Orca Network News - May, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2005 through May 31, 2005.
May 31, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) "(Nixon) thought he was going to get this local-yokel gentle treatment," recalled Randy Partin, McGaffin's cameraman for about 15 years. Instead, the former Marine "confronted him to no end."
Nine years later, McGaffin traveled to El Salvador with Partin to cover the war for KING/5.
Interviewing residents in a bombed-out area, the journalists were captured by local rebels. At one point, their execution seemed likely. But when the rebel leader spouted off endlessly about Maoism, McGaffin couldn't hold his tongue.
Through an interpreter he asked him, " 'Don't you have any ideas of your own?' " Partin recalled.
A handsome man with black hair and blue eyes, McGaffin came to Seattle and worked for KOMO/4 and KING/5 television stations during the 1970s and into the '80s, where he did reporting and produced documentaries and commentaries.
His work led to regulations on flammability in children's pajamas and exposed the capture and killing of orcas for aquarium displays
Whales extend stay in canal
May 28, 2005 (The Olympian) With every passing day, the six transient orca whales in Hood Canal break their own record for time in residence in one body of water -- and reduce the harbor seal population in the canal.
They arrived Jan. 24 and haven't left, feeding on about one harbor seal a day, per whale, which means an estimated population of 1,200 harbor seals in the canal could be down to around 600.
That's after more than four months in the fjord-like canal for the two older females, their two daughters and the daughters' two offspring, collectively dubbed the "Slippery Six."
"This event is unprecedented," said Steve Jeffries, a marine mammal biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This length of stay by transients has never been documented anywhere in the world."
The six killer whales, ranging in age from about 5 years old to more than 20 years old, are part of a nomadic group of approximately 170 individual whales that prowl the marine waters from southeast Alaska to California.
They eat marine mammals while the Puget Sound resident orcas eat fish.
Salmon: Facing the dam question
May 28, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) The fish, their ecosystem and the communities that live off the salmon must be protected. The Northwest economy must remain strong. Cooperative efforts, rather than divide-and-conquer tactics, provide the most hopeful avenues. Preserving endangered species is good sense, and it's the law.
The most basic matter is looking honestly at all options, including removal of four Snake River dams that pose perhaps insurmountable barriers to ever again having robust fish runs. There is no reason to pretend all the dams must be there forever.
As a judge's ruling on Thursday suggested, the federal effort has consistently failed to meet the essential criteria. It's a record that demands improvement.
Fish runs have dwindled for decades. Even the extremely modest recoveries of recent years have brought economic benefits. A real recovery of salmon runs would be a huge economic, cultural and social boost for the entire Northwest. As we look ahead, such hope -- founded on enduring wisdom about our ecosystem -- offers a better starting point than the worshipful protection of a few manmade structures.
Salmon rescue plan takes big jump forward
May 28, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Seattle, King County, local governments finish document
Saving salmon in Seattle is a big idea, a noble idea -- and a largely untested idea.
But plans to carry out that concept took a big step forward this week when representatives of Seattle, King County and other local governments in the Cedar River-Lake Washington basin put the final touches on their salmon-rescue blueprint.
It's not without controversy, though. During the next month, 27 city and county councils are expected to scrutinize the three-volume document. They are being asked to back the spirit of the plan, if not each and every one of the hundreds of recommendations.
What needs to be done?
Builders need to leave lots of forest cover in place. The region's neighborhoods, houses and streets need to be built -- or rebuilt -- so that water running off after rainstorms doesn't pollute local waterways. Trees need to be planted. Development needs to go where it won't hurt fish.
The plan approved this week covers the northern and eastern parts of Seattle that drain into Lake Washington and the Ship Canal. Later this year, approval is expected for a second plan covering downtown, West Seattle and areas that drain into the Duwamish and Green rivers and central Puget Sound.
To do that around here, that's going to mean that cities will have to work together, leaders of the effort say. "The collective regional commitment, that's what this is all about," said Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives.
Judge says Bush salmon plan ignores impact of dams
May 27, 2005 (Seattle Times) For the third time in little more than a decade, a federal judge has thrown out the government's plan to protect troubled salmon runs from the Columbia River hydrosystem, this time ruling that the Bush administration all but ignored the damage wrought by the extensive array of dams, powerhouses and spillways.
U.S. District Judge James Redden yesterday ordered the Bush administration to again re-examine the role power projects play in the decline of a dozen runs of salmon and steelhead.
The ruling reignites a high-stakes battle for water in a region where farmers have struggled with drought, power producers already are feeling a financial squeeze and salmon advocates have stepped up the push for rivers that are more fish-friendly.
It also has prompted renewed calls by environmental activists to remove four older dams on the Snake River, which flows into the Columbia.
Four runs of salmon, including Snake River sockeye and Upper Columbia River steelhead, are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which means they are at risk of going extinct. Nine more, such as Snake River fall chinook and lower Columbia River chum, are listed as threatened, which means they are likely to be at risk of extinction in the future.
Environmentalists, fishermen and tribal officials point to this year's dramatic drop in spring chinook as evidence the administration's plan wasn't working and something more dramatic is needed. About 85,000 fish are now expected to return, compared with a preseason forecast of more than 250,000. The small runs have idled commercial and recreational fishing on the Columbia.
And - in a dramatic shift from his predecessor - Bush said removing the old Snake River dams was out of the question, even if all else failed.
U.S. judge throws out Columbia dams plan May 27, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Environmentalists, tribes oppose state's forest-management plan
May 26, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Forests next to rivers nurture salmon runs.
They keep rivers cool, feed bugs near the bottom of the food chain, hold stream banks in place, filter out dirt that clouds water and smothers streambeds.
Making those streamside forests healthy is a cornerstone of a Washington Department of Natural Resources habitat conservation plan approved by the federal government in 1997.
Today, seven years after their self-imposed deadline, state officials finally have gotten around to filling in crucial blanks left in the forest-management strategy.
Critics say it looks a lot more like a plan to log the heck out of streamside forests located across 1.1 million acres in Western Washington.
"Lots of acreage and lots of salmon are going to be harmed," predicted Keith Wyman, a fish biologist with the Skagit River System Cooperative, the natural resources agency that works on behalf of two tribes in the Skagit River area.
"Resources are harmed and there is no way for the public to say, 'That's not the deal.' "
Also expressing concern are at least two other tribes, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the Olympic Coast Alliance and the Washington Environmental Council, which represents more than 50 environmental groups statewide.
Humans don't stand outside nature
May 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) Because in these dark days of know-nothing anti-evolutionism (more than a bit of it sponsored by Seattle's own Discovery Institute) -- with religious fundamentalists occupying the White House, controlling much of Congress and even attempting to distort the teaching of science in the nation's schools -- a powerful dose of biological reality would be a very healthy event. After all, perhaps the most important take-home message from evolutionary science is the one that radical fundamentalists find most unacceptable: continuity. And this is precisely the message that chimeras, hybrids or mixed-species clones would drive home.
The latest tactic of creationists has been to couch their religious agenda in terms of "irreducible complexity" and "intelligent design," cloaking a refusal to acknowledge the natural, organic, material nature of Homo sapiens in a miasma of pseudo-science that (in most cases, at least) accepts "micro-evolutionary" events such as the emergence of drug-resistance in bacteria, but draws the line at the emergence of human beings from other "lower" life forms. It is a line that exists only in the minds of those who proclaim that the human species, unlike all others, possesses a spark of the divine and must have been specially created by god. It is a thin and, indeed, indefensible line, but one that generates a consequential conclusion: that we stand outside nature.
Easing the pain of growth
May 25, 2005 (Seattle Times op-ed) Snohomish County is experiencing some very severe growing pains. In the decade since 1995, when our county adopted its first comprehensive plan, we've seen a growth spurt like none in local history.
Official projections say we'll add another 300,000 people in the next 20 years, meaning in 2025, nearly 1 million people will live, commute, play, learn, raise families and work in this place we call home. It's not news that the county's most important political body, the Snohomish County Council, has a rather spotty record when it comes to planning for such explosive growth. Protecting working farms and forests, providing parks and ballfields, easing traffic congestion, and protecting streams and drinking water haven't been priorities for the council.
Fortunately, 2005 offers a trio of very important opportunities to ease the pain. All three of the county's major tools for determining what gets built - and where it's best to build - are due to be updated this year.
Zoning plans rile up farmers
May 25, 2005 (Everett Herald) Many rural residents in Island County were startled recently to receive a notice from county planners warning that they might have to stop farming or even gardening.
Hundreds showed up at public hearings on Camano Island last week, and on Whidbey Island on Tuesday, wondering what was going on.
Environmentalists cried foul, saying the county's notice was inflammatory and misleading. "Hobby farmers" would simply have to move their livestock or gardens farther away from streams, they said.
The flap is the result of part of a lawsuit by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, which challenged Island County's rural zoning as granting too many farm-friendly exemptions from environmental rules to people who weren't full-time farmers.
Reckless laws endanger land use
May 24, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed by C.J. Gabbe) Last November, Oregon passed Measure 37, creating a process by which property owners can receive monetary compensation for any action government takes to prevent unlimited development. Oregon's Measure 37 is inspiring advocates of runaway growth to develop similar ballot measures in other states that manage growth and protect livability, including Washington.
A frail, elderly woman seeking to subdivide her forested acreage for development by her children was at the forefront of the proponents' media blitz. However, former U.S. Rep. Les AuCoin believes that Measure 37 was "never about the welfare of a kindly city-dwelling 91-year-old woman. It was always about gutting a state land-use planning program that has prized farmland over subdivisions and compact cities over California-styled sprawl."
While much of the public debate in Oregon focused on government takings, few have acknowledged the property value increases resulting from government actions that preserve quality of life, as well as public investment in infrastructure and services. Sad to say, extremist property rights advocates see land-use planning as a one-way street -- they do not propose that property owners compensate the government for these "government givings" that increase property value. The so-called property rights movement is really about special benefits for a small group of large landowners -- not about protecting the property of most homeowners, who will get nothing from the new law.
Bigger than anything, a 100-year quest
May 22, 2005 (James Vesely, Seattle Times columnist) At first, the staggering numbers of the Cascade Land Conservancy's plan make its vision so big and so distant, the image becomes fuzzy with time and calculations: a 100-year telescope aimed at four counties east of Puget Sound; $7 billion in land acquisitions and other costs; a monumental 1.26 million acres of forestland set aside for logging, farms and recreation.
This is a very big deal. It is not about the hand of government. Instead, it is a separate, parallel track through the forest that aspires to a vision larger than any other in the United States. This is too large and too complicated for government to do, nor should it, by itself. Instead of boundaries, it starts with topography.
"The intersection of growth is at Interstate 90 where it crosses I-5," he said. "We have to ask ourselves if we are just going to continue expansion from there or are we going to keep our forests productive?"
Duvernoy said, "There is a false choice between the environment and development. We can do both, and well, when landowners, environmentalists and developers agree on the basics - that we need each other."
Luna 'trapped' by wave of noise
May 22, 2005 (Victoria Times Colonist) As fishing season opens, biologist urges ban on sonar in Nootka Sound
Constant noise from sonar fish finders and depth sounders may be driving Luna, the solitary orca, to distraction, says Roger Dunlop, fisheries biologist with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
As fishermen head to Nootka Sound for the first boating weekend of the season, Dunlop is calling for a ban on sonar in Nootka Sound.
"I think Luna's trapped by a noise field and it's driving him to do things he wouldn't normally do," Dunlop said Saturday. His theories are cautiously supported by whale experts.
First Nations representatives will be handing out information, warning people to stay away from the orca, and patrolling the area -- telling boaters not to approach Luna or cut their engines when they see him -- even though no agreement is in place, said Roger Dunlop, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council fisheries biologist.
P-I Focus: A salmon plan that benefits fish -- and rural communities
May 20, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer It is difficult to think of a more inspiring story than that of the Snake River salmon and steelhead. These fish truly are one of Earth's most incredible animals, traveling 900 miles inland from the sea, gaining nearly 7,000 feet in elevation as they reach the Rocky Mountains. They bring to the forested rivers of central Idaho vital nutrients from the Pacific Ocean and are a key link in the web of life.
Sad to say, today their numbers have dwindled to less than 3 percent of their historic abundance of roughly 2 million, and all Snake River salmon and steelhead populations are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Just 27 sockeye salmon reached their spawning grounds at Idaho's Redfish Lake last year.
It doesn't have to be this way. The $6 billion could be used to remove the four out-dated dams on the lower Snake and restore 140 miles of free-flowing river, which scientists say is the only action that will recover Snake River salmon and steelhead to healthy, fishable populations.
It may come as no surprise that removing those four concrete walls from the path of salmon and steelhead would be a good thing for the fish, but what is likely surprising to many is that it will also be good for rural communities in the Snake River basin and the regional economy as a whole. How is this possible?
Whale entangles in net and dies
May 20, 2005 (Seattle Times A young humpback whale that may have been feeding in silty water near Wrangell, Alaska, became entangled in a fisherman's net and died.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the whale died sometime Wednesday between 4 and 6 a.m. while the gillnet fisherman was fishing for king salmon.
The fisherman saw the whale dive near the boat but never saw it resurface, said NOAA fisheries spokeswoman Sheela McLean in Juneau.
When he pulled up his net, the 30-foot whale was entangled in the net, she said.
"The whale had lines wrapped around much of its body, but the tail was wrapped very tightly, the tail was caught," she said yesterday. "It is presumed to have drowned."
A green vision for 100 years
May 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer $7 billion plan would preserve 1.3 million acres in 4 counties
Today, the Cascade Land Conservancy will unveil a sweeping plan to protect nearly 1.3 million acres of forests, farms and parkland in a four-county region, largely through market incentives, such as compensating landowners for not building homes.
But to accommodate population growth -- which the land trust estimates could double to 7 million by 2100 -- cities must become dense, vibrant places that draw people like a magnet.
The plan also suggests starting a broad, regionwide conversation about better ways to develop rural land, where tensions between property rights and preservation have become toxic of late.
"This really was a celebration of taking the long view, which doesn't really happen in America anymore," said Royer, who said people here are still enjoying the legacy of the Olmsteds, the landscape architects who helped remake the city a century ago.
"Corporate America plans for its new quarterly reports, government plans as far as the next election -- so it was a real thrill to sit down with a bunch of smart people ... and elevate the conversation to a higher level."
Deal reached over wastewater at mine near border
May 19, 2005 (Seattle Times) A deal has been reached that will allow a lead-and-zinc mine to continue to operate in Pend Oreille County, the state Department of Ecology said yesterday.
The agency, mine operator Teck Cominco American and three environmental groups settled their differences over a wastewater-discharge permit for the mine.
"This settlement is the result of open and constructive dialogue among all the parties and represents better environmental protection at the mine," said Jim Bellatty, who manages Ecology's water-quality office in Spokane.
"Teck Cominco greatly appreciates the hard work and sincere efforts by all the parties to resolve this appeal," said Dave Godlewski, environmental manager for Teck Cominco.
Ecology will inspect the mine four times a year to make sure it is complying with all environmental requirements.
Ore from the mine is trucked to Cominco's smelter in Trail, B.C. Teck Cominco and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are battling over heavy-metals pollution in the Columbia River that flows from the smelter into Washington state.
New study blames global warming for earlier springs
May 17, 2005 (Seattle Times) Each spring, the robins are arriving in Wisconsin several days earlier than they did a decade ago. Endangered woodpeckers in North Carolina are laying their eggs about a week earlier than they did 20 years ago. And some of Washington, D.C.'s signature cherry trees bloom about a month earlier than they did a half-century ago.
The first signs of spring are appearing earlier in the year, and a new study from Stanford University released yesterday says man-made global warming is clearly to blame.
Spring has been pushed forward by nearly 10 days worldwide, on average, in just 30 years, the study shows.
This has all happened while average global temperatures have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years. The consensus of mainstream climate scientists is that temperatures will rise an additional 4 to 10 degrees over the next century, Root said.
Solar activity linked to whale strandings
May 14, 2005 (Hindustan Times) Surges of solar activity may cause whales to run aground, possibly by disrupting the creatures' internal compass, German scientists suggest.
University of Kiel researchers Klaus Vaneslow and Klaus Ricklefs looked at sightings of sperm whales found beached in the North Sea between 1712 and 2003.
They then compared this record with another set of historical data - astronomers' observations of sunspots, which is an indicator of solar radiation.
More whale strandings occurred when the sun's activity was high, they found.
Big solar flares can also disrupt telecommunications and power lines and knock out delicate electronic circuitry on satellites.
The researchers found that of the 97 stranding events reported around the coastal countries of the North Sea over the 291 years, 90 percent occurred when the sun cycles was below average in duration.
The Vanselow team speculate that whales may have a magnetic sense of orientation like pigeons, which are believed to navigate thanks to small magnetic crystals on their beaks.
What could happen is that male sperm whales, following a migratory path from the Norwegian Sea, could become disorientated by minor changes in the geomagnetic field as they enter the North Sea, the pair suggest.
Previous studies have suggested that powerful marine sonar could be to blame for whale strandings by messing up the whales' sense of direction and depth.
An October 2003 study by British and Spanish marine pathologists, based on autopsies carried out on 10 beaked whales that beached in the Canary Islands a few hours after a Spanish-led naval task force passed by, found that the cetaceans had suffered a mortal attack of the "bends."
Puget Sound pollution threatens B.C. orcas, study finds
May 13, 2005 (Victoria Times Colonist) A regional study of harbour seals' usual food has found flame-retardant chemicals in higher concentrations in Puget Sound than the persistent pesticide DDT.
"That's pretty staggering," said marine mammal toxicologist Peter Ross. "For the first time, a new chemical has emerged to challenge the dominance of PCBs and DDT."
The study by Ross, University of Victoria PhD student Donna Cullon and Washington state scientist Steven Jeffries, compared the level of contaminants in the harbour seal food baskets -- a sample of their normal food -- in the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound.
It found PCB levels are seven times higher in Puget Sound than the Strait of Georgia. Their findings confirm a recent study that found harbour seals in Puget Sound are seven times more contaminated than B.C. seals.
It's not just bad news for harbour seals living in Puget Sound. It's bad news for endangered southern resident killer whales, found in the protected inshore waters of the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, Haro Strait and southern Vancouver Island.
"Puget Sound is a toxic soup, a PCB hotspot," said Ross, who works for Fisheries and Oceans at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in North Saanich. "That's a concern for the state of Washington, it's a concern for Canada and it's a concern for killer whales."
Mount St. Helens erupting with new life 25 years later
May 13, 2005 (Seattle Times) Now, as the U.S. Forest Service ecologist begins his 25th season on the volcano's flanks, thickets of trees shelter a growing number of animals and the lake supports abundant frog, salamander and fish populations.
The scales from the trout - and many more like it - will reveal the animals' ages. Biologists in snorkel gear will swim transects in the lake's shallows, counting fish and searching out the gelatinous egg sacs of amphibians.
The riotous return of life to the mountain upsets conventional notions about the way nature heals its wounds and offers blueprints for repairing damage done by man.
In a paper published in today's issue of the journal Science, they summarize 25 years of ecological change at the volcano. And in a book that will roll off the presses soon, they document the work of dozens of researchers who have taken advantage of one of the world's most unique natural laboratories.
Reclaimed strip mines in Wyoming reverted to natural shrub lands when planted with dense clusters of native plants such as sage brush, salt bush and bunch grass. In the past, miners would scatter seeds from exotic grasses and legumes, then wonder why the natural ecosystem never recovered.
Someone apparently smuggled a few trout back into the lake in the early 1990s. And since then, nature has taken the tale in an unexpected direction.
While trout rarely grow above a pound or two in most mountain lakes, Spirit Lake is now filled with thousands of 4- and 5-pounders, like the fish Crisafulli netted earlier this week.
Fishing industry suffers with salmon runs at historic low
May 11, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) But in a phenomenon that has puzzled environmentalists and government biologists, this season the fish have failed to appear. The alarmingly low numbers have prompted officials to halt sport and commercial fishing on the river -- and Harke reluctantly called his guide to cancel.
This week, Oregon's and Washington's fish and wildlife departments are expected to slash their forecast for spring chinook expected to enter the mouth of the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to around 80,000 -- about a third of the 254,000 they had initially predicted.
Puget Sound in declining health
May 10, 2005 (USA Today) The sound's endangered orca whales remain vulnerable to toxins. Deposits of chemical muck on the floor of the sound cause lesions in fish. Pollution has closed lucrative commercial shellfish beds. Salmon runs grow weaker. Shallow waters that provide fish and bird habitat are at risk of becoming oxygen-starved dead zones.
"The jury's out on whether the political will exists to do what it takes to save Puget Sound," action team director Brad Ack says.
Pressures from population growth have taken a 50-year toll on Puget Sound, as they have on other major water systems, including the Everglades, Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.
"They're all facing generally the same sets of issues," says Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science. "We make these efforts to clean up, but we don't contain the basic driving force of population growth and development. So you have to run faster to stay in one place."
The sound's famous orcas, or killer whales, swim at the top of the food chain and are among the world's most highly toxic marine mammals because their fat stores so much pollution.
The three pods that roam the sound, delighting tourists on excursion boats, have declined to 82 from 97 since the late 1990s. A female orca's first calf usually dies from the poison dose it gets through its mother's milk.
Sea Lice and Government Lies
May 10, 2005 (The Tyee) These farms of hundreds of thousands of fish make a hell of a mess (not just in excrement, but unconsumed food, antibiotics, and artificial colouring). They are constant sources of disease. The fish escape and establish themselves in our rivers, driving out wild salmon.
And they've created hundreds of thousands of hosts for sea-lice. It's this last issue I want to deal with here because it is the aspect of fish farms about which the Liberal government lies about most.
Here's how it works. The ideal place for a fish farm is where the water has plenty of movement which makes inlets and archipelagos just the spots. The cages, with all those potential hosts, attract sea lice which multiply exponentially. Now imagine this simple scene. There is a channel in which there are several fish farms, up against the shore just where migrating tiny salmon go. These farms are teeming in sea lice. Come the spring, wild salmon go out to sea and must pass these farms. For the sea lice, this is like an unexpected dessert; they attack and gorge themselves. Especially vulnerable are Pink salmon which are very small and killed off by as few as two lice.
We have now had in the Broughton Archipelago, as documented by biologist Alexandra Morton who lives at Echo Bay, two virtual failures of Pink runs. We will certainly experience one this autumn. (In this regard, on March 1, on my show, the Premier refused to intervene and "fallow" the cages so the smolts could pass unmolested. In what even for him is breathtaking arrogance, he said that when the Pink run fails this fall, he and his government will accept no responsibility!)
Oregon, Washington seek delay in U.S. ruling on coho protection
May 10, 2005 (Oregonian) State officials say the Columbia River fish are in better shape than federal biologists had gauged
Oregon and Washington officials have urged the federal government to delay for six months a final decision on whether to apply the Endangered Species Act to protect Columbia River coho salmon, an action that could bring further limits on development, timber cutting and other activities across a vast area from the coast to the Hood River basin.
The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed "threatened" status for the fish a year ago and is to make a final decision in June. Federal biologists said spawning by wild coho has largely disappeared everywhere but the Clackamas and Sandy rivers, and that populations elsewhere are dominated by hatchery fish. During the past 20 years, many surveys have counted no wild-spawned coho returning to lower Columbia River spawning grounds. Assessments in 1995 and 2001 concluded that the lower river stocks were nearly extinct.
In a letter sent April 19, Oregon and Washington officials assert that information gathered since last year shows that Columbia River coho are in better shape than federal biologists determined. Washington officials said their updated estimates show that the Cowlitz, Tilton and Lewis rivers are producing more than 400,000 coho salmon smolts a year, while federal biologists assumed there was no appreciable wild coho spawning success in Washington.
Hatcheries may be releasing pollutants along with fish
May 10, 2005 (Seattle Times) Tipped by news reports of a Montana hatchery that had polluted a local stream with paint from the walls of concrete fish tanks, Washington regulators tested paint chips from the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. They discovered the paint contained PCBs, once-ubiquitous industrial chemicals now banned because they are toxic in minute levels and stay around for years.
Alerted to the findings, hatchery managers shut down tanks containing 1.6 million tiny chinook salmon, moved them into tanks without the paint and started testing hatchery fish and nearby stream sediments for contamination.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, meanwhile, is preparing to test more of its hatcheries for contaminants. A survey of 14 hatcheries last year turned up three with fish contaminated enough to fall under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, similar to Washington state's, that recommend eating the fish in limited quantities or not at all.
"That was really a surprise to us in a lot of the cases. We didn't expect to see those concentrations that we saw," said Everett Wilson, chief of the division of environmental quality.
Kerwin said he didn't know if Washington state hatcheries, which are up to 100 years old, ever got similar paint. But he said the hatcheries are unlikely to have paint flaking off the tanks because they are meticulously maintained.
Bertellotti, however, cautioned that such attention to detail may have been part of the problem at Big Springs. The PCB paint was used because it was supposed to ward off algae and look nice. When it started flaking off, tanks were repeatedly repainted, sending more paint chips into Big Spring Creek.
Luna deserves our protection and our understanding
May 9, 2005 (Seattle Times op-ed by Keith Wood) The dramatic events of last summer's attempt to reunite Luna, the solitary killer whale, with his pod left many with unanswered questions and/or misconceptions. Many of us involved feel an obligation to recap the past, and to assert our beliefs concerning the future. Luna's story is complex and how it gets resolved has direct impact on the Puget Sound orca.
The Pacific Northwest resident orca are the most well-understood wild marine mammals in the world. We know they live their entire lives within the pod to which they are born. In their culture, they hunt, play, sleep, socialize and always exist within intimate proximity to their family.
Unfortunately, we also know that Luna's species is the most toxically polluted on Earth. Being at the top of a polluted food chain, orca carry PCBs in excess of 149 parts per million - 20 times the quantity known to cause serious diseases in humans. As an example of this toxic burden, a 22-year-old adult male (J18) died four years ago, never having reached sexual maturity, never having sired another generation.
And the situation for Luna is just as precarious. In the waters of Nootka Sound where Luna has spent four of his five years, there are plans for seven fish farms, and three are already in place. The techniques employed by fish farms result in underwater devastation lasting far beyond the life of the farm itself, and operating such facilities within the known habitat of an endangered species demands immediate and thorough research.
The bottom line is simple. Luna is a member of an endangered species, and as such deserves stewardship and understanding. History has shown that we don't often get a chance to set things right with nature, and yet we have at our fingertips one such rare occasion.
Now is the time to pull out all the stops - to pull together - to keep Luna safe and, perhaps more urgently, to learn as much as we can about how our actions affect his underwater home.
Salmon and orcas
May 9, 2005 (Idaho Statesman letter to editor) Chinook salmon are more than a cultural icon or an economic asset. Salmon are essential for entire natural systems to function. Trees, flowers, insects and 129 species of reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals depend on salmon carcasses to return to upper watersheds each year. To begin to restore overall natural abundance in the upper Columbia watershed and to recover our wild salmon and steelhead to healthy, harvestable populations, we need to begin now planning the removal of the four Snake River dams.
One special-interest group often left out of deliberations about salmon is the southern resident orca community, which will itself be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act by the end of this year. The evidence is overwhelming that winter and spring chinook runs, reduced to less than 10 percent of normal size primarily due to the four Snake River dams, have been absolutely essential sustenance for this orca community for thousands of years. If the salmon disappear, the orcas will also die off completely. If we let this happen, future generations will know we could have prevented these extinctions.
Chinook salmon numbers improve at Bonneville
May 8, 2005 (Seattle Times) Fish counters at Bonneville Dam have posted the highest numbers of the season for spring chinook salmon, with 6,065 swimming through the first Columbia River fish ladders they encounter as they head inland from the Pacific to spawn.
The Thursday tally was more than double Wednesday's total of 2,542.
The next-best day was April 25, when the count was 4,149. Spring chinook, also called kings, can weigh as much as 50 pounds and are prized by anglers.
"We finally got a decent number," said Cindy LeFleur, policy coordinator for the Columbia River Compact, made up of the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife departments.
The Columbia and Snake rivers are closed to sport fishing in both states. So far, this year's run has been a disappointment. Forecasters initially anticipated as many as 254,000 fish, but more recent projections ran as low as 70,000.
Endangered gray whale sighted off Tokyo Bay
May 7, 2005 (Kansas City Star) A gray whale has been sighted during the past two weeks in Tokyo Bay off Sodegaura, Chiba Prefecture, attracting more than 100 onlookers a day.
The whale, an endangered species, measures about seven to eight meters and is apparently from the North Pacific Ocean.
It has been seen off Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Sodegaura Thermal Power Station since two weeks ago, swimming 300 meters off the wharf and spouting.
According to Kamogawa Sea World in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, the species' normal habitat is off Guangdong Province in China and California. The number of whales in a pod living off Guangdong is believed to have fallen to between 100 and 200.
Endangered Species: Contesting extinction
May 7, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) After decades of trying, the United States remains a long way from creating workable protections for endangered species that allow reasonable uses of property. A landmark series in the Post-Intelligencer last week showed huge problems with one of the key tools for protecting threatened plants, animals and fish.
The widely used habitat conservation plans need major improvements. Otherwise, as the series demonstrated, the plans will continue to become little more than nice promises that put a pleasant veneer to the continuing obliteration of some species.
In theory, habitat conservation plans are a wonderful tool for sensible protections of all manner of threatened species. They enlist landowners, private foundations and local or state governments in generally well-meaning efforts to preserve remaining species.
But good intentions can pave the road to extinction. And many of the habitat conservation plans allow so much road building, housing development and other human activity that the fates of endangered species are being cemented into place.
Oil spill council becomes law
May 7, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday signed into law a bill setting up an independent citizens' advisory council to work on preventing oil spills.
Oil interests fought the bill. It finally passed because of Gregoire's support. Spanel fought off industry efforts to set up the council under the state Department of Ecology; environmentalists said that would make it ineffective. Instead, it is housed in the governor's office and is free to criticize the department, which handles oil-spill preparation and response for the state.
Boats, orcas may meet up today
May 7, 2005 (Seattle Times) Today is Opening Day for local boaters, and it also marks the year's first four-hour shrimp season in Hood Canal, which can bring out close to 2,000 vessels if the weather is good.
The sudden burst of activity could be a shock to the half-dozen transient killer whales that have had Hood Canal pretty much to themselves for the past three months. The orcas - dubbed the "slippery six" - have come in from the Pacific coast to feed on the burgeoning harbor-seal population in the canal, a natural fjord that separates the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.
State and federal officials issued a joint news release advising boaters how to behave when they spot whales, and volunteers were organizing to hand out the rules at docks and marinas.
Orca expert Ken Balcomb says he doesn't expect a problem in Hood Canal.
"I don't think it's going to bother the whales a bit," he said from the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, where the region's salmon-eating resident orcas can be seen year-round.
"There will be a lot of vessel traffic, which might be kind of novel to them. Certainly in the past four months they haven't had a thousand boats in there," Balcomb said. "But I don't think it's any big deal. The openings are short."
Most shrimpers probably won't even see the killer whales, he added.
"Those guys are slippery when you're trying to find them," he said, and the recreational shrimpers will be busy with their boats, nets and catch.
"Their natural behavior down there has been pretty stealthy. They might pop up on one side of the canal and then show up 14 minutes later three miles down. They ride along with currents - at times they're doing 8-10 knots."
The orcas' 14-week stay is unprecedented, said Rocky Beach, wildlife-diversity manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Machinery of Mendacity
May/June, 2005 (Mother Jones) The think tanks, crank scientists, and pseudo-journalists who dispute climate change are not just arguing the economics of the problem, as they sometimes pretend. That activity, engaging in a thoughtful discussion of politics and priorities, the wisdom of one or another course of action, could be considered honorable regardless of which side one argued from. Rather, the mouthpieces are ignobly contesting the very science itself, using any tactic, any slipshod fiction, that might throw doubt into the public mind and so deflect the dictates of hard fact. In other words, given a public policy debate, conservatives have decided to forgo real debate entirely-to adopt instead a radical course: denying reality itself.
Earth Holding On to Sun's Heat, Study Suggests
May 2, 2005 (Scientific American) The earth is retaining more of the sun's energy than it is sending back into space, a new modeling study suggests. The simulation takes into account such climate forcing variables as greenhouse gas concentrations, the amount of aerosol particles, land use and surface reflectivity, and calculates global temperatures and other climate values for the atmosphere and the oceans. And a decade of measurements of the ocean's heat content confirm the model's findings, its creators report in a paper published online Thursday by the journal Science.
James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and his colleagues developed a model to simulate climate change between 1880 and 2003. The results indicate that our planet is absorbing a net amount of energy equal to about 0.85 watt per square meter. With no additional input, this imbalance could cause additional warming worldwide of 0.6 degree Celsius by the end of the century, the team reports, because the world's oceans take longer to respond to shifts in ratiation than the atmosphere does. In fact, another report published last month in Science determined that even if greenhouse gas emissions had stalled five years ago, global temperatures would still increase by about half a degree by the end of the century.
Orcas may be in for surprise with shrimp season opening
May 6, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) Last year, the opening day of shrimp season brought 1,900 boats to Hood Canal. Orca experts weren't worried then because there were no whales in the waterway.
This year's opening day, which is Saturday, could be a far different story, experts say. Six transient killer whales have been swimming around Hood Canal, practically unimpeded, for the past 14 weeks. A large number of boats could disrupt their feeding patterns, physically injure them or even drive them away.
"It is important that boaters resist the temptation to approach too close to these amazing animals," said Rocky Beach, wildlife diversity manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Human disturbances, including boat traffic, can interfere with their ability to feed, communicate with one another and care for their young."
Transient killer whales, normally stealthy in their hunt for seals, might be more sensitive to human interference than their distant cousins, the fish-eating resident orcas that frequent the San Juans Islands each summer, experts say. The transients depend on finding prey through hearing as well their sonarlike echolocation.
Gray whale apparently had starved
May 6, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A young female gray whale that died after swimming beneath a pier at Naval Base Kitsap near Bremerton apparently starved to death, scientists said, but more laboratory tests will help determine any underlying health problems.
Scientists gathered on a Puget Sound beach near the base yesterday to examine the animal. The necropsy, which lasted just over four hours, confirmed researchers' initial findings that the whale had been in poor health.
"It does not look like it had been feeding recently (based on) stomach and intestinal contents," said John Calambokidis, a scientist with Olympia-based Cascadia Research. The non-profit research institute performed the exam.
There were no other obvious injuries except for a few scrapes and scratches the 2 1/2-year-old whale likely suffered when she swam among cement pilings at the base, Calambokidis said.
Untouched national forests lose Clinton-era protections
May 6, 2005 (Seattle Times) The Bush administration yesterday opened the door to logging, mining and other development on 58 million acres of roadless national forests, scrapping Clinton-era protections and ceding Western governors greater control over vast swaths of public lands.
Gov. Christine Gregoire immediately promised to protect much of Washington's untouched national-forest land. But state officials were already questioning the challenge of devising a new management plan covering 2 million acres.
"The governor far prefers the Clinton rule," said Elliot Marks, natural-resources policy adviser to Gregoire, describing the Bush administration's new stance as "process-heavy and pretty burdensome."
The plan now allows governors to submit petitions within 18 months to stop road building on some of the 34.3 million acres where it would now be permitted. Governors also could request that new forest-management plans be written to allow the construction on some of the other 24.2 million acres.
Drastic drop predicted for Columbia chinook
May 4, 2005 (Oregonian) Biologists are at a loss to explain a steep decline in salmon expected on the river -- from 254,000 to 100,000 or fewer
The Columbia River's prized spring chinook salmon, struck by severe and unexplained losses during migrations to sea and back, could amount to less than a third of the expected numbers this year, fishery managers said Tuesday.
The forecast calls for 70,000 to 100,000 chinook to head upriver, down from the 254,000 predicted earlier this year. As a consequence, tribes with treaty rights to salmon agreed Tuesday to suspend all gill-net fishing, including for ceremonial and subsistence purposes. Idaho called an end to its sport season on the lower Snake River. Oregon and Washington halted commercial and sport fishing last month on the Columbia.
Long-term implications are less certain. The poor showing is not as bad as the worst years of the 1990s, when spring chinook counts at Bonneville Dam dropped below 20,000. But this year's numbers have interrupted the striking resurgence of the chinook run that began in 2000, peaked in 2001 and remained strong through 2004.
Conservation groups have been quick to blame federal hydropower dams. Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition said the government squandered the opportunity given by high wild salmon returns of 2001 to promote salmon recovery.
Mystery of the missing salmon May 5, 2005 (MSNBC)
Idaho considers ending Snake River salmon season
May 3, 2005 (Idaho Statesman) Despite bountiful runs in 2001, salmon aren't returning this year
Idaho's anglers would have a banner year if Snake River spring-summer chinook succeeded only in replacing their parents this year.
Fisheries officials say it is too early to predict how this year's run will add up, but they doubt it will match the nearly 200,000 salmon that returned to the Snake River in 2001.
The optimal ocean conditions that brought record returns in 2001 - when this year's fish were hatched - have diminished. And salmon advocates and the Bush administration are battling in court over whether enough was done to help the fish during their time in the Columbia River Basin.
As of Sunday, only 533 salmon had scaled all eight dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers heading into Idaho. Last year, 23,591 had arrived by now, and in the record year of 2001 more than 92,000 salmon crossed Lower Granite Dam, the last obstacle between the Pacific and Idaho's prime spawning waters.
From 1998 through the summer of 2002, Pacific waters were cooler and beneficial to salmon. Conditions were similar to those in the 1960s and early '70s, when salmon thrived, Mantua said.
Since the fall of 2002, ocean conditions have shifted. Now the salmon live in a warmer ocean that is not as optimal for them. However, it is not as warm as it was in the period between 1991 and 1998 when the spring-salmon population dropped to near extinction.
At the same time, drought has continued to plague the Pacific Northwest. That has forced federal officials to collect most salmon at the dams and barge them to the ocean. (Some salmon are barged every year.)
In 2003, the year this run migrated to the ocean after spending two years in the tributaries, flow conditions were good enough that federal officials allowed a larger number of salmon to spill over the dams - the best way to get young salmon through the dams with the least mortality, Kiefer said.
Snake River salmon run the longest gantlet
Snake River salmon face a tougher migration than the Columbia salmon because they have to get through eight dams instead of just four.
The percentage of adults in the Columbia tributaries that returned compared to their parents reached as much as five times replacement between 1998 and 2003, while Idaho's salmon reached about twice replacement at their peak.
That's why salmon advocates like Ford say removing the four federal dams on the lower Snake River in Washington, including Lower Granite, is necessary for Idaho salmon recovery.
The Bush administration took that option off the table, but it could be back if Redden rules against them.
Canadian smelter slag triggers EPA study of Lake Roosevelt
May 1, 2005 (Seattle Times) At a diplomatic impasse with a Canadian company over cleaning the pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April launched a $20 million study to determine whether the beaches, fish and plants along Lake Roosevelt are safe for humans.
The study comes six years after it was first requested by the Colville Confederated Tribes, whose reservation borders the lake.
The EPA contends that as much as 20 million tons of heavy-metal pollutants flowed for decades from the smelter, down the Columbia River and into Washington waters. Smelter operators dumped the slag into the river until the mid-1990s.
The U.S. Geological Survey recently released the results of a 2002 study of sediment cores taken at six locations on Lake Roosevelt. That report contended that decades of liquid effluent from the Teck Cominco smelter contributed most of the heavy metals detected in the samples.
Those tests also showed that slag particles in some sediments were breaking down and could release more contamination into the lake.