Monday, March 19, 2018

Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth

The first Billy Frank Jr. Pacific Salmon Summit was convened on Monday, March 19, at Tulalip Resort Casino. The following lunch time address was given by Kathy Fletcher:

Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth
By Kathy Fletcher

I’m honored to be here today. Thank you, Salmon Defense, President Sharp, distinguished elders, leaders, speakers and participants. And thank you to the Tulalip Tribes and the other sponsors for hosting this gathering.

 Let me also thank Billy for being my friend and inspiration for many years. I know I am not alone in saying how much I miss him. It makes me happy to see so many people committed to carrying on his legacy. Thank you for all that you do for our Sound and our salmon.

 I think one of the reasons I was invited here is that I’ve been around long enough to know where we’ve come from in this long battle to save our Sound and our salmon, but since I’m retired, I’m also able to say whatever I want, so you’ll get my unvarnished thoughts.

 Puget Sound is one of the wonders of the world—blessed with awesome beauty; literally thousands of amazing creatures from orcas to nudibranchs; glaciers, rivers, estuaries; and yes…salmon.  Signs of trouble in this paradise didn’t suddenly appear in the 1980s. Indeed, most of the forests had been stripped a hundred years earlier. The huge and abundant salmon were overfished even then. Dams, pulp mills, fossil fuels, shipbuilding, airplane building, urbanization, leaded gasoline and human sewage have all left their mark over the years.

 But even in the 1970s, when tribal fishing rights were affirmed, most people were more focused on how to share the fish, not so much whether there were going to be fish to share.

 In the 1980s some people began to ask, how healthy is our Sound? Deformed and diseased bottomfish were found in our highly contaminated urban bays. Shellfish harvesting was restricted to fewer and fewer clean locations. People were questioning the conventional wisdom that sewage from outfalls into the Sound was magically “flushed” out to sea. Remember the cleanup of Lake Washington in the 1960s? That “miracle” was accomplished by gathering all the sewage and piping it over to the Sound.

 The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority was set up as an advisory body by the legislature and Governor John Spellman in 1983. It was charged with taking a look at the condition of Puget Sound and making appropriate recommendations. After a year of intense work, the Authority said that because of the many jurisdictions and levels of government and the complexity of the Puget Sound ecosystem, somebody needed to develop and implement a comprehensive management plan. In 1985, the next governor, Booth Gardner, and the legislature transformed the Puget Sound Authority into a state agency with tight deadlines—to come up with a management plan in less than two years. The plan would be the roadmap to restoring Puget Sound’s health by the year 2020. Hard to believe, but that was 33 years ago!

 The 1986 plan was based on a credible and informative State of the Sound Report, a dozen or so in-depth “issue papers” on topics ranging from oil spills to non-point source pollution, and extensive involvement of tribal, state, federal and local governments; businesses; environmental organizations; and the general public.

 At the time, it was felt that Puget Sound was still an amazingly productive ecosystem, but past damage like toxic sediment contamination was in urgent need of cleanup, and many threats loomed on the horizon. The plan called for many regulatory and investment actions to protect and restore habitat, to stop pollution, and to manage land use and transportation, especially in view of stunning population growth projections. Well-received, it was a comprehensive attempt to say what needed to be done, by whom and by when.

 When I say “well-received,” I mean that it was acknowledged to be a good plan. However, when it came to actually doing what it called for—that’s another story. Many business interests and politicians assumed that the report would join the many others on the proverbial shelf. The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority would hold meetings and do a lot more talking, and life would go on as usual. When the Authority made life uncomfortable by actually insisting that actions be taken, the answer was not to get serious about getting the job done, but rather to reorganize, tame and rename the Authority.

 In case you missed any of the bureaucratic shuffles along the way—a simplified version is: the Authority became the Action Team, and the Action Team became the Partnership. Not surprisingly, each new iteration came with new cycles of relocating, re-staffing, blue ribbon commissions, advisory committees, public hearings, comment periods, studying and re-studying, planning and re-planning. But none of these do-overs resulted in materially different conclusions about what needs to be done to save the Sound.

 One of the criticisms of the original Puget Sound Plan was that it was too comprehensive, too much, too many laundry lists, not enough sense of priorities. That sentiment led to the oft-quoted desire to pick the “low-hanging fruit,” or to implement “early actions.”

 As the years have unfolded, fragmentary, voluntary actions have largely substituted for systematic implementation of the plan.  Many positive actions have been undertaken, some of which are truly remarkable. But the long and short of it is that there has been no overall accountability for the original goal—a healthy Puget Sound.

 The Puget Sound Partnership dutifully reports from time to time that we are falling short. Sobering milestones along the way have included the official endangered species listings of salmon and the orcas that eat them. I remember well Governor Locke’s statement in the year 2000 regarding the salmon listings, “extinction is not an option.” Now, our wild salmon, especially Chinook, are close to being museum pieces. And last year, the goal of a healthy Sound by 2020 was abandoned.

 In addition to having a plan to protect and restore Puget Sound, the salmon listings spawned restoration plans for each river system. These plans have in turn led to many positive steps, especially regarding protection and restoration of riparian and estuary habitat. But again, no overall accountability for the goal of actual salmon recovery.

 As we all know, the scale of population growth, land development, pavement, toxic chemicals, plastics, and fossil fuel-based transportation have dwarfed the scale of restoration, with no end in sight, except perhaps the end of salmon.

 Tribes have been absolutely essential to the progress we have made thus far. The tribes are to be thanked for using the Boldt I and II and Raffidi decisions to go beyond catch management into water quality and habitat. Counter-productively, the state has fought the tribes, dating of course back to the Boldt case, and more recently on the issue of removing culverts and in muddling the Hirst case concerning groundwater withdrawals.

 An encouraging development along the way has been the evolving consciousness that Puget Sound is part of the Salish Sea, encompassing the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the waters surrounding the San Juan and Gulf Islands, as well as Puget Sound. Cross-border conversations about our shared waters began in the 1980s, and have become routine, as evidenced by biennial conferences, the next one coming up in Seattle in just a couple of weeks. Transborder collaboration has particularly underscored the importance of using science to inform policy.

 Salmon, orcas and the ever-present risk of oil spills remind us every day that what happens on one side of the border happens to us all. The biggest new threat from the Canadian side is the proposed tripling of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline’s capacity, which would dramatically increase oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea.

 As hard as it might have seemed, installing sewage treatment was the easy part of "saving" Puget Sound. There was federal funding and state cigarette tax money and it pretty much got done.

 But we've never really had the stomach to take on toxic pollution and habitat loss. Those two problems were deemed essentially irreversible by the prestigious 1994 Washington/British Columbia transboundary science panel. Yet the state’s water quality permit program—under the so-called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination requirement of federal law—has never significantly ratcheted down on toxic discharges. This, despite convincing and alarming research results by federal scientists Drs. Don Malins and Usha Varanasi and their colleagues, who as far back as the 1980s documented the effects on the food chain of toxic contaminants in the sediments. This, despite explicit provisions in the 1986 Puget Sound plan.

 Some big sediment cleanups got done, many with habitat restoration—like most of Commencement Bay—but it’s been 30 years after the state clean-up law and nearly 40 years after federal Superfund. Every urban bay should have been cleaned up by now. And we’re adding more toxics every day.

 One of the leading culprits in toxic contamination is stormwater runoff. There has been much talk and quite a bit of action to address this, but look around you almost anywhere in the Puget Sound Basin. There’s more pavement carrying more cars than ever before, a lot less vegetation, and clearly inadequate land-use standards to control runoff—either its quantity or its quality.

 And habitat loss? Lost habitat is usually lost forever. Recovering habitat is expensive and the opportunities are limited. Removing the Elwha dams and re-flooding in the Nisqually and Snohomish River deltas are wonderful success stories. But how many more places in Puget Sound can this be done? The goal of “no net loss” of critical nearshore habitat can't be met when the state Department of Fish and Wildlife can't even enforce its hydraulics permit program. If we don't protect shorelines where forage fish spawn and juvenile Chinook rear, if we don't open streams and creeks to spawning habitats blocked by culverts, if we take more water out of streams to satisfy homeowners and farmers, then we simply can’t restore native salmon.

 Remember the mantra of the four "H's?" Hatcheries, hydro, harvest and habitat as the factors limiting wild salmon recovery?  How many of those limiting factors continue to limit recovery?

 Although there is still talk of taking “early actions” and picking “low-hanging fruit,” it is obvious that the hour is now late, and that even the hardest fruit to reach is critical to Puget Sound health and salmon recovery.

 To bring in a metaphor from a different ecosystem entirely, the biggest elephant in the room is our changing climate. Most of our planning has taken place without accounting for increasing temperatures, more intense storms, more rain, less snow, more prolonged droughts, rising sea levels and ocean acidification.

 So now what?

 Let me ask you, how do we reconcile giving up on the goal of a healthy Puget Sound by 2020 without doing everything in our power to do the things that could make that a reality, if not in 2020, then on a new, urgent timetable?

 We know what to do. Actually we have known what to do for decades. But we have failed to garner the political will to make it happen. We have fallen into “do loops” of planning and studying. Studies and plans are important and needed, but not as a substitute for solving the problems they illuminate and taking the actions they recommend.

 An “authority” with no real authority; an “action team” with little “action”; a “partnership” that has squandered resources and social and political capital. We’ve accomplished a lot and are doing a lot more for salmon and the Sound, but we need to face the fact that while we’ve slowed the rate of decline, we’re not getting where we need to go. In a word, we are failing.

 Through all these years, public comments have been utterly consistent, indeed repetitive: 1) stop talking so much and take action; 2) adequately fund what needs to be done; 3) enforce existing laws; 4) use local knowledge and resources; and 5) don't create more government layers. Instead, we’ve gotten more plans and studies and process upon process.

 How many meetings have we all attended, where some holy grail of the ever better ecosystem indicators, the ever more detailed risk analysis, or the ever more complete study, has been discussed ad nauseam, while the pollution, the habitat destruction and the climate change continued apace?

 Now we face climate change largely outside our region’s control; ocean acidification that will change the fundamentals of our ocean chemistry; and the possible extinction of Southern Resident killer whales dependent on the same Chinook we have failed to recover.

 Insufficient funding for Puget Sound recovery has plagued the effort from the beginning. But it’s a little too easy to start and stop with this problem to explain where we are today. Inadequate funding is just another way of saying lack of political will. And funding has never just been an issue of how big a check will come from the state or the feds. There are many pieces to the funding issue—direct government funding for sure, both to support the staff necessary to make things happen, and to pay for on-the-ground actions like habitat restoration; requirements for private expenditures to clean up and prevent pollution; rate-based funding for sewage and stormwater to spread the responsibilities to all of us; and charitable donations as well.

 And think about the fact that strict enforcement of our environmental laws doesn’t cost more than lengthy negotiations and compromises with polluters. It’s not all about money. It’s about the will.

 Nobody said it would be easy to restore the Sound and bring back our salmon. Think about the following list of actions:

 -No more shoreline hardening or other damage

-Anticipate sea-level rise by creating natural buffers at the water’s edge

-Stop withdrawals of groundwater affecting salmon streams

-Remove the dams and culverts blocking streams and spawning habits

-Put a moratorium on Chinook harvest

-Ban farming of Atlantic salmon—oh wait, we did that!

-Stop the flow of persistent toxic chemicals

-Complete the cleanup of Puget Sound’s toxic sediments

-Drastically reduce run-off from land and infrastructure development

-Stringently regulate vegetation removal, including forest practices

It’s important to keep the focus on restoring a self-sustaining ecosystem, so I would caution against relying on hatcheries. Just as hatcheries were once seen as the answer to dams, and fish farms the answer to extinction, relying on hatcheries now could end up excusing a lack of action on the more difficult challenges.

 So which actions will we agree to take to achieve restoration of native salmon and Puget Sound?  Can we tackle the big underlying challenges of reducing our human footprint on the land, of ending our dependence on fossil fuels and plastics, and of closing the cycle on waste of all forms?  We are way beyond being able to reach only for the low-hanging fruit.

 Exactly one day after I was born 68 years ago, the Seattle PI ran an editorial called “A Good Start.” They were applauding a move by the state pollution control commission to require four major pulp mills to install sulfite waste controls, in order to preserve Puget Sound salmon.  The PI had run a series of articles a few months earlier on what it called “the alarming depletion of one of the most important of the state’s natural resources” (that is, salmon). The 1950 editorial concludes by saying, “If the same spirit is shown by all the other interests involved, it is safe to predict that eventually every obstacle will be overcome and our priceless salmon will be preserved for both the pleasure and profit of posterity.”

 They didn’t say when “eventually” might be—I’m sure no one imagined it could later than 2020—and it’s pretty clear that the “spirit” hasn’t yet been shown by all the other interests involved.

 And yet, in spite of it all, I still think it’s possible to save Puget Sound—its salmon, its orcas, its biodiversity, and yes, its people. Let’s not be overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the task. Let’s be clear-eyed and frank about what’s right and what’s wrong for the Sound and for the salmon.

 When sustainability first became a “thing” in the 1980s, the UN set up a commission chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Their 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Turning that definition into action, the idea is to ask at every decision point, does this help or hurt? Does it move in the right or the wrong direction? If it moves in the right direction—ok—but if it moves the other way, don’t do it! It’s kind of the environmental version of the question, what would Jesus do?

 Let’s take inspiration from the salmon themselves—their innate abilities to explore, populate and thrive. Remember that they came here as the glaciers receded, looking for a place that could meet their needs, and in turn, they contributed to our amazing forest and water ecosystems. If given half a chance, they will survive and thrive again. If only we humans give them that chance.

 Thank you.

[Kathy Fletcher served as chair of the state’s Puget Sound Water Quality Authority and was the founder and executive director of People For Puget Sound. She currently serves on the board of the Georgia Strait Alliance.]

Friday, March 16, 2018

Can the Endangered Orca Whale Save the Sound?

Southern Resident killer whales [Molly Fearnbach/NOAA]
Washington governor Jay Inslee this week directed state agencies to get serious about orca whale recovery and declared that, “The destiny of salmon and orca and we humans are intertwined... As the orca go, so go we." ["New Washington directive aims to help endangered orcas"] 

The problem-- as we’ve known for years-- is the precipitous decline of the Southern Resident killer whale population now at 76 whales and the equally precipitous decline of Chinook salmon, the primary prey of these whales.

The “we,” of course, are us humans who have in large part brought these two iconic species to the brink of extinction with our human activities over the last hundred years. What do “we” have to do— if we choose to bring the killer whale and Chinook salmon populations back to health?

There’s been lots of talk and various actions taken since then-governor Gary Locke in 2000 declared that “extinction was not an option” for Chinook salmon. The results, however, over the years have been less than stellar. On Monday I’m sure there will be a full venting of the plight of the salmon at the First Annual Billy Frank Jr. Pacific Salmon Summit.

For the new focus on orca recovery, the governor is forming a task force and has given short deadlines for agencies to report on what is being done and what more can be done to increase the availability of Chinook salmon for whales, to reduce vessel traffic noise and to reduce toxic chemical uptake by Chinook and by the whales. [the list of specific directives is found below]

The priorities of more prey, quieter waters (to allow better echolocation of prey by the whales) and less toxins comes from research over the years, the most recent being the October 2017 study, “Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans” by Robert C. Lacy et al.

Reporter Lynda Mapes in a Seattle Times article on the study wrote: “A clear finding emerged: lack of food, specifically chinook salmon, was the orcas’ biggest threat to long-term survival, so much so that a 30 percent increase in chinook above average levels is needed to recover the orca population. That increase could be cut to 15 percent if vessel noise also is reduced by half. Otherwise, the populations will continue to decline and there is a 25 percent chance the whales will be lost within 100 years, the scientists found.” [" Orcas headed to extinction unless we get them more chinook and quieter waters, report says"]

I don’t know how much vessel noise currently exists in the habitat of the killer whales but I know that more petroleum-carrying large vessels are proposed to ply their waters in the years to come.

I also don’t know what the current population of Chinook salmon is but a 30 percent increase above average levels certainly seems like a big challenge. The study itself puts it another way: "Chinook abundance would have to be sustained near the highest level since the 1970s." Wow!

Increased numbers of Chinook and reduced vessel noise provide benchmarks to measure our progress. The state of late hasn’t made much progress in meeting its Puget Sound recovery goals but here’s another chance— with a renewed sense of urgency-- to get it right. Of course, the most meaningful result would be more whales born and flourishing. But, in any case, more Chinook salmon wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

--Mike Sato

In his executive order, Governor Inslee’s states:

  •    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) with review from the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office (GSRO) and the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) —By July 31, 2018, identify the highest priority areas and watersheds for Southern Resident prey in order to focus or adjust, as needed, restoration, protection, incentives, hatcheries, harvest levels, and passage policies and programs.
  •    WDFW and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WSPRC) —By April 30, 2018, develop implementation plans for increased enforcement, outreach and education of vessel regulations as well as enforcement of Chinook fisheries regulations in areas frequented by orcas.
  •    Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)—By April 30, 2018, create a curriculum to improve and increase the number of trainings for vessels in the whale watching industry to become “vessels of opportunity” to assist in the event of an oil spill.
  •    Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) —By May 31, 2018, develop strategies for quieting state ferries in areas most important to Southern Residents.
  •    WDFW —By April 30, 2018, review and amend, as needed, 2018 recreational and commercial fishing regulations prioritizing protection of key areas and fish runs for Southern Resident recovery. I will also ask our tribal co-managers, and international and federal fisheries managers to work directly with WDFW and its Commission in developing recommendations for implementing this action.
  •    WDFW—By April 30, 2018, explore options and develop a proposal to alter fish food used in state hatcheries to limit the amount of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Southern Resident prey.
  •    PSP, WDFW, GSRO —By December 15, 2018, demonstrate how Chinook recovery projects benefit Southern Resident recovery, beginning in the 2018 grant round, for the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, the Estuary and Salmon Restoration program and the Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative.
  •    PSP, WDFW, GSRO, WSPRC, Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) — By July 1, 2018, prioritize existing outreach resources to support Southern Resident recovery. Collaborate with the Governor’s Office to develop a public education program and identify needed resources.
  •    Ecology — By July 31, 2018, develop criteria to prioritize financial assistance beginning in the 2019-21 biennium for storm water projects that benefit Southern Resident recovery.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Little White Lies and Big Black Lies

The tag line of Salish Sea Communications is “Truth Well Told.” Unlike with the President and his cohorts, you will find here neither little white lies nor big black lies. If truth is the currency of communications, of what value is the current administration’s communication?

Having done communications work for decades, I’ve wondered how Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks could go to work every morning to aid and abet the lies told by their boss, the President. Maybe Trump believes what he says, like Hitler believing what he believed, so he’s right and truthful in his own beliefs? That’s subjective and juvenile sophistry perhaps but these communications professionals are smart people who know truth from lies. How much rationalization does it take to have the privilege to stand next to the seat of power and what price is worth paying for the loss of self-respect?

This week Hope Hicks resigned from the Trump inner circle, admitting to telling little white lies for the President. It’s not the little white lies that are shameful; it’s the big black lies she has aided and abetted from her position in the inner circle that are reprehensible. David Remnick writes in The New Yorker, “Hope Hicks is kidding herself if she thinks that her tenure in the Trump White House will be judged only for harmless, situational untruths.” [“Hope Against Hope] Maybe Hope Hicks just couldn’t stand herself any more having to strategize lies in the name of Trump. Then again, what is the truth worth in a self-serving memoir to come?

The whole circus of Trump and his collaborators is rife with people caught lying or, if not lying, not telling the truth like when the detective in the mystery says, “No, pet, she’s not lying. She just not telling us the whole story.” There is a myriad of political and personal reasons to lie or to not tell the truth. Braggarts and bullies lie, spies lie, cheating lovers lie, bosses and workers lie, maybe lying is a habit, maybe one lie leads to another, maybe lies make the truth meaningless.

I hope not. Because if truth is the currency of communication, then trust is its equity. If you lie to me, I cannot trust you or what you say. Sadly, that’s where we’ve been taken to by the President, smart people like Hope Hicks and willing collaborators of a self-serving regime.

--Mike Sato

If you find the piece above a bit dark for you taste, lighten up with Andy Borowitz’ satire in The New Yorker: ‘Sarah Huckabee Sanders Organizing “Million Liars March” to Support Hope Hicks’