Orca Network News - March, 2008
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2008 through March 31, 2008.
March 30, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The gray whale watch is on along the Washington coast and inside Puget Sound.
Now is the time to get up close and personal with these huge creatures, which are traveling from their breeding areas off Baja California to their arctic northern Pacific feeding grounds in the Chukchi and Bering seas.
The whales make the longest journey of any mammal by traveling around 14,000 miles round-trip.
In Puget Sound, gray whales can be seen off Whidbey and Camano islands at Possession Point, Saratoga Passage, Point No Point, Fort Casey and Strawberry Point.
There is a small resident group of gray whales that usually mills around Puget Sound through early June, feeding on ghost shrimp.
The Welcome the Whales Day Parade and Festival is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 in Langley on Whidbey Island. The event will feature presentations and slide shows on gray whales, fun educational activities, music and gray whale watch tours. Details: http://orcanetwork.org/news/events.html or www.orcanetwork.org.
The Thinning Giant
March 30, 2008 (Voice of San Diego)
Four decades have passed since Pachico Mayoral first encountered the eastern Pacific gray whales that come each winter to this isolated lagoon 475 miles south of San Diego. In the years since he traded an itinerant existence on a merchant freighter for life as a fisherman, he has seen changes in the whales that pass by San Diego's shores annually to nurse their young in the predator-free waters here for four months.
What scientists have concluded from research spanning decades, the 67-year-old has observed anecdotally from his home on the lagoon's sandy shores. Since 1985, Mayoral says fewer whales have used the lagoon. And while the whales once returned from their Alaskan feeding grounds at the start of December, they've gradually begun showing up in late December, he says, spending less time before returning north to the Arctic.
Scientists studying the whales in the lagoon confirm Mayoral's observations. The whales' fall migration south past San Diego is peaking five days later than it once did. Once they get to Baja, they're staying two weeks less than they did in the late 1970s. Back then, scientists conducting occasional population censuses here counted as many as 400 adult whales in a day. Last year, censuses found half that. And 12 percent of the whales that did stay in the lagoon in 2007 showed signs of malnutrition, a phenomenon dubbed "skinny whale syndrome."
Into the breach - Clark Fork, Blackfoot rivers punch through Milltown Dam
March 29, 2008 (Montana Missoulian)
The forces of man and nature combined - in the form of tons of water seeking the path of least resistance and a heavy equipment operator who dug out the last of a temporary earthen dike - to allow the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers to flow freely for the first time in a century.
The project is expected to have profound changes on the Clark Fork's physical, biological and chemical makeup as it readjusts to its natural state.
The breaching will release an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of uncontaminated sediment scoured from the mouth of the Blackfoot River over the next several months.
Another 3 million cubic yards of clean sediment is projected to move downstream along the Clark Fork over the next decade, the largest sediment load ever released by a dam removal in the United States.
A large number of fish, insects and other aquatic organisms will die in the short term, but the rivers' release will allow bull trout, a threatened species, and other fish to spawn upstream and the ecosystem is expected to start recovering in several years.
Part of San Juans may become aquatic reserve
March 29, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The state is proposing protecting parts of Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, San Juan, Waldron and Stuart islands as part of the aquatic reserve program.
The reserve would include 163,387 acres covering state-owned tidelands and 'bedlands' (the deep underwater part). Some of the proposed reserve covers waters already protected as San Juan Island National Historical Park, the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, several county and state parks, and existing voluntary no-take bottom fish recovery zones.
Something fishy about Chile's salmon
March 28, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A spreading plague is killing millions of salmon beneath the rows of neatly laid netting around the fish farms off Chile's southern shores.
A virus called infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, is dooming fish destined for export to Japan, Europe and the United States and sending shivers through Chile's third-largest industry.
It also has opened the companies to fresh charges from biologists and environmentalists who say the breeding of salmon in crowded underwater pens is contaminating once-pristine waters and producing potentially unhealthy fish.
Salmon produced in Chile by Marine Harvest are sold in Issaquah-based Costco and California-based Safeway stores, among other major grocery retailers, said Torben Petersen, the managing director of Marine Harvest here. A Costco representative could not be reached for comment.
Environmentalists say the salmon are being farmed for export at the expense of almost everything else around. The equivalent of 7 to 11 pounds of fresh fish are required to produce 2 pounds of farmed salmon, according to estimates.
Salmon feces and food pellets are stripping the water of oxygen, killing other marine life and spreading disease, biologists and environmentalists say. Escaped salmon are eating other fish species and have begun invading rivers and lakes in neighboring Argentina, researchers say.
Gov. Gregoire signs bill to protect Orcas from vessel harassment
March 28, 2008 (San Juan Islander)
Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law today, March 28, 2008 legislation that further bolsters efforts to protect threatened resident orca whales.
The new law (HB 2514) establishes a 300-foot zone around orca whales that vessels must avoid. The law provides the Department of Fish and Wildlife with enforcement tools to better protect the endangered Southern resident whales.
"Thanks go to bill sponsors Sen. Harriet Spanel and Rep. Dave Quall and to San Juan County Commissioner Kevin Ranker for their hard work on getting this legislation passed," said People For Puget Sound policy director Bruce Wishart.
3 Makah whale hunters plead guilty
March 27, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Three of five men who participated in an illegal and poorly executed whale hunt last year pleaded guilty in federal court today to one count of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In return, prosecutors said they would recommend probation, rather than a jail term.
Frankie Gonzales, Theron Parker and William Secor Sr. pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and are scheduled to be sentenced June 6 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
The two remaining men, Wayne Johnson and Andrew Noel, refused to take the plea deal.
Three of five accused whalers plead guilty; two to stand trial March 27, 2008 (Peninsula Daily News)
Salmon Fishing Seasons on Track After Federal Judge's Ruling
March 27, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
A federal judge's ruling last week upholding Puget Sound salmon harvests eliminated a storm cloud hanging over discussions about this year's fishing seasons, officials say.
The ruling came in the midst of the annual planning effort to allocate salmon among various fishing groups - tribal and nontribal, sport and commercial. It is called the "North of Falcon process" because it involves all salmon fishing north of Oregon's Cape Falcon.
Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy, said his group is likely to appeal the judge's ruling. He said the four groups had an excellent attorney, who laid out all the deficiencies in an extremely complex procedure.
"The judge sidestepped making tough decisions on pretty much every point," Beardslee said. "It is not easy for a judge to look into something as complex as these issues are. I can have some sympathy for a judge not wanting to make a call, but still it is his job. He basically passed the opportunity to the next court."
"The feds have warned us," Pattillo said. "They are going to have to raise the bar on the recovery plan. They feel we barely slipped by their criteria for coverage of some stocks."
The result is likely to be greater harvest restrictions in the future, he said.
Pine beetle's carnage hurts salmon streams
March 26, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
If rising water temperatures weren't enough of a danger to Pacific salmon, the effects of the mountain pine beetle infestation are adding to salmon's woes, scientists say.
Both events are related to global warming.
The grain-of-rice-sized beetles have chewed through Interior pine forests covering an area four-times the size of Vancouver Island, says a report released yesterday by the federally funded Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council.
Some 60 per cent of the Fraser River watershed is affected through the loss of forest cover over salmon streams that has led to numerous impacts that "significantly alter the watershed's ecology, threatening already stressed salmon runs."
Because the enormous pine forests are dead or dying, the tree boughs don't intercept snow and rain, or shade the forest floor to slow the spring snow-melt. The result is bigger snow packs, more rapid snow melts leading to flash flooding and higher peak flows that erode streambeds. Then rapid runoffs mean more summer droughts, combined with higher summer water temperatures, the report notes.
The death of a whale
March 26, 2008 (Seattle Times editorial)
Let last September's botched, illegal whale hunt by five members of the Makah Tribe in the Strait of Juan de Fuca be the last for a long, long time.
The application of the federal criminal-justice system to the killing of the gray whale has been a work in progress for months. A plea deal was close on Monday, and then collapsed. Another agreement might be forthcoming Thursday, or maybe the case will go to trial next month.
Either way, the tribe's separate and ongoing request for an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act to hunt another whale, after one was legally taken in 1999, ought to be buried under a tall stack of paper.
The defendants were headed for a plea deal with no jail time and two years probation when they reportedly learned that pleading guilty to one count of violating the federal protection act might prevent them from whaling while on probation. They refused.
One might have imagined the five men would have embraced the restriction given the absolute muddle of their arrogant and inept behavior last September.
Stranger still, the Makah Tribe had jurisdiction to enforce its own rules, but opted to avert its eyes and remain silent, if the five pleaded guilty to the one count of the federal law.
How to make city's shoreline friendlier to sea life?
March 26, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Seattle urban waterfront is unkind to baby salmon. As millions of small fish make their way north from the Duwamish River, they hug a vertical concrete wall that provides limited food and shelter.
So the city and University of Washington scientists will study how to make the inhospitable shoreline homier for salmon and other marine life, officials announced Tuesday.
"This is an innovative, exciting project that we need more of in Puget Sound," said Heather Trim, urban bays and toxics program manager for the nonprofit People for Puget Sound.
"If we're going to have to have vertical sea walls," she said, "let's make them work for salmon."
The city installed 18 concrete panels along the waterfront, each about 5 by 7 feet. They're bumpy with faux rocks or ledges at various angles. The scientists stuck nine troughs, such as those cattle drink from, to the walls and filled them with smaller rocks and gravel, creating mini tide pools. All this is to provide nooks and crannies where algae, tiny sea insects and small fish and crabs can hide out.
The installations are "changing a vertical sea wall into a much more complex habitat," said Jeff Cordell, a principal research scientist from the UW's Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
Makah whalers' plea deal collapses
March 25, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A plea agreement expected from five Makah whalers Monday afternoon fell apart when the whalers realized the U.S. government planned to restrict their future hunts.
Federal authorities expected the five tribal members who killed a gray whale during an unlicensed hunt last September to sign off on the plea, which would have kept the whalers from serving jail time.
Because they declined to take the plea deal, they still face up to one year in custody, a $100,000 fine, up to five years of probation and possible community service.
The five men will return to court Thursday with either a new plea agreement worked out or to make plans for the case to go to trial.
Sea squirts taking over Puget Sound
March 25, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The culprit is called Didemnum, a tunicate, or sea squirt, that hails from Japan. Tunicates -- named for their cloaks or tunic-like exteriors -- are filter feeders that grow in places where anemones, sea cucumbers and other bottom-feeding organisms live.
Like terrestrial invaders -- think Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberries -- nonnative tunicates can crowd out the competition for nutrients and space.
The problem varieties are native to Asia. People first noticed them in the sound in 1998, but no one knows exactly how or when they arrived.
"People tend to ignore tunicates until they are so abundant they can't be ignored any longer," said Gretchen Lambert, a Seattle marine biologist who has studied invasive tunicates all over the world.
Didemnum, in particular, has proved particularly difficult elsewhere. In 2003, scientists discovered it had colonized a 6.5-square-mile area of the Georges Bank, historically New England's primary fishing grounds.
That announcement made an impression on Lambert. "You're not going to find bottom-feeding fish if the whole place is a monoculture desert of Didemnum," she said.
Groups sue to halt killing of sea lions
March 25, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Humane Society of the United States, Wild Fish Conservancy and two citizens have filed suit in U.S. District Court to halt the authorized killing of sea lions at the base of Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, had been filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., last week but it was withdrawn when the fish conservancy group asked to join it.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has granted a request by Oregon and Washington to kill up to 85 animals a year over five years to protect endangered or threatened salmon runs.
The Humane Society says federal law allows killing sea lions when it is proved they have a "significant negative impact" on salmon.
But it called the permit to kill the animals "outrageous and patently illegal."
Hollywood Rallies to Save Lolita
March 23, 2008 (Canyon News)
A killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium has recently gained the attention of Hollywood celebrities that are now campaigning for her freedom. Since 1995, activists have endeavored to return Lolita to her native waters and her family off the coast of Washington State. However, not everyone agrees that Lolita should be released into the wild.
Howard Garrett, Board President of the Orca Network has been striving for Lolita's freedom since 1995 and says a careful transport and reintroduction program has been developed to bring the orca home safely. "Moving orcas by transport aircraft is routine and has never resulted in any harm to an orca" Garrett says. The estimated time from pool to ocean is about 12 hours. Lolita will be kept in a sea pen, re-taught to eat live fish, and other skills to live in the wild. "Every step of the way Lolita would be accompanied by the care staff she has grown to trust," Garrett explained.
Producer and philanthropist Raul Julia-Levy has recently become involved in the effort and has gathered some star-studded support. "This beautiful animal deserves to be free, she won't live another five years in that stinky tank," declared Levy. Richard Greco, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Jonathan Silverman, and Billy Zane are just a few of the celebrities that have joined the campaign. "We are not activists. We are directors, we are producers, we are actors that have a tremendous love for animals and this is a very sad story," stated Levy.
The Earth Island Institute (EII) has also come on board. In 1994, the EII established the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and with the help of the executive producer of the film "Free Willy," Richard Donner, eventually reintroduced the Orca back into the wild. Keiko starred in three films before he was rescued from an aquarium in Mexico City, rehabilitated, and released near Iceland in 2002. Unfortunately, about a year later Keiko died of acute pneumonia in the Taknes fjord, Norway.
At 27 years old, Keiko was the second oldest male orca in captivity. David Phillips of the EII said in a press release, "Keiko was a trailblazer, the first orca whale ever rescued from captivity. Keiko showed what is possible if these animals are just given the chance."
Orcas are very social and normally stay with their family pods for their entire lives. Scientists were never able to locate Keiko's family which might have improved his chances for survival. However, scientists have studied Lolita's family and the pod still appears in the Puget Sound. Howard Garret says, "The very fact that Lolita's family has been thoroughly documented for over 30 years and predictably appears along San Juan Island every summer guarantees that Lolita will have the opportunity to communicate with her family."
Whale watch week begins
March 22, 2008 (Coos Bay World)
"Whale Watching Spoken Here" volunteers will be on duty from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the 28 viewing sites on the Oregon Coast, a Oregon Parks and Recreation Department press release said. Local locations include the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in Winchester Bay, Shore Acres State Park in Charleston and Face Rock Wayside State Scenic Viewpoint near Bandon.
Last year, 2,755 sightings were documented during whale-watch week, said Morris Grover, whale-watch event coordinator at OPRD's Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay. The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day for the next week. The Oregon State University/Sea Grant Hatfield Marine Science Center will offer coinciding presentations, including children's story times in nearby Newport, the release said.
For more information and viewpoints locations, those interested can go to http://www.whalespoken.org.
Giant marine life found in Antarctic
March 22, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Scientists who conducted the most comprehensive survey to date of New Zealand's Antarctic waters were surprised by the size of some specimens found, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish.
A 2,000-mile journey through the Ross Sea that ended Thursday has also potentially turned up several new species, including as many as eight new mollusks.
Judge rejects suit over Puget Sound salmon fishing
March 22, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Federal officials are not violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing fishing for Puget Sound salmon -- even though it kills up to three-quarters of the fish protected under the law -- U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle said in a ruling issued Friday.
Environmental groups had sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2006, claiming that it hadn't cracked down hard enough on fishermen killing Puget Sound chinook, a species classified by the agency as "threatened."
The case threatened to upset what state officials and Indian tribes describe as a delicate balance that they have reached in negotiations. That balance, they say, allows continued fishing by Indian tribes and others, but limits fishing so that enough salmon get past the nets to repopulate the imperiled runs.
Most of the commercial fishing in question -- targeting nonendangered salmon but scooping up some imperiled fish as well -- is done by Indian tribes fishing here and Canadians who catch the fish as they head home to spawn.
But still, evidence presented in the case showed, 22 to 76 percent of the threatened fish are caught, depending on which Puget Sound river you're talking about.
The Fisheries Service says that still leaves enough fish to spawn and continue the runs. But the environmentalists said fewer fish should be caught so the runs can rebuild.
Ax Falls on Toxic Bainbridge Logs
March 21, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
A crane yanks a 20-foot log from the beach at Fay Bainbridge State Park to reveal a toxic print in the sand.
Treated with the wood preservative creosote, the former utility pole has oozed tar onto the beach, forming oily clumps of black sand.
"If these logs were metal drums full of toxic liquids, you think people would let them sit here?" asked crane operator Tony Frantz, who assisted the state Department of Natural Resources in a four-day effort to remove tons of treated logs considered harmful to human health and the environment.
For Frantz, who has assisted DNR with other beach cleanups, the logs are just as bad as any leaky barrel labeled with a skull and crossbones. The average treated log contains 60 gallons of creosote, a formerly common preservative now regulated as hazardous waste. With more than 200 creosote logs on the park's 1,400-foot-long beach, Fay Bainbridge's toxic potential soars above 12,000 gallons.
Noah's Ark for salmon
March 21, 2008 (Los Angeles Times op-ed) To survive global warming, we must help the fish reach pristine spawning grounds.
As global warming bears down on our Western rivers and watersheds, it threatens one of the great symbols of Western abundance: wild salmon. With each passing year, their numbers have dropped precipitously. This decline is believed to be in part the result of warming temperatures in streams and rivers.
Just last week, government fishery managers moved toward a ban on salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts because of the diminishing numbers of chinook salmon.
If we hope to save the salmon, we must do two things: Stop the rise in greenhouse gases as quickly as we can and secure our waters' health against the warming that has begun and will continue. This is a river-by-river job, and each river matters. But there is one part of the job that is critical -- the piece that unites sportsmen, biologists and everyone else who cares about salmon.
The biggest, wildest, highest, coldest, healthiest and best-protected salmon habitat left south of Canada spans millions of acres and thousands of stream miles in central Idaho, eastern Oregon and southeast Washington in the headwaters of the Snake River. It is Noah's Ark for salmon -- the haven they need to reach to survive and carry on.
Scientists believe the salmon that spawn in this place likely have the best chance of any salmon populations in the Lower 48 states to adapt to, and thus survive, global warming. This habitat, nearly all above 4,000 feet in elevation, will stay cool even as temperatures rise in other areas. It will give salmon the firmest footing from which to self-adapt in the face of warming. And because the area is already protected as wilderness and public land, it is likely to face less development pressure and could offer refuge for years to come.
Spring chinook salmon fishery on Columbia offers good catch
March 20, 2008 (The Olympian)
Biologists expect a big springer run this year on the Columbia River, with 269,300 expected to arrive. The spring chinook season also is open right now from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam. Anglers can keep two hatchery chinook a day in this stretch of river.
Most of the spring chinook haven't made it over Bonneville Dam yet, but fishing should get hot upstream of the dam when they do make the trip up the fish ladders. Drano Lake - which is at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River - and Wind River should have good fishing when the springers show up.
Closer to home, a few tight-lipped anglers are catching blackmouth - resident chinook salmon - right here in South Sound. Anglers launching boats from Boston Harbor Marina and Zittel's on Johnson Point and getting into a few of these fish, mostly during tidal changes. If you like blackmouth fishing, it might be worth a shot. Spring's sprung earlier, warmer
March 20, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Salmon and butterflies. Lilacs and honeysuckle. Marmots and robins. All of them are showing up earlier in the American West.
Pollen is bursting. Critters are stirring. Buds are swelling. Biologists are worrying.
"The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.
Blame global warming. Scientists have reported that signs of an earlier and warmer spring are most evident in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest.
Salmon are swimming an ever-more tropical gantlet from the Ballard Locks to the lake. New research shows that many of the sockeye traversing the locks later in the summer aren't surviving to spawn in the Cedar River.
In the Columbia River, salmon swim upstream earlier -- more than 11 days earlier since 1939 -- to beat encroaching warmer waters.
But that means the salmon go hungry longer when they arrive, said Lisa Crozier, a research ecologist at the federal government's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
Days numbered for Bonneville Dam sea lions
March 19, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
State and federal officials say they have done all they can to stop protected California sea lions from munching on threatened salmon at the base of the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, using pyrotechnics, beanbag rounds fired from shotguns and traps.
But the sea lions, who arrive each spring at the base of the dam for the spring chinook working their way upriver to spawn, have pretty much given them the flipper.
So on Tuesday, the government authorized Oregon and Washington to kill up to 85 of the worst offenders, listing about 60, identifiable by branding, scars or other markings, for "immediate removal."
Those that can be caught in traps must be held for 48 hours to see if an aquarium, zoo or similar facility will take them. Otherwise, they would be euthanized. Those that avoid trapping can be shot and killed at the dam.
The lethal action was authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service in a directive released Tuesday. The Associated Press obtained a copy Monday night.
Efficient machines can mark millions of salmon
March 19, 2008 (Seattle Times)
In the highly engineered environment of the modern Columbia River, even the Pacific Northwest's iconic salmon is produced in assembly-line fashion.
Lately, the mechanization has reached a new level of efficiency at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery. A series of three state-of-the-art machines makes it possible for the hatchery to clip the adipose fin of every finger-size tule fall chinook salmon.
That's 15 million fish.
"It wasn't feasible to try to hand-mark that number of fish," said Larry Marchant, who manages the hatchery for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "Mass-marking trailers really speeds that process up."
Three of those automated trailers, priced at about $1.1 million each, now supplement the work of 40 temporary employees working two shifts to snip off the adipose fins of as many fish as possible. The goal is to make sure every fish produced at Spring Creek is marked so that fishermen in the river and on the ocean will be able to distinguish finless hatchery-raised "keepers" from their wild-spawned cousins, which they throw back so they can continue toward their spawning grounds.
Federal fish managers originally built the Spring Creek hatchery in 1901 to offset overfishing that had by then taken a serious toll on the once-abundant runs of wild salmon returning to the Columbia River basin.
In later years, a flurry of federal dams further eroded wild salmon populations.
Fish farm ban likely for northern B.C.
March 18, 2008 (BC Local News)
Opposition to salmon farming on the B.C. coast has effectively stalled its expansion in southern waters, and will likely keep salmon farms from being established in the north.
After dozens of salmon farms have operated for up to 25 years in the waters around Vancouver Island, there remains no scientific consensus on their effects on wild salmon, or the effectiveness of the strategies for curbing sea lice, according to a review of world-wide scientific literature just completed for the B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum.
Efforts to manage the effects of net-pen fish farms with a pesticide trade-named Slice will continue this spring as another generation of wild pink salmon makes its way to sea. And salmon farms won't be emptied or "fallowed" to make way for the April run of juvenile pinks.
Skeena MLA Robin Austin, who chaired an NDP-controlled committee calling for an end to net-pen salmon farming, said a moratorium for northern waters is "a given." Residents of Kitkatla, a Tsimshian village on an island near Prince Rupert, recently voted in a new council that reversed the community's effort to bring the first salmon farm to the region, Austin said, and now the industry has no local support in the north.
Federal protection sought for rockfish
March 18, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Puget Sound rockfish could become the latest of a host of underwater creatures to make the federal endangered species list.
The federal NOAA Fisheries Service said Monday it has accepted a petition from a retired state fisheries biologist to consider whether the fish are at risk of extinction.
The biologist, Sam Wright of Olympia, proposed five species of rockfish for federal protection. If federal scientists agree, the proposal then would go through a long review process before a final decision.
Some species of rockfish, which are often found at depths greater than 300 feet, can live as long as 100 years.
Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace
March 16, 2008 (New york Times)
The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations - and coming up dry.
Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.
As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.
Makah 'treaty warriors': Heroes or criminals?
March 16, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Joe McGimpsey doesn't consider himself a shaman, but he was the one the Makah Tribal Council sent in a small boat to recite sacred chants over the dying behemoth -- the victim of a rogue hunt in September.
Early next month, the whalers -- who don't deny killing their prey -- face criminal charges in Tacoma's U.S. District Court for unlawfully taking a whale.
The case has political implications, not only for the Makahs' ancient whaling way of life, but for the sanctity of all tribal treaties with the United States.
The Makahs have always taken a moderate approach in exercising their right to hunt whales. Even though it's been nine years since the tribe last took a whale under federal supervision, they've continued working through the system -- absorbing frustrating setbacks dealt by the courts in response to lawsuits filed by animal-rights activists.
At the time of the rogue hunt, the tribe was working to solidify its status as a whaling tribe. In Congress, an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow whale hunts without so much red tape was in the works. And the National Marine Fisheries Service was making progress toward issuing a permit for the next hunt.
But Johnson, the whaling captain, and his crew finally lost patience.
Threat of closing jolts fishing industry
March 13, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The grim prospect of a total shutdown of ocean salmon fishing in California and Oregon is forcing anglers, merchants and food servers who rely on the once-thriving fishery to reassess their lives and futures.
So few fall-run chinook came back to spawn in the Sacramento River and its tributaries last fall that the Pacific Fishery Management Council said Tuesday it would have to ban all salmon fishing unless a request is made for an emergency exception.
By Wednesday, the news had cast a pall over fishermen and salmon lovers from San Francisco to Cape Falcon in n0orthern Oregon. Fisheries managers canceled early-season ocean fishing for chinook off Oregon, where commercial trolling had been set to open Saturday and run through April up to the Oregon-California border.
"Oh man, I'm telling you the king (chinook) salmon is the icon in the Bay Area; this is going to be devastating to the economy," he said. "It's put everyone on edge. A lot of small-boat fishermen are going to go out of business."
Johnson said his market might offer a limited amount of king salmon from Alaska and Canada, "but it's going to be brutally expensive."
The latest fall run count in the Central Valley watershed in 2007 was 68,101, well below the goal of 122,000 to 180,000. The number of jack salmon - 2-year-old fish that come back early to spawn - was the lowest on record.
Neah Bay Tug Funded
March 13, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
A tugboat could be back in Neah Bay by July 1 to protect the coast against shipwrecks, thanks to funding approved Wednesday by the Washington Legislature.
The state budget includes $3.7 million to pay for a year of tug operations in the northwest corner of the state a hazardous region where ships enter and leave the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the open ocean....
Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound, an environmental group, said she was pleased with the funding, though she remains concerned about the next 31 2 months, when no tug will be available.
"The rescue tug has repeatedly saved our marine environment from oil spills," she said. "We have a few nervous months ahead, but starting in July we'll be good for a whole year."
Meet the man behind the 'Salish Sea'
March 13, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Bert Webber, a Bellingham marine biologist, first proposed calling the marine waters of southern B.C. and northern Washington the Salish Sea in an interview with the Bellingham Herald in 1988. Any name change would require approval from both sides of the border, since the southern end of the Strait of Georgia is in U.S. territory.
The name Salish Sea has buzzed around the area ever since and even made its way as a formal request to the B.C. and Washington State governments, where it was turned down flat in 1990.
Mr. Webber, now a retired marine biology professor from Western Washington University, says his plan was to name all three major inland waterways of the region the Salish Sea.
Under Mr. Webber's plan, which drew support from groups as diverse as government scientists, native bands and especially Gulf and San Juan Islands residents, the Salish Sea would be the all-embracing name for Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, which would all retain their own names as well.
Oregon chinook season canceled
March 13, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Fisheries managers on Wednesday canceled early season ocean fishing for chinook salmon off Oregon.
Eric Schindler, supervising biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Newport, said fisheries managers meeting in Sacramento, Calif., did not want to risk catching so many fish in March and April that they would have to cut any chance of fishing later in the year.
Returns of chinook and coho salmon were far below expectations last year, culminating three straight years of decline.
In the Sacramento system, so few salmon are expected to return this fall that even if there is no fishing the numbers will be just half of the goal set to spawn the next generation.
Efforts to block Maury Island mine dying
March 13, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Beachside, beneath towering hills blanketed by red-barked madrone trees, Amy Carey faces an uphill slog. She's trying to stop a massive sand mine planned here beside one of the best beaches for hatching the tiny fish that anchor Puget Sound's food chain.
The mine would carve away the backside of the 300-foot-high hills -- providing what proponents call a badly needed source of sand for construction. Barges the length of a football field would dock here to carry sand across the Sound to be made into concrete or used as fill.
Despite support from top state legislators, a two-year effort to pass laws to block or delay the mine is dying this week, the victim of a $170,000 lobbying campaign by the mining company, Glacier Northwest. Meanwhile, residents have only until Monday to comment on a key federal permit to replace an old dock with a new design the mine would need.
It could harm orcas, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and have exquisitely sensitive hearing.
The National Marine Fisheries Service told the Corps, the only way to keep from harming another threatened species, chinook salmon, would be to do the pile driving in the fall or winter.
But that's when the orcas are in the area. The fisheries service wrote that the orcas are likely to be in the area only "a few days each month" in fall and winter.
But opponents point to last December, when orcas were spotted in the area nearly every day.
Glacier said it will try to muffle the sound, post a lookout during pile driving and stop work if orcas show up.
By Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers wants comment on whether it's in the public interest to approve the mine. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Put in the subject line: "Northwest Aggregates, NWS-2000-1094-SO"
Or mail comments to Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, Box 3755, Seattle, WA, 98124.
Either way, you must include your name, address and phone number. The Corps' draft environmental assessment is available at goto.seattlepi.com/r1304.
Competition grows for salmon
March 13, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Poor salmon returns make commercial fishing unlikely off the coasts of California and Oregon this year, heating up the competition for fish off portions of Washington's coast.
"Those people need somewhere to go to make some money. If you don't have a job, you move," said Jim Olson, a Washington commercial fisherman advising the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which helps set the timing and length of fishing seasons.
"Less fish for everyone is what it works out to," Olson said.
Doug Fricke, president of the Washington Trollers Association, said that is bad news for Washington commercial fishermen, who for years have had to make do with ever-smaller quotas and shorter seasons because of diminished salmon runs. Development, logging, dams, water withdrawals from rivers and other habitat damage are taking their toll.
The root of the problem in California and Oregon is ocean conditions. The cold waters of the California Current flow southward from the northern Pacific along the West Coast and are crucial to upwelling, which happens when wind brings nutrients to the ocean's surface. Upwelling feeds the ocean food web, and myriad creatures have evolved to migrate and hatch in rhythm with it.
When upwelling is weak, or late, all kinds of animals, including salmon, fail to thrive and even starve.
Washington salmon returns have been relatively unaffected, because most of the salmon returning to Washington's coast and river systems are coming home from the Bering Sea.
Ocean conditions there have been favorable for salmon.
Feds warn entire salmon season could be halted
March 12, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
So few salmon are living in the ocean and rivers along the Pacific Coast that salmon fishing in California and Oregon will have to be shut down completely this year unless an emergency exception is granted, Pacific Fishery Management Council representatives said Tuesday.
It would mark the first time ever that the federal agency created 22 years ago to manage the Pacific Coast fishery canceled the coast's traditional salmon fishing season from April to mid-November.
Such a move would jeopardize the livelihoods of close to 1,000 commercial fishermen from Santa Barbara to Washington State and would significantly drive up the price of West Coast wild salmon.
Fisheries experts say even if the salmon fishery remained wide open there would not be any salmon left to catch.
Dygert said the death of so many salmon "is suggesting a broad-scale ocean survival problem."
Navy Asks Judge to Clarify Whale Rules
March 12, 2008 (AP)
The Navy on Tuesday asked a federal judge to clarify and modify an injunction placing restrictions on the service's use of sonar in Hawaii waters.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement that it will go ahead with planned anti-submarine warfare exercises this month in accordance with an order issued late last month by U.S. District Judge David Ezra.
Officials will then determine whether to seek additional clarifications and modifications.
"If we determine the restrictions impede our ability to conduct realistic training and assessment, the Navy will report these concerns back to Judge Ezra and ask for necessary relief," said Capt. Scott Gureck, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman.
Ezra's injunction says the Navy cannot conduct exercises within 12 nautical miles, or 13.8 miles, of Hawaii's shoreline. That's where species that are particularly sensitive to sonar, such as the beaked whale, are found.
He also ruled the Navy must look for marine mammals for one hour each day before using sonar and employ three lookouts exclusively to spot the animals during sonar use.
The Navy faces a similar order in California, where a U.S. District Court judge in January issued an injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California.
The Navy's motion for Hawaii asks Ezra to exempt the Navy from the safety zone requirements when the marine mammals spotted in the vicinity are porpoises and dolphins that swim up to warships to ride bow waves.
Coast Salish leaders commit to environmental action
March 11, 2008 (Indian County News)
''Enough talk, it's time for action.'' Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, summed up the consensus at the second day of the Coast Salish Gathering at the Tulalip Tribes Feb. 27 - 29.
''We are the Indian people, the Coast Salish Indian people, who live on all the watersheds, on the headwaters and on the bays throughout the Salish Sea region. We've got a message for all the nontribal governments and communities and we're delivering it.''
In the second full day of planning, Coast Salish leaders from British Columbian First Nations and western Washington tribes committed to a goal of environmental action, including a Salish Sea-wide information sharing database, a water quality information gathering project, and a Coast Salish environmental indicators project. (Visit www.coastsalishgathering.com.)
''We tell the truth. The U.S. government does not tell the truth. The Canadian government does not tell the truth. The states don't tell the truth. They lie to their people. They say, 'It'll scare the people and hurt the economy, so let's just lie to them.' Well, we won't lie to our people, and the other governments cannot fool us. We know where our trail is, and we've got to stay on that trail - together.''
Dolphin rescues stranded whales: conservation official
March 11, 2008 (Google News)
A dolphin guided two stranded whales to safety after human attempts to keep the animals off a New Zealand beach failed, a conservation official said Wednesday.
"I've never heard of anything like this before, it was amazing," Conservation Department officer Malcolm Smith said.
The actions of the dolphin, known in New Zealand for playing with people in the water at Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island, probably meant the difference between life and death for the whales, Smith told AFP.
Smith had been working for over an hour and a half to save the two pygmy sperm whales which had repeatedly become stranded despite his attempts to push them back out to sea.
A dolphin, named Moko by locals, appeared and guided the whales to safety after apparently communicating with them, Smith said.
The whales, a three-metre female and her 1-1/2 metre male calf, were apparently confused by a sandbar just off the beach and could not find their way back to open water.
"Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore," Smith said.
In that situation, whales are often humanely killed to end their suffering.
Smith said Moko arrived on the scene and he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another.
"The whales made contact with the dolphin and she basically escorted them about 200 metres parallel with the beach to the edge of the sandbar.
"Then she did a right-angle turn through quite a narrow channel and escorted them out to sea and we haven't seen those whales since.
"What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety."
Salmon fishing ban mulled in California as run suffers record plunge
March 10, 2008 (Sacramento Bee)
A near-record-low fall chinook spawning run in 2007 has regulators considering an all-out ban on salmon fishing in California this year. It would protect surviving fish, but for Richey and others whose lives are tied to salmon, the future looks dim.
The Central Valley fall chinook run is the mainstay of commercial and recreational salmon fishing on the California and Oregon coasts, worth $103 million annually. This does not include dollars generated by inland fishing on rivers.
After 15 years of historically robust returns, the 2007 fall run saw a plunge to near-record lows – surprising regulators who expected an average year.
Biologists aren't certain what caused the plunge. But they suspect poor ocean conditions.
Pod of orcas gatecrashes beach demo (with photos)
March 10, 2008 (New Zealand Herald)
These elegant orcas brought an abrupt end to a demonstration of how to save a beached whale when they cruised past Mt Maunganui's Main Beach yesterday.
Star of the demonstration - part of Seaweek at Mt Maunganui - was a blow-up plastic replica of an orca.
But it was quickly forgotten when the real orcas dropped in.
Many of the hundreds of people at the beach ran to the water's edge to catch a glimpse of the creatures, which came within 30m of shore.
They forage along the sandy floor for stingrays - New Zealand orcas are the only known orca group that eats stingrays as a staple food.
Scientists think weather changes left salmon starving
March 9, 2008 (Alaska Journal)
Scientists examining the sudden and widespread collapse of West Coast salmon returns are pointing to the unusual changes in weather patterns that caused the bottom to fall out of the ocean food web in 2005. NOAA Fisheries Service oceanographer Bill Peterson said March 3 the juvenile salmon that left their native rivers and entered the Pacific Ocean in 2005 found little food being transported by the California Current, which flows from the northern Pacific south along the West Coast.
The reason was that the jet stream had shifted to the south, delaying the spring onset of winds out of the north that create a condition known as upwelling, which kickstarts the ocean food web by stirring the water from bottom to top, the agency said.
"If there is no upwelling, there is no phytoplankton growth, no zooplankton growth, and basically you have no food chain that develops, because it all depends on the upwelling," Peterson said from Newport.
Chinook returns in the Sacramento River in California last year were a third of what biologists expected, and forecasts are for an all-time low this year. Coho salmon returns to streams in Oregon and California were also lower than expected.
Killer Whale in a Desert: Dubai Plans Theme Parks
March 7, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
Shamu is heading to Dubai. Last month, the Busch Entertainment Corporation and property developer Nakheel announced plans to build SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove theme parks on Palm Jebel Ali, one of Nakheel's (www.nakheel.com) three man-made islands in Dubai.
The theme park complex, called Worlds of Discovery, is to be built in the shape of a giant killer whale. The first phase of construction is expected to be finished by 2012.
Last day for oil-spill rescue tug
March 7, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
While the specter of enviro oil spill disaster looms, local lawmakers and U.S. senators are still struggling to get funding for a rescue tug that's stationed at Neah Bay on the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
Friday -- today -- is the last day the tug will be at the ready to prevent shipwrecks. Getting the tug out there for next winter is completely uncertain as well.
Why does it matter? The tug has made 40 assists of ships in distress since it was put into service in 1999, and six of those were this winter. It was most recently sent out Feb. 27 to aid a 651-foot bulk cargo carrier that lost propulsion entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Mike Sato at People for Puget Sound says there's $3.65 million in the state Senate's budget for a year-round rescue tug, while the House offers $660,000 to cover about two months.
Says Fred Felleman, northwest director of Ocean Advocates: "The state is once again bailing us out for another year. This really would be best fixed at the federal level."
Sen. Maria Cantwell is expected to reintroduce legislation to make tug funding a requirement for all vessels and facilities that file oil spill response plans with the Coast Guard.
A lifeblood with toxic undertones
March 7, 2008 (Oregonian)
The 146 miles of the Columbia River from the Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean, in some spots industrialized and in long stretches post-card beautiful, carries a low-level suite of toxics from flame retardants to prescription drugs to pesticides.
But the monitoring sites to gauge toxics on the lower Columbia -- and potentially divine their sources -- have fallen from more than 350 in the early 1990s to just three, one in operation now and two planned.
The drop-off means that long-known pollutants, such as PCBs, DDT and mercury, are going largely unrecorded and unmapped while concerns about river health grow and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent protecting endangered fish.
New studies indicate that a pesticide even at low levels can damage fish when it mixes with other pesticides, the typical scenario in the Columbia and other rivers that drain agricultural areas.
The Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership is asking Congress for $3.2 million in next year's federal budget to start toxics reduction programs and add 29 long-term toxics monitoring sites to test water, sediment, fish, mammals and birds. River advocates say that's the minimum necessary to take the river's pulse and gauge whether toxics drop when new programs take effect.
Bolstering their argument: The river was the only great water body to not get extra money from the EPA in 2008. Chesapeake Bay got $31 million. Puget Sound, also designated in 2006, got $20 million.
The stretch of river hosts key salmon runs and is subject to releases from chemical plants, paper mills, sewage treatment plants, agricultural pesticide runoff, industrial storm water sites in Portland and Vancouver and 55 hazardous waste sites and landfills within a mile of the water.
The USGS, the main agency responsible for tracking the health of U.S. rivers, used to have six long-term monitoring sites on the Columbia, Fuhrer said. Now it has one, near Longview, Wash., covering a 265,000-square-mile river basin.
Smelt have all but vanished from region's rivers
March 7, 2008 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Smelt, that is. Like a welcoming committee jilted by the guest of honor, hundreds of sports fishermen left the Cowlitz River with empty dip nets and unused buckets. They were skunked by a smelt run so small that some fear the fish are close to extinction. "It's disheartening," said Larry Calhoun, 64, a retired Boeing Co. worker who lives in Castle Rock, Cowlitz County, and went looking for smelt in the river Feb. 23. "Last year wasn't any good either."
In November, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe petitioned federal fisheries managers to grant Endangered Species Act protection for the oily little fish, whose annual return to the Columbia River and its tributaries has lured people for thousands of years.
Historically, smelt spawned in rivers as far south as central California. But they've disappeared from the California's Sacramento and Oregon's Rogue and Klamath rivers.
Now, the Columbia River is the only river system south of the Canadian border where smelt still exist.
Wright believes smelt may go the way of the extinct passenger pigeon, which depended on large numbers for survival. It once accounted for 25 to 40 percent of the nation's birds, but unrestrained hunting so reduced its population that the pigeon could no longer sustain itself. The last wild passenger pigeons disappeared in the early 1900s.
White killer whale spotted near Aleutian isle
March 6, 2008 (Tundra Drums)
Scientists aboard the NOAA research vessel Oscar Dyson in the North Pacific have sighted a creature of great rarity and even myth: a white whale.
NOTE: The following news release was provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. High resolution photos of the white whale are available online. See link at bottom of news release.
Scientists aboard the NOAA research vessel Oscar Dyson in the North Pacific have sighted a creature of great rarity and even myth: a white whale. The white killer whale was spotted with its pod about two miles off Kanaga Volcano, part of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, on Feb. 23.
At the time, Kodiak-based Oscar Dyson was on a research expedition for NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center, assessing pollock fish stocks near Steller sea lion haulout sites. The white whale is a fish-eating type of killer whale, as were all the killer whales photographed on the expedition. Fish-eating killer whales are the most frequently seen whales around the Aleutian Islands during the summer. The winter sightings represent important evidence that they may be common year-round.
Holly Fearnbach, a research biologist at NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, was able to photograph the whale's white fin and back. "With hundreds of killer whales documented around the Aleutian Islands, this was equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack," she said.
Few white killer whales have ever been seen, according to Fearnbach, much less scientifically documented.
This whale is likely not a true albino because it still has signs of darker pigmented areas on its body. However, because of its prominent coloring, the white whale serves as an indicator for movements of killer whales in the North Pacific.
The three high resolution images are: HERE, HERE and HERE.
Vancouver Island is ready to celebrate the gray whales' return
March 6, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
They move like silent submarines, encrusted with patches of white barnacles, just below the surface of the water. Although Pacific gray whales are not as showy or playful as their cetacean cousin, the orca or killer whale, catching sight of a telltale blow or a quick flash of a gnarly back still inspires awe.
And from now until mid-May, one of the best places to spot the huge marine mammals is along the west coast of Vancouver Island, particularly in the 30-mile stretch between the scenic, touristy fishing towns of Ucluelet and Tofino, about 200 miles northwest of Victoria.
At least 20,000 grays will be gliding close to shore over the next 10 weeks, heading north from their winter calving grounds along Mexico's Baja coast to the waters of Alaska and the Bering Sea, where they feed all summer.
March 6, 2008 (MIT Technology Review)
Mimicking the bumps on humpback-whale fins could lead to more efficient wind turbines.
Marine scientists have long suspected that humpback whales' incredible agility comes from the bumps on the leading edges of their flippers. Now Harvard University researchers have come up with a mathematical model that helps explain this hydrodynamic edge. The work gives theoretical weight to a growing body of empirical evidence that similar bumps could lead to more-stable airplane designs, submarines with greater agility, and turbine blades that can capture more energy from the wind and water.
We must howl to Congress to keep the green fire glowing
March 6, 2008 (Seattle Times op-ed by Brenda Peterson)
Perched on a mountainside in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley with Park Ranger Rick McIntyre, we eyed the Crystal Creek wolf pack tracking an elk. It was 1995, and these were the first wolves to return to the national park in 60 years. As we watched the alpha male and female loping together across the green thaw of spring grasses, we could not know how these wolves would revitalize this ecosystem, dramatically increasing everything from insects to trees to songbird populations.
And yet, with all of these environmental successes, the Bush administration has announced plans to end federal protection for wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. As soon as this month, federal wildlife managers will use our taxpayer dollars to trap, hunt and shoot wolves from airplanes, even kill wolf pups in their dens.
This is a wildly unpopular extermination program driven by a small minority of ranchers and hunters who see the wild wolf only as a rival, when, in fact, wolves have much to teach us about ecosystem balance.
Beach canisters may contain rat poison, state ecology officials warn
March 6, 2008 (Seattle Times)
If beachcombers on the Washington coast come across metal canisters they should contact state officials and not open the cylinders.
The state Department of Ecology believes the canisters contained poison used to kill rats on cargo ships, although the state hasn't yet confirmed the contents through tests.
While the canisters that have been found were empty, they still may contain residue of aluminum phosphide, a chemical used to kill rodents and insects. State officials believe the Thermos-like canisters, each about 8 inches long, either fell off ships or were thrown overboard after being emptied. So far they've heard of dozens found near Ocean Shores and beaches farther north.
Based on the number of canisters reportedly seen, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based oceanographer and expert in flotsam, believes hundreds have washed up on Washington beaches.
State to come up with emissions goals
March 6, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Washington state will come up with a plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and build a "green collar" workforce under a measure passed by the Legislature on Wednesday.
The measure builds on a law that passed last year. That underlying measure set targets to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035; and to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 - or 70 percent below what is currently predicted for 2050.
The bill that passed Wednesday makes those goals firm requirements.
The measure also directs the state to add 25,000 "green-collar" jobs by 2020. The green-jobs initiative would set up a special state account to give grants for training and other programs encouraging clean-energy businesses.
"Global climate change is the greatest challenge our generation and future generations face, we must take bold steps to address it now," Gregoire said in a statement. "This bill will help guide Washington state in working toward a cleaner environmental future and sustainable economic development by laying the groundwork for creating green collar jobs."
Salmon woes linked to weather
March 4, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Scientists examining the sudden and widespread collapse of West Coast salmon returns are pointing to the unusual changes in weather patterns that caused the bottom to fall out of the ocean food web in 2005.
NOAA Fisheries Service oceanographer Bill Peterson said Monday the juvenile salmon that left their native rivers and entered the Pacific Ocean in 2005 found little food being transported by the California Current, which flows from the northern Pacific south along the West Coast.
The reason was that the jet stream had shifted to the south, delaying the spring onset of winds out of the north that create a condition known as upwelling, which kick-starts the ocean food web by stirring the water from bottom to top, the agency said.
"If there is no upwelling, there is no phytoplankton growth, no zooplankton growth, and basically you have no food chain that develops, because it all depends on the upwelling," Peterson said from Newport.
Chinook returns in the Sacramento River in California last year were a third of what biologists expected, and forecasts are for an all-time low this year. Coho salmon returns to streams in Oregon and California were also lower than expected.
Booming growth raises idea of dams
March 3, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The era of massive dam construction in the West - which tamed rivers, swallowed towns and created irrigated agriculture, cheap hydropower and persistent environmental problems - effectively ended in 1966 with the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona.
But a booming population and growing fears about climate change have governments once again studying dams, this time to create huge reservoirs to capture more winter rain and spring snowmelt for use in dry summer months.
New dams are being studied in Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and other states, even as dams are being torn down across the country over environmental concerns - worries that will likely pose big obstacles to new dams.
"The West and the Northwest are increasing in population growth like never before," said John Redding, regional spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Boise. "How do you quench the thirst of the hungry masses?"
Court upholds whale protection in Navy exercises
March 2, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
A federal appeals court has ruled that the Navy must protect endangered whales from the potentially lethal effects of underwater sonar during anti-submarine training off the Southern California coast, rejecting President Bush's attempt to exempt the exercises from environmental laws.
In a Friday night ruling rushed into print ahead of the next scheduled exercise on Monday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's decision that no emergency existed that would justify Bush's intervention.
The Navy is engaged in "long-planned, routine training exercises" and has had ample time to take the steps that the law requires - conduct a thorough review of the environmental consequences and propose effective measures to minimize the harm to whales and other marine mammals, the three-judge panel said.
Past rulings have established that "there is no 'national defense exception' " to the National Environmental Policy Act, the court said. That law requires government agencies to review projects that might harm the environment and propose reasonable protective measures.
Nonetheless, the panel allowed naval commanders to modify two of the restrictions if they arose during a "critical point in the exercise," when certain levels of sonar are needed for effective training. The modifications reduce the protective zones within which vessels must reduce or shut down sonar when whales are detected.
Those changes are to remain in effect for 30 days, and will be extended if the Navy appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court, the appellate panel said.
The ruling sets a precedent for federal courts in California and eight other Western states. One of those states is Hawaii, where a federal judge on Friday ordered similar restrictions on Navy sonar exercises off the Hawaiian islands. The ruling by U.S. District Judge David Ezra includes requirements to reduce sonar when whales are detected within certain distances or when conditions make monitoring difficult.
The Navy has completed six of the 14 large-scale training exercises scheduled off Southern California between February 2007 and January 2009. It decided not to conduct a full environmental review before the operations, saying it had already agreed to post lookouts for whales and taken other adequate protective measures.
The ruling in Natural Resources Defense Council vs. Winter is available at: www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf.
Court holds Navy to rules safeguarding marine mammals
March 1, 2008 (Los Angeles Times) A federal appeals court has rejected the Bush administration effort to exempt Navy sonar training from key environmental laws, backing up a lower court that imposed extensive safeguards to protect whales and dolphins from harmful sonic blasts.
Even so, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gave the Navy a 30-day reprieve from the most far-reaching protections -- such as shutting down sonar when whales are spotted within 2,200 yards -- so it could conduct a pair of training missions this month off Southern California and to give it time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Navy is carefully considering additional review, including possible review by the Supreme Court," Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said Saturday. Once the monthlong reprieve ends, the Navy spokeswoman said, the ruling "leaves in place significant restrictions on our ability to train realistically."
The decision, released late Friday night, is the latest in a string of legal defeats for the Navy in Los Angeles and Hawaii as it tries to avoid court-ordered restraints on how it trains sailors to hunt for submarines with a type of sonar that has been linked to the death of whales and dolphins.
After the last training in January, a northern right whale dolphin washed up on Navy-owned San Nicolas Island with blood in its ears -- a symptom seen in the fatalities of deep-diving whales that washed ashore in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas after military sonar exercises.