A vision for a holistic ecosystem, humans included

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is undertaking an effort to bring average residents into the discussion about how to preserve the Hood Canal ecosystem.

While Hood Canal is becoming known for its low-oxygen problem and occasional fish kills, it’s good to remember that the canal remains famous for its shrimp, oysters and crabs. Furthermore, history tells us that the canal once abounded in sealife, including all kinds of salmon and bottomfish.

Can the canal ever come close to its heyday? I don’t know, but plenty of people would like to give it a try. (By the way, if you want to argue that the problems are caused entirely by over-fishing, we’ll need to discuss individual species — including those that aren’t harvested at all.)

The underlying premise of the Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Management Plan is that people can find ways to benefit from a healthy ecosystem, that natural processes — including the survival of plants and animals — can continue without wrecking the lifestyles of humans. Check out my story in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 26 for an overview of this project.

The vision for this approach is articulated in a document called “Development of Ecological and Socioeconomic Targets” (PDF 60 kb). The vision section begins with a short, positive statement:

Humans benefit from and coexist sustainably with a healthy Hood Canal.

The document goes on to elaborate on the vision within various goals, consistent with goals of the Puget Sound Partnership:

Human Health: Human health is improved, not diminished, by Hood Canal’s air, land and water quality. Fresh and marine waters are safe for human use, including fish and shellfish consumption.

Human wellbeing: Humans benefit from and coexist sustainably with the natural environment. Modest population increases are planned and managed within urban areas and, to a limited extent, in rural areas. Economic development continues sustainably so that residents and visitors alike can enjoy access to commercial and other services within local communities and transportation needs are limited. Employment opportunities and infrastructure exist to provide family wage jobs for present and future generations. Cultural traditions and resources are respected and preserved. Recreation and resource-related industries continue in a sustainable manner and provide a primary source of employment.

Species and food web: Commercial and game species of fish, shellfish and wildlife exist in harvestable numbers, and coexist with abundant populations of nongame species. Abundant populations of forage fish provide adequate food supplies for dependent species. There are no listed species, and currently listed species are recovered, not extirpated. The genetic and species diversity of Hood Canal’s ecosystem is protected and enhanced, retaining its complexity and resiliency.

Habitats: The watershed provides a diverse array of highly functional freshwater, marine and terrestrial habitats that will sustain the desired biological abundance and diversity while allowing resilience and adaptation to disturbances such as climate change.

Water Quantity: Water quantity and water uses are sustainably and equitably managed as a resource for humans and the natural environment. Natural hydrologic patterns have been restored and maintained in a normative condition. Water is viewed as a resource.

Water Quality: Fresh and marine waters support healthy populations of birds and marine mammals, fish and shellfish. There are no listed water bodies, and currently listed water bodies are recovered. Water quality is managed as a resource that supports human health and well-being and the natural environment.

This planning process involves choosing targets that can be measured as an indicator of environmental health. Methods for choosing the targets are outlined in “Development of Ecological and Socioeconomic Targets” (PDF 60 kb). An outline of the process is described in “Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan: Scope of Work” (PDF 385 kb).

One of the concepts embodied in the plan is adaptive management, which means changing your approach to restoration over time to meet numerical goals. The goals are defined to reach future desired conditions over time. As described in the Scope of Work document:

Management actions are purposefully designed to obtain statistically valid results, enabling managers to monitor and evaluate the effects of management actions and to modify their actions in response to new information. Adaptive management is the conscious decision in favor of action designed to increase understanding as opposed to inaction in the face of uncertainty.

During the October meeting among involved individuals, Bob Benze of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners brought up the point that many grant sponsors are reluctant to spend money on monitoring. Government agencies would rather spend their limited dollars on projects. Benze makes the valid point that without monitoring, adaptive management cannot work.

“When you’re only spending 1.6 percent on science and the rest is going to the political process, we are not getting to where we want to be going,” Benze said during the meeting.

Richard Brocksmith of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council acknowledged that the amount that should be spent on monitoring is a topic of debate. Agency officials don’t want to spend money to monitor everything possible, he said. By developing a plan of action, including adaptive management, one could expect money to be made available for testing success. That’s the idea behind the integrated plan, he said.

Grants that come through the Salmon Recovery Funding Board do include money for monitoring the success of salmon-restoration projects, he said, but other types of ecosystem restoration also need to be measured.

Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, said he is looking for ways to get many more watershed residents involved in the Hood Canal planning effort. After all, the value of Hood Canal is different to different people. Some HCCC staffers are available to speak at meetings of community organizations. Some general public meetings also are being considered.

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