‘Puget Sound Science Update’ takes new form

If science is to guide the Puget Sound Partnership in its quest to restore Puget Sound, then a new online version of the “Puget Sound Science Update” promises to become a powerful spotlight pointing the way.

The printed version of this new Update, released Monday, is more than 700 pages long. The Update engages in a solid discussion about the state of the science in Puget Sound, But the initial version is just a beginning of what the Puget Sound Science Panel hopes it will become, according to Joe Gaydos, vice chairman of the panel.

“I feel like it is a really great start,” Joe told me. “Once we get everything in there, it is really going to be amazing.”

Puget Sound and its major rivers
Source: Puget Sound Science Update

The goal is to provide a central source of all information relevant to the Puget Sound ecosystem, including human connections and guidance for restoration. This is where both old and new research can be cited, discussed and made relevant to decisions regarding Puget Sound.

Joe, a veterinarian and regional director of The SeaDoc Society, discussed how the basic findings could be enhanced with links directly to research reports, academic discussions, newspaper and magazine articles and even descriptions written for elementary school children.

If successful, the Update will become — or be connected with — a living encyclopedia of all things related to Puget Sound. The structure of the website, developed by both policy and science advisers, looks something like Wikipedia — but Gaydos expects it to evolve. An editor will help ensure that information meets a certain level of scientific credibility.

From the document:

“The policy and science leadership of the PSP called for a rigorous synthesis of science to provide focused input to decisions…. In committing to use the Update as the definitive source of scientific information for their decisions, the PSP leadership has provided a critical incentive for scientists to contribute information and analyses.”

Findings featured in the Update were developed through a rigorous process modeled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which used small groups to synthesize and write assessments about the current scientific thinking on various topics.

The four chapters of the Update are:

  1. Understanding Future and Desired System States,
  2. The (a) Biophysical and (b) Socio-Economic Condition of Puget Sound;
  3. Impacts of Natural Events and Human Activities on the System, and
  4. Effectiveness of Strategies to Protect and Restore the System.

Again, from the report:

“Of the important anthropogenic threats previously identified by the Puget Sound Partnership, we addressed climate change, development, shoreline modification, pollution and non-native species. For each threat, we enumerated the potential drivers, pressures, states and impacts. We also discussed different ecosystem models that provide quantitative approaches to ranking threats, identifying indicators and assessing uncertainty.”

For example, the report describes the harm that bulkheads and docks can cause to the nearshore environment, with citations from research reports. I’ve heard property-rights advocates question whether such shoreline structures really cause ecological damage. Perhaps the Update will be a forum to evaluate evidence from various viewpoints.

The Update also helps to clarify gaps in scientific information, of which there are plenty. The outline format could help scientists and policymakers set priorities for spending limited research dollars or even coordinating existing research programs.

The report acknowledges that this first version of the Update largely lacks information about the “human dimensions of the Puget Sound region,” particularly as it relates to measuring human well-being. Needed is a system that reflects how particular decisions lead to positive and negative consequences for society as well tradeoffs for the natural environment. The partnership currently is developing such a tool to guide decision-makers.

Social science needs to be a higher priority if human well-being is to be part of the equation. How important is environmental quality to people’s lives? Placing monetary and nonmonetary values on ecosystem services would add another dimension to choices being made, according to the report. For example, reducing pollution near a shellfish beach can open the beach to recreational users, provide commercial and cultural benefits, improve the regional economy and offer local seafood at a reasonable price. The costs of reducing pollution can be measured upstream at the source.

The Puget Sound Science Update will be coordinated with the Puget Sound Institute, which has been described as a “bridge between scientists and policymakers.” The institute, funded with a $4-million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, is a cooperative venture between the University of Washington (Tacoma) and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Officials at the institute have talked about an “Encyclopedia of Puget Sound,” to be built upon the Update. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this document. When you have some time, take a close look at the “Puget Sound Science Update,” as well as a “Synthesis” (PDF 756 kb) and “Implications” (PDF 67 kb).

One thought on “‘Puget Sound Science Update’ takes new form

  1. This looks like a potentially useful document as the studies are added and placed in the perspective of overall restoration and protection goals. To be more effective another chapter titled something like Organized Obstruction Campaigns would be useful to describe and analyze the hierarchies of the organizations, and their financing and outreach vehicles (i.e., radio talk shows) of those political and economic players who desire little or no regulatory framework or public education about environmental issues. The largest funders should be named with bios and financial holdings, their networks of planning centers (like the Cato Inst.) should be detailed, and their lobbyists, both overt and covert, should be illuminated. This way everyone would understand the forces working in direct opposition to the goals of the Partnership, to better override their efforts and educate the public to be effective advocates and constituents for their own natural world.

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