The Gristle

The Boundaries Between Us

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN US: Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order outlining a strategy for the recovery of Puget Sound’s crashing resident southern resident orca population and the prized Chinook salmon that nourish them.

“The problems faced by orcas and salmon are human-caused, and we as Washingtonians have a duty to protect these species,” Inslee said. “The impacts of letting these two species disappear would be felt for generations.”

The order instructs state agencies to outline immediate steps and long-term solutions to recover these species. The order also assembles a task force to bring together state agencies, tribal leaders, local governments, federal partners and other stakeholders to make recommendations at the state, regional and federal levels.

It may be too little, too late; and the capital-driven forces that are pressuring these creatures out of existence are accelerating even as responses to pressures are assembled.

The problem for Puget Sound and the Salish Sea is compounded not merely by the disconnect between state and federal imperatives (although those have never been so divergent), but by an international boundary that transects that body of water and makes difficult the policy coordination needed to save it.

As an illustration of the challenge, tribal fishing communities south of the boundary have experienced startling difficulty coordinating with tribal fishing communities north—despite the fact many are cousins and kin. They share a lineage as well as a heritage. The international boundary forces them apart.

The tribes made headway this week, though, with Washington tribes meeting with First Nations peoples in Canada in a declaration calling for a shutdown of Atlantic salmon net-pen farming.

The declaration was endorsed at the first of a planned annual Salmon Summit convened at Tulalip to bring together tribes, government agencies and conservationists to address issues in the cross-boundary waters of the Salish Sea.

“The Coast Salish ancestral homelands, Salish Sea and people continue to face detrimental damages to the environment and resources based on the pollution-based economy,” the tribes asserted in their declaration.

Mismanaged, misapplied aquaculture is, of course, only one of the threats to Salish Sea marine populations—and is perhaps not even the largest or most immediate threat.

Even as we begin to learn how sensitive these creatures are to heavy marine vessel traffic, that marine traffic is on the verge of increasing four-fold under new energy initiatives. A recent study found southern resident orcas can lose up to 97 percent of their ability to communicate with each other because of noise pollution.

Dwarfing all other impacts, stormwater runoff dumps as much oil and pollutants into the Salish Sea and its tributary streams every two years as were spilled into Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez disaster.

There’s a lot of work to do; and not much time, with more orcas dying than are born each year. Fewer than 76 southern resident orcas remain.

The coordinated passion of the tribes may inspire the leaders who returned home from the 10th Pacific Coast Collaborative in Vancouver, British Columbia, last week. Formed in 2008, the Collaborative recognizes the West Coast states and provinces combine to form the world’s fifth-largest economy. Representing the executive branches of those governments, the Collaborative attempts to assemble and coordinate a global economic powerhouse of 55 million people with a shared geographic location and shared goals of sustainable resource management.

The premier of British Columbia, the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California this week announced joint actions on critical issues facing all four jurisdictions, including coordinated efforts to address environmental protection and climate change, as well as shared economic goals.

“The announcements reflect the urgent need to work beyond borders to protect our shared environment and take action on climate change,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan. “We have so much in common.”

“For the past decade, the PCC has helped propel our region to the forefront of climate action. We’re ready to tackle the next decade of collaboration on climate,” Inslee said. “All of the leaders here today recognize our shared history and future, and I’m pleased to join with them to continue our efforts together.”

The group reaffirmed their strong commitment to meaningful action on climate change. They acknowledged that carbon pricing can effectively, efficiently and fairly reduce carbon pollution.

The Washington Legislature this year approved $115,000 for the development of a long-term orca recovery plan, $548,000 for more enforcement of rules for vessels that travel near orcas and $837,000 for hatchery operations that boost the stock of Chinook salmon and other key prey species. The money is substantial; but equally significant, the bill calls for the assembly of a task force that will attempt to coordinate policy with British Columbia.

The task force will propose funding and legislation to help the orcas. Its first report, due next November, will highlight problems that southern resident orcas face, including a lack of prey, toxic contaminants and vessel traffic and noise.

Inslee was gloomy in his assessment of the assistance our region may expect from the federal government.

“We do not have a federal government that is protective of our state right now,” Inslee told listeners at the conference last week. “On the West Coast, we know that climate change is not a hoax. It doesn’t matter what foolishness comes out of the White House, the leaders on the West Coast are united in understanding science.”

“The orca whales are vital to our culture and spirituality as we are the first people on Puget Sound,” noted Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman at the signing of Inslee’s executive order. “They act as sentinels, observing our behavior and its impacts on the health of our waters. They bless us with their presence and depend on us to keep our sacred pact with the Creator to care for this beautiful land.”

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