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Become a witness for ‘king tides’ in Puget Sound now and later

Witnessing Puget Sound’s “king tides” could return as a more popular outdoor activity this year, as Washington Sea Grant takes the lead in promoting the event.

Locations where people have posted king tide photos on the Witness King Tides website

“King tides,” which are recognized in coastal areas across the country, is the name given to the highest tides of the year. These are times when people can observe what average tides might look like in the future, as sea levels continue to rise.

The highest tide of 2018 is forecast for this Friday around 8 a.m., although the exact time depends on the location in Puget Sound.

Activities include taking pictures of shoreline structures during these high-tide events and then sharing the photos with others. One can try to imagine what the landscape would look like in a given location if the water was a foot or more higher. King tide activities can be fun while adding a dose of reality to the uncertainty of climate change.

King tides by themselves have nothing to do with climate change, but these extremes will be seen more often in the future as new extremes are reached. As things are going now, experts say there is a 50 percent chance that sea levels in Puget Sound will rise by at least 7 inches in the next 22 years and keep going from there. They say there is a 99 percent chance that sea levels will be at least 2.4 inches higher by then. Check out the story I wrote in October for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Washington Department of Ecology, which had been promoting king tides each year, has backed away from the event in recent years. In the beginning, I thought the idea of king tides seemed kind of silly, because high tides are affected by weather conditions on a given day. But I came to embrace the idea that watching these high-tide events will help shoreline residents and others understand the challenges we are facing in the Puget Sound region.

Addressing sea level rise may not be easy, but some waterfront property owners are beginning to face the problem, as I described in another story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

During a king tide event in December 2012, the Kitsap Sun and other newspapers covered the resulting flooding by running photographs of high water in many places throughout Puget Sound. A low-pressure weather system that year made extreme high tides even more extreme. In fact, officials reported that the high tide came within 0.01 feet of breaking the all-time tidal record set for Seattle on Jan. 27, 1983. See Water Ways, Dec. 18, 2012.

Washington Sea Grant, associated with the University of Washington, has now taken over promotion of king tides, and we should soon see an improved website, according to Bridget Trosin, coastal policy specialist for Sea Grant. Bridget told me that she hopes to promote more local events, such as getting people together to share information during extreme high tides.

Sea Grant is sponsoring a King Tide Viewing Party this Friday at Washington Park boat launch in Anacortes, where Bridget will spell out what high tides may look like in the future. Warming refreshments will be provided, according to a news release about the event.

Wherever you live around Puget Sound, you can go down to the water to document the high tide, perhaps starting a new photo gallery to show how high tides change at one location during king tides in the future, as some folks are doing in Port Townsend.

For tips on preparing and posting photos, visit the “Witness King Tides — Washington State” website, then check out the page “Share Your Photos.” To see the locations where photographs have been taken, go to the map page. One can click on locations on the map to see the photographs taken from that spot.

King tides occur when the moon and sun are on the same side of the Earth at a time when the moon comes closest to the Earth. Their combined pull of gravity raises the sea level. The presence of a low-pressure system can raise the tides even higher than predictions published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Friday’s high tide is predicted to be 13.2 feet in Seattle at 7:55 a.m. We won’t have a tide that high again until January of 2019, according to NOAA. Still, Feb. 2 will see a 13.1-foot tide in Seattle, and tides exceeding 12 feet are predicted for June 16, Nov. 27, Dec. 1, Dec. 10, and daily high tides from Dec. 26 through the end of this year.

Weather extremes now surpassing the realm of natural possibilities

A new report from the American Meteorological Society makes a rather stunning statement about climate change. For the first time, researchers have concluded that specific weather-related events could not have happened without the influence of climate change caused by human activity.

Three events studied in 2016 were so extreme that they did not fit into the context of natural climate conditions, according to researchers working on separate projects. One involved the global heat record for 2016; another was focused on warmth across Asia; and the third was the “blob” of warm ocean water familiar to folks who follow weather in the Pacific Northwest.

A “blob” of warm water off the Northwest coast from 2013 to the end of 2016 could not have occurred without human-induced climate change, experts say.
Map: NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory

“This report marks a fundamental change,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in a news release. “For years scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes. But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

Personally, I did not expect to see this sort of demonstrable statement about man-made climate change anytime soon. In classes and seminars on the subject of climate change, I’ve often seen lecturers present frequency curves that show the number of times that certain weather-related phenomena — such as temperatures or rainfall — are observed over a given time.

We’re told by climatologists that many of these curves are steadily shifting, so that fairly extreme conditions occur more often and truly extreme conditions emerge for the very first time in certain locations.

Researchers are loathe to say that a given storm, drought or hurricane is the result of climate change. They would rather say climate change affects the likelihood of extreme weather events, plotted at the end of the frequency curve. In the realm of statistics, there is a tendency to hold onto the idea that almost any kind of weather could occur almost anytime, provided that a perfect storm of conditions line up together.

Against that backdrop, comes the new report titled “Explaining extreme events of 2016 from a climate perspective,” which examines extreme weather events throughout the world.

“First, it is important to note that climate scientists have been predicting that … the influence of human-caused climate change would at some point become sufficiently strong and emergent to push an extreme event beyond the bounds of natural variability alone,” state the six editors in an introduction to the report.

“It was also anticipated that we would likely first see this result for heat events where the human-caused influences are most strongly observed,” they continue. “It is striking how quickly we are now starting to see such results, though their dependence on model-based estimates of natural variability … will require ongoing validation …”

In other words, the conclusion comes from computer models that can analyze the probability of an extreme event taking place when greenhouse gases are found at different concentrations. Results using today’s observed conditions are compared with results using conditions before the industrial release of greenhouse gases.

In the three highlighted papers, the researchers calculated the “fraction of attributable risk,” or FAR, for the extreme event they were studying. FAR is a statistical approach used in epidemiology to measure the likelihood of an event under various conditions. For explanations, see Boston University School of Public Health and the 2007 IPCC report.

“All three papers concluded that the FAR was 1, meaning that the event was not possible in the ‘control’ planet and only possible in a world with human-emitted greenhouse gases,” the editors say.

Although this is the first time that researchers have concluded that extreme events could not have happened without human-induced climate change, the editors are quick to point out that the same phenomenon may have occurred unnoticed in the past on a smaller geographic scale.

These findings do not mean that the climate has reached any kind of tipping point. It simply adds to the evidence that mounting weather extremes are not the result of natural processes.

Reporters Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich of the New York Times do a nice job of delving into the concept of attribution science while mentioning five of the extreme events covered in the new report. They quoted Heidi Cullen, chief scientist at Climate Central, which produces news stories about climate issues.

“In 2011, people were still of the mind-set that you couldn’t attribute any individual event to climate change,” Cullen said. “But with each subsequent issue (of the BAMS report), people are able to say that climate change really is increasing the risk” that extremes will occur.



Amusing Monday: The evolution and danger of packaging drinks by six

When I was a young child, we didn’t have to worry about wildlife getting strangled by six-pack rings, because these plastic binders for cans had not been invented yet. I was 9 years old in 1961 when this simple, convenient form of packaging was invented, so I clearly remember the transition. (See Hi-Cone history.)

At the time, nobody predicted the conservation consternation that would be created by such a simple piece of plastic. During the 1970s and up to present, pictures of entrapped birds and other sea creatures became common, suggesting that we at least cut the plastic to save the animals. The first video provides a story of potential revenge.

Before the invention of six-pack rings, people bought soft drinks and beer in cardboard packages, which sort of wrapped around the cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon may have been the first beer sold in cardboard cartons (second video), although Coca Cola may have started the phase. The Coke company claims to be the first to take its bottles out of wooden crates and begin offering cardboard packaging for consumers as early as 1923.

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: Baby river otters must be taught how to swim

Baby river otters appear to be reluctant swimmers when they enter the water for the very first time. As you can see in the first video, the mother otter pulls, pushes and practically wrestles her offspring to begin a swim lesson at Columbus Zoo in Ohio.

The second video, from Oregon Zoo in Portland, features otter keeper Becca VanBeek, who provides us some details about the life of a young otter. Shown is a baby otter named Molalla. The mom seems a bit rough with her baby, but she’s just trying to teach a diving and breathing pattern.

If we want to be formal about it, what should we call a baby otter? A baby walrus is called a calf, and a baby sea lion is called a pup. So a baby otter is called a ______? If you said pup, you are right.

Now for the parents. If a male walrus is called a bull and a male sea lion is also called a bull, what is a male otter called? The answer is boar, but please don’t ask me who comes up with this stuff. Correspondingly, female walruses and female sea lions are called cows, while female otters are called sows.

Thirteen kinds of otters exist in the world. Some, such as the sea cat of South America, are so endangered that almost nothing is known about them Read about all 13 on the h2g2 website.

In the Northwest, many people confuse the sea otter with the river otter. Both are related to the weasel, and both have webbed feet and two layers of fur to maintain their body temperature in cold water. But there are many differences:

  • River otters spend more time on land than water. Sea otters almost never climb up on land.
  • River otters live in freshwater and marine estuaries. Sea otters live in seawater, including the ocean.
  • River otters generally grow to 20-25 pounds, sea otters to 50-100 pounds.
  • River otters swim with their bellies down and expose little of their back. Sea otters generally swim belly-up and float high in the water because of air trapped in their fur.
  • River otters have rounded webbed paws, front and back. Sea otters’ rear paws are elongated like flippers with webbing going to the end of the toes.

Sources: Sea Otter Recovery and Aquarium of the Bay

Other otter videos worth watching:

Below is one of the two live cameras in the sea otter exhibit at Seattle Aquarium. The cameras are in operation from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the aquarium’s Otter Cams webpage to see both cams and read about the otters.

Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a live otter cam, which is in operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit the aquarium’s Sea Otter page for feeding times, when the otters are introduced to the audience and a live discussion takes place with otter experts.

A tribute to Ken Balcomb and his 40 years of research on killer whales

An open letter from me to Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, on the 40th anniversary of the research organization:


Congratulations on 40 years of superb research regarding the killer whales of the Salish Sea and their relationships to all living things. Your unprecedented work has helped us all understand the behavior of these orcas and how quickly their population can decline — and sometimes grow. I admire your steadfast efforts to find answers to the mysteries of these whales and to push for efforts to protect them.

On a personal note, your willingness to take time to explain your findings to me as a news reporter will always be appreciated. The same goes for Dave Ellifrit and all your associates through the years.

I was fascinated with the blog entry posted on Friday, which showed the log book you began compiling during your encounters with killer whales on April 8, 1976 — the very first time you described these animals after forming the organization. The distant words on the page demonstrate how much you — and the rest of us — have learned, and it demonstrates that good research is a matter of step-by-step observations. I hope everyone gets the chance to read these pages, and I look forward to the next installment in the blog.

Thank you for your dedication, and I look forward to many more years of reports from you and your associates at the Center for Whale Research.

With highest regards, Chris.


The Orca Survey Project began on April 1, 1976, under a contract with the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct a six-month survey to figure out how many killer whales lived in Puget Sound. Ken was able to use an identification technique developed by Canadian biologist Mike Bigg. By identifying individual orcas, researchers came to understand each of their families, their lives and even their unique behaviors — which I would call “personalities” for want of a better term.

Speaking of personality, if I’m not reading too much between the lines, I see Ken’s scientific perspective mixed with his fondness for the animals in the first log entry about mooring the boat and staying the night in Port Townsend:

“In the evening, we went for a hike into town for dinner and a few beers with the local folks at the Town Tavern. We spread the word and handout of the ‘study’ to all who would receive them. Most folks were takers, but a few were concerned as to which side we were on. People imagine sides of the killer whale controversy — mostly leave them alone, or catch them to show to the folks from Missouri. Our description of a killer whale study by photo technique seemed to sit well with all ‘sides,’ though there were a few skeptics, I’m sure.”

I actually looked over many of these pages from Ken’s log a number of years ago, but for some reason they take on new meaning now as we look back over 40 years of research and realize how far we’ve come in understanding these killer whales — not forgetting how much more we have to learn.

The following log book entry appears to be a description of the first direct encounter Ken experienced from a boat at the beginning of his study on April 8, 1976, as he came upon K and L pods off Dungeness Spit near Sequim.

“We cruised toward the large group of whales, first at 2300 RPM and then reducing to about 2000 RPM as we approached to within ½ mile of the whales. It was very apparent that the whales were initially concerned with avoiding us. They dove and came up several minutes later a good long distance astern of us, toward Port Angeles. We turned and proceeded toward the large group again and, at a distance of about 400 yards, they porpoised briefly and dove again for several minutes.

“Both we and the whales did not behave calmly for the first hour of the encounter. Rain was spoiling our opportunities for photographs, getting our cameras all wet and dampening our spirits. Even at slow speed and with patience, we did not closely approach the group of 25 whales, so we started toward a smaller group a little farther offshore.

“By 10:05, things seemed to have calmed down considerably. By maintaining 1050 RPM and taking slow approaches, we were tolerated by one male in company with a female and a calf about 11 ½ feet. The main group of 25 whales calmed down immediately and resumed a leisurely dive interval of about one minute to one min. 50 seconds down, still proceeding westerly.”

Remember that this was only months after the final capture of killer whales in Puget Sound. (See account from Erich Hoyt for PBS Frontline.) What were the intentions of this boat approaching them? In time, these whales came to realize that Ken and his crew would do them no harm.

If only they could know how much human attitudes around the world have changed over the past 40+ years.

Mixed emotions accompany latest births among killer whales

UPDATE, 9 p.m.
After a long day, orca researcher Brad Hanson got back to me, saying he spent about two hours with the whales yesterday as they moved from Edmonds past the Kitsap Peninsula during heavy weather. The whales were not surfacing normally, which raised concerns, he said. J-31 stayed with her dead calf a long time, and he cannot say if and when she finally let go.

“This shows the value of getting out there in the winter,” Brad said. “She will be an animal in the focus of any health assessment. On the flip side, we have a new calf that looked really good. It kept popping its head out to take a breath.”

With both delight and sadness, two new baby orcas have been reported in Puget Sound. One newborn calf appeared to be alive and doing well, researchers said. Unfortunately, one calf was dead, still being attended by its mother.

New calf J-55 with adult females J-14 and J-37. Photo: NOAA Fisheries
New calf J-55 with adult females J-14 and J-37.
Photo: NOAA Fisheries

“We’re excited to announce that NOAA Fisheries killer whale researchers documented a new calf during a research survey with J pod yesterday…,” states the Facebook message from the researchers. “The good news comes with some sad news, however. On the same trip, we observed J-31, a 20-year-old female who has never successfully calved, pushing around a deceased neonate calf.”

At age 20, this female named Tsuchi could have already had one or two calves that did not survive. It has long been speculated that up to half of all newborn orca calves don’t survive their first year.

I was not able to reach NOAA’s Brad Hanson, who was on the research outing, but Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research told me that he has confirmed the successful birth and designated the calf as J-55. Ken is in charge of the ongoing orca census.

The note from NOAA says the calf in “good condition” was swimming in close proximity to J-14, a 42-year-old female named Samish, and her daughter, J-37, a 15-year-old female named Hy’Shqu (pronounced “high-shka”). “So we don’t know who the mother is just yet, and it may take a few encounters before we know.” Hy’Shqu, by the way, had her first offspring in August 2012.

The new discoveries were made as the research boat followed the whales around the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula near Hansville, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who was observing the encounters from shore on Whidbey Island.

Amazingly, this is the ninth birth among the three orca pods since December 2014. There were no surviving calves born during the two previous years, and things had been looking truly bleak for the endangered killer whales of Puget Sound.

Now, six of the new babies are from J pod, and three are from L pod, bringing this population of wild orcas to 85.

“My prediction was that J pod would be the saviors if any could do it,” Ken Balcomb noted. “But they are coming on stronger than I would have imagined.”

Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said the “baby boom” of orcas we have been reporting “is starting to sound like a long, sustained rumble — and it certainly is music to our ears.”

But news of the mother pushing around her dead offspring was heart-wrenching, he said in a written statement.

“It’s almost as if she wanted so much to be a part of this baby boom — to become a mother like so many in her pod — that she simply couldn’t bring herself to the bitter reality of losing her calf,” he said.

“And I guess we all have to be aware of reality,” he added. “This population has turned a corner, no question, but in no way is it out of the woods. We’ve got some tough salmon years ahead of us, and that means extra pressure on the whales. Let’s celebrate this baby J-55 and this resilient village of orcas, but let’s keep working to make sure we get fish in the water and whales forever.”

Chinook salmon, listed as a threatened species in Puget Sound, is the primary prey of the three Southern Resident pods.

For those of you following the killer whale tagging study, K-33 and likely the rest of K pod continued south along the West Coast until they nearly reached Cape Mendocino near Arcata, Calif., on Sunday. From there, they turned around and retraced their route back north, passing Heceta Head on the Central Oregon Coast this morning. For their full travels since tagging on New Year’s Eve, check out NOAA’s website of “Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging.”

Since Friday, K-33 has traveled down the Oregon Coast to Cape Mendocino, Calif., before heading back north. NOAA map
Since Friday, K-33 has traveled down the Oregon Coast to Cape Mendocino, Calif., before heading back north. // NOAA map

Hood Canal council installs priority system for salmon projects

Hood Canal Coordinating Council has completed its much-planned transition to a new rating system for funding salmon-restoration projects.

Kitsap file photo
Kitsap file photo

The new system was used this year to rank projects ultimately approved by the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Alicia Olivas, lead entity coordinator for HCCC, said the selection process went smoothly, as technical and citizens advisory committees came to agreement on the best projects for funding. That’s good to hear. In 2014, I reported on conflicts among the various entities along with accusations of political interference in the process. Read “Hood Canal council revamps salmon-funding process,” Aug. 25, 2014, and “New ranking system planned for Hood Canal projects,” Oct. 20, 2013.

The new priority system is designed to gain funding for projects that do the most for salmon at risk of extinction as well as other high-priority salmon stocks. The previous system in Hood Canal — still used in some regions — simply ranked the projects submitted for funding. The new approach will encourage sponsors to design projects for the high-priority fish in the high-priority watersheds.

The priority system was set up with consideration for every type of salmon that can be found in every stream flowing into Hood Canal. Ecological importance of each stock as well as economic and cultural values were taken into account. Next, consideration was given to why the stocks are not doing well, followed by actions that could correct those problems. Projects that gain the most points are those that address high-priority stocks with actions most likely to solve the problems.

In addition to the points accumulated from the priority ranking, technical advisers assign points for certainty of success and cost effectiveness. While salmon-recovery funds are directed toward salmon projects, other ecological benefits include better water quality and improved stream and nearshore structure, all of which may benefit a variety of species.

Alicia told me the advisers are proposing adjustments to the ranking system before the next round of funding and probably in future years as well.

“We will always have to adaptively manage it, as new data are developed,” she said. “We’re doing some refinements to make sure we are identifying the highest priority.”

Some refinements will distinguish among the top-ranked projects, she said. One idea is to establish priorities for specified sections of the top-ranking streams.

“We’re finding that we have been funding the highest priority projects,” she said, “but it’s hard to determine the very highest.”

Alicia said the committees also are considering establishing some “keystone actions” that would move qualifying projects to or near the top of the priority list. The idea, she said, is to allow collaboration with involved property owners with some assurance that funding will be provided.

“One of the biggest stumbling blocks is maintaining landowner support until a project gets funded,” she said.

Recently approved through the new funding priority system were these projects under authority of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council:

Temporary step pools at a culvert on Salmon Creek enable salmon to go upstream. Photo:
Temporary step pools at a culvert on Salmon Creek enable salmon to go upstream.
Photo: Jefferson County
  • Bridge over Salmon Creek, $789,000: Jefferson County Public Works will remove a steel pipe that prevents salmon in Salmon Creek from passing West Uncas Road. A new 80-foot bridge will open up three-quarters mile of prime salmon habitat for threatened Hood Canal summer chum. Jefferson County will contribute $139,000 in cash and a federal grant.
  • Big Quilcene River Floodplain, $587,000: Jefferson County will buy three residential properties prone to flooding, remove three homes, decommission wells and septic systems, and restore the 2.5 acres to natural conditions. The project, which is part of a larger effort to reestablish a stream-migration corridor, includes moving a levee on the north side of the Big Quilcene River. Jefferson County will contribute $104,000.
  • Conserving Snow Creek, $151,000: Jefferson Land Trust will buy and restore nearly 11 acres along Snow Creek, adding to the Snow Creek Uncas Preserve. The work includes planting native trees and shrubs on five acres of stream bank to improve habitat for Hood Canal summer chum and Puget Sound steelhead, both listed as threatened species, as well as coho and cutthroat trout. The land trust will contribute $55,000 in Conservation Futures funds along with donations of cash and labor.
  • Lower Big Beef Creek restoration, $441,000: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group will remove two decommissioned wells and an access road, allowing Big Beef Creek to reconnect with its floodplain and recently restored wetlands. Three logjams will be installed to improve salmon habitat and accumulate sediment. Survival is expected to improve for juvenile summer chum, fall chum, coho and steelhead. The enhancement group will contribute $80,000 from a federal grant along with donations of materials and labor.
  • Designing the restoration of Seabeck Creek, $86,000: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group will draft a plan to replace a pipe that carries Seabeck Creek under Seabeck-Holly Road. The plan will include the addition of root wads in that location and near Hite Center Road. The stream is used by steelhead, coho and cutthroat trout.
  • Designing the restoration of the Duckabush River estuary, $67,000: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group will complete a feasibility study to remove the Highway 101 causeway, allowing reconnection of the floodplain and wetlands along the Duckabush River. The project would improve tidal exchange and sediment transport. Built in 1934, the causeway separates the upper estuary from distributary channels of the Duckabush River and causes sediment to build up in the northern channel. The salmon enhancement group will contribute $236,000 in a grant from the state Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program.
  • Designing the restoration of the lower Big Quilcene River, $300,000: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group will develop a plan to restore the lower Big Quilcene River by reconnecting the river with its floodplain and tidal channels. The effort will include public involvement and three-dimensional water-flow modeling. The enhancement group will contribute $53,000 in cash and a federal grant.
  • Investigating steelhead mortality at the Hood Canal bridge, $688,000: Long Live the Kings will assess the cause of juvenile steelhead dying at the Hood Canal bridge. The investigation will assess water circulation around the bridge pontoons that could affect fish behavior. Investigators will look for predator hiding places as well as light and noise that could affect behavior. Potential management actions will be proposed. Long Live the Kings will contribute $154,000 in donations of equipment and labor.
  • Summer chum use of shoreline, $396,000: Wild Fish Conservancy will assess nearshore habitat and study how Hood Canal summer chum use the shoreline. The findings will help establish priorities for shoreline protection and restoration. The conservancy will contribute $72,000 in labor.
  • Reconnecting Weaver Creek, $200,000: A new 750-foot channel will connect a stagnant portion of Weaver Creek to the free-flowing Purdy Creek, and about 25 logs will be installed. In addition to improved flows, the project will boost oxygen levels in the stream. The sponsor, Mason Conservation District, will contribute $153,000 from a separate federal grant.
  • South Fork Logjams, $225,000: Twenty-two man-made logjams will be added to the Holman Flats area in the South Fork of the Skokomish River to create salmon habitat, reduce sediment flows and stabilize the stream channel. This area was once cleared for a reservoir that was never built, resulting in excess sediment that destroys salmon spawning beds. The sponsor, Mason Conservation District, will contribute $469,000 from a separate state grant.
  • Logjam priorities in Upper South Fork, $305,000: Mason Conservation District will study a 12-mile stretch of the Upper South Fork of the Skokomish to develop a prioritized list of the best places to install future logjams. Logjams are designed to improve fish habitat, reduce sediment movement and stabilize stream banks. The conservation district will contribute $54,000 and labor.
  • Logjam designs for Skokomish, $265,000: Mason Conservation District will work with landowners to select a design for logjams on a 1.6-mile stretch of the Skokomish River that lacks shoreline structure. The conservation district will contribute $47,000 in donations of equipment.
  • Concepts for moving Skokomish Valley Road, $363,000: Moving the road away from the South Fork of the Skokomish River would allow for the removal of levees, restoration of the river banks and reconnection of the river to about 60 acres of floodplain. This project would investigate possible locations for a new road as well as the possible addition of a meander to the river channel and the removal or relocation of a bridge over Vance Creek. The sponsor, Mason Conservation District, will contribute $64,000 from a separate federal grant.

Amusing Monday: A few thoughtful words to bring in the New Year

new year

  1. “Time is like a flowing river, no water passes beneath your feet twice, much like the river, moments never pass you by again, so cherish every moment that life gives you and have a wonderful New Year.” — Maya Angelou
  2. “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right”. — Oprah Winfrey
  3. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain?
  4. “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” — Anonymous
  5. “Life and death matters, yes. And the question of how to behave in this world, how to go in the face of everything. Time is short and the water is rising.” — Raymond Carter
  6. “Life was tough indeed and full of ups and down. May God give you enough strength and stamina to bear the storms and rains with courage. Happy New Year!” — New Year wishes for brother
  7. “The great miraculous bell of translucent ice is suspended in mid-air… The bell can only be seen at the turning of the year, when the days wind down into nothing, and get ready to march out again. When you hear the bell, you feel a tug at your heart. It is your immortal inspiration.” — Vera Nazarian
  8. “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…” ― Alfred Lord Tennyson
  9. “The new year begins in a snow-storm of white vows.” — George William Curtis
  10. “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot

Puget Sound Action Agenda up for renewal

Puget Sound Partnership is updating the Puget Sound Action Agenda and encouraging people to get involved. An “Online Open House,” which explains the Action Agenda step by step and offers a survey, will be available until next Tuesday.


The 2016 Action Agenda — the next updated plan for restoring Puget Sound — will be written with a more strategic approach than ever before, according to PSP officials. “Near Term Actions” will be designed to fulfill specific strategies for improving Puget Sound. Funding needs will be identified.

Next year, the Action Agenda will cease to be a single document updated every two years. Instead, a Long-Term Comprehensive Plan will be updated every four to six years, while a two-year Implementation Plan will include the prioritized list of Near Term Actions.

Proposed actions themselves are currently undergoing approval at the local level, as directed by the Local Integrating Organizations working under a specific time schedule.

One might wonder why the Puget Sound Partnership needs to keep updating the Action Agenda every two years, but it seems like a good time to review what restoration projects have been accomplished and what work should be done next. I can attest that each Action Agenda has gotten better since the first one seven years ago. I expect that the next one will be another improvement.

How will treaty rights influence environmental restoration?

Treaties signed 160 years ago guarantee Native Americans the right to take fish from Puget Sound for all time. A case now before the courts will help determine whether those same treaty rights place limits on how property is developed in the state of Washington.

Specifically, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week heard arguments about whether the state of Washington violated the treaties by building culverts that block or restrict the passage of salmon. (Check out the video for the oral arguments.) If the appeals court upholds a ruling by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, the state could be obligated to fix about 1,000 culverts within 17 years at an estimated cost of $1.9 billion, according to state officials. That’s 1.9 billion with a “b.”

In landmark rulings in 1975 and 1976, U.S. District Judge George Boldt focused on treaty language that called for Indians and non-Indians to fish “in common” with each other. Boldt determined those words to mean that the two groups must share the “harvestable” amount of fish equally. He recognized that a portion of the fish must survive the gauntlet of fisheries to spawn and produce more fish.

Boldt also acknowledged that this perpetual fishing right would have no meaning for the tribes if state actions, such as ongoing development activities, caused the salmon to go extinct. The question that must be determined for now and into the future is what specific “duty” the treaty has imposed on federal, state and local governments to protect the environment in their ongoing settlement of the Northwest.

As the tribes argue in their brief before the appeals court:

“The parties intended the treaties to secure the tribes’ ability to forever sustain themselves by fishing…. Today, empty streams and empty nets belie that promise. Salmon runs have plummeted; many are locally extirpated or completely extinct. Tribes cannot meet their needs for fish.

“Despite ancient tribal and Anglo-American traditions barring obstructions to fish passage, more than 1,100 state culverts block salmon from 1,000 miles of case-area streams. Above those culverts lie almost 5 million square meters of salmon habitat, capable of producing hundreds of thousands more harvestable adult fish each year….

“The (district) court could only decide as it did: State culverts that seal salmon out of the streams they need to survive and multiply are inconsistent with the purpose and promise of the treaties. This decision is but one small step further on a century-long path of Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit cases holding that the ‘right of taking fish’ prohibits all manner of obstacles to the exercise of that right, without requiring that each obstacle be enumerated in treaty text.”

In Friday’s hearing, state Solicitor General Noah Purcell argued strongly on behalf of the state that the lower court ruling, if upheld, essentially creates a new treaty right to control development on nontribal land. If the appeals court fails to overturn the district court’s findings, he said, there would be no limit to future litigation. The tribes could assert a treaty right to remove any obstruction that hinders salmon migration — including dams — and to block any future development that could impede salmon runs.

“On its face,” Purcell argues in his brief, “the right of taking fish in common with all citizens does not include a right to prevent the state from making land-use decisions that could incidentally impact fish. Rather, such an interpretation is contrary to the treaties’ principal purpose of opening up the region to settlement.”

The state does not deny that culverts have affected salmon runs, Purcell said. In fact, the state has spent millions of dollars on salmon restoration, with special consideration for culverts. But allowing a judge to require the state to spend money on culvert removal has powerful legal implications.

The state currently is involved in a major restoration of the Puget Sound ecosystem, including an enormous effort to restore salmon streams. Directing money toward culvert removal could displace projects with greater promise for salmon restoration, he said.

Martinez was not ignorant of the salmon-restoration efforts but said the current pace of culvert-removal was too slow. Experts in his courtroom convinced the judge that it would take more than 100 years to solve the problem at the state’s pace of culvert replacement. After his ruling, the state picked up the pace of culvert replacement, and the Department of Transportation has dedicated special funding to get the work done. But meeting the court’s deadline remains a big challenge.

It seems a little ironic that the U.S. government, which signed the treaties with the tribes, has built many dams and roads of its own that block salmon passage. Yet the U.S. government is a party, alongside the tribes, in the case against Washington state. The U.S. role in this case is simply as a trustee for the tribes, attorneys say, and the tribes still have the right to sue the federal government as well.

Purcell argued that if the court does decide that the tribes have a treaty right that forces the state to remove the culverts, then the federal government should be required to help pay those costs. After all, most of the culverts were installed according to designs approved by the Federal Highway Administration, he noted.

The three-judge panel did not appear receptive to the state’s counter-suit against the U.S. government in this case. That issue might be more suitable for the Court of Federal Claims, one judge said.

John Sledd, attorney for the tribes, pointed out that state and federal laws have long prohibited anyone from blocking streams. One can build the road system as needed for development without blocking the passage of fish, he said.

One member of the three-judge panel was Judge David Ezra, who has presided over lawsuits involving federal dams on the Snake River. Ezra asked pointed questions about how far the legal principles might go in correcting environmental mistakes of the past.

According to Sledd, the notion that Martinez’ decision could lead to all sorts of mandated restoration efforts or restrictions on future development has been overstated.

“This is the first injunction that has come up through this theory in 45 years that it has been pending in U.S. v. Washington,” he said. “I don’t think the tribes are jumping to leap on every little problem out there. This is a major problem. It’s described by the biologists as the number-one priority after protecting adequate habitat.”

Still, the case is raising concerns from the state of Oregon as well as the Washington State Association of Counties. In a friend-of-the-court brief, WSAC said the litigation may not only be costly to the state, “but, if upheld, the tribes could next sue the counties, which could result in Washington taxpayers having to provide another billion dollars or more to fix county culverts.”

Other publications:

Associated Press story by reporter Gene Johnson

Clear Passage: The Culvert Case Decision as a Foundation for Habitat Protection and Preservation by Mason D. Morisset and Carly A. Summers, Seattle Journal of Environmental Law and Policy (PDF 3.2 mb).