Orca Network News - September, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2005 through September 30, 2005.
September 30, 2005 (Herald and News, Oregon)
The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday that could rewrite the Endangered Species Act.
The bill would greatly expand private property rights under the law that has been credited with helping keep the bald eagle from extinction but which also has provoked bitter fights over land use.
By a vote of 229-193, lawmakers approved a top-to-bottom overhaul of the 1973 act, perhaps the nation's most powerful environmental law. The law has led to contentious battles over species such as the northern spotted owl, the snail darter and the red-legged frog.
The bill would require the government to compensate property owners if steps to protect species thwart development plans. It also would make political appointees responsible for some scientific determinations and would stop the government from designating ''critical habitat,'' which can limit development.
The changes were pushed through by the chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. The California rancher contends the current rules unduly burden landowners and lead to costly lawsuits while doing too little to save plants and animals.
Many Democrats and moderate Republicans said Pombo's bill would eliminate important protections for species and clear the way for large handouts from the government to property owners.
The bill sets a ''dangerous precedent that private individuals must be paid to comply with an environmental law,'' said Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the committee's top Democrat.
Pombo's bill would:
• Eliminate critical habitat. That is area now required to be designated when a species is listed and is protected from adverse actions by federal agencies. Instead, ''recovery plans'' for species, including designation of habitat, would have to be developed within two years. The recovery plans would not have regulatory force and the habitat would not be protected from federal actions.
• Specify that landowners with development plans are due answers from the interior secretary within 180 days, with a 180-day extension possible, about whether the development would harm protected species. If the government fails to respond in time, the development could go forward. If the government blocks the development, the landowner would be paid the fair market value of the proposed development.
• Give the interior secretary the job of determining what constitutes appropriate scientific data for decision-making under the law.
An alternative from a group of Democrats and moderate Republicans would have strengthened the recovery plans, eliminated the payments to landowners for blocked developments and created a scientific advisory board to assist the interior secretary. The proposal failed by a 216-206 vote.
Global warming is a harsh reality
September 28, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Column) As the media scream about the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the question becomes how many more times does the United States need to be knocked to the canvas before we answer the bell on global warming.
In this tragic season of hurricanes, research continues to increasingly tie global warming to an increase in the intensity of tropical storms.
23 Republicans can help endangered species
September 28, 2005 (Seattle Times Editorial) Twenty-three Republicans have it exactly right. A hasty vote in the House of Representatives on a poorly understood and minimally debated overhaul of the Endangered Species Act is a terrible idea.
In a letter last Friday to Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the Republicans saw HR 3824, the wryly named Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, for what it is. "The bill is complex, highly controversial and aims to make perhaps the most profound changes to environmental law since the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990." GOP lawmakers were appropriately upset the text of the legislation had only been available a few days last week before it sailed through the House Resources Committee chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, D-Calif., who has wanted to gut the ESA for years.
The landmark 1973 law works to protect and restore threatened and endangered wildlife, plants and fish. The law provides for specific protections as well as efforts to conserve critical habitat linked to survival and recovery. In addition, the act requires consultation and review ahead of activities by the federal government that could make things worse.
Judge blocks timber plan
September 28, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) She rules that state proposal fails to protect salmon, owls
A King County judge Tuesday slapped down plans to boost logging on 1.4 million acres of state-owned forests in Western Washington, saying the Department of Natural Resources' blueprint fails to adequately protect salmon and spotted owls.
The preliminary ruling by Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong rolls back a 10-year plan that would increase the amount of timber cut over that period by nearly one-third.
It is a setback for Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who led the state Board of Natural Resources in the adoption of the plan last September.
"The judge basically told Commissioner Sutherland and the Board of Natural Resources that they sharply increased logging without taking a close look at what that would mean for the environment and the public's resources, such as water and salmon and older forests," said Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council, the lead plaintiff in the case.
Environmentalists fought hard against the logging increase, arguing that the state should do more thinning of state forests. The plan would allow three-quarters of the forestland away from rivers and streams to be clearcut. It also would permit some cutting near streams, and where spotted owls live.
But she did declare that the environmental impact statement required to increase logging was insufficient because it didn't do enough to justify its effects on salmon and spotted owls, which are both protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Armed and dangerous - Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina
September 25, 2005 (The Observer) It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.
Dolphins have been trained in attack-and-kill missions since the Cold War. The US Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have apparently been taught to shoot terrorists attacking military vessels. Their coastal compound was breached during the storm, sweeping them out to sea. But those who have studied the controversial use of dolphins in the US defence programme claim it is vital they are caught quickly.
Leo Sheridan, 72, a respected accident investigator who has worked for government and industry, said he had received intelligence from sources close to the US government's marine fisheries service confirming dolphins had escaped.
'My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,' he said. 'The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?'
Bull trout habitat decided by U.S.
September 23, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it will designate 3,781 miles of streams and 110,364 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana as critical habitat for the threatened bull trout.
The final critical-habitat designation is a huge drop from the amount proposed in 2002, and covers only areas that are occupied by bull trout and contain features considered essential to save the species.
Environmental groups, who pushed for more habitat for the fish, were disappointed by the final totals, blaming pressure from the Bush administration on the agency.
"They eliminated 82 percent of what they originally proposed for critical habitat," said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan, based in Swan Lake, Mont., which sued the government on behalf of the bull trout.
The amount of habitat to be protected is not adequate to recover bull trout populations, she said.
Coho run disappears
September 22, 2005 (Seattle Times) Coho fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca was so spectacular last week you could cut-plug a wiener and the fish would bite it.
Anglers in Puget Sound were licking their chops, believing that those coho should have made their way inside by now.
So far, it hasn't panned out.
"Slow would be an understatement," said Gary Krein, owner of All-Star Charters in Everett. "There has been an occasional boat who gets three or four coho between the Shipwreck and Mukilteo, but the majority are having a hard time finding fish."
Other places like the west side of Whidbey Island, Point No Point, Port Townsend, Marrowstone Island and Possession Bar are also unseasonably slow for coho.
In central Puget Sound, anglers are reporting the same.
Some theorize the mass of coho staging in the strait simply haven't made their way into Puget Sound just yet, and that another shot of rain will get the fish moving.
Change sought for endangered species
September 20, 2005 (Seattle Times) A group of congressmen proposed bipartisan legislation yesterday to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, a measure that environmental groups say would gut the landmark 1973 law.
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, scheduled a hearing tomorrow on the measure. He and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., argued that it is time to return to the original goal of the act: increasing the populations of threatened or endangered species to the point that they can be removed from the list.
The bill was unveiled at a Sacramento news conference at the same time it was introduced in Washington, D.C. The congressmen said the announcement far from the nation's capital was intended to show that the proposed law would return more control to state and local governments.
In all, six Democrats and eight Republicans - including Cathy McMorris, R-Wash. - signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Seven of the eight Republicans and two of the six Democrats are members of Pombo's committee. "We made the effort to actually sit down and get a bipartisan bill," Pombo said.
The new bill would require the government to compensate property owners at fair market value for any loss that results from protecting endangered species. If compensation isn't paid, the government could not enforce the act.
Environmental groups said that provision would be so expensive it would make the law useless. It also would encourage developers to plan projects for environmentally sensitive areas, they said, in hopes of getting compensation from the government.
Increasing orca population is a sign we can save the Sound
September 20, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed by Eric De Place and Kathy Fletcher) We are often besieged with bad news about the failing health of Puget Sound. Our inland waters are awash in toxics, sea bird populations are crashing and whole sections of Hood Canal become seasonal dead-zones.
With all the gloom and doom, it's easy to forget that, in many cases, we can repair the damage we've done to our ecosystems.
Think back to the early '70s. Only 67 orcas remained of Puget Sound's resident population that once numbered between 200 and 300 whales. Worse, despite their diminished numbers, it was still perfectly legal to capture them for aquariums, a practice that often meant injury or death.
Orcas still face threats. During the late '90s, the population declined precipitously and it has still not fully recovered from this recent drop. Because the orcas live next door to 6 million people and industry, they are exposed to a variety of disturbances, including severe toxic contamination. One dead orca found in 2002 harbored perhaps the highest concentration of the toxic chemicals PCBs ever recorded in a marine mammal -- dozens of times higher than levels that affect growth, reproduction and immune responses in other mammals. Both the state and federal governments have officially recognized that Puget Sound's orcas are at grave risk of extinction.
Perhaps even more problematic is the region's huge decline in salmon, the orcas' principal food. More than a century of clear-cutting, development, dam building, overfishing and pollution have reduced local salmon stocks to a fraction of their historic abundance.
Restoring salmon runs may be the most important step. That will mean, among other things, breaching dams -- such as the two on the Elwha River that are slated for demolition but lack funding -- and habitat protection through well-planned land use in the region.
Fully repairing the Sound will also mean sediment cleanups and ecological restoration to cleanse our waters of toxics; and it will mean better wastewater treatment and careful growth management to minimize new toxics that enter the Sound. Restoring the Sound is good for whales, but it is also quite clearly good for those other inhabitants of the Puget Sound region -- people.
As the top predators of a diverse food web, the orcas embody the fate of the entire Sound. Their growing numbers are a promising sign that we can successfully improve ecological conditions, not only for the orcas but for us too. Cleansing the Sound of toxics and bringing back its abundance of salmon will take work but there is plenty of evidence that we can do it.
Tiny lice hold a whale of a secret
September 19, 2005 (Salt Lake City Tribune) In the blood: By studying the tiny crustaceans, experts have increased their knowledge of ocean giants, too
Studying the thumbnail-sized lice that cling to the skin of certain whales, University of Utah biologists have helped tease out the evolutionary history of the ocean-dwelling giants.
Genes of the lice, which are actually crustaceans called cyamids, offer evidence that whales known as right whales split into three different species about 5 million years ago. This time frame is also when the Atlantic and Pacific oceans split following the rise of the Isthmus of Panama, U. biologist Jon Seger said.
"They were so easy to kill," Seger said.
By the end of the 19th century, the northern ocean right whales became commercially extinct. An estimated 350 ply the waters of the North Atlantic today while roughly 200 still make the North Pacific their home. The right whales of the southern oceans boast a population as high as 10,000.
This new lice-based research offers evidence that great numbers of right whales roamed the northern oceans before whaling began in the 11th century.
$10 billion price put on Sound cleanup
September 15, 2005 (Seattle Times) Restoring Puget Sound to health could cost $10 billion, and it will take a public-relations campaign to persuade the public - and Congress - to make improving it a priority.
That was the message from about 50 state lawmakers, environmentalists and representatives from Congress, the governor's office and federal agencies who gathered in West Seattle yesterday to begin attempting a regionwide response to years of ecological change that some fear puts the overall health of the Sound in jeopardy.
"It's relatively easy to generate a lot of enthusiasm for Puget Sound in the short term," said William Ruckelshaus of Seattle, two-time head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under presidents Nixon and Reagan. "Sustaining the effort to clean it up is somewhat tougher."
Recent reports show toxic chemicals are still in fish and marine mammals, bird species are disappearing, habitat is being eroded by development and pollution is still flushing into the Sound.
Even though millions of dollars a year are spent on restoration, the Sound's health is in flux when it should be improving.
South Park awash in PCBs
September 14, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Tests show EPA cleanup left high levels of contaminants
New tests reveal surprisingly high concentrations of long-lived industrial chemicals spread much farther than previously thought at the site of an old asphalt plant next to the Duwamish River in South Seattle.
"Cleanup completed!" crowed a March 2000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet about the Malarkey Asphalt property in South Park. But it turns out that the EPA-supervised cleanup left PCBs in concentrations up to 140 times the level that requires cleanup.
The property owner, the Port of Seattle, had been set earlier this year to move on to its next phase of cleanup -- removing polluted soil from a thin stretch of riverbank. But outraged neighborhood activists demanded more complete testing of the property.
PCBs are a huge concern along the Duwamish. The fish that live in the river are the most PCB-contaminated in the state, state health officials say.
In Puget Sound, PCBs have been found at high levels in orcas and salmon. Scientists believe the chemicals, which are known to interfere with reproduction and immune function in mammals, are at least partially responsible for the orcas' failure to rebound.
Salmon advocates say spills succeeded
September 13, 2005 (Oregonian) Heavy releases of Snake River flows over dams this summer cost Northwest ratepayers close to $80 million, but researchers reported Monday that the court-ordered measure appears to have greatly improved survival of migrating salmon.
The preliminary findings by the Portland-based Fish Passage Center refute the assertions of industry groups and federal dam operators that the untested bulk spilling of river flows in July and August could harm salmon. But the findings have not settled the fierce debate over the costs and benefits of spilling river flows to help fish.
Power and industry groups maintain that transporting young salmon by barge and truck makes the most sense during drought years, rather than leaving fish exposed to warm, sluggish water and predatory fish and birds.
Federal agencies had planned to collect as many fish as possible and transport them downriver by truck and barge. But in June, a U.S. district judge in Portland ordered the government to comply with salmon advocates' request for spilling of river water over four dams in July and August. Water spilled over dams helps speed juvenile salmon downriver. But it can't be used to generate electricity and so accrues a cost in foregone energy sales by the federal Bonneville Power Administration.
Saving salmon means change
September 12, 2005 (Oregonian) In an attempt to save Pacific salmon from extinction, the United States spends about $600 million a year in the Columbia River basin alone. In spite of this enormous effort, few wild-spawning populations will likely survive into the next century if current trends prevail.
That is the stark prediction of the majority of 30 university scientists, conservation advocates, lawyers and other experts taking part in a research project called Salmon 2100.
"The goal is not to tackle the usual near-term issues but to look far down the road, asking what would have to change if society wants to have sustainable wild salmon persist through the next 100 years," said Robert Lackey, a fisheries biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency and one of the organizers of the project. The other is Denise Lach, co-director of the Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability at Oregon State University.
The biggest challenge facing salmon, as Lackey sees it, is the growing presence of people in salmon country. The current population from Oregon to British Columbia, Canada, is about 15 million. In 100 years, that is likely to multiple to 50 million or more, Lackey said.
"It's going to take fundamental changes," Williams said. "I think it's going to mean building smaller homes, using more public transportation, eating organically grown foods and depending more upon foods that are locally grown. All those things are doable."
Endangered Species: A law that works
September 10, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) There can be no slacking. America must continue saving endangered and threatened species.
Despite the claims of Republican congressional leaders, the Bush administration and property rights activists, the country has no need to modernize the Endangered Species Act. Likewise, there's absolutely no need to streamline the law, simplify it or drastically revise it.
To be sure, none of those ideas are completely lacking in merit. But they aren't valid starting points for any revisions to the act.
The one requirement is to maintain an effective deterrent to those in business, industry and government who plunder the environment. In the Northwest, that means, among other things, salmon protection, saving old-growth trees and keeping the orca population of Puget Sound viable.
As President Bush likes to say in many contexts, it is important to set clear expectations. In this country, we don't kill off species. Period.
The Endangered Species Act has provided great help in allowing Americans to live more respectfully with the environment, while continuing to accommodate population growth, greater mobility and an often-dynamic economy.
As the Post-Intelligencer's Robert McClure reported last week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives look at the fall congressional session as the time when they can finally achieve their goal of revising the law. In fact, some of them, such as U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo of California, have been itching for this fight since at least 1995.
Group: Population numbers may doom salmon
September 6, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Too many people using too much energy and natural resources make it inevitable that wild Pacific salmon will become extinct over the next century without a major overhaul in the way people live their lives, a group of 30 scientists, policy analysts and advocates concluded.
"If you look at the four places on the planet that salmon runs originally occurred - the Asian Far East, Europe, Eastern North American and Western North America - as the numbers of people increased, the numbers of salmon went down," said Robert T. Lackey, a salmon biologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Ore., and one of the organizers of the project. "You can't have high salmon runs - wild salmon runs - and all these people and their standard of living."
The Salmon 2100 Project will be presented at the 135th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society to be held next week in Anchorage, Alaska.
Lackey said the project was born over beer and pizza after a scientific conference on salmon, where he was struck by the "disconnect" between the short-term optimism of the formal presentations during the day, and the long-term pessimism of the informal discussions in the evening.
William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia who developed the theory of the ecological footprint, said the extinction of salmon is inevitable as long as human populations continue to increase, leaving less energy and resources for all other species, including the fish.
The decline of salmon are a minor regional symptom of a global problem, he added.
Congress has the Endangered Species Act in its sights this fall
September 6, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) "If anything, the Endangered Species Act needs to be enhanced, not toned down or eliminated," says West, who volunteers for People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. "They're doing this because they don't understand how important the Endangered Species Act is."
As Congress returns from its August recess, environmentalists and property-rights activists are focused on Rep. Richard Pombo, a California rancher who is chairman of the House Resources Committee. Later this month, Pombo is expected to introduce legislation to overhaul the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act, with House passage expected by year's end.
A draft of the bill that leaked earlier this summer "was comprehensive in trying to undo what's been done over the last 30 years" to protect endangered species, said Patti Goldman, Seattle-based lawyer for the Earthjustice law firm.
Although the law has been a target for change over the last decade, the biggest push came just after Republicans took over leadership of Congress in the middle of President Clinton's first term. That blew up in the Republicans' face, as the public strongly supported the law.
"There's never been enough support in the Congress to abolish the Endangered Species Act," said Bill Ruckelshaus, the Republican two-time former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who is spearheading salmon-recovery efforts in Western Washington. "There are enough Republicans in the middle who care about the environment who can block a change if it amounts to something that's going to devastate the law."
On guard for orca: Who watches the watchers? The Marine Mammal Monitoring patrol
September 5, 2005 (Victoria Times Colonist) On a late-summer sunny afternoon, the black-and-yellow Marine Mammal Monitoring patrol boat is bouncing through American waters off Washington state's San Juan Island.
Members of J, K and L pods, the endangered southern resident killer whale population, are feeding close to shore. About 40 boats jostle for position, manoeuvring backward and forward as tourists and pleasure-boaters strain for a glimpse of black fins slicing through the water.
Five days a week from May to October, volunteers with the Marine Mammal Monitoring program, a non-profit Victoria-based stewardship society, patrol the boundary waters of southern Vancouver Island and northwestern Washington. Like teachers in the schoolyard, they censor bad behaviour and praise good behaviour around whales.
The program is a partnership between Veins of Life Marine in Victoria, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and, on San Juan Island, the Friday Harbor Whale Museum's Soundwatch Boater Education Program.
It's a better day for the whales when M3 is on the water, says Marc Pakenham, founder of the M3 program.
M3 warns unsuspecting boaters of the presence of whales and tries to intercept those people who don't care. Two weeks ago, Pakenham followed a million-dollar yacht into Victoria harbour after the captain drove at full speed through a pod of orcas off Trial Island.
Volunteers hand out brochures with whale-watching guidelines and talk to boaters about what's expected on the water. When boats position themselves in the path of whales or go inshore of whales, they write up incident reports for DFO. When there are repeat offences, DFO considers charges, says Beckmann.
Scientists Test Gigantic Spillway Weirs
September 1, 2005 (Oregon Public Broadcasting) A federal court order to spill water at five Northwest dams expires at the end of Wednesday. Federal judge James Redden issued the decision after he threw out the government's salmon recovery plan earlier this summer. The judge agreed with environmentalists that opening the spillways helps young fish pass the dams on their way to the ocean.
The rejected salmon plan also called for installation of gigantic devices called Removable Spillway Weirs on several of the dams. As Ley Garnett reports, scientists are testing the newest weir at a dam in southeast Washington.