Orca Network News - April, 2007

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2007 through April 30, 2007.

Pacific whale decline 'a mystery'
April 30, 2007 (BBC) Grey whales in the eastern Pacific appear to be in some trouble, with the cause far from clear, scientists say.
Researchers with the conservation group Earthwatch found that whales are arriving in their breeding grounds off the Mexican coast malnourished.
The same thing happened just after the 1997/8 El Nino event, which warmed the waters and depleted food stocks.
Scientists are not sure whether the current decline is climate related or part of a natural predator-prey cycle.
"We're not really sure what is going on now," said William Megill, a member of the Earthwatch team who also holds posts at Bath University in the UK and the University of British Columbia in Canada.
"We certainly saw in Mexico this winter a very large number of starving whales," he told the BBC News website. "There is currently an El Nino building, and this is a worry."
The cause of this change is not clear. A link with climatic conditions makes sense; warmer waters hold less oxygen, they become less productive, resulting in less of the tiny crustaceans which are the grey whales' favoured food.
"It may be a lot more serious than just grey whales - they may just be the early warning sign of changes for the whole Pacific, and we urgently need to know what's going on."

Court rebuffs Bush on Mexican tuna
April 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A Bush administration attempt to loosen rules on "dolphin-safe" tuna so more Mexican imports could come into the U.S. was scuttled Friday by a federal appeals court, which said government agencies had ignored congressional mandates and allowed politics to interfere with science.
The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could be the last word on the government's decadelong effort to relax dolphin-safe labeling standards, established by a 1990 federal law.
The court had harsh words for the administration's science policies, saying a Commerce Department finding in 2002 that Mexican and other foreign fleets' tuna-fishing practices were not killing dolphins "was, at least to some degree, influenced by political, rather than scientific, concerns." It said there was evidence of political pressure from foreign governments and the State Department.
It was the second time this month that a court has concluded that politics is helping to shape the administration's scientific conclusions. In an April 3 ruling on global warming, the U.S. Supreme Court said the administration's rationales for refusing to regulate vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases included improper political and other concerns unrelated to science.
Friday's ruling maintains a virtual ban on U.S. imports of tuna caught by fleets from Mexico and several other nations that encircle dolphins with their nets to catch the tuna that swim beneath the aquatic mammals. Such tuna can be sold in the United States, but consumers have been largely unwilling to buy tuna that lacks the dolphin-safe label.
Scientific evidence shows a "strong likelihood" that tuna fishing is hurting dolphin populations in the eastern Pacific, contrary to the administration's position, the appeals court said.
The Earth Island Institute, a San Francisco conservation group that has fought the Clinton and Bush administrations over the issue, said the battle appeared to be over.
"I believe this is the end of the effort to unravel the dolphin-safe definition," said the group's director, David Phillips. "There will be no flood of dolphin-unsafe tuna from Mexico onto the U.S. market."

WA health officials warn against eating Columbia River clams
April 27, 2007 (Columbian) Washington health officials are warning against eating clams from the Columbia River after a study found they were contaminated with high levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls.
The advisory applies only to Washington; the spike in PCB levels was found along the Washington bank for two miles downstream from the former Vanalco aluminum smelter site in Vancouver, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study.
PCBs found in the clams are potentially cancer-causing and can cause developmental problems in newborns exposed during pregnancy, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

Changes in plan to protect owl raise concerns about NW forests
April 27, 2007 (Seattle Times) A proposed new plan released Thursday to protect northern spotted owls includes changes urged by high-level officials in the Bush administration, leading environmentalists to charge that the administration is again threatening Northwest old-growth forests.
"We kind of expected that there would be some pressure to water down the recovery plan and to reduce the level of protection for the owl and for the old-growth forest," said Tim Cullinan, a National Audubon Society biologist who was part of the so-called "recovery team" that put together the proposal.
"But I think we were taken by surprise at the sheer audacity with which the administration tried to interfere in this plan."
The new proposals call for hundreds of barred owls to be shot as an experiment to determine the effect on spotted-owl populations.
According to Wesley, the administration group asked for a new, more flexible way to recover the owls that didn't rely on strategies of the past.
In response, the second option was added. It would let locally based federal land-use managers decide which parts of federal forests get protected, though it would set guidelines meant to ensure that enough owl habitat is still set aside.
But Dominick DellaSala, of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, who served on the team drafting the plan, says the second option could cut total Northwest Forest Plan acreage recommended for owl-habitat protection by more than 800,000 acres, based on a simulation the recovery team conducted in February.
The new spotted-owl proposal did find agreement on one common enemy - the barred owl. The larger, more aggressive bird originally from the Northeast has been taking over spotted-owl nests and chasing away the rarer birds.

PUD begins hunt for tidal power
April 26, 2007 (Everett Herald) The PUD has gained the rights to seven of the best locations in the area to generate clean electricity for thousands of homes.
Snohomish County PUD is launching a handful of studies to find out if it's possible to use the tidal currents that rip through Puget Sound and other state waters to generate electricity for thousands of homes.
The utility is moving fast, starting six different studies just weeks after locking up the rights to seven of the best tidal power locations in the state, including Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet.
"Tidal energy is a clean, predictable, emission-free power source that's right in our back yard," said PUD General Manager Steve Klein. "As our region grows, we're interested in identifying renewable resources to help meet increased needs."
The utility announced Wednesday that it has received a $220,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, money that will help pay the $340,000 cost of the studies.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February and March granted the PUD three years to study the feasibility of tidal energy at seven locations in Puget Sound.
They are Admiralty Inlet, the main entrance into south Puget Sound, Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island, Spieden and San Juan channels in the San Juan Islands, Guemes Channel near Anacortes, Agate Passage near Bainbridge Island and Rich Passage near Bremerton.
The utility's goal is to figure out if tidal power is feasible here, said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the utility district.
Most of the work on the studies is scheduled to take place this summer.
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., on Tuesday introduced legislation that would provide a huge infusion of cash - $20 million per year for 10 years - for research and development of ocean-based electricity generation.
Locations such as Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass have been selected as the most likely locations because the tides flow for longer and faster there, usually because the tide is restricted in some way.

Environmental agenda passes
April 24, 2007 (Oregonian) Washington - Bills cover toxic chemicals, cleaner fuels and the Puget Sound cleanup
Environmentalists were big winners in Washington's legislative session, finding strong support on everything from climate change measures to the creation of a new state agency to oversee the $8 billion task of restoring Puget Sound by 2020.
Environmental groups came to the Legislature with four priorities. This is the first year that all of their goals were not only met, but exceeded by another bill that addressed climate change by setting emissions goals in the state.
Sen. Erik Poulsen, a Seattle Democrat who was heavily involved in the climate change measures, said that while much progress was made, there's much more to do.
"Next year, we'll have to get more serious about climate change," he said. "We've put some important pieces in place by addressing coal power and the transportation sector, but we can't truly reverse course without making some harder decisions."
"We need to become even more serious about having cleaner cars and promoting electric hybrids and other alternatives," he said.

Sea life at risk as acid levels rise in oceans
April 24, 2007 (Seattle Times) Carbon dioxide released by fossil fuel combustion has increased acidity levels of the ocean by 30 percent and in the decades ahead will create new risks for coral, zooplankton and other creatures that help support the North Pacific fisheries, according to researchers who gathered Monday at the University of Washington.
In a two-day workshop that ends today, these scientists are reviewing what is known about this grim corner of climate change and brainstorming ways to measure and assess the threats to a marine ecosystem that yields North America's largest seafood harvests.
The acidification is caused by the ocean's absorption of carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fuel combustion. Currently, this is about 2 billion tons of the gas each year. As this gas dissolves, it sets off a chemical reaction that produces carbonic acid, which in high-enough concentrations can erode protective shells and other structures of some sea creatures.
"We have significant changes in chemistry," said Richard Feely, a Seattle-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer who helped to organize the conference. "And if we project over time ... we are talking about massive changes that will take place."
Some of the most acidic waters are found in the North Pacific, which has absorbed more carbon dioxide than tropical oceans. The North Pacific appears to be more acidic because it is colder than tropical oceans, which enables it to absorb more carbon, and because it has older, more carbon-rich water than the North Atlantic.

Dam's removal will have to wait
April 24, 2007 (Seattle Times) The long road to dam removal on the Elwha River just got longer: Work may not even begin on the country's largest dam demolition until 2012, instead of 2009, as had been expected.
The National Park Service now says that two water projects associated with the dam takedown may take as long as five years to complete. That pushes back the start date on dam removal, said Barb Maynes, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park.
Two new water-treatment plants must be built to provide clean water for Port Angeles, a paper mill and two fish hatcheries.
"It's frustrating for us," said George Behan, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. "Regrettably it sounds like we are going to have to live with a little more delay, but we will keep the pressure on. The clock is ticking; we need to move this along ... . The more we delay, the more the costs will go up."
The Elwha and Glines Canyon dams are slated for removal as one of the best chances for salmon recovery in the region. The dams have blocked fish passage on the river for nearly a century.
Removal is expected to help boost recovery of threatened Puget Sound chinook, which could in turn help endangered orcas, which dine almost exclusively on chinook salmon.
Generations of ancestors of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe also depended on the river and its salmon. So the delay is all the more disappointing, said Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles.
"We don't have any more time to lose," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound. "We are at a tipping point with the Puget Sound ecosystem, and it argues strongly to do the things we know we can do, as quickly as possible."

It's time to get serious about climate change
April 23, 2007 (Seattle Times Op-ed by Chris Gregoire) Environmentalists who were once dismissed have continued to point out the perils of global warming until the science was too strong to ignore. The questions are no longer about sound science or fuzzy math, the questions are now about solutions.
Citizens and consumers have started to take their own steps to reduce emissions by recycling, driving hybrid cars, buying "green" homes and purchasing renewable energy, and they continue to look for new ways to reduce their impact on the environment. They expect the businesses they patronize and the political leaders they elect to take action as well.
Despite a lack of leadership from the federal level, businesses as well as state and local governments are stepping up to the challenge:
The reality of global warming is clear. In January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that our planet's atmosphere has more greenhouse gases in it now than at any time during the past 650,000 years. Earlier this month, another assessment by the panel warned of alarming consequences, including long-lasting droughts and rising seas.
It is equally clear that humans are causing our climate to change by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. And 11 of the past 12 years have been the warmest years on record.
Here in Washington, we are experiencing the effects of climate change already. Scientists at the University of Washington tell us that temperatures in the state are rising faster than they are globally. Our state's glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since 1950. The snowpack in the Cascades - which cities, fish and farmers rely on for water - is declining, and our summers are drier as that snowpack melts earlier each year.
We have made a good start, but there is much more we all must to do to preserve our environment and our quality of life. It is time for us to embrace this tipping point and act aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Citizens, business and community leaders as well as elected officials must seize this moment to tackle the challenge of climate change.

Killer whale pod back on Ore. coast
April 22, 2007 (Olympian) A transient pod of black-and-white killer whales, or orcas, are making their usual mid-April appearance, mostly between the Florence area and Cascade Head near Lincoln City.
Morris Grover, administrator of the Oregon Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, says marine biologists don't know for sure where they come from.
They are more predatory than the orcas that live full-time in Puget Sound around the San Juan Islands and live mostly on salmon. The Oregon coast group is in search of seals and baby gray whales.
"We see them in our waters every spring, usually arriving about April 15," Grover said. But he said some were spotted earlier this year.
A few years ago, he said, a killer whale chased a seal all the way through Yaquina Bay, almost to Toledo.
To see one, Grover suggests patience and a high vantage point such as the lighthouse at Yaquina Bay, the Yaquina Head area, Don Davis Memorial Park in Nye Beach or Cape Foulweather.

Puget Sound agency gets nod
April 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Washington lawmakers on Friday voted to create a new state agency to oversee the $8 billion task of restoring Puget Sound by 2020, after sidestepping a mining controversy that threatened to scuttle the bill.
The measure creating the Puget Sound Partnership easily cleared the Senate 43-4 and headed to the governor, ending a standoff with the House over a seemingly unrelated bill to prohibit expansion of a sand and gravel operation on Maury Island southwest of Seattle.
The Democratic Senate, including Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, the senator who represents the Puget Sound island, had sought to halt Glacier Northwest's effort to expand the mine. The site has operated since the 1940s and is adjacent to an aquatic preserve protected by the state along the island's eastern shore. The project would include construction of a large new dock to load barges.
But the House, also controlled by Democrats, killed the Maury Island bill after business interests threatened to withdraw their support for the Puget Sound Partnership bill.
The Senate had put a hold on the Puget Sound bill and the House was threatening to hold up the state budget if it included the Maury Island provision.
Environmental groups strongly supported Poulsen's efforts, but Gregoire and others asked him to back off rather than jeopardize the Puget Sound measure or prolong the budget negotiations.
Gregoire said the Puget Sound measure helps link all of the partners from state, federal, tribal and local agencies and nonprofit groups that have a role in restoring and protecting the state's "crown jewel."
"We want to fund really action-oriented things, as specific as dealing with the creosoted logs around the sound, using the best that science and research have to offer," Gregoire said.
The new partnership is based on the work of a blue-ribbon panel that Gregoire appointed in 2005. The commission has offered a variety of ideas on cleanup and preservation of the sound, and the Legislature is expected to approve more than $220 million for work in the next two years alone.

Oil-spill tug left short of funding
April 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For the eighth consecutive year, the Legislature failed to nail down a permanent way to fund a rescue tugboat that prevents oil spills in sensitive Washington waters. Legislators' new approach this year: Let's hope the federal government will take care of it.
Lawmakers also balked at a request to build up the state's oil-spill watchdog council, leaving it with two staffers -- just half the number of, for example, the Washington Beef Commission.
To raise more money for oil-spill prevention, legislators debated whether to boost petroleum taxes by a penny or two for every 44-gallon barrel of oil processed at Washington refineries. But oil company lobbyists succeeded in beating that idea down, saying their tankers are far from the only risk for oil spills.
At the helm in all this was Gov. Chris Gregoire, who originally tried to take away the independence of the Oil Spill Advisory Council, moving it under a Department of Ecology that environmentalists characterize as overly deferential to the oil industry.
The tug is stationed at Neah Bay, near Washington's northwest corner, in the winter and spring to aid ships in trouble that could otherwise run aground and spill oil.
It saved two stricken vessels last month, and aided more than 30 since 1999. Yet its last day on duty is Sunday. Then it returns next fall. But no funding was set aside to keep it operating after that deployment.

Endangered-species listing sought for U.S. beluga whales
April 20, 2007 (Seattle Times) The dwindling beluga whale population in Alaska's famed Cook Inlet could be extinct in 100 years and should be listed as an endangered species, a federal agency said Thursday.
The proposal is being made by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which studied a petition brought by environmentalists a year ago.
The findings, which were to be published today, are being strenuously opposed by business and industry groups - backed by all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation - who say the designation is unwarranted and economically damaging.
The report, which is not a final ruling, bypasses the lesser designation of "threatened" and goes straight to "endangered," which provides a greater level of protection for the 300 belugas that remain in the inlet.

Backlash over Sound protections
April 20, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A political storm surrounding the protected waters off Maury Island in west Puget Sound threatens to sink one of the state's most ambitious ecological initiatives -- Gov. Chris Gregoire's $8 billion restoration of Puget Sound.
With a decision that environmental leaders in the Legislature are calling "ludicrous," the state simultaneously may allow mining expansion beside the Sound's only aquatic reserve.
The lawmakers set on protecting the aquatic sanctuary are digging in their heels so deeply that they're jamming the final negotiations of the Democrats' $33 billion operating budget for the state. The Legislature is set to adjourn Sunday.
A bill that prohibited expansion of a Maury Island sand and gravel mine passed in the Senate but died in the House. Senate leaders resurrected it in the form of a budget amendment, but House leaders have rejected that move and the entire budget process has ground to a halt.
As for Gregoire's position on Maury Island, Merriman said the governor was still trying to determine the facts. The issue isn't so much about the upland mine, he said. "So the question is: 'Is the dock and the barge facility a threat to the environment?' "

UW researcher using narwhals to study climate change
April 19, 2007 (Seattle Times) Researchers who study climate change get their data any way they can: from weather balloons and satellites to deep-sea submersibles and ice-drilling rigs.
Now, a University of Washington biologist has devised one of the strangest methods yet: attaching instruments to the backs of narwhals.
Best known for their unicorn-like tusks, these marine mammals thrive in ice-choked seas where humans can rarely venture, said Kristin Laidre, of the Polar Science Center at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory.
Laidre and her colleagues have tagged three of the whales with satellite transmitters that not only track the animals' movements but also measure water temperatures in a region of the globe where rapid warming seems to be under way.
The whales, which dive up to one mile deep to feed on bottom fish, already have provided the first winter temperature measurements in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland.
The region is part of the global "conveyor belt" of currents that brings warmer waters north, moderating the weather in northern Europe. An international science panel recently predicted global warming will slow those currents.
After expanding for several years, the sea ice west of Greenland is declining rapidly. When the scientists flew over central Baffin Bay earlier this month, they found nothing but open water.
To trap the beasts, which weigh a ton or more, the scientists string long nets perpendicular to shore. They then mount a 24-hour watch, waiting for a narwhal (pronounced NAR-wall) to swim into the nets.
When a narwhal does get entangled, it fights furiously until the scientists wrestle it into a kind of hammock strung between two inflatable boats. Then they clip the transmitter, smaller than a deck of cards, to the animal's small dorsal fin.
The three narwhals the scientists are tracking now were trapped last summer.
Researchers who recently found millions of nerve channels on the tusk surface concluded that it must be a sensory organ, used by males to detect changes in temperature or air pressure.
Watching males gently cross tusks has convinced the scientists that the lance-like appendages provide narwhals a peaceful way to establish social stature.
"It's like a ballet," Laidre said. "They very gently and slowly interact."

Chris Gregoire signs fire-retardant bill
April 18, 2007 (Oregonian) Washington state is the first in the nation to begin phasing out the use of some fireproofing chemicals in televisions, computers and upholstered furniture, under a measure signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday.
The measure prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of most items containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers, commonly known as PBDEs, as long as a safer alternative exists.
Under the measure, mattresses with deca would be banned after Jan. 1, 2008, since deca alternatives already exist for mattresses.

Wild Sky clears big hurdle
April 18, 2007 (Everett Herald) Lowland old-growth forests, scenic rivers and rugged mountains above Index just got a little more wild.
After six years of failure and frustration, the Wild Sky Wilderness Act of 2007 was unanimously approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday in a voice vote. The bill had failed to make it to the House floor for a vote three times since 2001.
The legislation now needs to work its way through the U.S. Senate, where it already has been approved three times, and then it goes to President Bush, who has said he will sign the bill if it lands on his desk.
The legislation would designate 106,000 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as wilderness, permanently protecting it from logging, mining or development. If approved, it will be the first wilderness designation in the state in more than 20 years.

Baby Killer Whale Beached In Mexico
April 16, 2007 (KUTV) A two-week old killer whale was being nursed back to health Sunday in a marine park after beaching itself along Mexico's Pacific Coast.
The 8-foot female orca, or killer whale, which authorities named Pasqualita, was found near San Blas in the western state of Nayarit, the Environment Ministry said in a news release Sunday.
After unsuccessfully trying to return the orca to the ocean, they transported it to a small swimming pool at a beachside restaurant.
The Mexican Navy and government officials later moved Pasqualita to a nearby marine park and dispatched boats and a helicopter to search for other orcas it may have been traveling with, the ministry said.
Officials said the orca would remain in the Dolphin Adventure park in Nueva Vallarta until it is strong enough to return to the sea.

Inuit hunters getting firsthand look at global climate change
April 16, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Inuit hunters are falling through thinning ice and dying. Dolphins are being spotted for the first time. There's not enough snow to build igloos for shelter during hunts.
As scientists work to establish the effect of global warming, explorers and hunters slogging across northern Canada and the Arctic ice cap on sled and foot are describing the realities they see on the ground. Three of them recently spoke to The Associated Press.
"This is really ground zero for global warming," said Will Steger, a 62-year-old Minnesotan who has been traveling the region for 43 years and has witnessed the effect of warming on the 155,000 indigenous people of the Arctic.
She blames Americans for emitting one-fourth of the world's greenhouse gases, which scientists say are very likely causing the warming. But it is not in the Inuit culture to be too accusatory, and she says it with a smile: "Unfortunately, you are the people who cause most of this climate change," she says to an American journalist.

A baby killer whale stranded in Mexico
April 16, 2007 (Yahoo News) A two-week old killer whale was being nursed back to health Sunday in a marine park after beaching itself along Mexico's Pacific Coast.
The 8-foot female orca, or killer whale, which authorities named Pasqualita, was found near San Blas in the western state of Nayarit, the Environment Ministry said in a news release Sunday.
After unsuccessfully trying to return the orca to the ocean, they transported it to a small swimming pool at a beachside restaurant.
The Mexican Navy and government officials later moved Pasqualita to a nearby marine park and dispatched boats and a helicopter to search for other orcas it may have been traveling with, the ministry said.
Officials said the orca would remain in the Dolphin Adventure park in Nueva Vallarta until it is strong enough to return to the sea.

Anti-gravel-mine bill fails to move forward
April 14, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) An effort by environmentalists and residents of Maury Island to kill plans for a gravel mine beside the state's only aquatic reserve failed in Olympia.
The legislation, which would have prohibited the state from allowing mining at the reserve, on Friday missed a required deadline in the legislative process.
Supporters of the bill said the state should not even consider allowing a massive mine next to a portion of Puget Sound shoreline that scientists call crucial to reversing decades-long decline of the Sound.
Glacier Northwest, the mining company, said the mine is a sorely needed source of sand for making concrete. Glacier officials said getting the sand locally could help temper sky-high housing prices and with the environmental precautions envisioned, the mine would be compatible with the aquatic reserve and should not harm the Sound.

007 with a snout? Navy tries to end such scuttlebutt
April 13, 2007 (Los Angeles Times) As it proposes to deploy dolphins and sea lions to guard a huge nuclear arsenal in Washington, the Navy again denies they're trained to kill.
For decades the Navy's marine mammal program was one of the most secretive programs in the U.S. military. Now the Navy has a website explaining it. Still, rumors persist that the Navy is training the dolphins and sea lions as killers.
"I don't know how we prove that we're not doing what we're not doing," said Mike Rothe, head of the marine mammal program.
Routinely, the Navy issues such denials and just as routinely the rumors circulate that the mammals are taught how to put explosives beneath enemy ships or drag underwater terrorists to their deaths.
The Navy's website says flatly: "The Navy does not now train, nor has it ever trained its marine mammals to harm or injure humans in any fashion or to carry weapons to destroy ships." A light slap is taken at Hollywood: "Fantasy is more interesting than reality."
Dolphins were used as guards in Cam Rahn Bay during the Vietnam War and in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. Dolphins guarded the bay behind the San Diego Convention Center during the 1996 Republican convention.
In 2003, dolphins and sea lions went to the Persian Gulf in advance of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Dolphin lovers sent a protest petition to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "No member of a civilized society should condone the abuse and exploitation of dolphins for military purposes."
The latest flurry of interest in the marine mammal program came in February, when it was announced that dolphins and sea lions were being considered for use as guards at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base in Washington, home to the nation's largest nuclear arsenal.
Both dolphins and sea lions are trained to find a swimmer and then place a clamp on his or her leg and take an attached line to the sailors awaiting above. They also can mark underwater objects.
For Bangor, one plan would have 30 dolphins and sea lions working in shifts to guard the base, where Trident submarines are stationed.
Conservationists oppose the plan. They allege the animals could be harmed by the cold water, an assertion that Navy veterinarians dispute.

What's killing seabirds? Scientists baffled
April 11, 2007 (Seattle Times) Something is killing seabirds.
For the third winter running, seabirds not usually seen in such near-shore waters have been washing up, apparently starved to death, on beaches in California, Oregon and Washington.
And for the third year, scientists say the reasons aren't clear. What they do know is this: The deaths matter.
"Birds around the world are really good indicators of ecosystem health," said Bob Emmett, a research fisheries biologists for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Newport, Ore. "If the birds aren't doing well, then the salmon won't do well, and the marine mammals won't do well."

Appeals court: Federal dam plan is illegal
April 10, 2007 (Idaho Statesman) Salmon advocates say ruling should force agencies to consider removing lower Snake River dams
The Bush administration will have to go to the Supreme Court if it hopes to continue its strategy for saving endangered salmon and dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld Judge James Redden's 2005 decision that called a federal plan - known as a biological opinion - for dam operations on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers illegal. It rejected the administration's assertion that the Endangered Species Act requires officials to evaluate only the effects on salmon of dam operations - not the dams themselves.
"At its core, the 2004 BiOp amounted to little more than an analytical sleight of hand," Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote for the court. "Statistically speaking, using the 2004 BiOp's analytical framework, the dead fish were really alive.
"The ESA requires a more realistic, common-sense examination."
The appeals court also rejected the administration's challenge to Redden's order that federal agencies collaborate with the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, and Indian tribes as they write a new plan.
The court also called flawed the Bush administration's standards that said Endangered Species Act protection does not need to meet goals that would recover salmon, but must only keep their numbers stable.
"Under this approach, a listed species could be gradually destroyed, so long as each step on the path to destruction is sufficiently modest," Thomas wrote for the court. "This type of slow slide into oblivion is one of the very ills the ESA seeks to prevent."

Whale Symposium In New York
April 8, 2007 (Scoop News) A major international symposium will take place in New York this week to explore ways of resolving the current impasse on whale conservation and management, Conservation Minister Chris Carter said today.
The symposium has been organised by The United States Pew Charitable Trusts in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme. It will take place on April 12 and 13 at the United Nations headquarters, and will chaired by a New Zealander, Sir Geoffrey Palmer.
"The purpose of this symposium is to analyse options for the conservation of whales, and ideas which might resolve the current impasse at the International Whaling Commission over scientific whaling and other issues," Mr Carter said.

Fatal fungus spreads in Northwest
April 8, 2007 (Seattle Times) The mystery emerged slowly, its clues maddeningly diverse.
Sally Lester, an animal pathologist at a British Columbia laboratory, slipped a slide under her microscope - a tissue from a dog on Vancouver Island. Her lens focused on a tiny cell that looked like a boiled egg. It was late 1999. She had started seeing a lot of those.
On the eastern side of the island, several dead porpoises washed ashore early the next year. Scientist Craig Stephen, who runs a research center on the island, slit one open. He found its lungs seized by pneumonia and its other organs swollen by strange, flowerlike tumors.
The infected porpoises - at least 25 of them now - suggest the fungus is carried by air over the water. Stephen Raverty, a pathologist at the provincial veterinary center in British Columbia, worries that the fungus can attack other species.
Killer whales, whose numbers have dropped sharply here, are cetaceans like the stricken Dall's porpoises. Raverty and others have been tracking the killer whales in Puget Sound, using glassine slides mounted on long poles to catch droplets from the whales' exhalations, to see whether the animals have been infected.
So far, they haven't found the fungus. But animals can act as a sentinel for humans, the scientists say.

Citizens must rally to make Puget Sound healthy again
April 8, 2007 (Seattle Times op-ed by Lance Dickie) COUPEVILLE, Whidbey Island - Puget Sound is ailing and in decline. The problem is, almost no one believes it. How could anything so radiant and robust be in trouble?
Yet, 500 people turned out on a cold, drizzly Saturday morning in February to learn how they could help make the Sound healthy again. Concern stirs such a strong response, but the invitation had to come from a credible source with a record of achievement.
That pretty much sums up WSU Island County Beach Watchers, the perfect template for rallying and educating citizens to a monumental environmental challenge.
Beach Watchers is a program of Washington State University Extension, started in 1989 by Island County extension agent Don Meehan. For almost two decades, Beach Watchers has employed user-friendly training and community projects to connect volunteers to their marine surroundings.
Puget Sound needs help, and millions of us live close enough to lend a hand. Gov. Christine Gregoire led an admirable administrative response in Olympia, but the absence of links to ordinary lives can be a serious impediment to progress.
All the troubles and tasks are understood, if not widely known: leaking septic systems, toxic hazards, stormwater runoff and the imperatives of chinook salmon habitat restoration. None of the best of intentions and renewed investments of public dollars will succeed without broad public involvement.
Included in the biennial budget to launch the Puget Sound Partnership is roughly $2.5 million a year for citizen partnership: money to promote public awareness and participation.
Meehan in 2004 helped expand Beach Watchers into six more North Puget Sound counties: Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Clallam, Jefferson and Snohomish.
Puget Sound has 4.1 million neighbors in 12 counties. Invite them to learn about and help reverse a serious environmental decline. Use Beach Watchers to build a durable citizen partnership.

Central Oregon Coast Expecting Killer Whales in April
April 7, 2007 (Beach Connection) It's been happening for years on the Oregon coast, but no one has thought to say much about it until now.
Each year, around April 15 or so, a run of killer whales approaches the area and patrols the central coast waters, looking for baby gray whales and maybe a few sea lions or seals to munch on. Usually, it's in the Depoe Bay and Newport areas, but it's often seen from Cascade Head all the way down to Florence.
"We see them in our waters every spring, usually arriving about April 15," Grover said. "But some have already been spotted during the previous whale watch week. They are here to intercept the baby gray whales, as that is the time they usually arrive along the coast. They are usually here for a few weeks."
Last year, the killer whales lingered until the middle of July.

Steps now could lessen harm to fish
April 7, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Climate change will make Puget Sound chinook salmon recovery significantly more challenging, but new research shows that stream and shoreline improvements can boost their chances of survival.
"We were surprised by that result," said Mary Ruckelshaus, a research scientist with NOAA Fisheries who worked on the study. It was "a good surprise."
The trouble is, restoration plans rarely take global warming into account.
When it comes to salmon, a warmer Northwest could harm the fish from egg to adulthood. Water temperatures likely will increase. Streams will run slower and shallower in the summer when adults return to spawn. They'll be faster and deeper in the winter, threatening eggs buried in the gravel.
If changes aren't made to do more to help local chinook, some populations could drop 40 percent by 2050 compared with 2000 numbers, the researchers found.
The wild card in the research is how the fish will respond to a warmer world.
They could return from the ocean and Sound earlier, possibly saving the eggs from getting scoured out by winter flooding. Their physiology might be able to adapt slightly to warmer temperatures. They could spawn in smaller streams where flows are slower.
Said Ruckelshaus: "Salmon are very adaptable."

Seeking a Sound decision
April 6, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Opponents push Legislature to halt Maury Island development plans
Aquatic reserve or gravel mine?
That's the choice legislators face as environmentalists and residents of Maury Island seek to kill plans for a gravel mine beside the state's only aquatic reserve.
Opponents say the state should not even consider allowing a massive mine next to a portion of Puget Sound shoreline that scientists call crucial to reversing decades-long decline of the Sound.
The mining company, though, says the mine is a sorely needed source of sand needed to make concrete. With up to 60 percent of sand and gravel costs coming from transportation, Glacier says getting the sand locally could help temper over-the-top housing prices -- while doing no real harm to the Sound. Glacier says that with the precautions envisioned, the mine would be compatible with the aquatic reserve.
In the waning weeks of this year's legislative session, mine opponents are making a spirited push.
"What do we do with a project that has jumped through some hoops, and yet is in such dramatic opposition to the goals of the state -- in this case the restoration of Puget Sound?" asked Sen. Erik Poulson said.
Opponents cite many fears about the effects of a mine. Orcas catch salmon in the area. Young salmon swim in eelgrass along the shore, and herring -- a pivotal part of the Puget Sound food chain -- lay eggs there.
King County Councilman Dow Constantine, who opposes the mine, said it will be difficult for opponents to prevail in the Legislature.
"Glacier has assembled a formidable lobbying team. They're very well connected," Constantine said.

West Coast leaders pledge to fight climate change, together
April 6, 2007 (Salem Statesman Journal) Pacific Coast states and British Columbia will work together to fight the effects of global warming that threaten the region's shared climate and coasts, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said Thursday.
The two leaders met just days after the Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration for its inaction over climate change, vindicating states' efforts to combat greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that scientists say contribute to global warming.
California, Oregon and Washington state are spearheading efforts along the West Coast to reduce pollution through new car emissions standards, subsidies and mandates for renewable resources such as wind, solar and wave power and the aggressive development of a biofuels market.
"One of the real benefits of looking at the Pacific Coast and creating a collaboration among the states and the provinces is we create a market place of 50 million people," said Campbell. "I think the market will pay attention."
Although the auto industry continues to fight legal battles from California to Vermont with states that want to implement stricter emissions laws, the Supreme Court ruling is likely to boost the argument that states have the right to set standards. According to the decision, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate emissions from new cars and trucks under the Clean Air Act.

Global warming could deal big blow to salmon
April 6, 2007 (Seattle Times) Global warming is expected to further weaken wild chinook salmon populations by changing the temperatures and flows of major river systems, according to a study published Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences.
Warmer waters in the summer and early fall are expected to cause more disease, stress and die-offs, while rain-swollen rivers in warmer winter months could flush out salmon eggs from spawning gravel.
The study, by federal and University of Washington scientists, offers a sobering perspective on the challenges that climate change creates for the multibillion-dollar regional effort to restore wild salmon runs.
Many of the restoration planners use models that do not account for warmer temperatures that are expected to shrink the size of the annual snowpack and alter run-off patterns.
Thus, they may generate "misleading predictions of the relative benefits of different recovery strategies," the study states.
Global warming is expected to cause the biggest problems for salmon that spawn in the more remote, higher-elevation river basins, according to the study. Salmon eggs in those areas would be among the most vulnerable to sudden surges in winter flows triggered by high-elevation rains. As spawning survival rates there decline, salmon may concentrate more in the mid- to lower reaches of the rivers, according to the study.
Though the authors questioned the accuracy of salmon-recovery plans that did not account for global warming, they still found plenty of value in restoration efforts. In the Snohomish basin, a full-scale restoration that would include tree planting, dike removal and other efforts could reduce the climate-induced chinook decline to only 5 percent by 2050, according to one computer forecast model. In the other model, the restoration efforts were forecast to result in a 19 percent gain in spawning populations.
"That was the encouraging and surprising result for us," Ruckelshaus said. "The restoration plans - if they are carried out - can make a difference."
Bob Lohn, the regional administrator for NOAA fisheries, said the study underscored the need to focus on restoration efforts.
Environmentalists already have been citing climate change as a big threat to salmon, and the study could give them new ammunition in their efforts to boost runs by removing Snake River dams.

Climate Panel Confident Warming Is Underway
April 5, 2007 (Washington Post) Report to Detail the Role of Humans
The newest international assessment of the consequences of Earth's warming climate has concluded with "high confidence" that human-generated greenhouse gases are already triggering changes in ecosystems on land and sea across the globe.
The second working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was charged with tracking the impact of global warming on specific regions and species, plans to release its final report tomorrow in Brussels. The Washington Post obtained a near-final draft of the report yesterday.
That document -- which follows an IPCC study in February that concluded with at least 90 percent certainty that humans are responsible for Earth's recent warming -- provides a more detailed look at how emissions from automobiles, industry and other sources are affecting life around the world.
Since the IPCC has already predicted the global temperature could increase between 1.8 and 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, Palmer added, "this will translate in terms of river and stream temperatures of [7.2 to 12.6 degrees Fahrenheit], which is a very significant degree when you think about temperature impacts."

PBDE Ban Passes, 41-8; Like Us, Senate Finds Seattle Times Unconvincing
April 4, 2007 (Seattlest) As Sightline's Daily Score blog reports, Washington is going to become one of the toughest places in the world to inhale PBDEs, the fire retardant currently being given off by your consumer electronics and accumulating in your fatty tissue. Sez Clark Williams-Derry,
The first hurdle was educating legislators on what PBDEs were, and the argument for limiting their use. Limiting exposure to PBDEs is a key point for Hunter, because the bill exempts, for instance, Boeing airplanes. Hunter's focus was on the 80/20 rule -- limiting kids' primary household exposure to PBDEs (in TVs, mattresses, and other furniture). He wasn't going to go after Boeing for using one form of PBDEs to make escape slides for its planes.

Experts study "dialects" in blue whales
April 4, 2007 (Earth and Sky Radio) Scientists who study whale songs say the sound can be very different from one whale to the next.
Whale songs can sound so different, in fact, that experts are calling their regional voices "dialects." They've identified nine blue whale dialects so far.
Erin Oleson: The blue whale calls that we hear here off of southern California are distinct to the male blue whales that occur along the west coast of the United States. But they're not the same sounds that you would hear say if you went to Sri Lanka, or Australia or even anywhere in the Atlantic ocean.
That's Erin Oleson at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She recently completed a five-year study of blue whales in the northern Pacific. In that study, she found that – in at least one population of blue whales – it's strictly the males who sing.
Oleson said she believes the various songs of blue whales might be indicators of distinct populations. In other words, when a California blue whale encounters a blue whale from across the Pacific, it's possible they know each other to be geographically and genetically distinct by their songs. Scientists are now studying different populations of blue whales by carefully listening to the subtle variations in their songs.

Limited ban placed on flame retardants
April 4, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog) Washington became the first state in the nation Tuesday to ban the use of chemical flame retardants in some common household items.
With a 41-8 vote, the Senate passed a limited ban of the widely used chemicals, which research shows can cause health problems including neurological damage to mice pups in lab experiments.
The chemicals -- called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- are added to myriad consumer and industrial products to make them more fireproof. They're in televisions, foam cushions, electronics and household appliances, among other items.
They're mixed into plastics and foams -- but they can get back out again. They're turning up in dust in homes and offices, breast milk, and fish, birds and other animals.
The Washington ban does not apply to many deca uses, including in airplanes and vehicles. The ban targets items found in the home because the greatest exposure concerns are for infants and children.

We have to 'tell the truth' to save orcas and Puget Sound
April 3, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) The birth of an orca to Puget Sound's L pod while wintering in California gives us feelings of joy, but also anguish for the heavy odds against this infant's survival. That's because Puget Sound is sick and the orca's milk is laden with PCBs.
For 20 years, scientists have rung alarms about the health of Puget Sound. The tribes have been ringing this alarm for 200 years. The listing of orcas as endangered, plus disturbing events such as fish kills from low oxygen and discovery of "dead zones," are clear evidence this generation must act before it's too late.
The Legislature is working to provide tools to do the work. We also have existing tools, such as the Aquatic Reserve Program. Such reserves can protect ecosystems -- stepping stones to healthy fish and wildlife. Today, the only aquatic reserve is 5,000 acres off Maury Island, home to one of 18 remaining Puget Sound herring spawning beds.
Every species recovery plan cites this reserve as a natural treasure, important to the recovery of threatened and endangered species. Unfortunately, a loophole allows industrial uses such as a 300-foot pier proposed by a multinational corporation, Glacier Northwest.
The Senate has approved state Sen. Erik Poulsen's bill to restore integrity to the program, so it is consistent with our commitment to recover and protect Puget Sound by 2020. Together, we ask the House to do the same. It's common sense that industrial barging isn't compatible with healthy ecological systems. Experience tells us that industry harms herring spawning grounds.
As the Puget Sound Partnership is given life by the 2007 Legislature, and we await the return of our orca pods with their newborns, we set our sights on saving Puget Sound. There is no time to waste. We need legislation that solidifies the Aquatic Reserve Program -- a fitting companion to the Puget Sound Partnership.
Billy Frank Jr., is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Ron Sims is executive of King County.

PBDE ban approved in Washington -- first in nation
April 3, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog) After three years of hot -- perhaps even incendiary -- debate, Washington lawmakers minutes ago approved a ban on PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The legislation has been approved by the Senate in a 41-8 vote, and was previously passed in the House (71-24). It now must be signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
It makes Washington the first state in the nation to ban PBDEs in specific situations.
The House Bill 1024 focuses on a form of PBDEs called deca, which is the most widely used variety. It will be banned from use in mattresses beginning next year. The state departments of Ecology and Health will be researching an alternative chemical that must be "safer and technically feasible" for use in TVs, computers and residential upholstered furniture.
I did a big story on this issue last week -- check out the great graphics by Wendy Wahman and photos by Paul Joseph Brown.
-Lisa Stiffler

State slowly setting its own emissions goals
April 3, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) As the U.S. Supreme Court took decisive action Monday on the matter of planet-warming emissions, a proposed law in Washington to reduce carbon dioxide pollution continued to creep along, scarred and slightly mangled from multiple revisions.
In its original form, the bill would have set state goals for cutting greenhouse gases, created limits for how much carbon dioxide new power plants could release, created a state climate office and required other actions to reduce pollution that's contributing to climate change.
Since then, the legislation has morphed into a Franken-bill with new rules tacked onto it and major rewrites. It was then patched together into something approximating its original form and on Monday, it was tacked onto another piece of legislation to help ensure its survival.
"Trying to figure out how to stop global warming is complex," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. "We know it's a problem. How do we deal with it? There are various schools of thought."
Lawmakers are scheduled to wind up business by April 22.

State might need new nickname
April 2, 2007 (Tacoma News Tribune) Commercial development trend accelerates
Hundreds of thousands of acres of Western Washington forests are being converted to home sites, hobby farms and commercial developments. The sell-off of commercial timberland is changing the regional landscape in ways residents and government officials never anticipated. The result is not only suburban sprawl but also what some decry as a permanent scar on the face of the Evergreen State.
"We're dismantling the forest, tearing it up, breaking it down into little parcels. It isn't the forest it used to be," said Brian Boyle, a former state lands commissioner and now part-time leader of a University of Washington College of Forest Resources think tank.
Since the 1930s, Washington state has lost 2 million acres of timberland to other uses. But the trend has accelerated, particularly in the 1990s and along the Interstate 5 corridor, land-use experts said.
Over the next several years, 300,000 acres of Western Washington timberland is likely to be converted to other uses, according to a recent UW estimate. That's an area nearly a third the size of Pierce County.
Put another way, it's like building 200 developments the size of Sunrise, a 1,500-acre subdivision between Puyallup and Orting.

Court Rebukes Administration in Global Warming Case
April 2, 2007 (New York Times) The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming.
In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.
Greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the landmark environmental law, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion.
The politics of global warming have changed dramatically since the court agreed last year to hear its first global warming case.
"In many ways, the debate has moved beyond this," said Chris Miller, director of the global warming campaign for Greenpeace, one of the environmental groups that sued the EPA. "All the front-runners in the 2008 presidential campaign, both Democrats and Republicans, even the business community, are much further along on this than the Bush administration is."

Planners think waterfront has room for both people and baby salmon
April 2, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) It was one of those stunning spring afternoons at the Seattle waterfront, the Olympics crisp against a rainless horizon, the ferries abuzz on Elliott Bay, the lunch crowd strolling Alaskan Way.
But at Waterfront Park just south of the Seattle Aquarium, the only visitor was a raucous sea gull.
Now, though, city planners are getting ready to propose choices that could return two kinds of visitors to Seattle's central waterfront -- people and baby salmon. The two-legged set would come for a nicer waterfront, the fingerlings for a more natural shoreline.
"It really provides an opportunity to work well with the Aquarium," Graves said. "You can take schoolkids out there and say, 'This is what Puget Sound looks like.' "
Faced with rotting pilings below Waterfront Park and nearby city-owned Piers 62 and 63, city parks officials in coming months will outline their vision for a fix to the City Council. It could become part of a larger rethinking of restoring Elliott Bay's shorelines. An inkling of what could be accomplished came to life recently at Olympic Sculpture Park, where a small slice of beach was re-created.
Environmentalists and scientists point out that local governments are under the gun to boost the number of endangered salmon on the nearby Duwamish River. If that works, it will mean more baby salmon -- hungry baby salmon -- coming to Elliott Bay in years to come.

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