Orca Network News - May, 2006
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2006 through May 31, 2006.
May 31, 2006 (Baltimore Sun op-ed) One of the most heralded victories of the global environmental movement was the establishment in 1982 of a moratorium on commercial whaling. With that one narrow vote by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), so hard fought by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations, the public believed that the slaughter of the world's largest mammal was at an end. Or was it?
There is no question that the moratorium on whaling saved many whale species from the brink of extinction. By the early 1980s, it is estimated that the numbers of humpback and gray whales - those most commonly seen by the public - had declined by about 98 percent of what they were before the onslaught of industrial whaling in the 19th century. For nearly 10 years after the whaling ban went into effect in 1985, there was a steady drop in the number of these and other whales being killed each year, reaching a low of 731 in 1994. Since then, however, the numbers have steadily risen. In 2005, about 1,300 whales were killed. The number is expected to exceed 2,100 this year.
Both Japan and Norway have consistently resisted international opposition to their killing of whales.
Moreover, Japan methodically has sought to overturn the whaling moratorium nearly from the time it was instituted, has grossly abused the provision that allows for scientific whaling and even has gone so far as to introduce whale meat into hundreds of school lunch programs nationwide in an effort to encourage more of Japan's young people to cultivate a taste for whale meat, a taste that has virtually disappeared among Japanese under 60 years old.
And it appears as if the Japanese are succeeding.
The world should not let this happen. Whales graced the oceans long before humans walked the Earth. Their presence in the sea is a source of inspiration, awe and wonder for people throughout the world, who spend an estimated $1 billion each year to watch these remarkable animals, orders of magnitude more than is earned by killing them.
Yet the reasons to protect whales far transcend their being worth more to us alive than dead. Once, the world rallied to stop the wholesale slaughter of whales, not because whale watching was good business or because we felt that their presence was essential for survival, but because we believed that whales should be allowed to live in the world's oceans, that their presence somehow enhanced our own, that we had done them great harm and that we should stop.
We're walking, talking toxic waste dumps
May 24, 2006 (Seattle Times) Eight months ago, 10 Washingtonians volunteered blood, urine and hair samples to the Washington Toxics Coalition to be tested for eight classes of chemicals.
It wouldn't be kind to say that these 10 are walking toxic waste dumps, but their levels of phthalates (found in such diverse products as shower curtains and fragrances), PBDEs (found in flame retardants, mattresses and furniture), mercury, pesticides, lead and other chemicals were high enough to make both scientists and subjects sit up and take notice.
All 10 tested positive for five to seven of those eight categories. Their profiles and test results have been published in a Pollution in People report, a project of the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition of Washington State.
Dr. Patricia Dawson, 56, a Seattle surgeon, had the dubious honor of having 38 chemicals detected in her chemical profile. Her PBDE levels were near those found to cause reproductive problems in laboratory animals. Her levels of DDT (banned since 1972) were greater than 90 percent of the U.S. population.
According to her "participant profile," Dawson, a native of Jamaica, was exposed to DDT trucks as a child. "I'm shocked. I eat organic and try to have a healthy lifestyle," she said.
Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation and a founder of Earth Day, was found to have mercury above a level deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury has the potential for causing learning deficits.
Judge: Idaho plan violates Endangered Species Act
May 24, 2006 (Seattle Times) In a ruling that reaches deep into Northwest farm country, a federal judge on Tuesday found that a salmon-management plan for a network of Idaho irrigation and water-storage dams violates the Endangered Species Act.
Judge James Redden found that the current plan for the upper Snake River drainage is "arbitrary and capricious," and involves a "fatally flawed" analysis that must be reworked.
That plan calls for the release of water to aid salmon in downstream migration. But Redden noted in his ruling that the federal Bureau of Reclamation admits that "there is only a 50/50 chance" that it will be able to provide the full amounts of water outlined in a 2004 plan.
The ruling was a victory for conservation and fishery groups that are seeking broader actions to save threatened and endangered Snake River salmon runs.
The groups have advocated the removal of four lower Snake River dams used primarily for hydroelectric production.
But so long as those dams stay in place, they have pushed for larger releases of stored upstream waters to help push young salmon through the slack-water pools behind these dams.
Wandering Orcas Make First Appearance of Spring
May 23, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) A portion of Puget Sound's largest group of killer whales, known as L Pod, has returned to Washington state after roaming in the Pacific Ocean most of the winter.
"How do you describe the excitement and joy you feel when you hear the news that L pod is back?" wrote Azuriel Mayo of Deer Harbor Charters in a note to the Web-based Orca Network. "It's like waiting for your favorite relatives to arrive for Christmastime. Well, that's the way it feels for me anyway."
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island reported that his colleague Dave Ellifrit had been out with the whales Monday after they showed up. Ellifrit counted 26 L pod whales. The total pod is estimated at 43.
A report of a new calf on Orca Network did not pan out, Balcomb said, nor did a report that J pod, another group of Puget Sound orcas was present with L pod. Other reports had J pod near the Fraser River in Canada, he noted.
"This is rumor season," said Balcomb, who has been taking an annual census of the orcas for more than 30 years.
Orcas are identified by the shapes of the dorsal fins that protrude out of the water as well as the coloration of a "saddle patch" behind those fins.
Ellifrit reported that the whales were spread out and skittish on Monday.
The whales spend much of their summers in the San Juans catching chinook passing through the area. As fall approaches, they begin to move south along the Kitsap Peninsula, where they hunt for the later-running chum salmon.
Orca sightings can be reported to Orca Network, www.orcanetwork.org, which also posts observations most days for anyone signed up for an e-mail service.
May 22, 2006 (Earth and Sky radio) Killer whales, we had up to five different groups seen on the same day. They were, especially on the Aleutian chain, the most common cetacean that we were seeing up there. And, the other species that we were running into very frequently was Sperm whales. And with Sperm whales, we had an extra little aid to help us detect those, in addition to our observers, who are very good at spotting marine mammals. We had a group of two acoustics people who were listening to a hydrophone array that we were towing behind the ship. And these Sperm whales are compulsive echo locators, so, whenever they're diving, they producing these echolocation clicks about one per second. And they travel for miles. We can easily detect them two or three miles from the ship. And, the acoustics people were able to detect this and get us to direct the ship to some of the Sperm whales that we ended up sampling.
Turned Off by Global Warming
May 22, 2006 (New York Times op-ed) By now, only someone who has been hiding under a rock would need to see the new Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," to learn that global warming is real. Even Time magazine caught up to the degree of the threat last month, with its cover story urging us to be "very worried." Many of us have also winced at the slick new television ad, co-sponsored by the national nonprofit group Environmental Defense, that depicts global warming as a speeding train headed straight for a little girl standing on the tracks.
Well, I for one am very, very worried. As the mother of two young boys, I want to do everything I can to protect their future. But I feel like a shnook buying fluorescent light bulbs - as Environmental Defense recommends - when at last count, China, India and the United States were building a total of 850 new coal-fired power plants. Clearly, it's time for some radical ideas about solving global warming. But where's the radical realism when we need it?
While the California governor backpedals, a team of scientists, economists and business executives have put forward a potentially revolutionary plan. Outlined by Ross Gelbspan, a former Boston Globe reporter and editor, in his book "Boiling Point," the so-called Clean Energy Transition would start by turning over an estimated $25 billion in annual federal government payments now supporting the fossil-fuel industry to a new fund for renewable energy investments. It would also create a $300 billion clean-energy fund for developing countries through a tax on international currency transactions, while calling on industry to get in line with a progressive fossil-fuel efficiency standard, forcing greenhouse-gas emitters to immediately work on conservation.
If megaproposals like the Clean Energy Transition, which would get the ball rolling on a global level, still strike us as romantic and implausible, it's only because our politicians, including the well-intentioned Mr. Gore, and smart, well-financed groups like Environmental Defense have denied us the leadership we need to achieve global warming solutions on par with the problem. Lacking such leadership, we're left with little more than our increasing anxiety and that scary, speeding train.
Hound has a nose for south end of a northbound whale
May 22, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists hope that Gator will soon be on the front lines of saving orcas. He would apparently be the first dog in the world to sniff out orca droppings, which can tell scientists about the physical condition of the killer whales.
"It's a fantastic way, without seeing any animals at all, to get comprehensive health information," Wasser said.
Wasser, Smith and the rest of Wasser's team at UW's Center for Conservation Biology have perfected the art of using dogs to find the scat of rare animals. To qualify, the dogs must have keen sniffers and a pathologically powerful drive to play with a ball -- and they only get the ball when they locate the right kind of dung.
At a recent conference of orca researchers, Wasser showed how he had used dogs to locate the excreta of right whales, an endangered species, off Nova Scotia.
What does poop show? A lot. It reveals the level of the thyroid hormone, which gives researchers a good idea of how much the animal has been eating. That's important to orcas, because a major problem for them is a lack of their favorite food, salmon.
Orcas' exposure to toxins also would be expected to depress thyroid levels. By comparing the Puget Sound orcas with those in relatively toxin-free Canada, Wasser hopes to tease out the effects of toxins on the whales.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is in poop, too. It could help researchers figure out what's bugging the orcas most. Wasser did this with spotted owls, showing that the presence of roads was a much bigger stressor than barred owls, which are the spotted owls' competitors and, sometimes, predators. For orcas, scat samples taken when a lot of sightseeing boats are around could be compared with samples taken when things are quiet.
And finally, there's DNA. It reveals the species and sex of an animal and can identify an individual animal. It is contained in cells that slough off the digestive system of mammals into their excrement.
The key to getting that stuff from orcas is going to be Ken Balcomb, the granddaddy of orca researchers in Puget Sound.
You see, the poop of right whales off Nova Scotia is bright orange, floats and is really smelly. Orca scat, though, doesn't float much and Balcomb hasn't seen it all that often in three decades of following the whales.
Balcomb has collected samples from dolphins in the Bahamas, where volunteer divers scoop up the dolphins' poop into film canisters. It helped him identify the groups of dolphins that hang together, sort of like the J, K and L pods of orcas in Puget Sound.
Don't take the bait on Northwest salmon
May 19, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) When it came to hot-button topics such as global warming or vanishing Northwest salmon, candidate George Bush in 2000 pledged to heed "sound science" instead of environmental alarmism.
The policy since adopted, and applied across a spectrum of issues, might be summarized as "silenced science."
Lately, it seems, the Bush administration doesn't even trust public affairs professionals at federal agencies but is referring all calls to political appointees.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found last fall that the administration's plan for the Klamath is in conflict with the "underlying science" of salmon biology. It told the feds to draw up a new "biological opinion."
The federal government is also in deep water on the Columbia River. Three different times, dating back to the Clinton years, U.S. District Judge James Redden has rejected "biological opinions" for the Columbia-Snake River system.
In the feds' most recent attempt, two years ago, a political appointee (and former timber lobbyist) was caught directing NMFS scientists to rewrite sections of the opinion.
The latest negotiations -- involving the feds, state agencies and Indian tribes -- are taking place against the backdrop of a far-less- than-anticipated, late-arriving spring chinook salmon run in the Columbia River.
Ending of BP lawsuit cheered
May 19, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A crab fisherman, a Seattle environmentalist and their allies have leveraged a winning lawsuit against the oil giant BP into new oil-spill precautions at BP's Washington refinery and a far-reaching study on preventing oil spills in Puget Sound.
The federal lawsuit challenged the expansion of a dock at BP's refinery, claiming it allowed the company to illegally increase production over limits put into law by former U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson to protect Washington's inland marine waters.
The lawsuit, filed in 2000, was settled this week. It had reached a point where the plaintiffs could have restricted BP's operations while the case was argued further. But "I felt it was more fruitful to pursue longer-term spill prevention and preparedness measures," said Fred Felleman, Seattle representative of the national group Ocean Advocates, lead plaintiff.
Crab fisherman Dan Crawford, who is active in environmental affairs for the Puget Sound Crab Association, said he is grateful to see more attention being paid to tanker safety because "if we were to have an oil spill ... it would render a good portion of Puget Sound lifeless."
The $1 million BP-financed study may be the most significant result of the suit, Felleman said. It requires evaluating a host of safety factors affecting vessels heading from the Pacific to BP's Cherry Point refinery. And it will focus on Felleman's preferred safety system, in which a series of tugboats guards against the possibility of an oil tanker crashing. Currently a tug escort is required only after the tankers have reached the northeast end of the Olympic Peninsula, near Sequim.
The backdrop for the lawsuit settlement is a renewed effort by the state to prevent oil spills. The Legislature created the Oil Spill Advisory Task Force, a panel of citizens that says it is fighting complacency on the part of the industry and the government. The group has no money for a detailed study, Felleman said.
Fin whale that washed ashore was hit, killed by ship, scientists say
May 18, 2006 (Seattle Times) A 56-foot fin whale that washed ashore in Northwest Washington died when it was struck by a ship, scientists said Wednesday.
"That was fairly unequivocal," said John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, who led the team that examined the whale Tuesday. The carcass is on Lummi Tribe land that is closed to the public.
Fin whales, an endangered species, are at particular risk from ship strikes because of their size and feeding habits that bring them close to the surface, Calambokidis said. The whales rarely venture into inland waters, and a ship strike was the first guess by the region's marine-mammal experts.
The whale washed ashore Sunday at the Lummi Reservation about 80 miles north of Seattle.
A necropsy found external and internal injuries on the animal's right side, Calambokidis said in a telephone interview from his Olympia office.
"There's a lot of hemorrhaging inside the body, a lot of blood in there," Merle Jefferson, director of the Lummi Indian Business Council's natural-resources department, told the Bellingham Herald.
Whale Apparently Was Hit By Ship
May 17, 2006 (KIRO-TV) The rare fin whale that washed up in Lummi Bay near Bellingham on Sunday apparently died because a ship hit it.
Merle Jefferson, director of the Lummi Indian Business Council's natural resources department, said a team of scientists examined the whale Tuesday and saw signs of a collision, including a lot of hemorrhaging inside the body.
Jefferson said the whale died last Friday or Saturday, but it's still not clear how it reached Lummi Bay -- far from fin whales' deep-ocean range.
At 57 feet, the male whale was medium-size. Fin whales can grow to 88 feet long. Jefferson said it appeared to be well fed.
The scientists took tissue samples to test the level of poisons in the whale's body. They expect results in about two weeks.
The carcass is in a secluded area where it will stay for about a year until its flesh decays. The Lummi tribe will keep the bones and baleen.
Greater Exxon damage alleged
May 17, 2006 (Anchorage Daily News) Oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez 17 years ago extends farther into Alaska tidal waters than previously thought and could be causing long-term harm to wildlife, according to a paper published Tuesday.
The study by research chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau concluded that oil was found in rich lower intertidal areas where predators such as sea otters and sea ducks may encounter it while disturbing sediment in search of prey.
"This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound," Short said in a statement. The study was published on the Web site of the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.
"Sea otters, for instance, have yet to reinhabit Herring Bay, the most oiled bay we studied, and the population of otters elsewhere around northern Knight Island continues to decline," said Short, who wasn't immediately available for comment.
Seattle's big role in fight on global warming
May 16, 2006 (Seattle Times) The city of Seattle, a group of Alaska Natives and some of the nation's top climate scientists - including two from the University of Washington - thrust themselves into a high-profile legal battle Monday, hoping to resolve a stalemate over global warming.
The group is fronting an orchestrated, national campaign to convince the Supreme Court that the federal government's failure to regulate automobile emissions is already causing harm, from shrinking mountain snowpack to ecological changes in Arctic Alaska.
And in so doing, they are stepping onto the front lines of a dispute that has already divided the country.
"We should slow climate change now, while we still have a chance to see if we're driving blindly toward the edge of a cliff," said Scott Saleska, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona, who persuaded 14 other prominent scientists to file a court brief. That brief is among several legal documents that the scientists, the city and the Native groups filed Monday with the nation's highest court, arguing that a lower federal appeals court last year misinterpreted science and the law when it ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have to regulate greenhouse gases produced by cars.
The immediate goal is to get the Supreme Court to take up the case. But the ultimate aim is to convince the justices that the EPA has a duty to protect the public from auto pollution that can worsen climate change.
On the other side of the debate are the Justice Department and an industry group, both of which are urging the high court to leave the case alone. Primarily, they say the legal issues aren't worthy of the court's consideration. But they also argue that the EPA lacks the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that it would be impossible to link harm to people directly to the carbon dioxide emitted from cars.
Spring chinook season to reopen this week
May 16, 2006 (Vancouver Columbian) The late-arriving Columbia River spring chinook salmon run now looks even larger than predicted, prompting state officials to reopen commercial fishing this afternoon and sport fishing beginning Wednesday.
On Monday, state and tribal biologists upgraded the forecast to 100,000 spring chinook destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
In December, the run was forecasted to be 88,400. That appeared a fantasy when only 1,174 chinook had been counted at Bonneville through April 25, the approximate mid-point of the run.
Through Sunday, 73,000 spring chinook had been counted at the dam plus another 3,500 were caught in lower Columbia sport and commercial fisheries in March and April.
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the forecast may change yet again "given the strange behavior of the run to date.''
Officials have no explanation for the run being the latest on record.
Deep-sea whale washes up at Lummi Reservation
May 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A deep-sea whale more than 60 feet long has washed ashore at the Lummi Reservation west of Bellingham.
The whale, believed to be an endangered fin whale, was spotted Sunday. Researchers planned to go to the site Tuesday and gather what information is available, measuring the animal and looking for signs of injury.
The whale likely was struck by a ship in the open sea and then pushed or washed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said Brent Norberg, strandings coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"I'd be remiss if I weren't inclined to suspect there may be a ship involved," Norberg said. "The kind of ship, I have no idea. We've not seen any photographic evidence of lesions yet," indicating an injury.
But he said that because the whales are offshore species, a collision with a boat is a plausible explanation for its discovery in inland waters. In recent years several oceangoing whales have been hooked on large vessels' bulbous bows - a bulb-shaped structure just below the waterline that improves ship performance.
Endangered Whale Found Dead In Lummi Bay
May 14, 2006 (KOMO-TV) The whale that turned up dead in Lummi Bay is either a sei or a fin whale. Scientists are still trying to determine which one. Both species are endangered.
The whale's body was spotted in the bay near Bellingham on Sunday. Locals took kayaks out to get an up-close look.
"You don't realize how large they are until you get up close," said Armondo Brionz who paddled out to see the whale. "Then you see how massive they are and it just… puts you in awe."
Scientists were on scene by late afternoon trying to figure out what happened. It's rare to see sei or fin whales because both were hunted nearly to extinction 100 years ago. Both species are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
It is even more rare to see those whales in Puget Sound inland waters. "Very unusual," said Sue Murphy, a wildlife technician who was investigating the whale's death on Sunday. "In fact, we don't see these guys in the inland waters at all."
What the adult male was doing near shore and how it died are key questions that biologists want answered. And they believe that this whale may offer the needed clues, because unlike most animals that die in the ocean, the whale did not sink to the bottom.
"They tell us a lot when they die," Murphy said. "It's like CSI in the wild or in the marine mammal aspect. We try to determine cause of death and learn as much as we can from that animal."
Scientists and researches will contact Lummi Nation tribal officials on Monday to coordinate continuing the investigation into the whale's death.
Tribe floats plan to restore marsh
May 10, 2006 (Everett Herald) The Tulalips hope to partner with state and local government to improve remove dikes in Marysville.
The Tulalip Tribes wants to reverse the tide of dike-building on the Snohomish River delta.
The tribe and its federal, state and local partners would like to hear from the public about a plan to breach some of those dikes and reclaim the estuary.
Loggers, farmers and industry built the dikes to dry out all but 17 percent of the estuary, according to the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project.
Qwuloolt means "great marsh" in Lushootseed, the native language of the area.
The project would let the tides reclaim some of that once-sizable marsh for young salmon, wildlife and plants. To do so, the project partners want to spend up to $4 million to remove large sections of dike, plus four tide gates, on the northeast side of Ebey Slough.
That would allow tides to flood 385 acres of former dairy pasture the tribes now own. In spots, the water would push in close to Sunnyside Boulevard and some newer neighborhoods there. The project could be ready by 2009, said Kurt Nelson, a biologist for the Tulalip Tribes.
Scientists change estimate for spring chinook run
May 10, 2006 (Salem Statesman-Journal) Fisheries scientists, counting fewer fish than expected, have changed their official estimate of this year's tardy run of spring chinook salmon in the Columbia River.
The previous estimate of 88,000 has been changed by a technical advisory committee to a range, 65,000 to 88,000, and the run will be managed on that basis, Craig Bartlett of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.
For reasons that are not clear, the run is late in arriving at Bonneville Dam for the second year in a row.
While the run usually peaks in mid-April, the salmon did not begin arriving at Bonneville Dam in significant numbers until last week.
Preseason estimates for last year were for 254,100 salmon to make it past Bonneville Dam. Only 106,900 did so.
This year's prediction of 88,000 is still a fairly healthy run if it shows up. In recent years, the run has been as low as 42,000 in 1999 and as high as 438,000 in 2001.
This year the count is at about 36,000, almost 14,000 fewer that last year's run at this time.
Meetings planned on Puget Sound cleanup
May 10, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Puget Sound Partnership, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to recommend paths to protect and restore Puget Sound, is holding a series of meetings to hear what the public recommends, starting today.
The first hour of the 5:30-7:30 p.m. meeting is an open house. The second hour is an interactive session with scientists and members of the high-powered commission Gregoire appointed.
The meeting today is at the Everett Events Center, 200 Hewitt Ave.
The Seattle session is Monday at the Seattle Aquarium. Others are Thursday in Port Townsend, May 16 in Shelton, May 17 in Bellingham and May 18 in Tacoma. For more information, see www.pugetsoundpartnership.org.
Dolphins, Like Humans, Recognize Names
May 9, 2006 (Environmental News Network) Bottlenose dolphins can call each other by name when they whistle, making them the only animals besides humans known to recognize such identity information, scientists reported Monday.
Scientists have long known that dolphins' whistling calls include repeated information thought to be their names, but a new study indicates dolphins recognize these names even when voice cues are removed from the sound.
For example, a dolphin might be expected to recognize its name if called by its mother, but the new study found most dolphins recognized names -- their signature whistles -- even when emitted without inflection or other vocal cues.
More than that, two dolphins may refer to a third by the third animal's name, said Laela Sayigh, one of three authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"They are known to produce these individually distinctive signature whistles, like names," Sayigh said in a telephone interview. She said the researchers wanted to know what information in the whistles helped dolphins identify each other's names.
Chinook finally arriving at Bonneville Dam
May 9, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Spring chinook salmon are finally moving up the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam, making their latest run on record.
The three-week delay is a mystery to wildlife managers. And lower-than-expected numbers in the run have some fishermen thinking the fishing season will not reopen.
A spring chinook run typically peaks in mid-April, but it wasn't until last week that sustained numbers of salmon were counted as they went through the ladder at Bonneville Dam, according to the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments.
The fish count for the year is 35,796 so far, almost 14,000 fewer than at the same time last year. Officials said the count is unlikely to reach the preseason forecast of 88,000. An advisory board of scientists and others met Monday to work on an official estimate for the season, which will be the primary factor in determining if it will resume.
Our Troubled Sound: Vital cleanup
May 7, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) As summer approaches, Northwesterners will marvel again at the beauty of Puget Sound, its role in the life of the region and the richness of a heritage that encompasses salmon, outdoor recreation and respect for nature. Even so, passing along today's environmental blessings to future generations becomes more challenging every year.
Salmon runs and orcas in the Sound face threats to their survival. Beneath a placid surface, chemical pollution creates problems scientists are still trying to understand completely. Long-neglected issues of septic waste, runoff and pesticides have become more critical as population has grown.
After years of official and even public complacency, Gov. Christine Gregoire and this year's Legislature put new heft into Sound protection. Clean-up work is moving on a faster pace. Oil spill prevention has improved. And the state has made a small start at helping property owners with failing septic systems. But maintaining momentum will be hard.
State seeks public opinion on Columbia River plan
May 6, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) State officials are planning a series of four public meetings in Eastern Washington this month to discuss how to implement the Columbia River management plan signed into law earlier this year.
Water users and conservationists have been battling for decades over water rights for the Columbia and its tributaries, with one side seeking more water for communities and commerce while the other fights for sufficient water for threatened fish runs. The dispute becomes particularly heated during drought years.
The new bill seeks to make more water available by increasing storage in new reservoirs. It also allows the state to sign regional agreements with communities or other groups seeking new water rights in the near-term in exchange for mitigation efforts to preserve stream flows.
$6 million for Sound cleanup
May 4, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune) A major spending bill approved by a House committee Thursday would boost funding for a Puget Sound cleanup project to $6 million. The Interior appropriations bill also provides money for Mount Rainier National Park, salmon restoration and accelerated logging on federal lands.
"We didn't have enough money to do everything," said Washington Rep. Norm Dicks of Belfair, the top Democrat on the subcommittee. "But it was a good year."
The subcommittee's approval marked the first step in the appropriations process.
The Environmental Protection Agency would receive the $6 million in Puget Sound cleanup funds in the next fiscal year, a $4 million increase over current levels.
The project is part of a larger effort launched by the state that also involves county and city governments and Indian tribes. Gov. Chris Gregoire has made the "Puget Sound Partnership" one of the state's top environmental priorities.
Dicks said he hopes the effort in Puget Sound will be similar to projects to clean the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.
"We need to ramp up the federal spending," Dicks said. "We hope the state will ramp it up as well."
Other funding in the bill includes:
• $20 million to remove two dams on the Elwha River downstream from Olympic National Park that have blocked salmon runs.
• $2.5 million for a 3-year- old program that requires hatchery salmon stocks to be marked so they can be differentiated from endangered and threatened wild stocks.
• $100,000 for the U.S. Geological Survey to study low oxygen levels in Hood Canal that have resulted in fish kills.
• $1.5 million for grants to local organizations working to rebuild salmon runs.
• $1.4 million to restore salmon habitat on private lands.
What cost climate change?
May 4, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune) "You've got to recognize that changes are occurring," said Kathleen Drew, executive policy adviser for Gov. Christine Gregoire. The project can help guide decisions by key economic sectors and inform policy choices, she said.
About $100,000 for the project is from the state, the other half from the non-profit Energy Foundation in California. The effort is led by a volunteer steering committee of local economists. A similar, but smaller-scale, effort has been completed in Oregon.
At Thursday's symposium, researchers reviewed the latest in the science of climate change locally and globally.
In the Northwest, scientists expect warmer weather, which could heat salmon-bearing streams to temperatures intolerable to the cold-water fish -- but create conditions favorable to bass and catfish.
After 100 years, fish to find way past dam
May 4, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune) A creek, small but lively, flows out of the northern end of Spanaway Lake. It continues north, shaded by large trees and creating riffles, tail-outs and eddies along the way. Then it comes to a stop.
The Bresemann Dam has blocked Spanaway Creek for more than a century, keeping fish from passing upstream but making a pond and habitat for turtles, frogs and other creatures. A neighbor calls it "100 years of ecology."
Pierce County Water Programs plans to open a bypass around the pond and the dam this summer, hoping that salmon one day will make it all the way to Spanaway Lake.
Signs of climate change circulating
May 4, 2006 (Seattle Times) An important wind-circulation pattern over the Pacific Ocean has begun to weaken because of global warming caused by human activity, perhaps altering climate and the marine food chain in the region, new research suggests.
It's not clear what climate changes might arise, but the long-term effect might resemble El Niņo, albeit a weak one.
El Niņos boost rainfall in the southern United States and western South America and bring dry weather or even drought to Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere in the western Pacific. In the Pacific Northwest, El Niņos can contribute to drier, warmer winters.
As for the Pacific food chain near the equator, the slowdown may be reducing populations of tiny plants and animals on which fish feed, because of reduced nutrition welling up from the deep, said Gabriel Vecchi, author of the study.
Such reductions in upwelling also have been observed in the Northwest and may play a role in fish die-offs and dramatic drops in the population of some bird species. But it's not clear how much of the reduction in ocean nutrients is the result of natural ocean cycles.
The new study is based on barometric-pressure readings, since differences in air pressure drive winds near the equator. Results suggest the average wind speed in the Walker circulation has weakened by about 3.5 percent since the mid-1800s. It has weakened faster since World War II than since the mid-1800s, Vecchi said.