Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Salish Sea Stories We Tell

This year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference opened with many stories — tribal stories and stories told by Dow Constantine, Sally Jewell and Jay Inslee— stories of a what makes these lands and waters special and why they need to be protected and restored.

We do this call for sharing and action every two years alternating between Vancouver and Seattle to underscore the transboundary nature of our mutual interests and challenges. It’s a good opportunity to catch up on highlights of recent scientific research and to meet and greet old friends and fellow travelers.

I’ve been coming to this conference in its various and evolving formats over the years and it’s heartening to see the growing role of treaty tribes at the conference. They opened the conference with song and called forth witnesses. Chairman Leonard Forsman of Suquamish welcomed the participants. They are participants in the various forums on resources and management. They are, after all, independent nations within the Salish Sea, and the Washington treaty tribes are full co-managers of the resources.

This year the plight of resident killer whales was the urgent call to action. But the whales need endangered chinook and the chinook need spawning and rearing grounds and forage fish prey. The future and plight of the whale are the future and plight of the Salish Sea.

My colleague who is not attending these conferences any more but retired and taking pictures and working in her garden congratulated me for making another foray into the issues. She said she’s too impatient to go to these things any more.

It does try one’s patience to know what the tasks are before us and to hear at the “How Do We Pay For It?” session that the funding gap between what we are doing and what need to do is a vast 73 percent. And it’s hard to know by results whether the quarter of the things we are doing and paying for are getting the biggest bang for the buck.

But one colleague said to me that he sees the opportunity of the 2017 midterm state election as the return to a “golden age” of Puget Sound action with changes in the legislature and the leadership of the governor. That’s heartening. Get out the vote.

Will science inform policy and politics? Another colleague who has been to these conferences since its inception found hope in the abstracts of presentations written by scientists. They’re not there yet, she said, but they are getting close. That’s heartening. Speak out.

The last presentation I heard detailed how rockfish have populated the area around the new Brightwater sewer treatment pipes discharging off Point Wells in Puget Sound. So, if you build it, they will come. I’d rather not have to build underwater structures but I’m heartened to know, if our cities along the shore were inundated in the future, they will provide habitat for our fish and invertebrates.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Showers Bring Flowers—And A Lot More

By Sidd Finch

Hi everybody.  I’m kind of new to the area but I have been hanging out now for several months with some “interesting” folks and they bamboozled me into this caper I must recount for you.

First, I hail from the East Coast and have some years under my belt.  I have always been a “woo woo” sort of guy with mysticism, meditation, French horn music, odd philosophy, yoga, Eastern medicine and Whole Foods high on my activity list.  A long ago I had brief stint with professional baseball but it was not to my liking or makeup.  I came out here awhile back to see what the big attraction is. I like it all.  It is good for me.

Early on in my time here in the beautiful Northwest I got a bit disturbed about water pollution and made a couple of comments in some “sort of public” meetings.  It seemed like a lot of money was being spent to clean up pollution in a local river so that a Shellfish Company could prosper, but with little progress over several years.  The next thing I know I am invited to sit around a restaurant table with 4 other similarly pollution-disturbed folks eating oatmeal and cinnamon rolls, bemoaning the problems and recounting old adventures.

Some of the old adventures were about the pollution, but some were just talk.  One guy was telling how he and some grandchildren sometimes buy grapefruits and decorate them with Sharpies.  When the Samish River flows high they throw them off a bridge and then hustle down to the next bridge to see which one shows up first.  Some get there, some don’t.  Another guy says not to stick your finger in that water then – you might get really sick.  I was aware that it is that Samish River pollution that so much fuss was about.

About now the more distinguished-looking, quieter one says that he has a hot tub and uses this plastic blue ball thing with a chlorine dispenser in it to float around and kill the germs.  He says it is just the size of a grapefruit.  First the lights of humor come on – “Wouldn’t that be funny if such a thing could float along and decontaminate the river?”  Then came the shades of mischief – “If we could get a ‘citizens’ grant to ‘Help Clean the River’ we could buy a bunch of these things and …… Hey!  It can’t be odder than a poop-sensing dog.”

It is probably good that cooler heads prevailed and the bad side of putting chlorine in the river was well discussed— and dismissed.  I kind of thought the idea would die but one of the other guys asked us if we had heard about how well mushrooms could cure water pollution.  I had not but others had – pretty amazing I guess.  Wine caps they are called.

Now I’m not much of a “doer,” I more just go with the flow.  But some of this little band of disturbed fellows are doers and they did get a grant recently to try this.  I’m pretty sure chlorine was not mentioned but mushrooms must have been because the money came from the State – I think maybe the Ecology Department.

We regrouped to plan our buying and loading the plastic balls with mushrooms but the talkative one suggested that us throwing plastic balls in the water was a bad idea, even if the Ecology Department approved the grant.  The best alternative containers we could come up with in a hurry were Chinese-food takeout boxes with the metal bails removed and poked full of little holes to let the mushrooms work.  We proudly called that “adaptive management.”

One of the guys bought the boxes – 300 of them - and a couple of 20# boxes of these mushrooms with the grant money.   At least somebody knew enough about rules and permits and such to know that just tossing 300 Chinese-food takeout boxes into a river was not really a good idea.  Nope – instead we made 600 official-looking sticky tags that said REESERCH on them and put them on opposite sides of the boxes.  On the top we put a big sticky note that asked finders to record the latitude and longitude of their find and the date, and send that information to the agency that gave us the grant, but to leave the box in the river as part of vital reeserch.  We spent a fair amount of time in a backyard workshop poking holes in the boxes and stuffing them with the mushrooms.

There are 6 or 7 bridges that cross the Samish River and on the last big rain we tossed an equal number off of each bridge, pretty much all at the same time. The river flows for about 30 miles, winding around a valley and farm land and so some of these boxes could be in there for quite awhile.
After a heavy rain the river flows high and fast so that the boxes have a good chance to move right along and clean the water. We know that some officials take lots of water samples when the river flows like that – to see if they are doing any good trying to clean it up.  We expect some interesting results.

So, go take a good look at the river and keep your eyes out for some Chinese-food take out boxes filled with mushrooms floating down and cleaning up the river. And if you find one, tell the Ecology Department!

See you on the river! Your pal, Sidd.