One of the three species of rockfish listed as threatened or
endangered in the Puget Sound region is about to be pulled off the
Endangered Species List, following recent scientific findings.
Genetic studies carried out with the help of fisherfolk from
Kitsap County have determined that canary rockfish are not a
discrete population from those found off the Washington Coast. An
official comment period on the delisting is open until Sept. 6, as
described in the
I first discussed early evidence of this genetic finding a year
ago. Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries,
confirmed that limited genetic samples of canary rockfish from
coastal areas appeared no different from samples taken from Puget
Sound. Kelly wanted to review analyses from additional samples
before drawing firm conclusions. See
Water Ways, June 18, 2015.
canary rockfish from the Endangered Species List will have no
yelloweye rockfish, listed as threatened, or bacaccio,
listed as endangered. The change also is expected to have no
immediate effects on fishing rules, which are designed to protect
all rockfish in Puget Sound.
Rockfish are considered an important part of the Puget Sound
ecosystem. Understanding the causes of their decline and finding
ways to rebuild their populations could help with the recovery of a
variety of other marine species, experts say.
five-year review (PDF 15.1 mb) on the status of the three
species of rockfish was due last year, but it was delayed until
April of this year to include the new genetic information. In
addition to a proposal to delist canary rockfish, the report
discusses the difficulty in gathering population data. The authors
were able to report:
“The data suggest that total rockfish declined at a rate of 3.1
to 3.8 percent per year from 1977 to 2014 … or a 69 to 76 percent
total decline over that period. We did not find evidence for
subpopulations with different population growth rates.”
Those involved in the scientific effort expressed appreciation
to the anglers who went out with them to track down rockfish and
take fin clips for genetic sampling. The effort also included
information from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
where researchers surveyed rockfish areas with divers and remotely
The local fishing experts were able to take the researchers to
the hotspots where rockfish have always been found.
During the sampling, fishers were careful to release the
rockfish with “descending devices” to get them safely back to deep
water, where they reside. That is a technique recommended for all
anglers who catch rockfish while fishing for other species. For
“Bring That Fish Down” (PDF 673 kb) by California Sea Grant and
Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.
Among those helping with the survey were Ray Frederick, a
longtime leader in the Kitsap Poggie Club, a local fishing group,
and Randy Jones, a charterboat operator from Port Orchard.
Ray recalls catching rockfish decades ago while fishing for
salmon and other fish. “I considered myself lucky if I caught a
rockfish and brought it home, because they’re really good eating,”
Ray said in a story
written by Ed Quimby, a former NOAA writer. “I prefer salmon,”
Ray added, “but my wife likes rockfish better.”
Efforts to develop a recovery plan for rockfish continue for
yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio as required by the Endangered
Species Act. Details can be found on NOAA’s webpage
“Rockfish in Puget Sound/Georgia Basin.”
At a community meeting in March, many residents of Harper in
South Kitsap expressed profound disappointment that the latest plan
to restore Harper Estuary would remove a low-key boat launch used
by many people in the area. See
Kitsap Sun story, March 31.
The makeshift boat launch, built on fill, provides the only
access to the beach in that area, community members noted. Many
expressed their belief that county and state officials had failed
in their commitment to maintain beach access.
After the meeting, five representatives of the community met
onsite with officials involved in the project. Several ideas were
discussed, and it appears that a new access to the estuary is
gaining approval, though it won’t allow vehicles with trailers to
reach the water. The new access would be an earthen ramp on the
opposite side of Olympiad Drive.
“Retaining the boat landing in its current location will:
“Block the ability to replace the undersized culvert with a
large bridge in order to restore estuary function and tidal
“Reduce sediment contaminant removal associated with the
“Retain compacted gravel substrate that does not support
aquatic plants or benthic organisms at the existing boat launch,
“Impede restoration of filled estuarine habitat and functional
The proposal now under consideration is to grade the slope
alongside Olympiad Drive at a gentle 5:1 angle. Cars and trucks
could pull off the side of the road long enough to unload their
boats, which would be carried down the slope. For people who just
want to walk down to the water, the ramp would provide the needed
access and perhaps the beginning of a proposed trail system around
A plan to build stairs down to the water from Southworth Drive
raised objections during the March meeting, because it would be
difficult and unsafe to carry boats across the busy roadway and
down concrete steps, which could become slippery. If the stairs are
built, which remains undecided, they could be designed to contain
gravel, making them less slippery.
Jim Heytvelt, a community leader in Harper, said the new access
to the beach would meet the needs of most, but not all, people in
the community. Most people in support of the restoration never
wanted a major boat launch like the one at Manchester, he said.
People are beginning to come around to the reality of the
situation, given conditions needed to restore the estuary, he
During surveys of the property, officials discovered another
problem that could have thrown a monkey wrench into the boat launch
at its current location. The county learned that it does not own
the property where the boat launch was built, as had been widely
assumed. The property is owned by the state Department of Natural
Resources — and nobody has ever been given approval to use the
Even if the restoration could be done without removing the
launch site, nobody knows if the DNR would grant a lease for the
use to continue. Someone might need to assume liability at the
site. The proposed ramp to the estuary seems to eliminate that
problem, as the property is almost entirely owned by the
Delays in preparing the plans, getting permits and putting the
project out to bid has caused the schedule to slip from early
summer into late summer and fall, said Doris Small of the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That assumes the
project can be advertised for bids by the end of this month —
something that is still not certain.
Any further delays could put the funding in jeopardy and might
require new approvals from the Washington Department of Ecology and
possibly the Legislature. The restoration money comes from a fund
set up to mitigate for damages from the ASARCO smelter in Tacoma,
which emitted toxic pollution for decades, some of which reached
The first phase of the project involves excavation to remove
most of the fill dumped into the estuary, allowing the shorelines
to return to a natural condition. To complete the restoration,
additional funding is being sought to build a bridge, which will
replace the culvert under Olympiad Drive. If funding is approved,
the bridge could be built as early as next summer.
Another community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30
p.m. at Colby United Methodist Church, 2881 Harvey St. SE.
Officials will provide an update on the restoration efforts. County
Commission Charlotte Garrido said she would like to continue
discussions about what the community would like to see in the
future, hoping to build a stronger relationship between the county
and the community.
When Lolita, a female orca held captive since 1970, was listed
among the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales,
advocates for Lolita’s release were given new hope. Perhaps the
listing would help Lolita obtain a ticket out of Miami Seaquarium,
where she has lived since the age of 5.
But a U.S. district judge ruled last week that the Endangered
Species Act could not help her. While the federal law prohibits
human conduct likely to “gravely threaten the life of a member of a
protected species,” it cannot be used to improve her living
conditions, according to the
ruling (PDF 3.3 mb) by Judge Ursula Ungaro in the Southern
District of Florida.
“We very much disagree with the decision, and we will be
appealing it,” said attorney Jared Goodwin, who represents the
plaintiffs — including the People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA), the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Orca Network.
Over the objections of attorneys for Miami Seaquarium, the judge
said the plaintiffs have a right to sue the aquarium, but Lolita’s
care and well-being falls under a different law: the Animal Welfare
The judge noted that the National Marine Fisheries Service,
which is responsible for marine species under the ESA, had
previously stated that keeping threatened or endangered species in
captivity is not a violation of the ESA. NMFS also deferred
enforcement activities to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the ESA prohibits listed species from being “harassed,”
Judge Ungaro said the term takes on a different meaning for animals
held in captivity, since the law is designed to conserve species in
the wild along with their ecosystems.
The judge took note of the complaints about Lolita’s living
conditions, including the small size of her tank, harassment by
white-sided dolphins that live with her and the lack of shade or
other protection from the weather. But those aren’t conditions to
be judged under the ESA, she said.
“Thus, while in a literal sense the conditions and injuries of
which plaintiffs complain are within the ambit of the ordinary
meaning of ‘harm’ and ‘harass,’ it cannot be said that they rise to
the level of grave harm that is required to constitute a ‘take’ by
a licensed exhibitor under the ESA,” she wrote.
Judge Ungaro also cited statements made by NMFS in response to
comments from people who want to see Lolita released into a sea pen
or possibly into open waters. Such a release, “could itself
constitute a ‘take’ under Section 9(a)(1) of the act,” she said,
“The NMFS noted concerns arising from disease transmission
between captive and wild stocks; the ability of released animals to
adequately forage for themselves; and behavioral patterns developed
in captivity impeding social integration and affecting the social
behavior of wild animals,” the judge wrote.
Jared Goodman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the judge
needlessly applied a separate definition of “harassment” to captive
versus wild animals. Conditions at the aquarium are clearly
harassment for Lolita, he said, and the Endangered Species Act
should provide the needed protection.
The Animal Welfare Act, which should require humane treatment
for captive animals, is long out of date and needs to be revised
based on current knowledge about marine mammals, he said.
The same plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit in May against the
Department of Agriculture for issuing a new operating license to
Miami Seaquarium without adequately considering the conditions in
which Lolita is being kept. Previously, a court ruled that the
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service acted properly when it
renewed the license for Miami Seaquarium each year, because the law
does not require an inspection for an ongoing permit.
That is not the case with a new license, which was required when
the Miami Seaquarium came under new ownership as the result of a
stock merger in 2014, according to the lawsuit. Federal inspectors
should have reviewed the legal requirements to certify that
Lolita’s tank and other facilities met the standards before issuing
a new license, Jared said. According to documents he obtained
through public disclosure requests, it appears that the federal
agency simply “rubber-stamped” its previous approvals, he said,
adding that a formal review would show that the aquarium in
violation of animal welfare rules.
As the legal battles go on, it is difficult to see how Lolita is
any closer to being “retired” to a sea pen in Puget Sound where she
was born, although Howard Garrett of Orca Network and other
supporters have developed a plan for Lolita’s return and even have
a specific site picked out. See “Proposal
to Retire the Orca Lolita.” (PDF 3.5 mb).
Meanwhile, with SeaWorld’s announcement
that it will no longer breed killer whales or force orcas to
perform for an audience, a new group called The Whale Sanctuary
Project is looking for sites to relocate whales and dolphins that
might be released. The project has received a pledge of at least $1
million from Munchkin, Inc., a baby product company. For details,
check out the group’s website and a
press release announcing the effort. I should point out that
SeaWorld officials say they won’t release any animals.
I find it fascinating that children are making a strong legal
argument that governments must take swift action to reduce climate
A series of lawsuits across the country are founded on the idea
that many adults will be gone in 40 or 50 years when climate
extremes become the new norm. It is the young people of today who
will suffer the consequences of ongoing government inaction.
In a case filed by a group of children in King County Superior
Court, Judge Hollis Hill took the Washington Department of Ecology
and Gov. Jay Inslee to task for delaying action on new clean air
regulations to help curb greenhouse gas emissions:
“Petitioners assert, the department does not dispute, and this court finds that current scientific evidence establishes that rapidly increasing global warming causes an unprecedented risk to the Earth, including land, sea, the atmosphere and all living plants and animals…
“In fact, as petitioners assert and this court finds, their very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHGs (greenhouse gases) before doing so becomes too costly and then too late.
“The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”
It is ironic that Gov. Inslee finds himself under attack for
failure to act against greenhouse gas emissions, given that he is
one of the nation’s leading advocates for action on climate change.
Inslee literally wrote the book on this issue while serving in
Congress: “Apollo’s Fire:
Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.”
Unable to get the Legislature to act on his specific program,
the governor is now on a course to impose new regulations to force
a reduction in greenhouse gases. Initially, the new standards would
apply to large industrial sources. The governor says his authority
stems from a 2008
law passed by the Legislature requiring a reduction to 1990
emission levels by 2020. We can expect the rule to be challenged by
Originally, the rule was to be completed this summer, but the
proposal was withdrawn in February in light of an overwhelming
number of comments and new ideas that needed to be addressed. The
rule is scheduled to be re-released later this month and adopted by
the end of the year.
Judge Hill’s latest ruling from the bench on April 29
requires Ecology to adopt the rule by the end of the year.
That fits within Ecology’s current schedule, said Camille St. Onge,
spokeswoman for Ecology. Whether the agency might appeal the ruling
to preserve its options won’t be decided until after the judge’s
written findings are issued, she said.
“We agree with Judge Hill,” St. Onge told me in an email.
“Climate change is a global issue, and science is telling us that
what was projected years ago is happening today, and we need to act
now to protect our environment and economy for future generations.
We’re working vigorously on Washington’s first-ever rule to cap and
reduce carbon pollution and help slow climate change.”
Gov. Inslee said in a
news release that he has no dispute with Judge Hill’s findings,
which actually support his approach to combatting climate
“This case is a call to act on climate, and that call is one that has been a priority for me since taking office. Our state is helping lead the way on climate action in our country…
“In a way it is gratifying that the court has also affirmed our authority to act, contrary to the assertion of those who continue to reject action on climate change and ocean acidification. Hundreds of people have participated in the creation of our state's Clean Air Rule and the draft will be out in just a few weeks.”
Meanwhile, Washington state is not the only state where youth
have filed lawsuits to assert their rights to a healthy future.
Cases also are pending in Oregon, Massachusetts, Colorado and North
Carolina, according to Our Children’s Trust, which provides
about the state lawsuits on its website.
At the same time, another case is underway in U.S. District
Court in Oregon, where Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled that
the young plaintiffs have standing and legitimate claims to be
adjudicated. He allowed the case to move forward with additional
evidence to be submitted. Read his
April 8 ruling (PDF 3.2 mb) on the website of Our Children’s
The video below features reporter Bill Moyers discussing the
legal issues in these cases, which include claims related to the
Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient principle that asserts the
public’s right to use and enjoy certain natural resources that
cannot be ceded to private property owners.
Andy Nelson, who took over as Kitsap County’s public works
director two years ago, quickly proved his worth to the local
environment when he proposed federal funding for three major
One project begins with a proposed $350,000 study of South
Kitsap’s Burley Creek watershed — an important stream that probably
has never received the attention it deserves. The other projects
are in Silverdale and Hansville.
I stumbled on Kitsap County’s proposal for Burley Creek buried
within a U.S. Senate bill to authorize water-related projects
across the country — the same bill that would authorize the
$20-million Skokomish River ecosystem restoration in Mason County.
Water Ways, April 28.)
How did a relatively small Kitsap project find its way into a
massive public works bill? You could say it was because Andy was
aware of a congressional effort to seek out local partnerships with
the Army Corps of Engineers. That effort, which began in 2014, came
about in part as response to the elimination of old-fashioned
earmarks, by which members of Congress could promote their favorite
Andy came to Kitsap County after retiring from the Army Corps of
Engineers, where he held the rank of colonel and was deputy
commander for the South Pacific Division. That’s the Corps’
regional office for California and the other Southwest states. (See
County news release.)
“Kitsap County is a great place, and we chose to come here
because of Puget Sound and the nearby mountains,” Andy told me.
“With the amount of saltwater shorelines, I anticipated there would
be ongoing Army Corps work taking place in Kitsap County.”
In fact, there were no projects in Kitsap County proposed in
partnership with the Army Corps. The Corps had previously done
studies on Harper Estuary in South Kitsap and on Carpenter Creek in
North Kitsap, but funding was never available for the actual
Andy put his head together with staffers in Kitsap County Public
Works (his department) and the Department of Community Development.
They came up with three projects to be submitted to the Corps for
consideration. In the end — and to Andy’s great surprise — these
three Kitsap projects were the only ones submitted from Washington
state during the first year of the solicitation.
The Burley Creek project is one that Tim Beachy, an engineer for
Kitsap County Public Works, had been considering in a more limited
“We were looking at the replacement of a barrier culvert on
Bethel-Burley Road,” Tim told me. “It looked like a bridge upstream
on Fenton Road could be impacted by the culvert replacement, and
there was a private bridge upstream of that.”
A barrier culvert is one identified as blocking or impeding the
passage of salmon. Replacing a culvert can alter the grade of the
stream channel, affecting bridges and culverts upstream and/or
downstream and potentially leading to unanticipated consequences
for salmon migration.
It turns out that Burley Creek contains spawning beds used by
Puget Sound chinook and Puget Sound steelhead, both listed as
threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It also contains
important spawning and rearing habitat for other salmon
At Andy’s direction, a study was proposed to look at salmon
passage at four bridges in close proximity on Burley Creek, to
consider the effects of flooding and storm damage on the roads and
bridges, and to propose further actions that might reduce pollution
affecting shellfish downstream in Burley Lagoon.
County officials met with the Corps to discuss the idea. The
Corps accepted it as a worthwhile project and proposed it for
funding. Congress will have the final word on the study, which
would be done by the Corps. If the project moves to construction,
local and state funding — probably a 35 percent match — would be
The Burley Creek study requires congressional authorization
because it is somewhat unique and does not fit under the
“continuing authority” that allows the Corps to investigate issues
such as shoreline restoration, shoreline stabilization, ecosystem
restoration or navigation, Andy told me. The Corps does not have
authority to address water-quality projects per se.
The other two projects are still being evaluated, but they will
not need congressional approval since they fall under existing
authority of the Corps.
One would be a close look at Silverdale’s waterfront at the head
of Dyes Inlet, including Clear Creek and the pocket estuary near
Hop Jack’s and Silverdale Beach Hotel. The study would look at ways
to restore ecological processes and biological diversity, including
shorelines used by forage fish, salmon, resident and migratory
waterfowl, and diverse species found in both freshwater and tidal
marshes. The project would address stormwater alternatives and
consider ways to improve passive recreation.
The last project — which was actually the first in a letter to
the Corps — would involve the restoration of freshwater and
saltwater marsh habitats in and around Point No Point County Park.
The study would look at the longterm effects of sea-level rise,
including flood control and potential damage to houses, roads, park
facilities and the historic Point No Point Lighthouse. The project
could create a more natural setting and enhance intertidal
“Nothing prevents two or even all three of these projects from
competing for funds and getting funded,” Andy said. “We may
determine that the work is not for the Army Corps of Engineers, but
we could still use the science and engineering that comes out of
these studies. To get a Kitsap County creek in the (Water Resources
Development Act) is a big deal.”
UPDATE: June 12, 2016
The Skokomish River ecosystem restoration project, as proposed by
the Army Corps of Engineers, remains on track. The
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 25
unanimously endorsed the Water Resources Development Act, which
would authorize the project. The legislation must still be approved
by the full House and Senate.
After decades of in-depth studies and anxious waiting,
restoration of the Skokomish River ecosystem took a major step
forward today, when a committee of the U.S. Senate endorsed the
$20-million effort as part of a larger legislative package.
The Skokomish restoration was one of many projects that sailed
through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as it
passed a $9-billion authorization bill on a 19-1 vote. The bill
must still be approved by the full Senate and House, but supporters
of the Skokomish restoration were thrilled with the light at the
end of the tunnel.
Rich Geiger, project engineer for the Mason Conservation
District, has been shepherding the Skokomish effort for as long as
I can remember. I asked him how it feels to finally see some action
“It feels really really good,” he said slowly, emphasizing each
The restoration program consists of five separate projects along
the Skokomish River. Although not designed for flood control, these
projects for improving ecological health are expected to reduce
flooding along one of the most frequently flooded rivers in the
The restoration effort has received support from far and wide.
As Rich likes to point out, experts generally agree that Puget
Sound cannot be restored without restoring Hood Canal, and Hood
Canal cannot be restored without restoring the Skokomish River.
Sen. Patty Murray has been a strong advocate for the
“The waters of Hood Canal and Puget Sound are essential to the
Washington state environment, economy, and our way of life,” the
senator said in an email, “so I am proud to fight for investments
in the restoration of the Skokomish River. This critical work will
restore habitat and wetlands and improve fish passage, which in
turn supports salmon recovery — all necessary to maintain our
precious natural resources.”
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said improving the health
of the Skokomish River would be a boon for Mason County and the
entire region. He said he applauded the efforts of the Skokomish
Watershed Action Team, the Skokomish Tribe and area residents who
worked together to shape the restoration program.
“This project ensures we can better protect critical species
like salmon … while restoring more natural areas for folks to
explore,” Kilmer said in an email. “That will help bring more
visitors to recreate in this watershed while protecting it for
The bipartisan endorsement and near-unanimous support offers
hope that the needed money will be approved in a future
appropriations bill tied to the budget, Rich Geiger told me. He is
also optimistic that the 35-percent state/local match will be made
available through state grants or a legislative appropriation.
“Now that have an approved plan, we are coming to Washington
state with a funding request that is much larger than normal,”
Geiger said. “This is a little unprecedented.”
The federal share for the project would be about $13 million and
the state share nearly $7 million.
Some money has already been provided for engineering work, Rich
said. If things go well, the final designs can be ready for the
start of construction in October of 2019.
These four projects would come first:
Confluence levee removal: This levee was built
with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the
mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be
removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the
mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing
confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the
channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.
Wetland restoration at river mile 9: The
existing levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee
would be built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would
allow for minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk.
Estimated cost: $2.4 million.
Wetland restoration near Grange: Larger
breeches are planned for the levee near the Grange hall at river
mile 7.5 to 8. A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and 2,900 feet long,
would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with no increase in
flood risk. Locations are still under discussion. Estimate cost
Side channel connection near Highway 101: An
old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored
to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would
help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become
a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.
The fifth project would be constructed over two years in
Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence
with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large
clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees,
would be placed between river mile 9 and 11, as measured from the
estuary in Hood Canal. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
The original plan for the Skokomish, as developed in an early
report by the Army Corps of Engineers, called for more projects and
would have cost closer to $40 million.
Some of those other projects are being funded through other
programs, such as the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. For example,
the reconnection of a stagnant section of Weaver Creek to the
free-flowing Purdy Creek is scheduled for this summer using SRF
In addition, numerous man-made logjams are being planned to
create salmon habitat, reduce sediment flows and stabilize the
stream channel. Also, preliminary designs and discussions are
underway to relocate Skokomish Valley Road, a main route into the
Olympic Mountains. Moving the road would allow for the removal of
levees, river bank restoration and a reconnection to about 60 acres
On this Earth Day, I would like to share some “environmental
victories” at the national level, take note of advancements in
environmental education at the state and local levels, recognize a
global climate accomplishment at the international level and
celebrate the birthday of John Muir, a giant in the conservation
Sometimes, amid the environmental battles of today, it is good
to step back and look at the changes that our country has gone
through since the first Earth Day in 1970. Brian Clark Howard does
just that for
National Geographic by calling out 46 milestones in
The events he describes include various environmental laws,
starting off with the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970;
international agreements, such at the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species in 1975; corporate responsibility, such
as McDonald’s move to biodegradable packaging; community outrage,
such as in Love Canal; and books and movies, including Al Gore’s
call to climate action in “An Inconvenient Truth.”
This is not a comprehensive history of the environmental
movement, but it is a strong reminder about how advancements come
about in the efforts to improve our environment.
Six years ago on Earth Day, I wrote a story titled
The Evolution of Environmental Education (Kitsap Sun, April 17,
2010) about how environmental education became ingrained in
learning through the primary grades — in contrast to the very
limited discussions outside of college up until the 1980s.
In 1990, the Legislature mandated that environmental education
be part of public instruction at all grade levels, then in 2009 new
statewide standards brought a focus to not only ecology but also
social and economic systems.
My story describes the struggle to integrate these additional
studies into overall classroom learning, rather than teaching
separate units on each topic. That effort at integration has
continued, as teachers work together to share information about
what works in the classroom. See
Education for Environment and Sustainability at the Office of
Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Climate change agreement
More than 150 world leaders gathered at United Nations
Headquarters in New York City today to sign an agreement designed
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. This is the
formal signing of an accord reached in Paris by more than 170
countries four months ago.
“Today is a day to mark and celebrate the hard work done by so
many to win the battle in securing the Paris agreement,” Secretary
of State John Kerry said this morning, as quoted in a
Newsweek article. “Knowing what we know, this is also a day to
recommit ourselves to actually win this war… Nature is changing at
an increasingly rapid pace due to our own choices.”
Hannah Hickey of
University of Washington News and Information rounded up
comments from UW experts on the topic. Some were hopeful that the
international pact will mean substantial reductions in greenhouse
gases before ever more drastic climate change comes about. Others
seemed to be saying that the agreement is too little too late.
John Muir, whose name is synonymous with the conservation
movement in the U.S., had much to say about the need to protect
special places. Muir’s birthday was yesterday, and I appreciated
10 inspirational quotes about the outdoors that was pulled
together by the Department of Interior.
One of my favorites: “Between every two pine trees there is a
door leading to a new way of life.”
John Muir has been called “the father of the national parks,”
and I think it is fitting that we take time to recognize his
contributions this year, on the 100th anniversary of the National
Park Service. I’ve posted the first of two videos produced for the
park service. Both can be found on YouTube:
The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has published the final two
parts of a seven-part series on shorelines, bulkheads and nearshore
As we researched the series, I was able to interact with a lot
of interesting people — from coastal geologists to property owners.
Today’s experts in shoreline ecology credit the late Wolf Bauer
with many of the ideas that have become commonplace in shoreline
restoration. I was pleased when Washington Sea Grant produced a
video tribute to Wolf, who died in January at 103 years old.
One story I wrote, which was published today, involved a boat
ride along the eastern shoreline of North Kitsap, which was the
perfect setting for describing the geology and natural forces that
shape the shoreline. I must thank Hugh Shipman of the Washington
Department of Ecology and Paul Dorn of the Suquamish Tribe for
their expertise. Check out “Sources of
On an earlier boat ride, I joined up with a group of shoreline
property owners who were learning about nearshore ecology and the
benefits of bulkhead removal. The boat trip, sponsored by the Shore
Friendly Kitsap program, is part of a pilot project to introduce
the idea of removing bulkheads.
The tour departed from Brownsville and went up through Liberty
Bay near Poulsbo, where we observed a mixed assortment of houses
and associated shoreline structures. Some of these waterfront homes
were protected with massive rock bulkheads; some featured stubby
wooden walls; and some were surrounded by vegetation with no
bulkhead at all.
“Taking this boat ride lets you see what the natural shoreline
should look like,” said Lee Derror, a Tracyton resident who has
been contemplating whether to remove her bulkhead, built of
Cost of removal is a major obstacle for many property owners —
unless their bulkhead is already failing. The other major concern
is whether alternative “soft shore” protection will be enough to
protect their shoreline from excessive erosion.
Leaving Liberty Bay, the boat headed to Port Madison on
Bainbridge Island to examine the Powel family property, where a
bulkhead was removed in 2013. The 1,500-foot bulkhead removal is
believed to be the largest private removal so far in Puget Sound.
Kitsap Sun, Aug. 29, 2013, or the Shore
Jim Brennan, a consulting marine biologist, told the passengers
that accommodations were made to protect a historic boathouse on
the Powel property by placing large rocks around the foundation.
Also, the beach was sloped back to absorb incoming waves. Other
than that, the shoreline is expected to eventually look much the
way it did in the 1800s, with a reconnected salt marsh providing
food and protection for migrating salmon.
Lee Derror told me that property owners should take a look at
their shoreline from the water side, especially if they plan to
remove their bulkhead. The Kitsap tour was especially helpful, she
said, “because you get to rub elbows with the experts.”
Kitsap’s Shore Friendly pilot project — one of five projects in
the Puget Sound region — will help property owners determine if
bulkhead removal is right for them. It includes with a visit from a
volunteer, followed up by an assessment from an independent
geotechnical engineer. The last time I checked, county officials
were hoping to offer additional boat rides in the future.
Below are the seven shoreline stories written by science writer
Eric Scigliano and myself for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and
the online magazine “Salish Sea Currents.” These are published by
the Puget Sound Institute, which is associated with the University
of Washington. Funding came from the Environmental Protection
A new controversy is beginning to rumble over the potential
injury to marine mammals from sounds transmitted in the water.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA
Fisheries, is moving closer to finalizing new “technical guidance”
for assessing temporary and permanent hearing loss in whales and
dolphins caused by human activities — including Navy sonar, seismic
explorations and underwater explosions. The guidance will be used
for approving “take” permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
and Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, in another development, Navy officials have
acknowledged that Navy personnel made a mistake by using sonar in
Puget Sound without getting approval through the chain of command.
I’ll describe the circumstances of that event in a moment.
The new guidance is focused on hearing loss rather than how the
behavior of marine mammals might change in the presence of loud
noise. Since foraging and social activity are essential among
whales and dolphins, further guidance is expected to assess how
animals may be affected in other ways by noise.
The new guidance does not include mitigation measures for
minimizing the effects of sound. In some cases, the new information
may lead to additional protections for the animals, but in other
cases protections may be reduced, according to information from
Currently, regulators use a single noise threshold for cetaceans
(whales and dolphins) and a single threshold for pinnipeds (seals
and sea lions). They do not account for the different hearing
abilities within the two groups or how different types of sound may
The new acoustic threshold levels divide sounds into two groups:
1) impulsive sounds lasting less than a second, such as from
airguns and impact pile drivers, and 2) non-impulsive sounds, in
which the sound pressure rises and declines more gradually, such as
from sonar and vibratory pile drivers. Measures account for both
peak sound pressure and cumulative sound exposure.
Marine mammals also are divided into groups based on their
general range of hearing. There are the low-frequency cetaceans,
including the large baleen whales; the mid-frequency cetaceans,
including the dolphins; and the high-frequency cetaceans, including
The pinnipeds are divided into two groups. The eared seals,
including sea lions, have a somewhat wider hearing range than true
seals, including harbor seals.
After years of covering the effects of sonar and other noise,
I’m just beginning to understand the complexity of how sound is
measured and the mathematics used to calculate levels at various
locations. At the same time, the guidelines are growing more
complex — as they should to model the real world. New thresholds
account for the duration of sound exposure as well as the
intensity, and they somewhat customize the thresholds to the
animals affected. For additional information, see NOAA’
Fisheries webpage on the guidance.
Despite incorporating new studies into the guidelines, some
acoustics experts are finding serious problems with the methods
used to arrive at the new thresholds, according to Michael Jasny of
the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC, an environmental
group, has a long history of battling NOAA Fisheries and the Navy
over sound exposures for marine mammals.
“This is an extremely technical subject,” Michael said, noting
that he relies on experts who have provided comments on the
methodology. “By and large, NMFS has drunk the Navy’s Kool-Aid with
the exception of low-frequency effects, even though the Navy’s
science has been sharply criticized.”
The statistical analyses leading to the guidelines are so flawed
that they call into question how they could be used to protect
marine mammals, Michael said, pointing to a paper by
Andrew J. Wright of George Mason University.
“These are high stakes we are talking about,” Michael said. “We
are talking about damaging the hearing of endangered species that
depend on their hearing to survive.”
The effects of sound on behavior, which are not described in the
new guidelines, may be just as important, he said, since too much
noise can impede an animal’s ability to catch prey or undertake
social behavior that contribute to the perpetuation of the species.
NOAA Fisheries needs to move forward to raise the level of
protection, not just for injury related to hearing but for other
effects, he said. One can review a series of related studies on
“If these guidelines are not improved, at least to address
fundamental statistical errors, then it is easy to imagine that
they might be legally challenged — and they would deserve to be,”
Michael told me.
Sonar in Puget Sound
As for the Navy’s mistake with sonar, the story goes back to
Jan. 13 of this year, when acoustics expert Scott Veirs of Beam
Reach Marine Science picked up the sound of sonar on hydrophones in
the San Juan Islands. About the same time, Ken Balcomb of the
Center for Whale Research was observing transient killer whales to
the south in Haro Strait.
At first, Scott believed the sonar may have been coming from the
Canadian Navy ship HMCS Ottawa, but Canadian officials were quick
to deny it. His suspicions shifted to the U.S. Navy. He was
disturbed by that prospect since the Navy stopped using sonar
during training exercises in Puget Sound shortly after the USS
Shoup incident in 2003. For a reminder of that incident, check my
story in the
Kitsap Sun, March 17, 2005.
Later, the requirement for approval from the Pacific Fleet
command became an enforceable regulation when it was added to the
letter of authorization (PDF 3.4 mb) issued by NOAA Fisheries.
The letter allows the Navy a specific “take” of marine mammals
during testing and training operations.
Within days of this year’s sonar incident, Scott learned from
observers that two Navy ships had traveled through Haro Strait
about the time that sonar was heard on a nearby hydrophone. Navy
Region Northwest confirmed the presence of Navy vessels.
Later, Scott received an email from Lt. Julianne Holland, deputy
public affairs officer for the Navy’s Third Fleet. She confirmed
that a Navy ship used sonar for about 10 minutes at the time of
Scott’s recording. The ship was identified as a guided missile
destroyer — the same type as the Shoup — but its name has never
“The Navy vessel followed the process to check on the
requirements for this type of use in this location, but a technical
error occurred which resulted in the unit not being made aware of
the requirement to request permission,” according to Lt. Holland’s
email to Scott. “The exercise was very brief in duration, lasting
less than 10 minutes, and the Navy has taken steps to correct the
procedures to ensure this doesn’t occur again at this, or any
Because no marine mammals appeared to be injured, the story kind
of faded away until I recently contacted Lt. Holland to tie up some
loose ends. She ignored my questions about whether disciplinary
actions had been taken against any Navy personnel. “The Navy has
taken appropriate action to address the issue, including reissuance
of specific guidance on the use of sonar in the Pacific Northwest.”
The memo was sent to “all units in the Northwest.”
After I reopened the discussion, Scott did some acoustic
calculations based on figures and graphs he found in a Navy report
on the Shoup incident. He located published estimates of the source
levels and concluded, based on NOAA’s old thresholds, that marine
mammals within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would experience noise
levels likely to change their behavior (level B harassment).
Based on the data available, Scott could not conclude whether
the transient killer whales in Haro Strait were within that range,
but he said it was encouraging that Ken Balcomb did not notice any
changes in their behavior. It was also helpful that the sonar was
used for a relatively short time.
“It was a little nerve racking to hear the Navy was making
mistakes,” Scott said, “but we can give them a pat on the back for
doing the exercise during the day” when lookouts on the ship at
least have a chance to spot the animals.
If you do an online search for “Earth Hour,” you’ll find lots of
people, organizations and businesses around the world participating
in this annual event on Saturday. But it appears that enthusiasm in
the U.S. and especially Washington state may be waning.
Earth Hour involves the simple act of uniting people throughout
the world by turning off the lights, television and other
electrical devices for an hour — from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Started in
2007 by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour sends the message that
everyone can be involved in reducing the effects of climate
Through the years, I have enjoyed the quiet time, sometimes with
family and friends, sometimes with just my wife. Although it seems
like a good time to discuss the challenges of climate change, our
conversations don’t often go in that direction. Instead, we take a
moment to appreciate what we have, talk about things in general or
play some sort of game. Hide and Seek in a darkened house is what
the kids want to do.
I noticed in my online search that various restaurants around
the globe are offering candlelight dinners during Earth Hour this
year. I like that idea, although I’m not sure if it fits into the
pure spirit of Earth Hour. Still, to get out and be among a larger
group of people would be nice.
Restaurant & Bar in Toronto, Canada, has created a special
menu of locally grown foods for this Saturday’s Earth Hour. All 17
Brasserie Blanc restaurants in England will be celebrating the
DoubleTree Inn in Victoria to the north of here will be dimming
the lights throughout the hotel and encouraging people to recognize
“This year, we invite Finns to participate in the biggest candle
light dinner in the world to awake conversation about ecologically
responsible food. We ask people to turn off lights, light up
candles and spend an hour with their loved ones enjoying
“Food touches every single person, and about 20 percent of our
emissions are caused by what we eat. Approximately 60 percent of
the emissions are caused in the production and most of them are
related to producing meat, eggs and dairy.
“One of the most important things an individual can do to
protect climate is eating less meat and more vegetables and
sustainable seafood. Thinking about what we eat is a small act with
great impact. Organize your own candle light dinner and show your
support for action on climate change!”
These are just a few examples of how people are getting into
Earth Hour in other countries. However, I’m finding it harder each
year to find participants in Washington state, which has always
been a major part of the environmental movement. Check out the
The Space Needle and Pacific Science Center remain on the list
for going dark. (I’m not sure how the Space Needle restaurant is
involved.) Several other local groups on last year’s list have not
signed up so far this year.
The World Wildlife Fund boasts of support from 42,000 cities and
towns from 172 countries around the world. In Washington state,
Snoqualmie is the only city posted on the official participants
list, although Seattle is involved in the challenge to become
In addition to the Space Needle and Pacific Science Center,
landmarks going dark Saturday include the Golden Gate Bridge in San
Francisco, the Empire State Building in New York, Big Ben and
Buckingham Palace in London, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the
Eiffel Towel in Paris, the Borobudur and Prambanan temples in
Indonesia, and the Opera House in Sydney, where it all started.
Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, a Filipino Cardinal of the Roman
Catholic Church, urged his followers in Manila to be one with the
rest of the world, as part of Pope Francis’ call for “ecological
justice,” according to a story by reporter Leslie Ann Aquino in the
“Let’s turn off our appliances and other things that use
electricity to give our world a little rest,” Tagle was quoted as
This year, for the first time, St. James Cathedral in Seattle
will participate in Earth Day by darkening its exterior, thus
“bringing awareness to the issue of climate change in the spirit of
Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on environment and
poverty,” according to Earth
Perhaps before Saturday additional newcomers will become part of
Earth Hour, as others renew their participation in the annual