More than 1,000 U.S. Coast Guard nautical charts have been
released for public use at no charge.
What started out as a three-month pilot program by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has become a permanent
service. The free charts, which are offered in PDF format, are
especially valued by recreational boaters.
During the trial period, nearly 2.3 million charts were
downloaded, according to Rear Admiral Gerd Giang, director of
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.
“To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to
avoid an accident at sea,” Giang said. “Up-to-date charts help
boaters avoid groundings and other dangers to navigation, so our
aim is to get charts into the hands of as many boaters as we
If you know the name of the waterway you wish to explore, the
fastest way to get a chart is to search the list of available
To help users zero in on the charts they need, NOAA has created
a website called the Interactive
Chart Locator. From there, one can view an image of the chart;
download a PDF version of the entire map; or choose a blown-up
version with numerous maps of the same area, known as a
NOAA also has begun offering its Raster Navigational Charts, a
composite of all the charts formatted for zooming in on a specific
location. That is especially useful for viewing on a computer
screen or mobile device. Free software and viewers from third-party
sources also are listed on the RNC
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical
chartmaker, according to information provided by the agency.
Created by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, the office updates
charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime
emergencies and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a
danger to navigation.
The Coast Survey’s Twitter handle is @NOAAcharts. A blog —
— provides information about the agency’s ongoing activities.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Larry Rutter, senior
policy assistant in the Sustainable Fisheries Division at the
National Marine Fisheries Service and a U.S. commissioner on the
Pacific Salmon Commission.
Larry, 61, was one of the folks who taught me the basics of
salmon management more than 20 years ago. He kept me informed
through some difficult negotiations over salmon harvest allocations
between the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Technically, he was very sharp. Personally, he was patient and
I am pleased that Long Live the Kings has created a Larry Rutter
Legacy Fund to carry out his wish for remembrances connected to the
Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, an effort he helped coordinate
across the border between LLTK and the Pacific Salmon Foundation in
“It was due in no small part to Larry’s influence that LLTK and
PSF were awarded a $5-million grant from the Pacific Salmon
Commission’s Southern Fund Committee in 2013 for the Salish Sea
Marine Survival Project,” said LLTK Executive Director Jacques
White in a
statement. “Without his vision and dedication, we simply would
not be where we are today.”
To donate to the Larry Rutter Legacy Fund, scroll to the bottom
of the Long
Live the Kings page on the topic.
Larry was a graduate of South Kitsap High School and the
University of Washington. He worked for the Point No Point Treaty
Council and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission before taking the
job with NMFS (NOAA Fisheries). His obituary in
The Olympian says Larry died last Thursday of pancreatic
“I think it’s a story of bravery and a story of love for this
place,” says Martha Kongsgaard at the beginning of the video on
Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Leadership Council of the Puget
Sound Partnership, is celebrating the removal of a massive bulkhead
on Bainbridge Island. The removal, known as the Powel Shoreline
Restoration Project, occurred in the fall of 2012. The outcome was
to reconnect a saltwater marsh with the lower shoreline by removing
1,500 feet of man-made bulkhead from property owned by the Powel
In the midst of the excavation — which removed rocks, logs and
huge chunks of concrete — Babe Kehres, a family member whose house
overlooks the site commented, “I think it’s going to be beautiful
when it’s done. For me, it’s about taking things back to the way
nature wanted them to be.”
Reporter Tad Sooter covered the story for the
Kitsap Sun (Aug. 30, 2012). It turned out that removing the
bulkhead was less costly than repair — but not by a whole lot.
Still, restoring the natural conditions provided tremendous
ecological benefits without creating undue shoreline erosion.
The video, by Quest Northwest reporter Sarah Sanborn, shows the
excavation in progress and explains why we should celebrate the
project and the Powel family. But my favorite part is a slideshow
Sarah’s blog, which shows before and after photos of the
shoreline. It is easy to imagine why fish, wildlife and other
creatures would prefer the more natural condition.
Nobody was really talking about designating an official
“Washington state oyster” until 14-year-old Claire Thompson came
along. Now the state Senate has approved a bill, on a 47-1 vote, to
list the Olympia oyster as the state’s official oyster.
Claire is an eighth grader at Olympia’s
Nova School, which requires a yearlong project involving
something that students care deeply about and can make a
difference. Claire, who hopes to become a marine biologist or
oceanographer, developed a sense of history for the once-prominent
Olympia oyster, as we learned from her testimony before the Senate
Governmental Operations Committee.
The full testimony on SB
6145 falls between 40:00 and 51:00 in the
video on this page.
“Pollution near historic beds caused many closures of the
fishery and rallied the oyster farmers to fight for the earliest
pollution control regulations for clean water and cleanup,” Claire
told the committee.
Ostrea lurida, the scientific name for the Olympia
oyster, is the only native oyster to the region. The Pacific
oyster, imported from Japan in the 1920s, makes up most of the
production today, but the tiny Olympia is making a comeback as a
unique delicacy with natural ties to the region.
Claire talked about ocean acidification, caused by excess carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere, and its ongoing threat to the ecological
health of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and other bays and estuaries.
“Ostrea lurida,” she said, “stands as a living symbol
of Washington’s history, from the earliest Native Americans through
the pioneers down through statehood to the present day, deserving
protection as our native oyster. Please join me in fighting to
protect not only our native oyster but our waters as well.”
Claire is the daughter of Rowland Thompson, lobbyist for Allied
Daily Newspapers of Washington, who encouraged her to develop her
project and speak before the Legislature.
Jim Jesernig of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association said
he supports the bill, even though it came as a surprise to his
“We have been very pleased working with Claire,” Jesernig said.
“It’s very interesting. From the industry, we did not see this. We
were working on derelict vessels and a whole bunch of things going
on. Claire has worked with folks in Willapa Harbor and the South
Sound. We would like to support this in any way.”
If next approved by the house, the Olympia oyster will become
the official state oyster, joining:
The orca, the official marine mammal;
The Olympic marmot, the official endemic mammal;
The willow goldfinch, the official bird;
The steelhead trout, the official fish; and
The common green darner dragonfly, the official insect.
Since then, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has helped rebuild
native oyster populations in many bays, with one of the greatest
successes in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo. Betsy Peabody, executive
director, told me this morning that her group has great hopes for
success in Dyes Inlet near Silverdale and in Port Gamble Bay in
North Kitsap. A new oyster hatchery in Manchester is expected to be
in operation later this year.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a
long-term restoration plan for the Olympia oyster with 19 areas
listed for habitat restoration:
Bellingham Bay (South) Shoreline, Portage Island, and Chuckanut
Port Gamble Bay
Union River/Big and Little Mission Creek(s) deltas
Liberty Bay and sub-inlets
Dyes Inlet and sub-inlets
Point Jefferson-Orchard Point complex of passages and inlets
Harstine/Squaxin Islands complex of passages and inlets
In an impressive new video, members of the Skokomish Watershed
Action Team tell the story of the Skokomish River, its history and
its people, and the ongoing effort to restore the watershed to a
more natural condition.
The video describes restoration projects — from the estuary,
where tide channels were reformed, to the Olympic Mountains, where
old logging roads were decommissioned to reduce sediment loading
that clogs the river channel.
“I thought it was really well done,” SWAT Chairman Mike Anderson
told me. “Some people have remarked about how well edited it is in
terms of having different voices come together to tell the story in
a single story line.”
The 14-minute video was produced with a $20,000 grant from the
Laird Norton Family Foundation, which helped get the SWAT off the
ground a decade ago, when a facilitator was hired to pull the group
The foundation’s Watershed
Stewardship Program invests in community-based restoration,
said Katie Briggs, the foundation’s managing director. In addition
to the Hood Canal region, the foundation is supporting projects in
the Upper Deschutes and Rogue rivers in Oregon.
As Katie explained in an email:
“LNFF has been interested in the collaborative work in the
Skokomish for a number of years, and we have been consistently
impressed with the way an admittedly strange group of bedfellows
has pulled together, set priorities, and moved a restoration agenda
forward in the watershed.
“We think their story is compelling, and by being able to share
that story in a concise, visual way, they could not only attract
more attention to the work they are doing in the Skokomish, but
also potentially influence and share with other communities
grappling with similar kinds of challenges.
“By helping SWAT tell their story, we’ve also gained a tool
through which we are better able to share what it is we care about
with the larger Laird Norton family and others interested in the
foundation’s approach to watershed stewardship.”
The video project was overseen by Tiffany Royal of the Northwest
Indian Fisheries Commission and a subcommittee of SWAT members.
North 40 Productions was chosen to pull together the story, shoot
new video and compile historical footage.
“It captures a lot of the collaboration and restoration,”
Anderson said, “but it doesn’t cover everything. It leaves out most
of the General Investigation and the Cushman settlement.”
The General Investigation is how the Army Corps of Engineers
refers to the studies I wrote about Sunday in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription) and in
Water Ways. The Cushman settlement involves an environmental
mitigation project on the North Fork of the Skokomish funded by the
city of Tacoma and related to relicensing of the Cushman Dam power
Alex Gouley of the Skokomish Tribe said he hopes that the video
will help tell the story of the Skokomish watershed, as with other
tribal efforts such as watershed tours, educational workshops and
classroom field trips.
Alex said he and other tribal members appreciate all the work
done by each member of the SWAT, from Forest Service employees to
the county commissioners, from Green Diamond Resource Company
(formerly Simpson Timber) to small property owners in the
“By coming together, everyone is able to make more informed
decisions about the projects they are working on,” he said.
UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a
news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists
the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was
not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated
incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for
the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the
I was pleased to announce in
today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the
corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan
will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency.
Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet
I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years,
actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the
past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming
the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.
As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last
“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking
about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning.
We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan,
and they did.”
Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so
long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how
restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the
restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.
But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents
believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged
by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the
state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for
the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look
forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the
discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.
Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check
must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the
documents, which will include a feasibility report and an
environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie
The plan includes these specific projects:
Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars
were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the
Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the
North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon
migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove
the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
Side channel reconnection: Restoring a
parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to
go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating
salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and
ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4
miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal,
could provide refuge from the raging river.
Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being
proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be
breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee
would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow
for new pools and vegetation along the river.
Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback
levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the
Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about
1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in
Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the
river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding
meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered
important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log
jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the
Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain
summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish
considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or
complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be
washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel
for better function.
Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver
Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing
habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter
the channel to improve natural functions.
Because Southern Resident killer whales spend so much time
foraging in the Pacific Ocean, the coastal waters from Washington
to Northern California should be designated for special protection,
according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The environmental group listed research conducted by the
National Marine Fisheries Service — including ongoing
satellite-tracking studies — in a new petition to the agency. The
“Petition to Revise the Critical Habitat Designation …” (PDF 340
kb) calls for the West Coast to be designated as critical
habitat from Cape Flattery in Washington to Point Reyes in
California. The protected zone would extend out nearly 50 miles
Environmental activists have long argued that the whales depend
on more than the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and the Strait of
Juan de Fuca for their survival. Those inland areas, currently
designated as critical habitat, are where the whales normally spend
most of the summer months. But when winter comes around, where the
whales go has been a relative mystery until recent years.
An intensive research program has pointed to the conclusion that
all three pods venture into Pacific Ocean, and K and L pods travel
far down the coast. Research methods include a coastal network of
people watching for whales, passive recorders to pick up sounds
from the orcas, and work from large and small research vessels.
Satellite tracking has allowed researchers to map the whales’
Water Ways, Jan. 14.) In addition, forage activity has been
observed where rivers drain into the ocean, and many researchers
believe that the Columbia River may be especially important.
In addition to the proposal to expand critical habitat, the
petition calls for NMFS to include man-made noise among the
characteristics getting special attention. The petition states:
“Moreover, in revising the critical habitat designation for
Southern Resident killer whales, NMFS must also preserve waters in
which anthropogenic noise does not exceed levels that inhibit
communication, disrupt foraging activities or result in hearing
loss or habitat abandonment.
“A variety of human activities, including shipping operations,
have the potential to impair these functions by generating
additional ocean noise, resulting in the acoustic degradation of
killer whale habitat.
“Global warming and increasing ocean acidification, both
products of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, also contribute
to rising levels of ambient noise.”
Characteristics already considered in protecting the orcas’
critical habitat include water quality, prey quality and abundance,
and adequate room to move, rest and forage.
I thought it was interesting that the Center for Biological
Diversity would petition the agency to expand critical habitat for
the Southern Residents at a time when federal researchers are
building a pretty strong case to do that on their own.
Sarah Uhlemann, a senior attorney at the center, told me that
she sees the petition as supportive of those research efforts,
which seem to be building toward a legal and policy shift:
“They have been putting a lot of funding into that research, and
we’re thrilled about that. The agency has been pretty clear that it
does intend to designate critical habitat in the winter range.
“This petition puts them on a time frame. They have 90 days to
decide if the petition may be warranted… Within a year, they must
inform the public about what their plans are.
“This is supportive of what the agency already has in mind. It
just gives them a little kick to move forward faster.”
The Endangered Species Act defines critical habitat as “the
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species
… on which are found those physical or biological features …
essential to the conservation of the species and … which may
require special management considerations or protection.”
Within critical habitat, federal agencies are required to focus
on features important to the survival of the species.
The petition mentions a recent study suggesting that Southern
Residents may require consistent availability of chinook salmon,
rather than “high numbers of fish that are only available for a
short period of time.” If those findings hold up, coastal foraging
may be critical to the population’s survival, the petition says,
citing work by Katherine Ayres of the University of Washington’s
Center for Conservation Biology.
The Ayres study concludes that the whales become “somewhat
food-limited during the course of the summer” and, therefore, “the
early spring period when the whales are typically in coastal waters
might be a more important foraging time than was previously
It could be pointed out that the Southern Residents spent little
time in Puget Sound this year, and researchers speculate that they
may have been finding better prospects for food among the more
abundant runs of chinook returning to the Columbia River.
While J and K pods have have begun to rebound in population, L
pod has declined to historic lows, totaling only 36 individuals
last fall. Where there is uncertainty, the petition calls on NMFS
to act on the side of protection. The petition states:
“Without proper oversight, human activities will continue to
degrade this region, compromising the continued existence of
habitat characteristics required for the population’s survival and
recovery. As NMFS is aware, anthropogenic pressures have already
contributed to the decline of salmon stocks throughout the
northwestern United States.
“Nutritional stress resulting from low Chinook abundance may act
synergistically with the immunosuppressive effects of toxic
contaminants, present in prey species from both coastal and inland
marine waters, causing Southern Residents to experience a variety
of adverse health effects, including increased mortality. The
population may be unable to adapt to further reductions in prey
news release, Sarah Uhlemann expressed her concerns for the
“These whales somewhat miraculously survived multiple threats
over the years, including deliberate shootings and live capture for
marine theme parks. The direct killings have stopped, but we can’t
expect orcas to thrive once again if we don’t protect their
“Killer whales are important to the identity and spirit of the
Pacific Northwest and beloved by people across the country. If this
population of amazing, extremely intelligent animals is going to
survive for future generations, we need to do more to protect their
most important habitat.”
Sunday marked the halfway point in my ongoing series “Taking the
Pulse of Puget Sound,” which examines the health of our waterway
and asks the question, “With all the money being spent on
restoration, are we making any progress?”
For me, the series so far has been an adventure and a learning
experience, thanks to abundant help from the many great scientists
and smart policy makers we have in this region.
The first half of the project has focused largely on species,
including humans; herring and organisms at the base of the food
web; salmon and marine fish; marine mammals; and
Sunday’s piece on birds (subscription).
Still to come are stories about marine water quality, freshwater
quality, upland habitat, water quantity and the future.
As a reporter, I regret that everyone can’t read all these
stories immediately without a subscription to the Kitsap Sun, but I
have to trust that these kinds of business decisions will allow me
to keep doing my work. Still, many of the stories, photos and
graphics in this series are available now with or without
subscription, starting with the lead page, “Taking
the Pulse of Puget Sound,” and moving through the series:
Some of the larger points from the latest seabird
Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many
populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few
The winter population is about four times as large as the
summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million
Because birds can fly from one place to another, their choices
of location can tell us something about the health of one place
compared to another in Puget Sound.
If the population of a wintering bird species is in decline,
you need to know something about its migration route and nesting
area before you can conclude that conditions in Puget Sound are to
The marbled murrelet, a “threatened” species, is an odd bird,
first identified by early explorers in the late 1700s but whose
nesting habits weren’t discovered until 1974.
Researchers are trying to learn why two similar birds — tufted
puffins and rhinoceros auklets — are faring differently in Puget
Sound. Steep declines are seen for tufted puffins, which may be
headed for an endangered species listing, while rhinoceros auklets
are on the increase. Their varying behaviors are at the center of
Ecosystem indicators for birds, as chosen by the Puget Sound
Partnership, are more involved than most other indicators. They
focus on the densities of four bird species and also consider food
supply and reproductive success.
When it comes to ecosystem restoration, I love it when we can
see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare when we have a
chance to say that restoration is nearing completion, since we know
that habitat work continues on and on, seemingly without end, in
many areas of Puget Sound.
So let us anticipate a celebration when Kitsap County’s regional
stormwater projects are completed, when all the deadly ghost nets
have been removed from the shallow waters of Puget Sound, and when
there are no more creosote pilings left on state tidelands.
Of course, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a mirage,
but let’s not go there quite yet.
Kitsap regional ponds
Kitsap County has been collecting a Surface and Stormwater
Management Fee from residents in unincorporated areas and using
some of that money to leverage state and federal stormwater grants.
The fee is currently $73.50, but it will rise to $78 in 2014, $82
in 2015, $86.50 in 2016, $91 in 2017 and $96 in 2018. See
Kitsap Sun, Nov. 27, 2012.
The good news is that the effort to retrofit old, outmoded
stormwater systems is nearing completion, with remaining projects
either in design or nearing the design phase. Check out the Kitsap
County Public Works Capital
Facilities Program for a list of completed projects with maps
as well as proposed projects with maps. As the documents show, the
regional retrofits are on their way to completion.
So what are the sources of future stormwater problems? The
answer is roads, and the problem is enormous. Still, the county has
begun to address the issue with a pilot project that could become a
model for other counties throughout Puget Sound. Please read my
“New strategies will address road runoff” (subscription) to see
how the county intends to move forward.
Ghost nets and crab pots
Earlier this year, the Legislature provided $3.5 million to
complete the removal of derelict fishing gear that keeps on killing
in waters less than 105 feet deep. The work is to be done before
the end of 2015.
Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a
“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits
and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward
eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict
fishing gear. This is difficult work, and it requires a real
commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to
celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”
The most amazing statistic I found on this topic involved the
number of animals trapped by ghost nets. According to one
predictive model, if all the nets had been left alone to keep
fishing, they could be killing 3.2 million animals each year.
Washington Department of Natural Resources hasn’t slowed down in
its effort to remove old creosote pilings and docks. The structures
can be toxic to marine life, obstruct navigation and snag fishing
gear. By 2015, the total bill for removing such debris is expected
to reach $13 million.
Nobody is sure how much it will cost to remove the last of the
creosote materials from state lands, but DNR officials have
inventoried the various sites and expect to come up with a final
priority list over the next six months. Some pilings on privately
owned land may be a higher priority for the ecosystem, and
officials are trying to decide how to address those sites. Of
course, nobody can tackle pilings on private lands without working
through the property owners.
Download a spreadsheet of the
work completed so far (PDF 53 kb), which involves a focus on 40
sites throughout Puget Sound. Altogether, the projects removed
about 11,000 pilings plus about 250,000 square feet of “overwater
structures,” such as docks.
I have been waiting for a prominent person to step forward and
compare the politics surrounding climate change to what Congress
just went through with the government shutdown and debt limit. Just
in time, out of the woodwork, comes former Vice President Al Gore
with his droll approach to the subject.
“Congress is pathetic right now, Gore said during an interview
“Take Part Live.” He continued:
“There are some awful good people in Congress trapped in a bad
system. The truth is our democracy has been hacked; big money now
calls the shots. That may sound like a radical statement, but less
and less to people who have been paying attention to what’s been
going on there.