Orca Network News - January, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
January 1, 2005 through January 31, 2005.
January 31, 2005 (Seattle Times) The mighty Queets, one of the biggest, undammed, wild rivers in the Lower 48, reigns supreme in its kingdom of Olympic National Park, where it muscles about 50 miles from the glaciers of Mount Olympus to the Pacific.
Wading across it in summertime when the water is lowest is a rite of passage for anyone who would hike the Queets trail, reached on the other side of the river. Any other time of year? Forget it.
For all its charisma, the Queets is a river that people who don't fish don't talk of much. It's far away - four hours from Seattle, reached down a dead-end, gravel road. But to those who know it, well worth every pothole and busted tire.
The forests along its banks, protected within the park, and the river's untamed flow make the Queets a window into a lost world, a rare landscape in the Lower 48.
Oil spill found in Dalco Passage
January 29, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Cleanup crews act quickly, but mystery sheen is thin and little damage expected
A mystery oil spill was discovered yesterday in Dalco Passage -- close to where a 1,500-gallon spill three months ago was ignored overnight and wound up fouling more than 20 miles of shoreline.
This time, state and federal officials sprang into action after getting initial reports of an oil sheen. Two helicopters were dispatched to survey the scene, and a small fleet of cleanup boats entered the waters near Point Defiance.
The spill -- estimated at hundreds of gallons -- was discovered shortly after 11 a.m. by a Washington State Ferries captain plying the passage and construction crews on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
By afternoon, the ribbony, silvery sheen had reached Commencement Bay, Gig Harbor on the Kitsap Peninsula and Quartermaster Harbor -- a refuge for migratory birds and spawning herring.
But last night, state Ecology Department officials recalled the cleanup boats after determining that there was little risk of further environmental harm.
Oil spill dirties waters off Tacoma January 29, 2005 (Seattle Times
Scientists Ask For Photos Of Visiting Orcas
January 28, 2005 (KIRO-TV) Killer whales that have been visiting Hood Canal in recent days are transients and aren't from the pods normally seen in Puget Sound, scientists said.
Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, said the animals are probably part of a group that roams widely, sometimes between Puget Sound and southeast Alaska.
The center is asking anyone with photos of the whales to submit them at the Web site orcanetwork.org or call (866) ORCA-NET.
The transient whales are eating seals, and not fish, which is the normal diet of three Puget Sound groups, the J, K and L pods.
Six orcas have been seen since Monday. Witnesses said two of the orcas had tall dorsal fins, suggesting they were males.
In January 2003, a group of 11 seal-eating orcas stayed in Hood Canal for eight weeks, but orcas are rarely seen in the waterway.
Whale Stranding in N.C. Followed Navy Sonar Use
January 28, 2005 (Washington Post) At least 37 whales beached themselves and died along the North Carolina shore earlier this month soon after Navy vessels on a deep-water training mission off the coast used powerful sonar as part of the exercise.
Although the Navy says any connection between the strandings and its active sonar is "unlikely" -- because the underwater detection system was used more than 200 miles from where the whales beached themselves -- it is cooperating with other federal agencies probing a possible link. Government fisheries officials, as well as activists for whales, say the fact that three species of whales died in the incident suggests that sonar may have been the cause.
The possible connection between naval sonar and the deaths of whales and other marine mammals has become an increasingly controversial issue since the Navy acknowledged that the loud blasts of its sonar helped cause a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas in 2000. Since then, critics have accused the Navy of involvement in numerous mass strandings in U.S. and international waters, and federal environmental officials have concluded in some instances that the loud pulses from active sonar cannot be ruled out as a cause.
The North Carolina strandings could be especially problematic for the Navy because it hopes to establish a 500-square-nautical-mile underwater sonar testing range off that coast. The Navy says a draft environmental impact statement is near completion, and officials have said the range is a high priority.
Most of the animals that died in the latest incident were pilot whales, which stranded around the Oregon Inlet of the Outer Banks on Jan. 15. One newborn minke whale also beached at Corolla that day, and two dwarf sperm whales came ashore at Buxton on Jan. 16, locations about 60 miles north and south of the inlet. Six of the pilot whales were pregnant when they died, Barclay said.
None of the three whale species is considered endangered, though NOAA officials say their populations are relatively small and little understood in the Atlantic. But other endangered marine animals -- including right and humpback whales and numerous species of sea turtles -- regularly migrate through the waters off North Carolina.
"The circumstances are troubling," said Michael Jasny, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Navy on other sonar-related issues. "After so many whale deaths caused by sonar, these latest strandings are a red flag. . . . Unfortunately, the Navy has a long history of denial."
Toxic chemical causes hearing loss in whales, study suggests
January 28, 2005 (Toronto Globe and Mail) A toxic chemical used to prevent barnacles from clinging to ship hulls may cause deafness in marine mammals and could lead whales to beach themselves, Yale researchers say.
The hearing loss would be the latest environmental hazard linked to TBT, a chemical already known to cause death or genetic mutation in small aquatic life such as sea snails and clams. TBT, short for tributylin, is banned in many countries but is still widely used.
The Yale study, which will be published in the Biophysical Journal in March, found that TBT interferes with the ability of the inner ear's outer hair cells to regulate chloride levels. Those hair cells help amplify sounds and are critical in the normal hearing process. When the chloride is not regulated, it can affect hearing, researchers said.
"Since many marine mammals use echolocation or sonar to get around, it's possible this could be contributing to whales' and dolphins' beaching and hitting ships," said Joseph Santos-Sacchi, professor of surgery and neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine.
No-spray buffers to stay – for now
January 28, 2005 (Capital Press) The interim no-spray buffers for certain pesticides applied near fish-sensitive waterways won't be going away any time soon.
That's the prediction from an environmental attorney and an official at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Seattle-based Earthjustice, said the interim buffer requirements imposed under a federal judge's order in a salmon-related pesticide case will remain in place longer than first expected now that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to re-evaluate and update some of its determinations on pesticides that may affect listed fish.
In its re-evaluations, EPA will use more up-to-date science as well as more comprehensive data about various life stages of salmon.
"The agencies are sorting this out for the long term," said Goldman, referring to ongoing consultations between the EPA and NOAA Fisheries.
She warned that although EPA's determinations on the 54 pesticides named in a lawsuit against the agency remain intact, that could change when EPA goes back and re-evaluates some of them.
Summit wraps up vast plan to restore salmon
January 27, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Poised to unveil sweeping plans to rebuild Puget Sound salmon runs, representatives of builders, environmentalists, timber companies, tribes, farmers and local governments are girding this week for an onslaught of challenges.
Five years after headlines heralded Endangered Species Act protections for the Sound's struggling chinook salmon, the people of the region are about to tell federal authorities how they plan to bring the fish populations back to healthy levels.
But what looms ahead is daunting to many attending this week's regional "salmon summit" here: tight government budgets. Public apathy. Private property-rights crusaders and simmering resentment over salmon-protecting building regulations. Efforts to undercut the Endangered Species Act in Congress.
Still, the 500 or so people at the two-day meeting concluding today at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center expressed optimism because of the unusual way the salmon restoration plans have been developed -- by locals, rather than by federal officials.
Part pep rally, part seminar, part debate, the summit amounts to a giant strategy session -- held under banners that proclaim: "Creating a future for both salmon and people."
"We have tried from the beginning to see the recovery plan as our business, all of our business," conference organizer William Ruckelshaus, the first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told the group in the keynote address. "We are asking you to leave your agendas at the door and go to work over the next two days to save people and fish."
Speaker after speaker emphasized the unusual nature of the region's "bottom-up" response to the federal government's designation of Puget Sound chinook as "threatened."
Across 14 watersheds in the Sound and the San Juan Islands, groups of people representing widely varied interests have spent the last three years hammering out plans to resurrect the salmon runs.
Drafts of those plans are being revised now and are expected to be presented to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service in June.
Effort to aid salmon taking shape January 27, 2005 (Seattle Times)
Judge blocks permit for gravel-mine dock
January 26, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A King County judge has ordered the county not to issue a permit until at least Feb. 7 for a Maury Island barge dock, which would be used to expand a gravel mine there.
In her Monday ruling, Judge Sharon Armstrong said she granted the temporary stay because opponents of the expanded gravel mine would likely prevail in their appeals to halt it and the barge would case "irreparable injury" to the island.
Three environmental groups and King County appealed in December a decision by the Shoreline Hearings Board to allow Northwest Aggregates Co. to build a pier and expand a sand and gravel mine on Maury Island.
Armstrong said that the environmental groups would likely prevail in their appeal because aspects of the board's decision to grant a permit for the barge dock were, she said, likely erroneous. The board's interpretations of land use acts "should be resolved by an appellate court before construction begins," she wrote.
Wooing the Salmon
January 26, 2005 (The Columbian) If the Klickitat River does not become one of the salmon's greatest friends in the Pacific Northwest, it certainly won't be for humans' lack of effort. The river, which begins on the Yakama Indian Reservation and meanders south along the east slopes of Mount Adams before emptying into the Columbia River about 80 miles east of Vancouver, is a great laboratory for restoring salmon runs.
Last week in Vancouver, representatives of the Yakama Nation addressed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Vancouver and described an ambitious and admirable series of efforts to make the Klickitat River a workhorse of Columbia River basin salmon production. About $30 million in government, tribal and private funds will be spent in the next 10 years on numerous projects, including:
* The Klickitat hatchery 70 miles upstream, currently owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be transferred to the Yakama Tribe and upgraded. A new spring-water intake system will be capable of generating enough hydroelectricity to power the hatchery itself.
* Another hatchery will be built near Wahkiacus and fish passage will be improved at Lyle Falls.
* About 400 acres of riverside habitat will be purchased along an 18-mile stretch of the river north of Wahkiacus.
Orcas seen roaming in Hood Canal past two days
January 26, 2005 (Seattle Times) Killer whales have been seen in Hood Canal for the past two days.
Six orcas were seen Monday and again yesterday. Witnesses said two of the orcas had tall dorsal fins, suggesting they were males.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said the animals were probably transients, part of a group that roams widely, sometimes between Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska.
Scientist reveals a melting Alaska
January 25, 2005 (Anchorage Daily News) In climate science, a few pictures can be worth a thousand data points.
Two photos taken about 50 years apart show the shrinking McCall Glacier in the Brooks Range -- once a bulging river of ice, now an eroded tongue.
Other graphs illustrate overall glacial meltdown in Alaska and Greenland -- and their contribution to the slow rise in sea level. The Arctic ice pack withered in the summers of 2002, 2003 and 2004 -- creating a vast ice-free expanse in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska's Arctic Coast.
And then there's a consequence: white, foaming surf tears away at the bank in the coastal village of Shishmaref, consuming land and undercutting village housing.
"I think the erosion was occurring right as the picture was taken," said John Walsh, the President's Professor of Climate Change at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lead scientist at the International Arctic Research Center.
Group of killer whales spotted in Hood Canal
January 25, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) A group of at least six killer whales was observed in Hood Canal today, and excited residents were hoping they would stay for a long visit.
Of course, nobody can predict how long the whales will stay. In January 2003, a group of 11 seal-eating transient orcas stayed for eight weeks in Hood Canal, where they spent many of their daylight hours swimming and hunting between Quilcene and Hoodsport.
No killer whales have been spotted in Hood Canal since that 2003 visit -- until today.
"We were sitting on our deck this morning and having coffee," Elaine Wiley said Monday. "There were probably six of them, swimming fairly fast." Wiley lives near Ayock Point, north of Lilliwaup in Mason County.
Two of the orcas had tall dorsal fins, she said, suggesting they were adult males.
Marcy Craig, owner of Lilliwaup Store and Motel, said at least five people came into the store Monday and told her they had seen the whales as far south as Hoodsport.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said he was unaware of any whales in the area. The animals are probably transients, a subspecies of orca that roams widely, sometimes from Puget Sound to Southeast Alaska, he said.
But they might be fish-eating residents, Balcomb added. J Pod -- one of three Puget Sound groups -- has been known to visit Hood Canal in years past. J Pod has been sighted recently in Puget Sound.
Northwest thrives on healthy salmon
January 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed) The Bush administration wished West Coast residents an unhappy New Year when it slapped our region with a proposal to cut protections of critical wild salmon and steelhead habitat by 80 percent. As members of Washington's once-thriving salmon economy, our businesses can't afford this blow to our bottom line.
For Washington state, this policy proposal means Puget Sound rivers, such as the Nooksack and those flowing into the Hood Canal, will no longer be protected as key habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead. The administration's policy reversal will lead to more uncontrolled development and logging that could choke rivers and streams with silt and contaminants.
This policy change is not just an "environmental" slap in the face. Protecting and recovering salmon to healthy, harvestable numbers is vital to our livelihoods. Restoring healthy habitat also has huge benefits for all Salmon State residents by providing cleaner water for drinking and recreation.
Our businesses, along with thousands of others across this region, depend on healthy, harvestable runs of salmon and steelhead. As a result, tribal, commercial and sport fishing communities have worked hard in recent decades as responsible stewards, to be part of the solution -- not part of the problem.
Norwegian multinationals are exporting pollution to the West coast of Canada
January 24, 2005 (Salmon Farm Monitor) Norwegian multinationals such as Cermaq, Stolt and Pan Fish are exporting pollution to the West coast of Canada. A new report – "Diminishing Returns: An Investigation Into the Five Multinational Corporations That Control British Columbia's Salmon Farming Industry" – published by the Raincoast Conservation Society in December lifts the lid on the five biggest multinationals operating in British Columbia. The ‘Diminishing Returns' report takes an in-depth look at disease outbreaks, financial woes, chemical use and the global track record of Nutreco, Stolt, Cermaq, Pan Fish and Heritage.
The Raincoast report, written by Sara Cox, reveals that these five companies operate 80% of B.C.'s marine salmon farm sites. In 2002 and 2003, four of "the Big Five" lost money on salmon farming operations – a combined half a billion dollars. In fact, Norwegian salmon farming companies were amongst the worst performers for 2004 on the Oslo stock exchange. Pan Fish shares fell in value by 62%, Domstein by 31% and Fjord Seafood by 19%. On the Dutch EuroNext, stock listed company Nutreco shares fell by 15% during 2004.
All time, the use of antibiotics and other chemicals is increasing. In 2003, more than 25,000 kilograms of antibiotics were used on B.C. salmon farms – twice that used in 1995. When measured per tonne, antibiotic use in 2003 was the highest it has been since 1998. In 2003, the B.C. salmon farming industry spent $5 million on therapeutants, an increase from $4.5 million the previous year.
Study suggests whales may be related to hippos
January 24, 2005 (CNN) Although the hippopotamus does not seem a likely relative of whales, genetic study has suggested they are close. Now, a team at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Poitiers in France and the University of N'djamena in Chad say they have found more evidence in the fossil record.
"The problem with hippos is, if you look at the general shape of the animal it could be related to horses, as the ancient Greeks thought, or pigs, as modern scientists thought," researcher Jean-Renaud Boisserie said in a statement.
"But cetaceans -- whales, porpoises and dolphins -- don't look anything like hippos. There is a 40-million-year gap between fossils of early cetaceans and early hippos," Boisserie added.
The earliest cetacean fossils date back 53 million years while the first hippopotamus fossils date to about 16 million years.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Boisserie and colleagues propose a new theory that whales and hippos had a common water-loving ancestor that lived 50 to 60 million years ago.
From it evolved two groups -- the early cetaceans, which gradually moved into the water full-time, and a large and diverse group of pig-like animals called anthracotheres.
These animals flourished, forming 37 distinct genera across the world before dying out and leaving just one descendant 2.5 million years ago -- the hippopotamus.
Ship Begins Sound Wave Research Off Yucatan
January 22, 2005 (Mercury News) Scientists working off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula began using sound waves to search for information about an asteroid that may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The research project began despite concerns among environmental activists who say the technology could harm whales, sea turtles and several varieties of fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
They are using the underwater seismic pulses to learn more about the Chicxulub Crater, a depression measuring about 120 miles in diameter and centered just outside the port of Progreso, 190 miles west of Cancun.
But environmentalists say the sonic blasts damage the brain and ears of marine mammals and other species and disorient the animals so that they beach themselves or crash into boats.
Scientists acknowledge there's evidence that points to Navy sonar causing whales to beach themselves. But they say there's no proof that seismic pulses have harmed marine animals, though more research is needed to draw firm conclusions.
Yes, there's work to do for a healthy Sound
January 21, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) If so many of us are going to live around Puget Sound, we have to do so in ways that preserve a clean body of water. Our region depends on a healthy Sound.
A new report shows very mixed trends for the Sound, with modest signs of improvement but also major reasons for concern. That's disappointing but hardly surprising.
Despite some progress, Puget Sound has serious problems, some of them clearly worsening. The oxygen-depleted dead zone in Hood Canal is a scary illustration of the reality that pollution from an ever-increasing population could kill major ecosystems throughout the inland waters of Western Washington.
It's encouraging that Gov. Christine Gregoire immediately took note of the report, saying, "We have work to do." The new governor and legislators can indeed do more to protect the Sound and its contributions to the region's quality of life, economy and overall health.
State of Puget Sound troubling
January 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Development continues to overtake cleanup efforts, report finds
More attention is being paid to ailing Puget Sound than ever before -- but growth-related damage to the estuary's fragile environment is still outpacing government-funded cleanup efforts, according to a report released yesterday.
There are bright spots -- some polluted areas are being cleansed, invasive weeds are being repelled and the region's orca population is getting more protection, the biennial "State of the Sound" report found.
But when the Sound's overall health comes into focus, the picture is troubling.
Development throughout the region is booming, and that can be bad news for marine creatures when it rains, the authors of the report, the Puget Sound Action Team, concluded.
Record volumes of unfiltered stormwater are rushing down gutters -- scouring streambeds and dumping dirt, oil, pesticides and animal waste into creeks and rivers, and ultimately the Sound.
"We have work to do," Gov. Christine Gregoire said in releasing the report. "This report shows the need to recommit ourselves to the important tasks of cleaning up Puget Sound."
"It's not a habitat problem or an eelgrass problem," said Tom Mumford, a marine biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. "It's a people problem. There needs to be some wholesale changes in people's attitudes."
A slow recovery for Puget Sound January 19, 2005 (Seattle Times)
Pollution outpaces cleanup, study says January 19, 2005 (The Olympian)
Oil is found 50 miles from sunken freighter
January 14, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fuel oil from the Selendang Ayu has reached the fishing community of Dutch Harbor, 50 miles from the wreckage of the grounded freighter, prompting new concerns about the effect of last month's spill off the western coast of Unalaska Island.
"Obviously the extent of contamination has grown substantially," Leslie Pearson, a spill response official with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said yesterday. "It makes you wonder what other shoreline impacts there may be."
Pearson said state workers counted as many as two dozen clumps of oil -- some measuring 2 feet in diameter -- along a quarter-mile stretch of Captain's Bay at the southern end of Dutch Harbor, a community of 4,000 on Unalaska Island. Pearson said the agency is trying to assess the threat to the local water table as well as seafood processing plants in the area.
The oil, first reported to the state Wednesday, is about 50 miles from the site where the soybean freighter broke apart Dec. 8.
How To Count Right Whales
January 13, 2005 (Slate) Marine biologists are alarmed by the recent deaths of four North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered cetaceans on the planet. Only 325 to 350 of the mammoth whales remain, due largely to the ravages of 19th-century hunters. Still, the population has rebounded slightly over the past few years; in 2000, it was estimated that the population numbered just 300 individuals. How do scientists make such an accurate right whale count?
Partly with the assistance of generous shutterbugs, and partly by keeping aerial tabs on the species' annual birth-giving practices. Fortunately for the marine biologists who track the right whale, the animals bear unique calluses on their heads. These areas of thickened skin are present at birth and are hued white, yellow, or pink as whale lice make their home there. (The lice are actually tiny crustaceans rather than insects.) Scientists are therefore able to use photographic evidence to differentiate one individual from another.
Over the years, the New England Aquarium, which spearheads the efforts to accurately count the North Atlantic right whale, has examined and catalogued hundreds of thousands of pictures from its own researchers, other marine biologists, wildlife officials, Coast Guard patrols, and even amateur whale watchers. These pictures are almost exclusively snapped in areas known to be the species' favorite haunts, such as the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia, Cape Cod Bay, and the coastal border between Florida and Georgia, where calves are born each winter.
It's time for straight talk on salmon
January 12, 2005 (Daily Astorian Editorial) No more dressed-up perpetuation of the status quo
If all else goes well, can endangered salmon runs prosper in coexistence with dams?
The convoluted salmon recovery plan known as the BiOp sets out all actions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration that affect survival of 12 salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act. The biggest item on the negative side of this equation is dams; on the positive side are all the steps taken to make up for the damage dams do to fish runs.
It's hard to not pity NOAA Fisheries personnel. The president and most leading Northwest politicians are strongly and vocally opposed to the one action most certain to help endangered salmon – restoring natural water flow in the Snake-Columbia River system by bypassing four federal dams.
The goal of NOAA Fisheries and the federal water agencies is, transparently, to limit the costs of salmon recovery on the hydropower system and other politically powerful interests that compete with fish for valuable water.
The Endangered Species Act, however, is considerably more expansive in its goals, prohibiting agencies from making "irretrievable and irreversible commitments of resources" that get in the way of future actions to help endangered salmon. In other words, the federal agencies violate the law if they enact a salmon recovery plan that gives power production, farm irrigation and other uses a permanent priority on par with leaving water in the river system for fish.
The law – and the people of the Northwest – require a genuine analysis of dam operations and a meaningful plan for real recovery of salmon runs, not just a dressed-up perpetuation of the status quo.
Judge rules out ballot fight on land-use rules
January 12, 2005 (Seattle Times) A King County Superior Court judge yesterday ruled that the county's new and controversial critical-areas ordinances, designed to protect habitat and water quality and reduce flooding in rural areas, cannot be challenged by voter referendums filed by rural East King County residents.
Judge Palmer Robinson declared the ballot measures "beyond the scope of the referendum power" provided in the King County Charter and the Washington Constitution, a decision both sides said agreed with higher-court precedent that local referendums can't overturn critical-areas ordinances mandated by the state Growth Management Act.
Still, property-rights advocates said they plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The critical-areas ordinances, adopted by the Metropolitan King County Council last October, have riled rural residents from Duvall to Enumclaw. The most controversial provision requires property owners in unincorporated King County to preserve vegetation on 50 to 65 percent of their land, depending on lot size, when they develop.
'Critical habitat' for salmon in peril
January 10, 2005 (Vancouver Columbian) A new proposal by the Bush administration would strip Salmon Creek of its designation as key habitat for its namesake fish.
Fish continue to dwell within the 27-mile tributary, which runs through the heart of rapidly urbanizing Clark County. But the same economic pressures to build, dike and develop the land along its banks over the past century have reduced the creek's value as a refuge for salmon and steelhead.
So the National Marine Fisheries Service, complying with a recent court settlement, wants to remove Salmon Creek from a list of so-called "critical habitat" protected under the Endangered Species Act. Throughout the Northwest, the list would shrink by 80 percent.
The fisheries service released a voluminous proposal in November, and will take public comment on it at a hearing Tuesday evening at the Thunderbird Hotel in Jantzen Beach.
The agency maintains the move will make little difference. But environmental groups argue it would undermine fish recovery efforts.
Even among streams where critical habitat still applies, the agency now proposes to scale back the designation only as far as a stream's bank width. In the past, the designation extended over land as far as the potential height of two fallen trees laid end to end on the theory that streamside development inevitably affects the stream itself.
"It's just another unnecessary layer of regulations," said Timothy Harris, chief counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington.
Fish Recovery Plan Calls For 75-Year Effort
January 10, 2005 (NW Fishletter) The first official recovery plan for some Northwest salmon stocks was handed off to NOAA Fisheries by Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D) in early December. The reportedly 2000-page draft plan for improving stocks in the lower Columbia region (Washington side only) was given to regional NOAA Fisheries head Bob Lohn, whose agency will use it as the backbone for one of their ESA-mandated recovery plans.
"We are making progress and have seen a slowdown in the decline of our salmon populations, thanks to these many years of hard, innovative work, and with the help of improved ocean conditions," Locke said. "It is important that we recognize and celebrate our progress, but that we also not slow down. By continuing our commitment to this work, we can and will succeed in restoring our wild salmon populations so that they no longer need protection under the Endangered Species Act."
NOAA's Lohn used the occasion to stress the importance of "bottoms-up" input. "Local involvement is absolutely vital to salmon recovery," he said. "Without locally-led efforts, no recovery plan will succeed. We're committed to this plan as the foundation for salmon recovery. It's good for salmon and it's good for the region."
In melting Arctic, warming is now
January 6, 2005 (Christian Science Monitor) Arctic-dwelling Inuit have a word for their crazy weather - Uggianaqtuq. Pronounce it "oog-gi-a-nak-took." It means "to behave unexpectedly."
Scientists who consult Inuit for their take on climate change consider that an apt description. The Arctic, they say, is undergoing profound ecological change. It's become the poster child for global warming. Not only are average air temperatures rising, ice sheets thinning, and permafrost melting, the whole complex interconnected network of arctic life and its environment are changing in ways not reflected in the geological record or Inuit lore. This no longer is a forecast of what might happen in future decades. It is happening right now.
Whatever the cause, loss of sea ice is a disaster for animals, such as polar bears, that depend on it for habitat. Polar bears cannot live long on land, notes Ignatius Rigor from the University of Washington at Seattle. They are adapted to an ice-based ocean way of life. They have trouble reaching the ice when it is as far out as it is today. Polar bears, he says, are predicted to be extinct within 50 years.
Orca pod likely headed north
January 5, 2005 (The Olympian) A pod of transient killer whales that cruised Budd Inlet on New Year's Eve probably is still in Puget Sound, but not South Puget Sound, according to scattered reports to the Orca Network based on Whidbey Island.
"We think they are still around," Susan Berta, co-founder of the nonprofit Orca Network, said Tuesday. "But it's hard to tell if people are seeing the transients or K-pod." K-pod is one of three families of fish-eating resident orcas that live much of the year around the San Juan Islands and north-to-central Puget Sound, with an occasional foray into South Sound.
The transient pod seen in South Sound a few days ago is part of a population of roughly 170 killer whales that roam the marine waters from southeast Alaska to California in small, marine-mammal-eating groups.
"What makes it tricky for the public is that both pods have new calves," Berta said.
On Sunday, Orca Network received a report of six to eight orcas swimming deep into Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island.
For regular reports of whale sightings, check out the Orca Network's Web site, www.orcanetwork.org.
Groups Sue Over Revised Columbia River Salmon Plan
January 4, 2005 (Oregon Public Broadcasting) A coalition of fishing groups and environmentalists is suing the federal government again over its latest plan to save Columbia River salmon. A federal judge ordered the government to revise its plan, but plaintiffs in this lawsuit say the new proposal is worst than the first.
The salmon recovery plan is in the form of a biological opinion. U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered the government back to the drawing board two years. The judge said the old version was too uncertain to ensure protection of threatened fish.
But salmon advocates say NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of salmon recovery, has now come out with an even weaker plan. In the new proposal the government, declares for the first time, that federal dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers are part of the natural river environment.
Todd True is an attorney for Earth Justice. He says the dams are the main reason fish are in trouble.
Todd True: While it is true that we have more salmon today, if you talk to scientists they will tell you that that seems to be largely attributable to ocean conditions and that in fact the overall direction of decline for these fish is still steep and troubling and if the ocean conditions happen to change as they do frequently, we could lose these salmon.
True and his plaintiffs say removing the four lower Snake dams is the only way to ensure salmon recovery. The Bush Administration says that option is off the table.
An administration roadmap to salmon extinction
January 4, 2005 (Seattle Times Op-ed by Bruce Babbitt) Wild salmon are drifting toward extinction in the northern Rocky Mountains. Last fall, the Bush administration delivered a decision that will be the death blow, if it stands: Four obsolete dams on the Snake River in eastern Washington state will not be dismantled.
The Snake River dams were conceived on a field of industrial dreams. The idea took root in the 1960s, when local boosters persuaded Congress to authorize a huge project to transform Lewiston, Idaho, 400 miles from the Pacific, into a seaport.
The Army Corps of Engineers then proceeded to subdue 140 miles of the wild Snake, remaking it into a slack-water barge channel.
Prized chinook runs vanished throughout central Idaho. Fisheries and fishing jobs in the Northwest and as far away as Alaska, tribal fisheries included, declined with them.
Meanwhile, the promised inland seaport boom did not arrive.
All of this cries out for a common-sense solution that takes all sides into account. There is one that has yet to be considered: Simply shut down the barge traffic, take out the dams and then dedicate a small part of the annual $36 million that would be saved to making up the shipping differential with the farmers.
In contrast, the administration's plan to keep the dams and "save" the salmon has an estimated total cost of $6 billion over the next 10 years. Much of that would go to various schemes to barge, truck, pipe and steer migrating salmon around the dams.
Scientists have repeatedly concluded that these proposals offer little hope of restoring the wild salmon to fishable abundance.
Whale pod tours Budd Inlet
January 1, 2005 (The Olympian) A group of seven killer whales was spotted Friday afternoon in Budd Inlet, an unusual occurrence that happens about once a year, a research biologist said.
Cascadia Research, a nonprofit organization that studies marine mammals on the West Coast, received a call about a gray whale in the area, and researchers had launched their boat from Boston Harbor to check out the sighting, said John Calambokidis.
"And the killer whales were right there," he said. They never got a chance to find the gray whale.
Christian Hoerr of Olympia was on a friend's boat, Lazy Lightning, when they headed to Boston Harbor Marina to pick someone up Friday afternoon and spotted the orcas.
"I've never seen live whales in my life before, so it was quite a thrill," Hoerr said. "It was the most exciting way I can think of to close out the old year."
Researchers expected the group to be part of the resident pods that hang out in Puget Sound near Vashon Island, Calambokidis said.
"It turned out to be a group of transient killer whales," he said.
Researchers are able to identify individual whales by their natural markings and characteristics, he said. The resident whales feed almost exclusively on fish and especially salmon, he said.
The transient whales killed a harbor seal during their visit.
Natives want Luna to spend second summer in B.C. sound
January 1, 2005 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Safety versus spiritual needs divides the guardians of a lonely killer whale off Vancouver Island.
Area aboriginal people want to ensure the dangerously boisterous orca remains in Nootka Sound until a ceremonial potlatch in November. But residents of Gold River, who have watched with increasing alarm as Luna toys with boats and floatplanes, are worried what another summer with their huge guest will mean.
The local native band believes Luna is in Nootka Sound because he embodies the spirit of their late chief. They say he will not be trucked away from the area at least until after the important potlatch, or feast, to celebrate the chief's life.
Even after that date, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation says it will continue to object to the technique planned to reunite the whale -- known to them as Tsux'iit -- with its family pod in U.S. waters.
"Putting it in a truck and then having it travel all the way down the road . . . we find it's really disrespectful for the whale," said Jamie James, the band's fisheries manager.
He also said the band would prefer a natural reunion.