporter Bob Simmons provided a heartening reminder of how Washington Senator Warren G. Magnuson kept supertankers out of Puget Sound and limited oil refinery expansion-- before a disaster happened [Taunting Maggie’s Ghost].

It takes engaged citizens, political will and leadership to get oil and coal guys and shippers to step up to their responsibilities to care for the commons they do business in and on. I think about that every morning when I scan and post the day’s “tug weather” forecast. Hope you will, too.

--Mike Sato