Orca Network News - June, 2006
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
June 1, 2006 through June 30, 2006.
June 30, 2006 (San Francisco Chronicle) This is the time of the year when the ocean off the California coast should be at its most lush, teeming with vast schools of krill to feed whales and salmon as well as plenty of baby rockfish for seabirds, seals and fishermen's nets.
But based on new counts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, federal researchers are reporting an odd summer and a scarcity of some sea life from San Diego to Newport, Ore., for the second year in a row.
And some scientists wonder if the warming of the world's oceans and atmosphere is playing a part.
"The upwelling that we normally expect in the springtime hasn't kicked in," said Frank Schwing, a NOAA oceanographer. "We think there might be real consequences for the seabirds, fish and mammals."
On the Farallon Islands, krill-eating Cassin's auklets are producing only a few chicks this year. Common murres, although plentiful in numbers, for the most part can't find the rockfish to keep their young alive.
Many scientists believe that the years of 2005 and 2006 should have been cold ones in the California Current, the band of coastal water from Baja California to British Columbia, according to calculations of naturally alternating cold and warm periods over the past millennia.
By now, the offshore waters should be roiling with plankton and the shrimplike krill, the foundation of the ocean's food chain. Instead, the researchers say, the organisms appear to be in short supply.
Oceanographers are scratching their heads over the brand-new data. While they believe that global warming may be throwing off natural climate regimes, they don't know how the warming might eventually affect the California Current.
Environmental groups sue government over Naval exercise using sonar
June 30, 2006 (Earth Times) U.S. environmental groups have sued the federal government Wednesday to halt the Navy from using active sonar during maritime exercises planned off Hawaii in July. The groups contend the sound could harm whales and other marine mammals present in large numbers in the region.
A coalition of environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a suit filed in a federal court in Los Angeles, sought a temporary restraining order unless the Navy takes effective measures to protect marine life.
More than 40 ships from eight countries are participating in the exercise, known as Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC, preliminary stages of which began Monday off the islands. The sonar part of the exercise begins after July 4 and lasts three weeks.
Earlier, on Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had granted permission to the Navy to use mid-frequency active sonar in the exercise despite concerns expressed by the environmentalists that it could even kill whales and dolphins.
Massive algae bloom swirls off coast
June 29, 2006 (Victoria Times Colonist) Scientists are worried that global warming might have contributed to creating an algae bloom off the west coast of Vancouver Island that is so big it can be seen from space.
At the Institute of Ocean Sciences in North Saanich, researchers are tracking the swirling mass that runs the length of the Island's west coast. They believe it consists mainly of coccolithophore, a naturally occurring, single-cell phytoplankton.
It's the biggest algae bloom institute physicist Jim Gowen has seen.
"The bloom is good in that it means there are lots of nutrients out there for things to grow," he said. "But what we're worried about is that if global warming is going to really kick in and start warming everything up, then the prediction has to be that we'll see more of these things more often. It's certainly worrying when you see the biggest one, because you think that it's a sign things are getting worse."
Magnuson's legacy is intact
June 28, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Fred Felleman) In a 1977 Senate speech, Magnuson said: "The waters of Puget Sound, and the attendant resources, are indeed a major national environmental treasure. Puget Sound ought to be strictly protected; its resources ought not to be threatened. Since tanker accidents are directly related to the amount of tanker traffic, there should not be an expansion of traffic over what now presently exists."
Congress listened to Magnuson, amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act by prohibiting federal permits that would expand refinery dock capacities to handle crude oil beyond that required for Washington state needs. His amendment stopped a proposed supertanker port at Cherry Point and pipeline to Rocky Mountain markets.
However, in the intervening years, federal agencies failed to enforce the law, resulting in state refineries producing twice as much oil products as we consume. This failure has increased our risk and was successfully challenged in 2005 when the Corps and BP lost our lawsuit challenging the refinery dock construction near Bellingham without preparing an environmental impact statement or considering the amendment's implications.
This is particularly important now that the National Marine Fisheries Service has found that oil spills pose a significant threat of extinction to our endangered orcas and have proposed the waters surrounding the dock as critical habitat for their recovery.
Our settlement does not affect the court's ruling, only what BP is obligated to do during the time it takes the Corps to complete the EIS and issue a Magnuson-compliant permit. Not knowing what the court might grant us after another costly hearing, we waived our claim to temporarily restrict the number of tankers coming to the dock in exchange for substantial oil spill protections, including placement of booms around tankers before they transfer oil, the purchase of additional skimmers, designated anchorages for oil barges, avoidance of the narrowest tanker passage with additional safeguards required if they use it, and a $1 million state of the art vessel traffic study to be incorporated into the Army Corps' EIS and future regulatory reviews.
Navy gets permit to use sonar that may affect whales, dolphins
June 28, 2006 (Seattle Times) Federal regulators granted the Navy a permit Tuesday to use sonar in a maritime exercise despite environmentalists' concerns it could disturb or even kill whales and dolphins.
It was the first such permit granted to the Navy, and one environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said it would file a lawsuit today to prevent the sonar's use.
The monthlong exercise, which includes anti-submarine training, involves naval forces from eight nations. It began Monday off the Hawaiian Islands. The sonar part of the exercise begins after July 4 and lasts three weeks.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave the Navy a permit to use mid-frequency active sonar, which can affect marine mammals' behavior. In documents released Tuesday, NOAA determined that the exercise would cause no significant environmental impact.
But the NRDC said using the sonar would be illegal.
"It is absurd to designate an area a Marine National Monument one week, and then authorize the Navy to blast it with high-intensity sonar the next," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at NRDC and director of its Marine Mammal Protection Project. "It is possible for the Navy to train effectively without needlessly inflicting harm on marine life, and that is exactly what federal law requires."
Gray whales experience baby boom, experts report
June 27, 2006 (San Jose Mercury News) While many whale species remain endangered, the gray whale calf count along the California coast rose sharply this spring, marine scientists reported Monday.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the increase probably reflects the whales' greater access to their Arctic Ocean feeding grounds. That's probably due to warmer temperatures that have reduced sea ice.
``For gray whales, reduced ice provides greater access to prey, just the opposite of what we see with polar bears, where reduced ice means reduced access to prey,'' said Wayne Perryman, a biologist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.
Environmentalists have pointed to global warming as the reason for melting ice in the Arctic, but warm-to-cold cycles in Arctic temperatures are ``normal,'' Perryman said, and don't necessarily reflect global warming.
Supreme Court to Hear Bush Environment Case
June 26, 2006 (San Francisco Chronicle) The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.
The decision means the court will address whether the administration's decision to rely on voluntary measures to combat climate change are legal under federal clean air laws.
"This is the whole ball of wax. This will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency is to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and whether EPA can regulate carbon dioxide from power plants," said David Bookbinder, an attorney for the Sierra Club.
Endangered orcas return with 2 babies
June 24, 2006 (Seattle Times) The endangered orca whales of Puget Sound have two new babies, bringing the southern resident population to 89.
K and L pods are back in the San Juan Islands from their winter travels, and each brought a baby in tow. "They look healthy. They apparently had a good winter. It looks like they all pulled through," said Kenneth Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
The K pod baby is estimated to be only a few weeks old. The L pod baby was probably born in the spring. Both appear to be very healthy, said Balcomb, who confirmed the sightings on Friday.
Any increase in the number of southern resident orca whales is good news. The animals were recently listed as endangered, the most critical status, under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is in the process of working up a recovery plan for the southern resident population. The service has proposed designating about 2,500 square miles of Puget Sound critical habitat for the orcas. Projects proposed for the designated area, such as building a dock or bridge, would need to be reviewed for their effect on orcas if federal funds were involved.
Nowhere else do so many killer whales share waters with so many humans, posing a unique conservation challenge for both.
At birth, orcas are 7 to 8 feet long and weigh 300 to 400 pounds. Their characteristic white patches can be a bit orange, coloration that fades to the trademark white in time.
More babies could arrive this summer. Some years have brought a boomlet of as many as seven calves. Two calves is about average, but the number is particularly heartening this year because of the recent commitment to restore their numbers.
Orcas are at the top of the marine food chain, and have large, complex brains. The Puget Sound orcas have a unique greeting ceremony, and the matrilineal pods have languages all their own. They feed about half the time - but also indulge in all kinds of play: chasing, splashing at the surface, breaching, fin slapping, tail lobbing, head standing, rolling over other animals and playing with objects, including kelp and jellyfish.
"These are wonderful creatures to have in our neighborhood," Balcomb said. "It is really important that we have animals that keep on reproducing. This is the generation that is going to make the recovery, if it is going to happen."
Seeping toward disaster
June 23, 2006 (Seattle Times editorial) Every moment of every day, radioactive waste from leaking tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation is percolating through groundwater toward the Columbia River. Containing this ecological assault has new urgency as budgetary and bureaucratic disasters continue above ground.
A new, eye-popping cost estimate from the federal Department of Energy is more bad news. Construction of a key waste-treatment plant has soared to $11.5 billion from a 2000 price tag of $4.3 billion. Everyone suspects these DOE figures are written in pencil, too, but the truly depressing piece of the announcement was an extended completion date: 2019. Eight years were tacked onto the deadline previously agreed to by the federal government and the state of Washington.
The goal is to build a treatment plant that converts millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste into glass logs for long-term storage.
Creation of this vitrification process has been slowed by technological challenges, seismic precautions, dithering contractors, anemic federal oversight of a constantly changing parade of contractors and a host of DOE secretaries and members of Congress all horrified by the expense.
The only process not caught up in delay is the movement of radioactive waste toward the Columbia River. Think one million people, 42 cities and towns and a substantial piece of the state's economy and livelihood downstream.
Spokane River among most polluted
June 23, 2006 (Spokesman Review) The Spokane River is contaminated with more of a potentially harmful fire retardant than any other waterway tested in the state, according to state studies released Thursday.
The reports also show that the river continues to contain more adverse chemicals and metals compared with other bodies of water statewide. However, the news wasn't all bleak: Officials say there has been a decline in PCB levels (mixtures of man-made chemicals) in fish over the past decade.
"The good news is that the PCB levels are declining," said Dave McBride, a state health department toxicologist. "We're not exactly sure why, but it's good news."
Sea life counts dive for 2nd year
Decrease in essential plankton and krill disrupt food chain
June 23, 2006 (San Francisco Chronicle) This is the time of the year when the ocean off the California coast should be at its most lush, teeming with vast schools of krill to feed whales and salmon as well as plenty of baby rockfish for seabirds, seals and fishermen's nets.
But based on new counts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, federal researchers are reporting an odd summer and a scarcity of some sea life from San Diego to Newport, Ore., for the second year in a row. And some scientists wonder if the warming of the world's oceans and atmosphere is playing a part.
"The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right now is sufficient to keep trapping heat for a good many years into the future even if we don't put any more into the atmosphere,'' he said, citing the imbalance between the amount of heat coming in from the sun and the amount of heat going out into space.
"The California Current goes up and down like the stock market, but the ups and down are warmer,'' McGowan said, "and there's a long-term trend upward just as there is in the stock market.''
Whales Harmed by Oil-Search Noises, Report Concludes
June 20, 2006 (National Geographic) Whales could be harmed by seismic pulses used for underwater oil exploration, according to a report unanimously endorsed yesterday by the International Whaling Commission.
The report says that the noise from undersea airgun bursts could affect whale migration and mating, and might even be one of the reasons why humpback whales sometimes become stranded in shallow water.
Offshore oil exploration involves the repeated firing of large underwater airguns to create seismic pulses. These pulses are used for sonar-like mapping of rock layers beneath the seabed.
Environmentalists, many of whom are at odds with the commission's recent majority vote to lift a ban on commercial whaling, were pleased with the organization's reaction to the report.
"This has significant implications for reforming the way the oil and gas industries explore in our world's oceans," Joel Reynolds, a lawyer with the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Associated Press.
Japan's whaling ways must end
June 20, 2006 (Seattle Times op-ed by Brenda Peterson) According to the Associated Press, Japanese fisheries official Masayuki Komatsu said of Westerners, "All they think is that whales are 'cute.' "
This statement shows a lack of understanding, both scientific and cross-cultural. As indicator species, whales and dolphins show us the health of our oceans. For example, subsistence Arctic whale hunters on Baffin Island have discovered that mothers can no longer nurse their infants because their milk is contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs. According to another International Whaling Commission meeting, reports on contaminant levels in whale meat in Japan "detected mercury some 1,600 times above the government permitted level, as well as large amounts of organic mercury and cadmium in whale meat that is widely available."
Expanding whaling hunts and eating whale meat in a time of contaminated whales, some of which now must be buried as "toxic waste," is not only bad business - it is dangerous to our human health.
Tokyo-based Dolphin & Whale Action Network reports that the Japanese people no longer like eating whale meat and Tokyo's argument that "whaling should be maintained to meet consumer demand is a fabrication." There are also reports from the online Times in Britain that Japanese whalers have been "throwing away tons of their catches at sea because of a slump in consumption that has resulted in a vast whale-meat surplus."
Japan claims that whaling is a cultural heritage, but what about the environmental culture and heritage of our oceans? The gray whales that once migrated past Japan's lovely islands are now all but extinct. Some Japanese fishermen who once slaughtered dolphins are now leading hugely popular dolphin-watching tours. Conservation-minded whale-watching is huge business worldwide. What if the Japanese spent their whaling money on whale-watching?
As the world moves toward a more enlightened bond with these remarkable fellow mammals, Japan's pro-whaling lobby is leading its people backwards. Internationally, Japanese whalers are viewed as heartless and environmentally short-sighted. Is this the impression a modern Japan wants to give the world?
Japan has changed its environmental course before to great applause when Mitsubishi, the world's largest corporation, decided in June 2000 to preserve the pristine gray whale birthing lagoons in Baja, Mexico. This decision showed the world that Japan was committed to conservation and to the future and not the past, to being a strong and environmentally ethical member of the global community.
Is it possible that the Japanese government will again listen to international pleas and join in the vital work of ocean conservation? While we may not always share cultures, the fate of our oceans is also the shared fate and the future of all nations.
How did the anti-whalers lose?
June 19, 2006 (BBC) So if the rich West cares so much, how did it allow the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to reach a position where, for the first time in 20 years, it has endorsed the idea of commercial whaling?
Did Western governments talk the talk on caring for whales, but not walk the walk in the corridors of international diplomacy? Did they work as hard as they should have done to build an anti-whaling coalition within the IWC?
"I think they have been working hard, but evidently they haven't been working quite hard enough," said Mark Simmonds, international director of science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
"Japan, as we have feared for some time, has now actually outpaced them."
But Ian Campbell agrees with conservation groups which, almost unanimously, have called the vote "a wake-up call". He thinks the alarm clock bell will end up reverberating loudly and unpleasantly around Japan's ears.
"I think it's going to get harder and harder for Japan. I think the fact that they're getting closer to toppling the pro-conservation majority for the first time in two decades will help us to get new countries to join," he said.
No easy solutions to die-off at Hood Canal
June 19, 2006 (Seattle Times) It's been three years since the last major die-off in Hood Canal, when thousands of sharks, sculpins, sea stars, octopi and other creatures suffocated in Hood Canal from lack of oxygen.
But that's not to say it has been an uneventful period.
Eelgrass beds - nurseries for crab and salmon - have declined more here than in the rest of Puget Sound. Bottom-dwelling rockfish continue to disappear. Algae blooms, which suck oxygen from the canal's deep waters, have become more common. And annual "bubbles" of low oxygen are growing, lasting longer and showing up at unexpected times of the year.
Septic tanks and sewage have long been fingered as culprits. But lately scientists have been learning that the canal's deterioration may be far more complex than first thought.
Lake Roosevelt study is no cleanup plan
June 18, 2006 (Seattle Times editorial) Hold the confetti and party hats. Cleanup of the upper reaches of the Columbia River after nearly a century of pollution by a Canadian smelter is no closer after a settlement announced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The deal between EPA and Teck Cominco calls for a study of contamination from 10 miles north of the U.S. border in Northeast Washington all the way down 150 miles to Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. Trouble is, the settlement is uncomfortably vague about what happens after the pollution is logged and cleanup options are listed. Smelting operations used the river as a sewer for generations, even dumping 6,300 pounds of mercury into the Columbia in 1980.
'Orca sing' to honor life of Luna the whale
June 17, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The life of Luna, the wayward orca killed in March off Vancouver Island, will be celebrated in song today at Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island. The public is welcome.
Seattle music director Fred West will direct the City Cantible Choir in special songs of the sea, offering up a requiem to the orca, killed in a collision with a tugboat propeller. The gathering begins at 5:30 p.m.
Singing starts at 7:30, unless resident orcas decide to attend. They've showed up offshore for six out of eight of the choir's "orca sings" over the years. "If the whales come by earlier, we'll just start singing," West said.
Bad image of fish farms impeding industry
June 16, 2006 (Victoria Times Colonist) Sagging public confidence in Canada's controversial fish farm industry -- regarding both its environmental practices and product safety -- is impairing Canada's ability to take advantage of booming world seafood demand, according to a federal briefing document obtained by CanWest News Service.
"While support for aquaculture is stronger in Central and Eastern Canada, the B.C. salmon aquaculture industry continues to face severe criticism by environmental organizations and negative media coverage," warns the Feb. 3, 2006, summary prepared for the Conservative government.
"The criticism has compromised the public's confidence in the industry and the (Fisheries) Department's management of it."
The criticism and negative media coverage, particularly of sea-lice outbreaks on both coasts, has resulted in "a loss of consumer confidence in the environmental performance of the industry and the safety of its products, public confidence in governments as regulators of the sector, and investor confidence in Canada as a place to invest and do business."
After a slow start, spring chinook return in big numbers
June 16, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) 124,000 salmon pass dam; 2005 count was 95,000
For a while, it looked like the Columbia River's spring chinook salmon run might give 2006 a miss. Fishing seasons were curtailed and tribal fisheries were reduced as fish biologists waited -- and waited -- for the fish to arrive at Bonneville Dam.
But then the fish arrived -- in bigger numbers than last year.
When the counting season closed on Wednesday nearly 124,000 chinook had passed the dam, more than the 88,000 expected and more than last year's return of 95,000.
"This year's spring run took its time but it crossed the finish line with a very respectable showing," said Bob Lohn, head of the Northwest region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service.
"The long-term average continues to rise."
While the salmon run usually peaks in mid-April, the fish did not even begin arriving at Bonneville Dam in significant numbers until the first week of May.
Lohn said poor ocean conditions in 2004 and 2005 may mean a smaller return in 2007. He said early upriver returns from fish that migrated to the ocean in 2004 and 2005 are about a third less than last year, which could mean fewer returning adults next year.
"Our scientists are about to complete important research on the huge influence that changing ocean conditions have on salmon from the time they migrate as juveniles through the estuary into the ocean to when they return as adults," Lohn said.
Nenana beluga sparks whale of a mystery
June 15, 2006 (Fairbanks News Miner) A dead beluga whale, found on the shore of the Tanana River 15 miles upstream from Nenana, offers the first tangible evidence that these marine mammals venture upriver far into the Interior.
Biologists recovered the carcass of the 8-foot-long beluga whale, believed to be a 2-year-old, and delivered it to the laboratory at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Scientists will examine the whale and try to learn where it came from and how it died.
Four canoeists from Denali found the beached whale last weekend when they pulled to shore while paddling from Fairbanks to Nenana. They chose the spot purely by happenstance, intending to change into dry clothes. They noticed something unusual as soon as they stepped out of their boats and looked at the beach.
But this particular creature was more than 1,000 river miles from any ocean or coastline and would have had to swim from the Bering Sea, hundreds of miles up the Yukon River, then up the Tanana River.
According to the state Fish and Game Web site, it is not unusual for belugas to swim up large rivers like the Yukon River. Lack of salinity doesn't seem to affect them.
In 1982, a group of whales was seen at the village of Tanana, 750 miles from the mouth of the Yukon River. A single adult was reported seen above Rampart, 80 miles farther upstream. In 1993, four belugas were spotted near Fort Yukon.
But all those sightings pale in comparison to recovering an actual specimen, according to Olson.
Orca pods return to the San Juans -- with a new calf in tow
June 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island reports that the K and L orca pods were spotted today back in their summer home, the waters around the San Juans -- and the Ls have a new calf in tow.
In their ever-so-scientific naming nomenclature, orca scientists have dubbed the new calf "L-108". Not exactly a snuggly name, but it's still super-good news for orca lovers because it's the second calf born in recent years to L-54, the 29-year-old female in her reproductive prime.
L pod is the one that has suffered the most severe losses in recent years, dropping from 58 whales in 1994 to 43 counted last year. (We won't know for a week or more whether all the L-podders that took off last year made it through the winter. It takes a while for scientists to account for them all.)
The J pod often stays right around here, while the Ks and Ls take off. Recent research by Brad Hanson of the National Marine Fisheries Service shows they range up and down the coast, as we reported in a story earlier this year.
An e-mail from the whale center's Kelley Balcomb-Bartok quotes the Center's Dr. Astrid van Ginneken as saying L pod deserves close study because of its large number of deaths and the fact that it appears to range farthest in the winter -- calling into question whether the Ls are getting more PCBs, which interfere with reproduction, as a result of their prey selection.
U.S. Government Plans to Phase out Use of Common Pesticide on Fruit, Other Crops
June 13, 2006 (Environmental News Network) The federal government plans to phase out a common pesticide that has been used on apples, pears and other crops since the late 1950s, acting amid complaints from environmental groups that the chemical poisons farmworkers.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it would end the use of azinphos-methyl beginning next year on nuts, nursery stocks and Brussels sprouts. The pesticide, also called AZM, would be banned on apples, blueberries, cherries, pears and parsley in 2010.
The agency's plan is up for public comment for two months.
During the phaseout, the EPA also plans to eliminate aerial spraying, require 100-foot buffers around water bodies and require medical monitoring of workers entering fields sprayed with AZM.
Marine Life: Protecting orcas
June 13, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intellgencer editorial) Puget Sound's orcas may have just gotten something almost as appetizing as a salmon dinner.
The National Marine Fisheries Service last week said it wants to designate nearly all of Puget Sound, the waters around the San Juan Islands and the U.S. half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca as critical habitat for the orcas. The proposal is another sign of a serious effort by federal officials to ensure the survival of the killer whales.
The orcas received federal protection as an endangered species just last year. The fisheries service appears to be moving quickly to ensure federal actions in almost the orcas' entire U.S. range are considered carefully.
The fisheries service has scheduled public hearings next month on the proposed habitat protections. The service hopes to make a final decision by November. Builders will likely express concern about the coverage's broad sweep and potential impacts on development. People for Puget Sound and other environmental groups would like the designation to go up to the shoreline rather than stopping at depths less than 20 feet.
Too much of the shoreline still contains pollutants that can harm salmon, which are critical to the orcas' diets. So, an expansion to the shore's edge deserves consideration.
Still, it's impressive to see National Marine Fisheries Service moving aggressively to protect the orcas. With their numbers believed to be in the low 90s, the orcas need all the help possible.
Huge stretch of Sound protected for orcas?
June 10, 2006 (Seattle Times) The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed Friday to protect one of the region's signature species with new restrictions on about 2,500 square miles of inland waters, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait and the San Juan Islands.
The announcement immediately triggered controversy. Developers said they dread more regulation. Some environmentalists applauded the proposal but said it did not go far enough.
For instance, if a county or state government wants to build a dock or bridge paid for with federal funds, that project would need to be reviewed for its effect on orca habitat.
So could a county sewer plant, if it required a federal permit to discharge into a waterway, or a private development such as a gravel quarry, if it needed a federal permit.
Tim Harris, general counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has joined the suit against the ESA designation, called the proposed habitat designation "sweeping."
"I don't think this is really about the orcas, it is about preventing development and any uses along the shoreline of the entire Puget Sound."
But Fletcher, of People for Puget Sound, sees direct economic benefit in protecting the orcas' home: "The economic value of saving salmon and orcas is huge. Anyone's claim that this is an economic negative is absolutely ignoring the value of our wildlife and environment to the quality of life in our state."
Protecting orca territory
June 10, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Nearly all of Puget Sound, the waters of the San Juan Islands and the U.S. half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca should be designated critical habitat for endangered orcas, federal officials proposed Friday.
While killer whale advocates hailed the extensive coverage and quick action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service as a follow-up to last year's listing of the orcas as endangered, some questioned the proposal's exemption of all near-shore habitat.
"This is a good sign that they're moving ahead on this," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, a citizens group active in efforts to improve local marine environments. "This is a very big deal."
Fletcher said the federal agency sometimes takes years to designate critical habitat in the process for protecting endangered species. She said the large area covered by the proposal, more than 2,500 square miles of water, is good news as well.
But the proposal has a significant flaw, Fletcher said.
"We have a fairly huge problem with it," she said. Within the body of the proposal made public Friday afternoon, Fletcher said, is language that excludes from the critical-habitat designation all waters shallower than 20 feet. Other areas excluded from protection include Hood Canal and large areas of water offshore from military bases.
Public hearings on the orca habitat designation proposal will be held July 12 at the Seattle Aquarium and July 13 in Friday Harbor. Comments also can be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to: Chief Protected Resources Division, 1201 N.E. Lloyd Blvd., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97322-1274.
For more information about the proposal, see Friday's announcement at: www.nwr.noaa.gov/Newsroom/index.cfm.
Puget Sound orcas win more federal protection June 10, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Feds Propose Habitat for Puget Sound Orcas June 10, 2006 (Washington Post)
Feds propose habitat for Puget Sound orcas
June 9, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Federal officials have proposed designating nearly all of northwest Washington's inland waters - about 2,500 square miles - as critical habitat for killer whales, the first major development since the creatures were listed as endangered last year.
Following a public comment period, the habitat designation could become official by the end of the year, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Friday in a news release. It would mean that within the outlined area, no federal activities can take place unless officials demonstrate that the habitat will not be harmed.
The proposed area encompasses parts of Haro Strait, the waters around the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and all of Puget Sound except for Hood Canal, because there is little evidence the orcas swim there. Eighteen military sites covering nearly 112 square miles of habitat are exempt.
But Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, and Fred Felleman, of Ocean Advocates, questioned whether the proposed area is enough: Besides military areas, it excludes any waters less than 20 feet deep. They said shorelines are crucial to the health of the ecosystem overall, and in particular to salmon - the primary food source of Puget Sound's orcas. Herring, which the salmon eat, live in shallow subtidal zones.
Felleman said that overall, he was pleased with the proposal, but that he would like to see the waters off the state's western coast designated as critical habitat as well: That's where the orcas spend at least some of the winter, he said, and it's also where they could be troubled by Navy activities.
Poor salmon runs feared due to warming Pacific
June 8, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail) The Pacific Ocean off British Columbia's coast was warmer and drier than normal last year, leading to an increased number of exotic species such as tropical squid, and a reduced growth rate in salmon, according to a new federal study.
The seventh annual State of the Pacific Ocean report, which was compiled by more than 30 scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, predicts poor salmon runs this summer and fall because of poor ocean conditions dating back three years.
The document holds out a glimmer of hope that the warm-water cycle -- which is bad for salmon and herring -- might be ending, although it is too early to tell.
"Warm oceanic waters appeared to be cooling to normal temperatures at the end of 2005, but it is unclear if this represents a break in the warm conditions that have persisted since 2003 or a temporary event," the document states.
Among the key findings are that the warm ocean temperatures led to a reduced upwelling of cold water that normally carries a rich supply of microscopic plants (phytoplankton) to the surface, where juvenile salmon feed.
There was also a delay in the spring bloom of plankton, which in cold-water years comes just as young salmon are emerging from spawning rivers, to start their juvenile period of growth in salt water. The result: salmon growth and survival rates were down.
Cleanup at marina will cost $1 million
June 7, 2006 (Everett Herald) Toxic soil turns up more frequently than expected in Everett redevelopment.
Cleanup of toxic soils at the waterfront site of the $300 million Port Gardner Wharf project will cost more than $1 million, Port of Everett officials said Tuesday.
The cleanup is much more expensive than earlier thought, largely because the amount of waste and its toxic nature is much larger and more serious than expected.
"They didn't think on the initial tests that it was going to be as contaminated as it is," said port commissioner Don Hopkins. "We'll have a backhoe out there digging and all of a sudden, they'll come up with another spot."
Landau Associates, the port's environmental consultant, had initially said much of the contamination involved asbestos at such low enough levels that the areas could be capped with clean soil rather than sending it to a dump.
Port property manager Eric Russell said that ultimately there were 200 test holes and monitoring wells dug on the 65-acre property.
Timber gets exemption from species law
June 6, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For the next half-century, Washington's timber industry will be shielded from Endangered Species Act prosecutions for harming salmon and four dozen other types of water creatures, the federal government declared Monday.
In exchange, the industry pledged to take steps to help salmon, such as leaving forests alongside streams on 9.3 million acres. That's one-fifth of the state, making it the largest such deal in the West.
But as speaker after speaker at a signing ceremony cited that figure -- 9.3 million acres protected -- none bothered to bring up the asterisk: Officials don't really know yet how many of those acres actually will get the promised preservation measures.
That's because of breaks granted in the deal to small-time timberland owners. There is no firm figure on how much land is involved.
Indian tribes, citing their on-the-ground look at it in portions of the state, objected last week and warned that up to 35 percent of the land supposedly protected might not be.
Native American tribes have had mixed reactions. But late last week Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, fired off a letter expressing concern because of the uncertainty over small-forest-landowner exemptions. He also complained that the agreement fails to take into account the effects global warming will have on salmon over the next half-century.
Terry Williams, a Tulalip tribal official and member of the Indian Fisheries Commission, described tribes as "apprehensive" about the approval Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal fisheries service.
"It's pretty scary," Williams said. "What we're trying to do is remind people that this is our property right -- the fish are our property right. The Supreme Court has upheld our right to the fish. It's an ownership thing we share with the U.S."
Fish in net signal that manmade beach is working
June 5, 2006 (Everett Herald) What the port agreed to do was to take an area that didn't really have a beach and to fix it for salmon. The area, which runs about 1,100 feet, abuts some giant rip-rap rock that keep the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway tracks from falling into Puget Sound. The tide had been running right up against the rock. The sloping beach in the area had long been washed away.
All told, the port spent $684,000 to bring sand, gravel and plants and to anchor the manmade beach with some fairly large rock.
The jury's still out about whether things will last, but early surveys taken by Houghton show that for now, the beach appears to be a complete success.
Houghton noted that it had long been an area for spawning candlefish.
"The question was whether they would continue to use it," he said, adding, "Juvenile sand lance are here to a fault."
So are the salmon.
Great, White North!
June 2, 2006 (Sightline) It looks as if Canada is poised to ban flame retardants known as PBDEs, which are have been linked with learning deficits and behavioral abnormalities in lab animals, and are found at high levels in some people.
That's the good news. The bad news is that some tests are finding alarmingly high levels of the compounds in kids. You win some, you lose some.
On a positive note, it seems that in the latest round of reporting on PBDEs, reporters are picking up on one of the issue's complexities: that the harm caused by PBDEs may be more closely linked to timing than to dose.
That is, an incredibly small dose at just the wrong stage of infant development can have more of an effect than a far larger dose later on in life.
He's Getting Warmer
June 2, 2006 (The Stranger) Pundits have hypothesized that Al Gore is feeling out a third presidential run with this new global-warming documentary, and it's true that the attendant rush of publicity wouldn't be such a bad way to launch a campaign. An Inconvenient Truth allows Gore to fire up his liberal base on unimpeachable grounds (namely, the federal government's reprehensible attitude toward science and research) without alienating the currently disgruntled middle. He can bask in his supposedly newfound charisma (the movie puts his wonkish personality in a complimentary light). And he can field softball interview questions from film critics like me.
Greg Nickels has really provided great leadership in rallying some 230 cities around the country to join this movement the people of Seattle started, to have local cities ratify Kyoto. And Ron Sims is doing a great job; Governor Chris Gregoire was at the screening last night and has done really a great job in pushing legislation, so if every state were like the State of Washington we would be way down the road toward solving this. But instead we still face denial-and yet it's beginning to give way. There were 85 conservative evangelical ministers who just broke with the Bush-Cheney administration and declared an all-out initiative on this crisis, there are lots of grass-roots movements springing up, and big corporations like General Electric, Dupont, Duke Energy are now switching sides and doing some really meaningful things.
Longtime salmon spokesman silenced
June 1, 2006 (Seattle Times) For more than a decade, Brian Gorman has been the government's voice on salmon in Seattle, doling out news releases and explaining policies on everything from threatened Puget Sound chinook to Columbia and Snake river dams.
But as of this spring, Bush administration officials have directed that all questions about salmon policy in Washington state be handled by political appointees, often as far away as Washington, D.C.
"I essentially have been told that I can't speak about salmon issues to reporters," said Gorman, chief spokesman in Seattle for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees Northwest salmon policy.
NOAA officials say the change is merely a way to better coordinate public information. But it's only the latest example of the Bush administration tightening how employees of federal natural-resource agencies handle politically charged topics.
This winter, NASA's top climate scientist told The New York Times that the administration was censoring him on global warming. In April, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA told the Washington Post that public-affairs officials were limiting their openness with the press.
The Washington Post on Wednesday noted that the change in Gorman's ability to talk about salmon came a day after Gorman was quoted suggesting that a judge's ruling and a new report, both rebutting administration positions on water policy in Oregon's troubled Klamath Basin, might be looked back upon as moments when "things really turned around for fish."