Monday, January 16, 2017

Oil v. Orca

Guest blog by Shaun Hubbard

The San Juan Islands, smack-dab in the middle of the Salish Sea, attract thousands and thousands of summer visitors – the two-legged kind. One of the main reasons they choose to visit the islands is to see our other summer visitors – the finned kind. The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), or orca whales, do not show up in the thousands however, but are fewer than 80 in number and, with the 7 reported dead or missing last year, are declining still.

In 2005, NOAA determined the SRKW to be in danger of extinction, and so added them to the Endangered Species List . The critical habitat legally designated under the Endangered Species Act for the SRKW is the Salish Sea, which reaches north across the Canadian border to Georgia Strait, south into Puget Sound, and west to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By definition, what makes the Salish Sea a habitat critical to the SRKW is that it “contains features essential for their conservation” and that it “may require special management and protection”. From San Juan Islanders’, and the orcas’, points of view there is no “may” about it.

Threats to the essential features of the Salish Sea, and therefore the whales, abound. One of the biggest threats is the recently approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. This pipeline will transport Alberta tar sands crude oil (particularly heavy, toxic oil also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit”) to Vancouver BC where it will be loaded onto tankers. As approved, 348 more tankers per year will travel the west side of our islands on their way to US, and potentially Asian, refineries. Many Canadians are advocating for rerouting the pipeline to a Washington State refinery, which would export the tar sands through Rosario Strait, along our eastern and southern shores. Either way, the islands – and the orcas – are surrounded.

Ship noise pollution hinders the whales’ search for food. Ship strikes happen and may have been the cause of death for J34, a member of the J-pod found dead in Canadian waters on December 20. Oil spills of any size and form – be it a container ship’s propulsion fuel, or an oil tanker’s cargo – will decimate the whales’ food supply and our islands’ tourist economy because oil spill “cleanup” is impossible.

Of all the new and proposed terminal projects in the Salish Sea, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion would cause the greatest oil spill risk: a 9-fold (800%) increase of a 20,000 barrel or larger spill over the next ten years in Haro Strait/Boundary Pass.

It wouldn’t take much of an oil spill to push the orcas over the brink or to devastate our islands’ economy and way of life, which is dependent on a healthy marine environment and unspoiled natural resources.

The San Juans aren’t the only community that would be negatively affected by the increase in shipping traffic due to this project. Imagine every city, town or village on or near the Salish Sea that relies on the marine environment for its livelihood. Imagine every company or community that identifies with the sea, and the orca in particular, and perhaps even uses the orca as its namesake, logo, or welcome sign. Now imagine every orca logo being replaced by a tanker logo.

If you live, work or play on or near the Salish Sea, if you have ever been a visitor to the islands (or longed to be), if you care about the future of the Sea and its inhabitants – two-legged, finned, or otherwise – and if it’s important to you to prevent any additional hazards to these inhabitants, then please write to Governor Inslee and our US Senators Cantwell and Murray and tell them.

Islanders and island-lovers need to urge our governor and representatives to engage with the Canadian government. We need to tell Canada that this project is not in our state’s or our country’s best interest. We need to remind them that oil spills know no borders.

Please write and urge them to enact strong legislation that will protect our waters from the threats that this pipeline and other such projects will bring to the Salish Sea – unless we want it to be known as a highway for tankers instead of a healthy home for orcas.

For more information on increased shipping in the Salish Sea, please visit the safe shipping page on the Friends of the San Juans’ website.

Shaun Hubbard

Shaun Hubbard is a 5th-generation San Juan Islander and co-founder of San Juan Islanders for Safe Shipping, a grassroots educational outreach and advocacy group in the San Juan Islands focused on shipping safety and oil spill prevention.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Us vs Me, We vs I — Farewell Obama, Hello Trump

[USA Today]
 Tuesday night I listened to President Obama’s farewell speech and Wednesday morning I listened to president-elect Trump’s news conference. I was sad listening to my president say good-bye and angry listening to the president-elect spout off but aside from policy differences in the speech and the news conference, what struck me was the shift from “We can do it” to “I can do it.”

The President looked back to his early days as a community organizer and how he “learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”

And: “After eight years as your president, I still believe that.  And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.”

In closing: “I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.... Yes We Can. Yes We Did. Yes We Can.”  [Full transcript of President Obama's farewell speech]

Maybe you would dismiss all that as pretty rhetoric but it was hard not to be struck by the vulgarity of the next morning’s news conference.

By contrast, president-elect Trump was boisterously selling his Trump brand throughout his news conference, pledging what he was going to do, who he liked (his people, ‘brilliant’) and who he didn’t like (the ‘fake’ news media, intelligence agency leakers, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schummer). With president-elect Trump it’s all about Trump and the American people will get what he’s promised because Trump and ‘his people’ are successful people and they are successful because they are smart. [Full transcript of Trump press conference]

After I watched President Obama’s speech, I wondered whether he had expected too much of us citizens, asked too much for our engagement in the civil process of self-government. A thoughtful friend also pondered: “I fear we are a nation of greedy people, and that is the most depressing. You are right, he asks more than the country is made up of. Maybe the next generation? We keep talking about what went wrong - maybe that declaration of independence was taken too literally and people are too independent and not enough dependent on each other.”

But after I listen to the bully braggart who promises he will “Make America Great Again,” I wondered what my part would be in his America. Where would teamwork and inclusiveness and diversity and cooperation be welcomed and not looked upon as impediments to the success of those in power? If what President Obama asked of us citizens was too hard, then maybe folks would just rather sit back and let Trump and his cronies turn the United States of America into Trump America?

I doubt it. Not without our say-so. Our America. We the people. We can. We will.

Thank you, President Obama.

--Mike Sato

Monday, January 9, 2017

Are You Willing to Work 150 Years For Salmon Recovery?

from State of Salmon 2016
In 1998, Washington Governor Gary Locke declared, regarding Puget Sound Chinook salmon, “extinction is not an option.” The recent State of Salmon 2016 summary issued by the state says, “It took more than 150 years to bring salmon to the brink of extinction; it may take just as long to bring them all the way back.” And it’s gotten worse for Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead over the last 15 years. Keep working?

Before answering that question, take a look at the summary report on the progress of salmon recovery efforts and read Kimberly Cauvel’s account in the Skagit Valley Herald, “State: More work needed to save the salmon.”

According to the state report, $516.55 million has been spent on Puget Sound salmon recovery (out of $883.95 million total statewide, 1997-2015).

According to the report, the condition of Endangered Species Act-listed Puget Sound Chinook and steelhead is getting worse. Major barriers to salmon recovery in Puget Sound come from rapid population growth and development: Shoreline armoring, water quality, stormwater, in-stream flows, impervious surfaces, loss of forest cover, fish passage barriers, and development in floodplains and estuaries. Put bluntly, “There is a clear need for increased habitat protection for salmon in Puget Sound.”

But we’ve known for years that it is habitats for salmon and salmon-prey spawning and rearing that are major limiting factors in salmon recovery.

According to a provocatively argued paper now in publication by Robert T. Lackey at the Oregon State University Fisheries and Wildlife Department, salmon recovery is not a matter of science but one of policy and politics.

“Efforts to restore declining wild salmon runs in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have evolved into a “salmon recovery industry” with multiple local, state, and federal government bureaucracies and the associated contractors. Overall, the recovery industry employs thousands of scientists and other technical experts. Over many years and after hundreds of millions of dollars spent for scientific research, salmon are arguably the most studied group of fishes in the world. The vast bureaucracy and massive quantity of science have, however, failed to reverse the long-term decline of wild salmon.

“Successful wild salmon recovery, if it ever occurs, rests squarely in the realm of the political process. Despite well over a century of failure to recover wild salmon, however, many in the salmon recovery industry insist that science continue to play a privileged, even dominant role in helping to decipher and decide key elements of this highly contested, complex, policy problem. The preference for science appears to be supported by both traditionally Democratic and traditionally Republican constituencies; in short, policy advocates from all parts of the political spectrum usually champion science as a critical or determining factor in policy decisions.”  [Science and salmon recovery. In: Sc
ience and Problem Solving Under Post-Normal Conditions: From Complex Problems to New Problem Solving Strategies, Edward P. Weber, Denise H. Lach, and Brent S. Steel, editors, Oregon State Press, Corvallis, Oregon.[In Press] ]

For salmon recovery to be successful, Lackey argues that the inadequacies of using a normal science approach to salmon decline need to be overcome:

Salmon Policy Lesson 1 — Efforts of recovery wild salmon will continue to struggle because of conflicting policy priorities and the constraints of the ESA’s approach to species protection.

Salmon Policy Lesson 2 — Current institutional and political dynamics limit our ability to deal effectively with salmon recovery.

Salmon Policy Lesson 3 — Market incentives and the rules of commerce tend to work against increasing wild salmon numbers.

Salmon Policy Lesson 4 — Competition for critical natural resources, especially for water, will continue to increase and will work against recovering wild salmon.

Salmon Policy Lesson 5 — Dramatic increases in the human population of the Pacific Northwest will work against wild salmon recovery.

Salmon Policy Lesson 6 — Individual and collective life-style preferences are important and substantial changes must take place in these preferences if long-term downward trends in wild salmon abundance are to be reversed.

He concludes: “To succeed, a wild salmon recovery strategy must change the trajectory of the major policy drivers or that strategy will fail. If society only continues to spend billions of dollars in quick-fix efforts to restore wild salmon runs, then in most cases these efforts will be only marginally successful... In the opinion of this author, the billions spent on salmon recovery might be considered “guilt money” — modern-day indulgences — a tax society and individuals willingly bear to alleviate their collective and individual remorse. It is money spent on activities not likely to achieve recovery of wild salmon, but it helps people feel better as they continue the behaviors and choices that preclude the recovery of wild salmon. It also sustains a job program for scientists and other technocrats by funding the salmon recovery industry.”

What do you think? Keep working? Work smarter, work tougher? Let me know.

--Mike Sato