Orca Network News - September, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2004 through September 30, 2004.
September 29, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A mammoth bloom of toxic algae is swirling 15 miles off the northwest coast of Washington, the largest and most lethal growth yet found by local scientists studying the Juan de Fuca eddy.
The bloom stretches 30 miles across and is being monitored by satellite to detect movements toward the coast, scientists said after returning to Seattle yesterday.
"There's an obvious question that people would worry about: Is this going to hit the coast? Within the next week, if there's a major storm, it's possible it might hit the beach," said Barbara Hickey, a University of Washington oceanographer. "But we've added additional monitoring on the north Washington coast."
Nice weather over the next couple of weeks could decrease the bloom as well as keep it off the coast, she said.
Hickey emphasized that the state tests coastal waters twice a week for the presence of domoic acid, a toxin produced by algae called Pseudo-nitzschia. In lower doses, the poison causes damage in the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. At higher doses, it's deadly.
The toxin builds up in shellfish, particularly razor clams, tainting them for a year or more.
The concentration of the poisonous algae in the eddy is as high as 11 million cells per liter, compared with about 200,000 cells per liter last year, the scientists found.
Federal judge casts doubt on salmon plan
September 29, 2004 (Seattle Times) A federal judge warned yesterday that the Bush administration may be headed for a "train wreck" as officials finalize a plan for restoring dwindling salmon runs in the Northwest.
At a hearing in Portland, U.S. District Judge James Redden again expressed skepticism about the administration's dismissal of dam removal as an option for restoring salmon.
Redden, who oversees a federal case considering protection of the fish, said it was important to determine whether a revised plan being developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) would ensure the continued existence of the threatened fish.
At issue is a draft plan announced by federal authorities this month for balancing the needs of salmon against the demand for electricity, irrigation water and barge transportation provided by dams in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for salmon recovery, concluded that four lower Snake River dams pose no threat to the salmon's continued existence. That was a reversal from the government's previous position that the dams were a serious-enough threat to consider targeting some for removal. Redden also questioned the new conclusion last week.
Outlook fades for Northwest wilderness proposals in Congress
September 28, 2004 (Eugene Register Guard) The prospects for new wilderness protections in Idaho and Washington appear to be losing support.
The Sierra Club and 26 other conservation groups have withdrawn support for the proposed 300,000-acre Hemingway Wilderness near Idaho's Sun Valley.
A growing number of off-road vehicle recreationists are opposing that plan.
A proposal to designate the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Cascade Range northeast of Seattle also withered Wednesday in Congress.
And prospects are dimming this year for action on wilderness designation for the Owyhee canyonlands of Southern Idaho, although Inland Northwest conservationists are still optimistic for the long term.
Two tracts commonly mentioned are Long Canyon in Boundary County, Idaho, and a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail in north-central Idaho. North Idaho currently has no designated wilderness.
Power shift: Wind now seen as a viable alternative energy source
September 27, 2004 (Seattle Times) The wind's energy potential wasn't taken seriously until recently because it was too costly and unpredictable, said Markell, Puget Sound Energy's senior vice president of energy resources. Now with vast improvements in the reliability of wind technology, utilities are considering it as an alternative to traditional resources like hydroelectricity and natural-gas-fired generation in a major way.
PSE is paving the road, by announcing last week that it would pay up to $300 million for the proposed Wild Horse Wind Power Project near Ellensburg. The purchase makes PSE the first utility in the state to buy a wind farm.
And the Bellevue-based utility is just one of many in the Northwest trying to fulfill demand for power through wind, said Barrett Stambler, director of renewable business development of PPM Energy, which sells power.
Bush switches nation's tack on protecting species
September 27, 2004 (Seattle Times) In nearly four years in office, Bush has protected one-tenth as many species as his father did under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Even as species slipped toward extinction, most of the protection he did extend came as a result of court orders.
The nation's most powerful law to protect imperiled flora and fauna is, by many accounts, battered. Wildlife agencies are hamstrung by tight budgets. And a long-simmering war between environmentalists and industry has judges, not biologists, dictating the fate of hundreds of species.
• An Arizona-based environmental group co-founded by a former EarthFirst! member now all but dictates which creatures get protected under the act. It has sued the Bush administration so often that cases have piled up in courts across the country.
• Bush appointees, including lawyers and lobbyists hired from the Northwest timber industry, have worked to rewrite obscure wildlife rules in ways sought by their former employers.
"I think their approach is an extremely clever and Machiavellian effort to pick apart, unravel and emasculate the ESA under the radar," said Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental attorney.
Suckling said the center's success rate should speak for itself. Two years ago, the Bush administration declined to list Puget Sound's southern killer-whale pods as threatened, despite acknowledging that the Northwest population was dropping. Suckling's group sued, and a federal judge ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to reconsider.
The center also files suits over perhaps the most contentious aspect of the act - the designation of critical habitat. Biologists say such habitat is essential for survival of a species. For salmon, it means clean, cool streams, protected from logging. For the Northwest spotted owl and the marbled murrelet, old-growth forests are a must.
The Bush administration has been reluctant to designate critical habitat. It eats biologists' time and requires precise mapping. And other provisions within the ESA already provide many of the same protections.
But Suckling insists species with critical habitat fair better.
Groups sue over pesticide use rules
September 24, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Environmental groups went to court yesterday against federal rules that allow the use of new pesticides with fewer checks on how they affect endangered species.
The eight groups filed suit in federal district court in Seattle claiming the rule changes in July violated several environmental laws. The changes let the Environmental Protection Agency review some pesticides without consulting Interior and Commerce department experts.
Ironically, the changes were partly intended to reduce the government's vulnerability to lawsuits, because it has routinely been ignoring an Endangered Species Act requirement. That law says the EPA must consult with Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service each time it licenses a new pesticide.
"The Endangered Species Act sets up checks and balances, and the key check is the Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries scientists," said Patti Goldman, a Seattle attorney with the law firm Earthjustice, representing the groups. "What the regulations do is abolish that process for most pesticides uses."
Watch for whales and more
September 23, 2004 (Seattle Times) Fall is also whale-watching time on the western banks of Whidbey Island, and the state parks offer prime viewing. For about the past six years, resident orca pods J, K and L have been venturing south for the fall and early winter months, traveling past Whidbey and chasing salmon runs into Puget Sound. All three pods were seen returning northward Sept. 18 from Kingston back to the San Juan Islands, skirting the west side of Whidbey, after their first observed southerly foray of this season, reported Orca Network, a Greenbank-based whale-monitoring group.
You can help in whale-tracking efforts by reporting orca sightings. Observers are asked to note the location, time, direction of travel, approximate number of whales, and if there are any adult males (with large, 6-foot dorsal fins), as well as observed behavior (breaching, feeding, etc.). Report sightings to a toll-free number, 866-ORCANET (672-2638) or by e-mail: email@example.com. More information: www.orcanetwork.org.
State should lead oceans restoration
September 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed) Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, we are on course to "love our oceans to death." After considering the comments of more than 800 interested parties and 37 governors, including Washington Gov. Gary Locke, the commission delivered its final report to President Bush this week and concluded that oceans are headed squarely for tragedy. The report blamed overfishing, bycatch (the accidental catch of non-target species), habitat destruction, pollution and faulty management for a precipitous decline in the health of ocean ecosystems.
The science is clear: We desperately need timely, effective measures to halt the tragic decline of oceans and return them to health.
Washington state is where those measures should start.
Almost every aspect of life in the Northwest reflects our proximity to the ocean. We live with weather dominated by the ocean's dampness. We escape to the Olympic Peninsula or San Juan Islands on vacation. We eat wild salmon from boats at Fisherman's Terminal. Most of us know someone who makes their living fishing or is employed by another ocean-based occupation, and we are visited regularly by tourists who come to see fish being tossed at Pike Place Market or to hop on a cruise up the coast.
Washingtonians are perfect candidates to be stewards and advocates for ocean health -- not only do we understand the ocean, we depend on it. So Washington's members of Congress should lead the fight to restore ocean health.
They should do it for our fish, our fishermen, our economy, our coastal communities, and what we get when we add it all up: the culture and spirit of the Pacific Northwest.
Swimming south for fall, orcas visit Kingston
September 21, 2004 (Kitsap Sun) Puget Sound's killer whales may be starting their annual fall excursions into Central and South Puget Sound, experts say.
More than a dozen orcas were spotted as far south as Kingston on Friday evening, noted Susan Berta of Orca Network. On Saturday morning, they were seen heading back north to the San Juan Islands, where they have been residing most of this summer.
All three groups J, K and L pods have been coming into southern Puget Sound each fall since about 1997, the year that 19 members of L Pod spent a month in Dyes Inlet between Bremerton and Silverdale, said Rich Osborne of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Prior to that, it was mainly J Pod coming south.
Osborne and other orca experts say it is likely that the whales are following salmon runs. Friday's excursion to the Kitsap Peninsula may have been an effort to test the food supply, he said. The whales have been known to go as far south as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Jay Zischke of the Suquamish Tribe said coho salmon runs in Puget Sound are building up now, while runs in the San Juans may be in a lull.
Berta said she would like shoreline residents and ferry travelers to stay on the lookout for orcas to help researchers tracking their fall and winter behavior. Sightings may be reported by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone to (866) ORCANET.
Nisqually estuary might be restored
September 21, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Hundreds of acres of salt marshes and mud flats - drained and diked to create farmland more than 100 years ago - would be restored to benefit salmon and other aquatic life in a 15-year plan for Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Refuge officials plan to break down most of the system of dikes that forms a barrier against Puget Sound and revive 699 acres of former estuary, where young fish feed and hide. A smaller dike would be built to protect the refuge headquarters, visitor center and more than 200 acres of freshwater wetland.
The move, which includes replacing a popular trail, is part of a refuge conservation plan that's been in the works since 1997 and is about to be formally approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The overall plan is estimated to cost $30 million.
Best known as a haven for migratory birds, the 2,925-acre sanctuary surrounds the mouth of the Nisqually River, about 20 miles southwest of Tacoma. Last year, the refuge hosted 140,000 visitors, including thousands of students.
The saltwater resurrection is significant because so little estuarine habitat exists elsewhere in Puget Sound, said refuge manager Jean Takekawa, a wildlife biologist.
Over the past 150 years, diking and urban development have destroyed 80 percent of Puget Sound's estuaries. Biologists believe the habitat loss has contributed to declines in populations of salmon and other fish and wildlife.
The proposed estuary revival appeals to the Nisqually Tribe, which operates two salmon hatcheries on the Nisqually River and is also trying to restore a wild run of chinook salmon.
Sockeye runs disastrously low, fisheries experts say
September 20, 2004 (Vancouver Sun) Some B.C. fisheries experts are warning of a major ecological disaster after initial federal fisheries counts showed only a small fraction of the predicted number of sockeye salmon reached their spawning grounds in northern B.C. this summer.
"It looks pretty grim. The returns are really, really bad," said Ken Malloway, co-chair of the B.C. Aboriginal Fisheries Commission, who met with federal Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan in Kamloops on Sunday.
"It's probably the worst year I've seen. Some are saying it's the worst in 50 years. Four years from now, there could be little or no fishing going on by anybody."
One count on the Early Stuart run on the Fraser River -- one of the first runs to finish -- found fewer than 10,000 of the expected 90,000 sockeye reached spawning grounds, said Don Radford, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' regional director of fisheries management.
He said it's likely that low water levels and higher-than-normal temperatures in the Fraser River killed fish or made them lethargic and easy to catch by hand from boats.
Booming Chinook run thrill fishermen
September 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) An enormous surge in the number of Chinook salmon charging past the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam has fishermen rejoicing and fisheries managers revising their estimates.
Starting last month, the fall Chinook began their run from the ocean upstream to their spawning ground in the Snake and Columbia rivers. On their way, they pass through the fish ladder at the Bonneville Dam, between Oregon and Washington, where the daily counts average between 10,000 and 25,000 fish a day.
But on Tuesday that number climbed to 34,000.
Now, biologists expect the fall Chinook run to exceed 700,000 fish, far surpassing the preseason estimate of 634,000.
Scientists say the strong showing is part of a cyclical shift in the ocean climate, which has made food more available, boosting salmon survival.
Scientists study whether whale watching poses threat to orcas
September 19, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Are whale-watching operations increasing pressure on the state's dwindling population of resident killer whales?
University of Washington researcher David Bain and a partner, Jodi Smith, are trying to find out.
Washington's killer whales - the southern resident population - typically spend summers chasing salmon in and around Haro Strait, the 6-mile-wide passage between Vancouver, British Columbia, and the San Juan Islands.
Bain, Smith and other scientists suspect boat noise might interfere with the orcas' echolocation - the way they bounce sounds off objects to monitor their surroundings and find prey.
Many whale-watching operators are conservation-minded and "making a serious effort to understand what is going on," he said.
But if research proves boat noise hurts the whales, Bain said, limits might be needed on hours, days or locations.
The popularity of whale watching signals public support that is crucial to conservation.
"If whale-watch operators can get hundreds of thousands of people to rally behind whales, it can more than offset the impact they're having," he said.
He, Smith and other researchers have been monitoring daily the whales, the boats and their proximity to whales.
The campaign infuriates some whale-watch tour operators. But Tom McMillen, who runs Salish Sea Charters, concedes there is sometimes a circus atmosphere on the water. He noted operators now subscribe to a paging service that tracks the animals.
"There's no mystery. I know right where we're going," McMillen said one evening as he headed out to Haro Strait. "That's neat, but it's sad in a way. They (the whales) don't get a break ever."
Cantwell Secures $1.5 M for Orca Recovery Research
September 17, 2004 (Senator Canwell News Release)
Plans for Hood Canal salmon egg harvest altered
September 17, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Tribal members announced yesterday they would no longer toss the salmon carcasses in the troubled waters after harvesting them for their highly prized eggs.
The move is aimed at boosting oxygen levels in the canal's lower channels -- a watery dead end that is progressively becoming a dead zone, with massive fish kills and declines in shellfish and other invertebrate populations.
"We're going to do everything humanly possible to bring the canal back to its health," said tribal Chairman Gordon James yesterday.
The rotting chum salmon consume oxygen as they decompose. They also give off nutrients -- a reason dumping salmon in rivers and waterways has been common biological practice for years.
But in Hood Canal, the rotting carcasses feed algae, which also suck up oxygen, die, rot and increasingly choke the canal.
Researchers estimate the chum carcasses could be responsible for as much as 15 percent of the oxygen debt, which hit an all-time high in August.
Other factors are runoff fertilizers, changes in forestation and water current, and the septic tanks of an estimated 54,000 residents in the growing region.
While the main basin of the canal flushes every few weeks, the lower end typically flushes out only once a year.
Whale sighted in local waters
September 15, 2004 (The Olympian) Several people have reported seeing a humpback since Friday, according to John Calambokidis, a research biologist and co-founder of Cascadia Research in Olympia. The whale was spotted Friday in Budd Inlet and at Dana Passage, north of Henderson Inlet. It was spotted again in Dana Passage on Wednesday.
"I expect it could be anywhere now," Calambokidis said.
He figures the whale is a subadult, about 40 feet long, and is in the Sound looking for krill or small schools of fish like herring or smelt.
Humpback whale sightings aren't common in Puget Sound, but there have been reports since spring of sightings farther north in Puget Sound, he said.
The rise in sightings this year likely is a sign that the whale population is recovering, Calambokidis said. In the 1800s, before whaling boats took their toll, whales were common in the Sound, he said.
Seattle acts to clean up waterways
September 14, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Initiative relies more on cooperation than money
Stressing the need for the government and residents to work together, Mayor Greg Nickels yesterday announced a citywide initiative to clean up and restore Seattle's lakes, rivers and Puget Sound shoreline.
The plan strives to make local waterways more hospitable to fish, birds and bugs, in part by doing a better job of controlling and filtering polluted stormwater.
The Restore Our Waters initiative comes with no new funding, relying instead on a refocusing at City Hall on water-quality concerns and winning the support of waterfront residents and business owners through incentives.
Many of the projects are already under way or planned but not yet funded. The initiative acknowledges that some of the goals "may not be reachable in our lifetime, but we can still aspire to them."
But there already are technical solutions to deal with many of the problems, said Mike McGinn, a Sierra Club volunteer involved with the effort.
"The challenges aren't as big as they seem," said McGinn, who lives in Greenwood near Piper's Creek. "I want to know that kids playing in that creek are playing in clean water and not pollution washed off the street."
Scientists have found that salmon returning to numerous Seattle creeks often die before laying their eggs. Pollution -- including oil and grease, pesticides and fertilizers washed off roads and landscaped yards -- is a leading suspect in their premature demise.
Ottawa, natives make deal over orca
September 13, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Ottawa is providing a Vancouver Island Indian band with $10,000 under a joint deal to monitor Luna, the orphaned orca, and try to prevent it from interacting with boats.
But a veteran whale researcher yesterday slammed the deal, calling it "woefully inadequate."
"That is only enough to keep first-nations boats on the water two days a week," said Paul Spong, who monitors orcas in their natural habitat from a base on the coast of Vancouver Island. "What is needed is full-time coverage."
Pollution triggers bizarre behaviour in animals
September 13, 2004 (New Scientist) Hyperactive fish, stupid frogs, fearless mice and seagulls that fall over. It sounds like a weird animal circus, but this is no freak show. Animals around the world are increasingly behaving in bizarre ways, and the cause is environmental pollution.
The chemicals to blame are known as endocrine disruptors, and range from heavy metals such as lead to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and additives such as bisphenol A.
For decades, biologists have known that these chemicals can alter the behaviour of wild animals. And in recent years it has become clear that pollutants can cause gender-bending effects by altering animals' physiology, particularly their sexual organs.
But now two major reviews have revealed that the chemicals are having a much greater impact on animal behaviour than anyone suspected. Low concentrations of these pollutants are changing both the social and mating behaviours of a raft of species. This potentially poses a far greater threat to survival than, for example, falling sperm counts caused by higher chemical concentrations.
Word games over dams
September 13, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) It's not nice to try to fool a judge about Mother Nature. It may not be smart, either.
Federal authorities have updated a portion of their plans for salmon recovery. They make a reasonable case that a new draft document, known as a biological opinion, might be part of a solution for threatened and endangered fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The proposals include promising steps, especially installing advanced bypasses to help salmon avoid dam turbines.
But in dropping previous promises to consider removing four dams if fish runs don't recover, federal agencies have played a shortsighted game with legal language. Their maneuver revolves around the scope of their authority and a narrow definition of what actions they must consider under federal law. In essence, they end up arguing that for purposes of the Endangered Species Act, the four Snake River dams must be treated as an natural part of the environment.
Maybe the interpretation will pass legal muster. Then again, the judge who ordered the revised plan might be anything but amused.
It's politically popular, especially with the Bush administration, to promise to maintain the dams in perpetuity. Eventually, however, the dams' fate is likely to rest more on science than on pandering. The best way to preserve the dams is to protect fish with concrete measures, not word games.
Canada, Indians sign whale monitoring agreement
September 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Canada and a Vancouver Island Indian band have signed an agreement to keep tabs on a lonely, rambunctious young killer whale who has been separated from his U.S. relatives for three years.
The whale called Luna has made his home in Nootka Sound, on the island's west coast.
Apparently seeking contact, the 5-year-old whale has recently damaged and disabled several boats.
Under the agreement signed Thursday, the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans department and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation will cooperate to reduce human interaction with Luna and advise boaters on safe boating practices around the whale. Both parties will monitor the whale and his interactions with the public.
The Canadian fisheries department is providing $10,000 for the stewardship plan, which does not address future plans for the whale, such as removing him from Nootka Sound.
Scientists hatching new hatchery plan
September 10, 2004 (Skagit Valley Herald) Washington has the world's largest system of fish hatcheries, but the system needs a shift in philosophy if it's really going to help fish, a panel of scientists has determined.
Hatcheries have been operating under the same processes for decades and haven't adapted to changes in the environment and the needs of humans and fish, said Blankenship.
Hatcheries are neither good nor bad, he said. Rather, they are a tool that must be used properly for the job.
The three tribes with fishing rights on the Skagit River haven't yet met to discuss the recommendations, said Bob Hayman, director of salmon recovery for the Skagit System Cooperative. He said staff from the state and tribes planned to meet today.
Blankenship said hatcheries don't take away the need for more salmon habitat.
"Hatcheries should not be viewed as a substitute for healthy spawning habitat, but an extension of it," he said.
In the Northwest: Victoria still treats Strait of Juan de Fuca as its toilet
September 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) While the future is impossible to forecast, we can assume two Northwest goings-on in the year 2104: Seattle will be debating transportation options, and Victoria will be cooking up "feasibility studies" to avoid calls for treating the sewage it dumps into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
As other municipalities from Whistler to St. John's, Newfoundland, construct or complete or upgrade treatment plants, the capital of "Beautiful British Columbia" defiantly continues dumping into an international waterway.
"The only city in Canada that still discharges all of its sewage raw, and has not taken steps to improve in a meaningful way is Victoria," said the latest National Sewage Report, a grading of treatment by 22 Canadian cities released this week.
Successive federal and provincial governments have asked Victoria and neighboring municipalities to upgrade at least to primary treatment, separating solids from liquids and disposing of the sludge.
But Victoria continues to treat the Strait of Juan de Fuca as its own municipal toilet.
Fisheries agency says Columbia Basin dams don't threaten salmon
September 10, 2004 (Seattle Times) By spending $6 billion on improvements over the next 10 years, the Columbia Basin's federal hydroelectric dams can be operated without jeopardizing the survival of threatened and endangered salmon, the government concluded yesterday.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for restoring dwindling salmon runs in the Northwest, came to that conclusion in a biological opinion filed with the U.S. District Court in Portland, where a judge had found a 2000 opinion inadequate because there was no assurance that mandated measures to protect salmon would actually be carried out by federal agencies.
The plan drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and Indian tribes, who believe removing four dams on the lower Snake River is the best course to salmon recovery.
"It's an abandonment of the recovery of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead," said Rob Masonis, Northwest regional director for American Rivers, a national conservation group.
But it drew support from utilities, irrigators, grain shippers and others who depend on the dams for power, navigation and water.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the operation of the dozens of federal hydroelectric dams, reservoirs and powerhouses on the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries cannot jeopardize the survival of protected salmon. NOAA Fisheries has the responsibility to review the proposal for operating the dams and issue what is called a biological opinion.
The biggest single step is installation of removable spillway weirs that would increase survival of young fish migrating downstream to the ocean by easing them over the dams while requiring less water to be spilled rather than run through turbines, Lohn said. One has already been installed at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Washington.
Decision on roads in forests hits speed bump
September 9, 2004 (Seattle Times) The Bush administration said yesterday it will put off until after the election a final decision on whether to allow road building and logging on 58 million acres of national forest where both are now prohibited.
Included are 2 million acres in Washington state.
Public comments on the proposed rule change, announced in July, will now be accepted through Nov. 15, instead of an earlier deadline set for next week.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, called the delay a "fairly straightforward" response to requests from a variety of groups for more time.
"It's unrelated to the elections," Rey said.
September 6, 2004 (Vancouver Columbian) The Board of Natural Resources is preparing to sharply increase logging in Western Washington, claiming more clearcuts will generate money needed to build and remodel schools.
The six-member natural resources board, which includes state schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson, is expected to increase annual logging targets to between 677 and 716 million board feet ---- 100 million board feet more per year than the average sold during the past decade.
The logging blueprint, crafted under the leadership of state Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, estimates that $1.5 billion in logging profits will be raised for public schools, universities and counties over the next decade.
Sutherland argues the additional logging will create 2,000 jobs, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and promote growth of larger trees on state lands. He promises all of these environmental benefits as part of a plan that boosts state land logging to its highest level in almost 15 years.
But Sutherland's logging plan may not be able to deliver on its promises. Critics say the plan doesn't adequately account for global competition, the unpredictability of timber prices, and a society that frequently values state forests more for recreational uses and environmental protection than for logging.
Sutherland's predecessor, Jennifer Belcher, raises an even more fundamental question. Forest management shouldn't be tied to school funding needs ---- period, she says. That echoes concern expressed by former Gov. Mike Lowry, Sutherland's opponent in 2000, and Democratic state Rep. Mike Cooper of Edmonds, who is challenging Sutherland in the Nov. 2 general election.
"Societal values are the wild card," he says. "I think Washington voters could decide they want a different use for state DNR lands and say, 'We understand the revenue consequences. We want to use the land for state parks and biodiversity.'
"You can plan yourself to death," Haynes says. But "societal values shift really fast ---- faster than we used to think and more forcibly. That should be one lesson from the spotted owl."
Industrial past takes toll on Lake Washington
September 3, 2004 (Seattle Times) The news that Lake Washington's sparkling waters harbor fish laced with toxic chemicals may be shocking to many - but not to environmental regulators who know the area's industrial past.
Washington's state inventory of toxic hot spots includes about 50 sites with known or suspected PCB contamination in the expansive watershed around the lake, said Larry Altose, of the state Department of Ecology.
They range from sprawling complexes such as Boeing's Renton plant and a former Navy base to municipal landfills and an old filling station. The PCBs, which were once commonly used in industry and manufacturing, have seeped into soil and groundwater, and in at least one location, have tainted the lake sediments.
Of the 50 sites, only five have been completely cleaned up, according to state records.
It's not clear if PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, from any of the contaminated areas are still making their way into the lake. And even if all the sites were cleaned up, it probably wouldn't solve the problem that led state health officials on Tuesday to warn anglers to cut back on consumption of three fish species from the lake, Altose said.
"These things are already in the environment," he said. "We're confronted with the legacy of many decades of PCB use."
King County expected to preserve 90,000 acres of forest
September 3, 2004 (Seattle Times) A forested swath of the Cascade foothills will remain green under an agreement between King County and the company that operates the land as a tree farm.
County Executive Ron Sims, who announced the deal yesterday, said it would be the largest public purchase of development rights in the Pacific Northwest and one of the biggest such contracts in U.S. history.
If the agreement is approved by the Metropolitan King County Council as expected, it will preserve as a working tree farm an area nearly twice the size of Seattle.
The county would pay Hancock Timber Resource Group $22 million for development rights on 90,000 acres of the company's Snoqualmie Forest. The deal would more than triple the amount of open space preserved by the county over the past 35 years through a variety of programs.
The county would also purchase full title to 150 acres of critical chinook-salmon spawning habitat on the Tolt River.
Yesterday's agreement comes two days after officials celebrated another deal that will protect 150 acres across from Snoqualmie Falls and 9,450 acres south of Snoqualmie.
It's time to take action on Luna
September 2, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist - Op-Ed by Ryan Lejbak) Ryan Lejbak is with the "reuniteluna" group. He wrote this with the support of Anon.org, Earth Island Institute International Marine Mammal Project, Free Willy Keiko Foundation, Luna Stewardship Project/Veins of Life Watershed Society, Orca Conservancy, orcagirl.com/ocean-society.com, Orca Network, OrcaLab/Pacific Orca Society, The Center for Whale Research, The Humane Society of the U.S., and The Whale Museum/Soundwatch.
Luna, the lone, friendly orca of Nootka Sound, is in trouble and needs help. Sensational news stories which focus on his encounters with boats have recently been published worldwide. They make much of the fear Luna has aroused in a few boaters. As a result, some people have called for Luna to be sent to an aquarium, or even killed.
Those options are neither acceptable nor necessary.
Many groups involved in the Luna saga believe there are better choices for Luna than captivity or killing.
Luna's friendliness toward people is unusual, but not unique. Whales and dolphins are social beings, and in the absence of their own kind they seek or accept substitutes, including humans.
Most stories about "solitaries" have disastrous endings. However, research shows that programs using boats with trained personnel to monitor the situation and prevent inappropriate human interactions are successful in protecting both people and solitary whales and dolphins.
Fortunately for Luna, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have at last agreed to establish a full-time monitoring presence on the waters of Nootka Sound. We believe that such a presence is vital for Luna's survival.
However, we are concerned that the level of funding committed by the DFO is inadequate. Given the urgency, we hereby announce our willingness to assist in raising funds, and contribute equipment, volunteers, and scientific expertise to help make that effort successful.
Giving nature a hand
September 2, 2004 (Skagit Valley Herald) Left alone, nature usually provides habitat for salmon, but on Colony Creek it has taken man's intervention to undo damage wrought by nature.
Doug Couvelier walked through a clear-cut area near the creek and faced a stand of trees left to protect the stream when the area was logged in 2002. They were little help in February of 2003.
That's when a flash flood caused by a broken beaver dam tore through Colony Creek and destroyed or blocked miles of valuable salmon habitat.
This summer, Couvelier has led the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe‘s effort to repair the damage done to Colony Creek so coho and chum salmon that breed in the stream can return to its upper reaches. The tribe, which has fishing rights to some of the salmon migrating into Samish Bay from the creek, received a $23,400 grant from the state Department of Ecology to defray part of the project's cost.
Locke and Gregoire join tribal lawsuit against B.C. firm
September 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced plans yesterday to join a tribal lawsuit against mineral giant Teck Cominco, which dumped tons of pollutants from its Canadian smelter into the upper Columbia River.
"Teck Cominco can't send highly toxic pollution across the Canadian border and then insist that border protects them from liability," Gregoire said in a statement. "They created one big mess here in the U.S., and they should clean it up, not Washington taxpayers."
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation asked the U.S. District Court in Spokane in July to force Teck Cominco to clean up pollution in the river and Lake Roosevelt under Environmental Protection Agency oversight.
U.S. discounts need for Snake dam removal
September 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The removal of Snake River dams no longer has to be considered for restoring threatened and endangered salmon runs because of continuing improvements to the Columbia Basin hydroelectric power system, the Bush administration's top Northwest salmon official said yesterday.
A total of 14 populations of salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered in the Columbia and Snake River basins in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
John Kober of the World Wildlife Fund, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in this new biological opinion, said it appeared to be created to fulfill President Bush's campaign promise to leave the four lower Snake River dams in place, not to restore salmon.
PCB levels result in fish warning
September 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Because of high contamination levels, people should stop eating one kind of fish from Lake Washington and limit consumption of two other species, health officials said in the first such advisory for the lake at the heart of the Seattle region.
The highest average level of PCBs ever recorded in fish in this state turned up in northern pikeminnow from Lake Washington, and people should stop eating them immediately, officials announced yesterday. Commonly known as a squawfish, the pikeminnow is considered a "trash fish" and usually is discarded.
Authorities also recommended limiting consumption of the lake's cutthroat trout and yellow perch, which are more commonly eaten.
Despite the warning, people should continue to put fish on the dinner table regularly because it is a heart-healthy, low-fat protein source, state scientists said.
It's particularly important for women who might one day become pregnant to follow the recommendations, health officials said.
But like PCBs, PBDEs already are turning up in orcas and other wild animals. Wildlife ecologists fear they may interfere with animals' reproduction and possibly other functions.
Studies on animals suggest that PCBs promote cancer. In addition, they are thought to affect the human immune and reproductive systems, although effects vary widely depending on how much a person is exposed to and individual susceptibility.