“State of the Sound” report falls short of expectations

The first “State of the Sound” report issued by the Puget Sound Partnership was announced yesterday with practically no fanfare.

I recall that the Partnership’s predecessor group, the Puget Sound Action Team, used to make a big deal out of these ecosystem reports. Frankly, I had expected a major rollout, like that of the Puget Sound Action Agenda — until I read through the document and began to ask questions.

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, told me the report was a “hybrid version.” Before the next formal report is due in two years, he hopes to provide more meaningful ecosystem-condition reports through a Web site.

The Partnership’s Science Panel called the report a “transitional” document between descriptions of ecosystem conditions in past “State of the Sound” reports and a new “ecosystem-reporting framework” being developed for the Puget Sound Partnership.

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, said the document is not what the Legislature envisioned when it laid out reporting requirements for the Partnership. Without better indicators, benchmarks and long-term goals, nobody knows if the Partnership is on track to restore Puget Sound to a healthy condition by 2020, she said.

Fletcher has a unique perspective on this process. Besides heading an environmental organization, she serves on the Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board. She also was the first executive director of the original Puget Sound panel — called the Puget Sound Water Quality Authory (1983).

I won’t linger on this new report, as I expect more useful information to be forthcoming in the next few months. Read my story in today’s Kitsap Sun, or download the report from the Puget Sound Partnership.

If you download the report, you may wish to read about the Performance Management System being developed, which is described in some detail, as well as a description of funding issues. Those and a few other details are new additions to the “State of the Sound.”

Because the Partnership is relying heavily on its Science Panel to develop a system to measure changes in the ecosystem, I’ll highlight a few of the problems, which the panel describes in its section of the report:

“… the high priority and focus placed on developing the Action Agenda within one year of creating the Partnership precluded developing a reasoned and focused scientific assessment to identify and rank hazards and threats to the ecosystem, limited the ability to establish a baseline monitoring program to inform adaptive learning from ongoing restoration, and lessened the ability to scientifically prioritize needed actions…

“Since a comprehensive set of ecosystem indicators and the rigorous data needed to support them are still under development, the analysis provided in the 2009 State of the Sound should be considered transitional in nature, providing a link between previous State of the Sound Science Panel Comments on Progress implementing the 2008 Action Agenda summaries and the evolving ecosystem reporting framework being developed for the Partnership…

“Coincident with the development of indicators, the Partnership examined frameworks to evaluate stressors and pressures on the ecosystem, with the goal of understanding and communicating the relative importance of different ‘drivers’ of ecosystem degradation. The Partnership leveraged work done by a national-scale NOAA ‘Integrated Ecosystem Assessment’ program to further develop the framework and models necessary to rationally understand current conditions, stressors, and the meaning of ecosystem health…

“To be clear, what we know about the status and trends of the Puget Sound ecosystem is based largely on observations and analyses done prior to 2008, as there simply has not been sufficient time for Partnership activities, including implementation of the Action Agenda, to be reflected in demonstrable improvements in the Puget Sound…

“Establishing ecosystem indicators, benchmarks, and goals is more difficult than it may first appear, as each step of the way requires technical data and policy decisions informed by science. Such a framework has the apparent advantage of specific numeric targets achieved by certain dates, which is often seen as driving actions. However, there may be a false sense of certainty in the numbers, as the framework implies that the underlying relationships between cause and effect are quantitatively understood.”

2 thoughts on ““State of the Sound” report falls short of expectations

  1. Me thinks what you can take out of the last four paragraphs of government speak are:

    “Not enough monitoring has been done to tell us if we are on the right track.”

    Just a guess.

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