Tag Archives: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

Priorities for the Department of Agriculture include protecting working farms and forests by providing technical and financial assistance. The Department of Interior is mostly interested in protecting natural resources and in restoring important habitats for fish and wildlife. The Department of Defense would like to reduce land-use conflicts with surrounding communities while maintaining maximum flexibility for testing, training and operational activities.

“This is really an exciting thing,” said Richard Corff of The Trust for Public Land, who put together the application proposing Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape. “The Pacific Northwest is an incredible area, and within that incredible area, Hood Canal is really, really special.”

Hood Canal is one of the few places in the country with intact forests from the marine waters to the high mountains, he said, and few places in the Northwest have healthy salmon habitat stretching up from saltwater into the higher reaches of the streams.

“It’s pretty magical in a lot of ways,” Corff said.

Source: Sentinal Landscapes 2016

The Sentinel Landscape Partnership was launched as a pilot program in 2013, when Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma became the first area in the nation to be so designated.

The JBLM Sentinel Landscape encompasses the base’s 63,000-acre training area, which contains 90 percent of the remaining native prairie habitat in South Puget Sound. Protecting that habitat while maintaining military objectives is the highest priority. Other goals include working with landowners to implement pastureland conservation plans and protecting natural habitats that are home to several threatened and endangered species.

In 2015, two more Sentinel Landscapes were approved, Fort Huachuca in Arizona and Middle Chesapeake, associated with Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. In 2016, three more landscapes were designated: Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, Camp Riley in Minnesota, and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and other military facilities.

Funding includes REPI money before Sentinel designation
Source: Sentinel Landscapes 2016

Designation as a Sentinel Landscape requires that an area contain a military installation with surrounding lands suitable for conservation and/or working lands, such as farms and forests. These priorities must be recognized by government agencies, nongovernment organizations and other partners in the community.

Designated areas are required to develop a coordinated implementation strategy or plan designed to provide incentives to landowners who adopt or sustain land uses compatible the Sentinel Landscape program.

Corff stressed that designating Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape would not bring any new regulations or automatic land-use changes. In fact, any private lands involved in the program would require the consent of willing sellers, he said.

In a special meeting last week, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council agreed to coordinate interested parties within a Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape, provided funding is available. The designation is supported by state agencies as well as Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties and the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

Boundary of proposed Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape (click to enlarge)
Graphic: Trust for Public Land, Naval Base Kitsap

With local approvals in hand, Corff submitted the application yesterday to the Federal Coordinating Committee overseeing the Sentinel Landscape program. New additions to the program are expected to be announced this summer.

Lands proposed for inclusion in the Hood Canal region include Naval Base Kitsap with facilities at Bangor, Keyport, Bremerton, Indian Island and Dabob Bay, as well as surrounding federal, state and private properties.

Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, said he believes the Sentinel Landscape Partnership is consistent with the council’s mission of coordinating efforts to protect and restore the Hood Canal watershed. In 2014, the council adopted a Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan — a shared vision that suggests how humans can live and work sustainably within a healthy Hood Canal ecosystem.

Another existing program is the Navy’s voluntary Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program (PDF 876 kb), which has preserved about 5,200 acres surrounding the Navy’s Dabob Bay Range Complex on the west side of Hood Canal in Jefferson County.

Partners in that program include the Navy, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Lands and conservation easements have been purchased with more than $13 million under that program, although I’m told that funding may be shifting toward the newer Sentinel Landscape program.

In the first three years of the newer program, more than $85 million has been invested in the first three Sentinel Landscapes, including about $18 million from state and local governments. More money has been proposed for the newly designated areas.

In addition to the REPI program, funds can be provided to Sentinel Landscapes through these programs of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service:

  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which offers technical assistance to producers and landowners,
  • Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to farmers for management practices that promote soil and water quality along with wildlife habitat.
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides funding to farmers through 10-year contracts for protecting natural resources.
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to conserve cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, wetlands and nonindustrial private forest land.

Other successful grant programs include:

  • The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which protects ecologically and economically important forest lands by purchasing development rights and other methods.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, which go for increasing wetland habitat and bird populations while supporting hunting, fishing, family farming, cattle ranching and bird watching.

Hood Canal awards honor local efforts to improve ecosystem

Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, and Thom Johnson, a leading expert in the recovery of Hood Canal summer chum salmon, have been named recipients of this year’s Hood Canal Environmental Awards.

Other recipients of the awards, which are sponsored by Hood Canal Coordinating Council, are Shore Friendly Mason and Shore Friendly Kitsap, two programs that actively enlist waterfront property owners in the protection and restoration of their shorelines.

Hood Canal // Photo: Dale Ireland
Hood Canal // Photo: Dale Ireland

I learned this afternoon that the awards ceremony on Nov. 4 will be dedicated to Rich Geiger, the longtime district engineer for Mason Conservation District. Rich, who died unexpectedly on Sept. 22, held the “technical vision” for the restoration of the Skokomish River watershed, according to Mike Anderson. (See Water Ways, Oct. 8.)

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Hood Canal council names winners of environmental awards

Beards Cove Community Organization and Newberry Hill Heritage Park Stewards are this year’s winners of the Hood Canal Environmental Achievement Awards.

The awards, sponsored by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, recognize people and groups that have taken actions and fostered relationships to improve the health of the Hood Canal environment.

The 500 property owners in the Beards Cove community were credited with developing relationships with Great Peninsula Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to restore an estuary near the Union River on the North Shore of Hood Canal.

The Beards Cove Restoration Project completes the final segment of 1.7 miles of unbroken saltmarsh along the shoreline. The project removed 45,000 cubic yards of fill, derelict structures and a septic system. The work included reconfiguring the shoreline and planting the area with native vegetation, all to enhance salmon habitat.

The Beards Cove project was described in a Kitsap Sun story by Arla Shepherd Bull and in a Water Ways blog entry I wrote about the history of the Beards Cove development leading to the need for restoration.

Stewards working to improve Newberry Hill Heritage Park are protecting fish and wildlife in the area, which includes the Anderson Creek watershed, which drains to Hood Canal. The group built a fence to protect a beaver dam, which provides habitat for coho and other fish, along with a foot bridge that maintains access to a flooded trail. The group helped develop a forest-management plan to restore ecological health to the park. Members are known for expanding their knowledge about forests, streams and wetlands.

When writing the 10-part series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound,” I talked to steward Frank Stricklin, who probably knows the park land better than anyone else. The specific story, titled “Health of forests plays key role in health of Puget Sound,” focused on forests and other upland areas.

The awards will be presented Friday at a conference that will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council. Speakers will include Donna Simmons, one of the council’s founders who will describe the history of the organization. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer will discuss his Save Our Sound legislation and how to move forward with ecosystem restoration. I will contribute to the discussion by talking about my reporting career as it relates to Hood Canal.

The event will be held at Lucky Dog Casino Event Center. Those who would like to attend should contact Robin Lawlis at the coordinating council, (360) 394-0046 or rlawlis@hccc.wa.gov. For information, check the fact sheet on the HCCC’s website.

The Hood Canal Coordinating Council was established in 1985 to improve the water quality of Hood Canal. It has expanded its mission to include improving the ecological health of the canal. The group is made up of the county commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along with the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.

Vital sign indicators revised to reflect human values for Puget Sound

When it comes to restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem, human beings really do matter — in some ways that are obvious and in some ways that are fairly subtle.

The Puget Sound Leadership Council, which oversees the restoration of Puget Sound, acknowledged this fact yesterday when adopting a new set of ecosystem indicators to measure how Puget Sound influences the health and well-being of humans.

It’s often said that people have damaged the Puget Sound ecosystem through years of abuse. They say it will take years of restoration — by people — to return things to a healthy condition. But why do we care? Are we spending millions of dollars on restoration just to benefit fish and wildlife, or are we doing it for ourselves?

The answer, which comes from studies of economics and human behavior, appears to be that helping fish and wildlife — by putting the ecosystem back together — also benefits humans in a variety of ways.

When the Washington Legislature told the Puget Sound Partnership to go forth and lead the way toward restoring Puget Sound to health, our lawmakers understood that people would be the primary beneficiaries. The first two goals assigned to the partnership, as articulated by RCW 90.71.300:

  • A healthy human population supported by a healthy Puget Sound that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem;
  • A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning Puget Sound ecosystem;

The other three goals are related to native species, habitats and water supplies.

Sometimes goals related to human values conflict with goals to restore ecological functions. For example, one cannot build a house on undeveloped land without altering the ecosystem in some negative ways. Sometimes human values are aligned with ecological values, such when we reduce pollution to clean up streams and drinking water. In any case, these new ecosystem indicators will help people understand the tradeoffs and opportunities of various actions.

As I pointed out last month in Water Ways, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council has completed a plan and associated website that highlights connections between human well-being and natural resources in the Hood Canal region. Hood Canal became a pilot project for the indicators approved yesterday for all of Puget Sound. Some of the same folks — including social scientist Kelly Biedenweg of the Puget Sound Institute — were involved in creating nine new “vital signs” with indicators to track human-related changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Unlike the original human health and human well-being indicators adopted in 2010, these new indicators have undergone an extensive review by scientists and other experts to ensure their validity and reliability. That is, these new indicators have real meaning in connecting human beings to the ecological functions of Puget Sound.

In yesterday’s meeting, Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Leadership Council, said the human dimension is often ignored in favor of empirical science.

“This is a hard thing to do,” she said about developing the new indicators. “This is sort of a brave new world, and I think it is true that we live in this world whether we call it out like this or not.”

Council member Stephanie Solien said she would like to see more discussions about human health and well-being issues — not because they are more important than species and habitats, but because they make connections to average people.

“People are self-interested,” she said. “They care about their health, their family’s health, the health of their communities. The more we can draw those connections to Puget Sound and healthy watersheds, I think we will be more successful in our work around ecosystems and saving species.”

Hear the full discussion on TVW in the video player on this page, and download the resolution and backup documents (PDF 2.9 mb) from the Puget Sound Partnership’s website.

Here are the four new vital signs and associated indicators related to human health:

1. OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Measured by 1) Percent of swimming beaches meeting bacterial standards (one of the existing indicators), 2) Average hours people spend having fun outdoors, 3) Average hours people spend working outdoors.

2. AIR QUALITY: Indicators to be determined from existing data.

3. LOCAL FOODS: Availability of wild foods, such the ability to catch fish, collect shellfish, harvest plants and hunt for game.

4. DRINKING WATER: Indicators to be determined from information about water systems.

Here are the five new vital signs and associated indicators related to human well-being:

5. ECONOMIC VITALITY: Measured by 1) Value of natural resources produced by industry, including commercial fishing, shellfish harvesting, timber production, agriculture, mining and tourism; 2) Value produced by natural-resource industries compared to gross domestic product of all other industries in the region; 3) Number of jobs in natural-resource industries.

6. CULTURAL WELL-BEING: Percent of residents who feel they are able to maintain traditions associated with the natural environment.

7. GOOD GOVERNANCE: Percentage of people who feel they have 1) the opportunity to influence decisions about Puget Sound, 2) the rights and freedom to make decisions about managing natural resources, 3) trust in local and regional governments to make the right decisions about Puget Sound, 4) been well represented by government leaders, 5) access to information about natural-resource issues.

8. SENSE OF PLACE: Percentage of people who feel: 1) a positive connection to the region, 2) a sense of stewardship for the watershed, 3) a sense of pride about being from Puget Sound.

9. PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING INDEX: Percentage of people who experience: 1) inspiration from being in nature, 2) reduced stress, calm or relaxation from being in nature, 3) Overall life satisfaction based on criteria in national studies.

A new vital sign wheel will add indicators for human health and well-being. Graphic: Puget Sound Partnership
A new vital sign wheel will add nine indicators for human health and well-being. Two indicators were moved to another area.
Graphic: Puget Sound Partnership

Leadership Council member Jay Manning, former director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said he supports the indicators. His only concern is that some are beyond the control of the Puget Sound Partnership, and some may have nothing to do with people’s connection to Puget Sound.

Jay makes a good point, but the social scientists who developed the indicators stressed that there will be no targets or goals associated with human values. What will be interesting to watch is whether people feel better or worse about the restoration effort as time goes on, and how the leaders choose to respond to any changes in public opinion.

Much of the information that will fit into the new indicators will be the result of phone surveys yet to be conducted. Other information will be teased out of ongoing research studies. The partnership has received funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to hire a consultant to continue work on the human-related indicators until the numbers are finalized.

None of the new information about human health and well-being will be included in the State of Puget Sound report to be issued later this year, according to Kari Stiles, staff scientist for the partnership. But some information could go into the Vital Signs wheel within the next year.

New website reveals strategies for improving Hood Canal ecosystem

If you want to know how the Hood Canal Coordinating Council is working to protect and restore Hood Canal, take a look at a new website created by the council. It is called OurHoodCanal.org.

Hood

The website is an attractive and functional companion to the “Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan” (PDF 325 kb), a five-year strategic plan focused on programs that can be accomplished by the coordinating council and its members.

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is made up of county commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties, along with leaders from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

When planning efforts began five years ago, the idea was to create an “integrated” plan that would recognize all the ecological functions taking place in the Hood Canal watershed and create a set of strategies for addressing all the various problems.

The effort got off to a good start by identifying many of the problems, ranging from declining fish populations to fragmented upland habitats. But the complexity of those problems, the variability of conditions and the numerous agencies responsible for data and decisions eventually overwhelmed the planners. It was as if they were trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle containing a million pieces.

The coordinating council decided to refocus the effort on issues that are under its purview while maintaining the long-term vision of a sustainable Hood Canal ecosystem that benefits humans in a variety of ways.

“Ideally, we will eventually get to all the issues,” said Scott Brewer, the council’s executive director. “The board decided it wanted to focus on something that would be the first strategic priorities and then pick up the other things over time.”

In this context, the plan identifies five focal components:

  • Shellfish,
  • Commercial shellfish harvesting,
  • Forests,
  • Forestry, and
  • Salmon.

Also, four major “pressures” are called out for special attention:

  • Commercial and residential development,
  • Transportation and service corridors,
  • Climate change and ocean acidification, and
  • Wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff.

These are issues that the county and tribal leaders were already addressing in one way or another, either through local actions or through the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which is recognized under state law.

The new website OurHoodCanal.org highlights the connections between human well-being and natural resources. The first findings focus on three natural resource indicators — one each for shellfish, forests and salmon — plus five indicators for human well being — positive emotions, communication, traditional resource practices, communities, natural resource industries and access to local food.

A survey last year, for example, showed that Hood Canal generates positive emotions (at least most of the time) for the vast majority of respondents, yet most Hood Canal residents say they don’t often work together to manage resources, prepare cultural events or solve community challenges.

The website also includes a section about what people can do to help Hood Canal.

“This is a work in progress,” Scott said about the planning effort and related website. “We can start by telling a really good story about what is happening in Hood Canal, then going on to make connections and asking whether we are doing the right things.”

The first strategies identified in the plan involve:

  • Working together on local land-use planning,
  • Identifying failing septic systems and other sources of bacterial pollution,
  • Continuing projects to restore healthy runs of salmon,
  • Furthering a mitigation program to fully compensate for the effects of development,
  • Finding ways to adapt to climate change, and
  • Developing a regional plan to reduce stormwater problems.

Meanwhile, the coordinating council has developed a new ranking system for setting priorities for salmon restoration. Refinements will come later, Scott said, but the system is currently being used to identify restoration projects to be proposed for funding later this year.

Under the Salmon Recovery Prioritization (see “guidance” document) projects will be given more consideration if they help highly rated salmon stocks, such as fall chinook in the Skokomish River, summer chum in the Big Quilcene and so on. Projects are given points for addressing specific habitat types and restoration actions deemed to be the most important.

If successful, this approach will result in funding the most important restoration projects, as determined through a more precise ranking process than ever used before, although it does leave room for judgment calls.

While the Hood Canal Coordinating Council works on projects in Hood Canal, other groups continue with similar efforts in other watersheds.

“Everyone is prioritizing one way or another,” Scott told me, “but they haven’t looked at it like we have.”

Scott said agencies and organizations that grant money for salmon recovery or ecosystem restoration could call for an improved ranking process throughout Puget Sound.

“A lot of money gets spread everywhere,” he noted, “but there are some key spots throughout Puget Sound that need it more than others.”

Two events for learning about Hood Canal

Long Live the Kings is holding two events that will give people some special insight into the restoration of Hood Canal, and possibly Puget Sound as a whole.

The first, tomorrow evening, begins with a free film that will lead into a discussion about Hood Canal restoration. The second, on Saturday, is a rare open house at LLK’s salmon and steelhead hatchery on Lilliwaup Creek.

Jacque White, executive director of the group, told me that he likes to show the film “Ocean Frontiers” because it provides a hopeful view about protecting marine ecosystems. It shows how a variety of people with diverse interests can work together. I’ve embedded the trailer for the film on this page.

Jacques said people clearly want to protect the rich ecosystem of Hood Canal. The Hood Canal Coordinating Council has developed an integrated watershed plan that connects the uplands to the shoreline to the deep marine waters of the canal.

Joining him in a panel discussion after the film will be Dave Herrera of the Skokomish Tribe and Terry King of Washington Sea Grant.

The film and discussion will be tomorrow (Friday) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Alderbrook Resort and Spa in Union.

The open house on Saturday will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lilliwaup Hatchery on Lilliwaup Street, off Highway 101 north of Hoodsport. (Look for balloons along the highway near Lilliwaup.)

The hatchery is a supplementation operation designed to restore stocks of threatened Hood Canal summer chum, Puget Sound steelhead and Puget Sound chinook. The event will be an opportunity to view the hatchery and understand the supplementation program, but it is also a chance to talk to people involved in numerous Hood Canal restoration programs.

“The issues in Hood Canal are about the land-sea connection,” White said, adding that he feels hope for the canal when people are willing to learn about the ecosystem and attempt to understand different viewpoints.

Two other events planned by Long Live the Kings:

  • A presentation by Jacque White with an emphasis on early marine survival. See “Water Ways” Aug. 22, 2013. The presentation will be Sept. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Orcas Center on Orcas Island.
  • A benefit dinner for Long Live the Kings, Oct 17 at Seattle Aquarium.

Gov. prepares to ‘pass the baton’ on Puget Sound

Nobody doubts the passion that Gov. Chris Gregoire holds for Puget Sound or that she was instrumental in setting up the Puget Sound Partnership, which has charted a course for restoration.

But how will the work to protect Puget Sound proceed under a new governor?


Gov. Chris Gregoire (right) praises a new environmental mitigation program during a tour of Hood Canal aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil. Looking on are Martha Kongsgaard (left), chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, and Gail Terzi, mitigation program manager with Seattle District Army Corps of Engineers.
Kitsap Sun photo by Christopher Dunagan

It’s an issue that has not been discussed much in the ongoing governor’s race. (I need to question the candidates on this issue.) But I had a chance yesterday to chat with the governor over coffee (she had tea) in the galley of the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil on the way to Dabob Bay.

“I created it, so the next governor can uncreate it,” Gregoire told me simply, a comment I reported in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Still, she said, the partnership fills a need in coordinating the work of many government agencies, businesses and private groups. The effort has increased awareness and provided accountability needed to bring restoration dollars to the region. She seemed to be saying that whatever management structure is used, coordination will remain essential to the effort.

Gregoire filled me in on a story I had never heard before, one she later repeated for the 15 or so visitors on the boat ride across Hood Canal. It was about how the Puget Sound Partnership grew from a spark of an idea that erupted over a lunch with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

“We were excited and got quite loud, as you can imagine with Norm Dicks,” she said. “It was quite a shouting match, and everyone in the restaurant was watching us.”

After that lunch, Gregoire called on Bill Ruckelshaus, former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to head a study commission leading up to formation of the Puget Sound Partnership, as I reported in today’s story.

Both Gregoire and Dicks will leave office at the end of the year, and the governor says she is ready to pass the baton to others.

The reason for yesterday’s boat ride was to celebrate a new in-lieu-fee mitigation program for Hood Canal, which could be a model for other parts of Puget Sound and, as some suggested yesterday, for the entire nation.

The idea is that developers would pay a flat fee rather than construct a mitigation project on their own. Money could be pooled, if necessary, to promote significant long-term ecological protections.

The Navy is expected to jump-start the effort with several million dollars for mitigation of damage from its proposed $715-million explosives handling wharf to service submarines at Bangor on Hood Canal.

Rather than rehash all the work that has gone into fashioning this rare mitigation program, I’ll refer you to my stories and other sources. One thing to note is that the mitigation plan — outlined in a document called an “instrument” — includes a complex accounting system to keep track of the money as well as ecological debits and credits. It’s all geared to ensure that the environmental damage from development is fully compensated in ecological functions.

Here are some links for further reading:

May 9, 2011: Hood Canal council could get millions from Navy for mitigation projects

Sept. 1, 2011: Mitigation program could work for counties

May 10, 2012: Navy selects builders for second explosives handling wharf

May 18, 2012: Second explosives handling wharf gets final approval

June 1, 2012: Hood Canal council OKs program to handle federal restoration money

July 6, 2012: New mitigation program approved for Hood Canal

July 18, 2012: Governor praises Hood Canal mitigation program

Documents related to the in-lieu-fee program can be found on the website of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

A story related to mitigation at the proposed Bangor wharf involves compensation to area tribes for the loss of certain treaty-protected fish and shellfish resources. The story, “Navy to pay $9 million to tribes in mitigation for wharf project,” has generated considerable reader comments (134), mainly about tribal rights.

Puget Sound Partnership’s local connections

It won’t be long before local governments will be called on to do their part to restore Puget Sound.

That’s one conclusion I drew yesterday from a conversation between representatives of the Puget Sound Partnership and the Kitsap County commissioners.

Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the PSP’s Leadership Council, and PSP Executive Director Gerry O’Keefe have been visiting local governments throughout Puget Sound to learn what they are doing now and to gauge their capacity and willingness to do more to improve the natural environment.

It has long been recognized that the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound requires the support of the people who live here. And local officials tend to be much closer to those living in their community. As a result, they can often bridge the gap between decision-makers at the top levels and the people who need to make changes in their daily lives.

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Hood Canal report finds septic systems a problem

An investigation into the causes of low-oxygen conditions in Hood Canal is coming to a close with this week’s release of a final report by the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program.

The pattern of fall oxygen levels show severely depleted waters from Twanoh State Park to Hoodsport with much better conditions to the north. (Click to enlarge.)
Map courtesy of Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program

I described the report in general terms in a story published in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. You may read the report for yourself at the HCDOP website.

What the five-year study learned about Hood Canal seems quite impressive. The full report contains extensive discussions about what causes oxygen to decline, the triggering mechanism for fish kills, the inputs of nitrogen that drive the system and much more.

One of the conclusions, which I focused on in my latest story, is that nitrogen from septic systems in Southern Hood Canal appears to be a pivotal factor in fish kills. When the natural decline in oxygen approaches a dangerous range, the added nitrogen from septic systems can tip the balance, causing excessive stress and sometimes death for marine creatures.

According to the report, one cannot easily separate the natural factors from the human factors that create problems in Hood Canal. The long, narrow fjord is flushed slowly compared to most marine systems. Organic carbon and nitrogen, which are the major players in oxygen decline, naturally come in from streams, groundwater and the Pacific Ocean. Numerous human sources, such as septic systems and fertilizers, must be taken into account.

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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:
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