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

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