Category Archives: Education

Sharing info and solving mysteries: International Year of the Salmon

Nearly a decade in the planning phase, it appears that the International Year of the Salmon couldn’t come at a better time for Northwest residents.

More and more people are beginning to recognize the importance of chinook salmon to the long-term survival of our Southern Resident killer whales. Legislation designed to improve the populations of salmon and orcas has gained increased urgency as these iconic creatures continue to decline.

Many countries throughout the Northern Hemisphere have joined together in a campaign to raise public awareness about salmon this year and to increase the support for scientific research and restoration projects that might save endangered salmon from extinction.

One exciting aspect of the International Year of the Salmon, or IYS, is a scientific expedition involving 21 researchers from five countries. This international dream team will depart Sunday from Vancouver, British Columbia, to engage in a month of research into the secrets of salmon survival. I described this long-anticipated endeavor in an article published today in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

I’m hoping that communication with the Russian research vessel carrying these scientists will be adequate to learn about how they are faring along the way, as they traverse 6,000 miles of ocean in a back-and-forth pattern.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before, considering the breadth of work we will be doing in the Gulf of Alaska in the winter,” said Dick Beamish, a longtime Canadian salmon researcher who organized the expedition.

Fernando Lessa, who photographed a person releasing chinook salmon, was named the winner in a photo contest kicking off the International Year of the Salmon.
Photo: Fernando Lessa

The IYS is also fairly unique, involving numerous salmon-rearing countries. This year, 2019, is the “focal year,” but outreach, research and analysis will continue through 2022.

“The extraordinary life histories of salmon in the Northern Hemisphere exposes them to many environmental and human-caused factors influencing their health and abundance,” states the webpage for the campaign. “We want to bring people together, share and develop knowledge, raise awareness and take action.”

Goals of the IYS include:

  • Developing a greater understanding of what drives salmon abundance,
  • Encouraging scientists, decision-makers and the public to identify and start solving the problems that salmon face,
  • Working to implement conservation and restoration strategies for salmon,
  • Inspiring a new generation of people committed to saving salmon on an international scale, and
  • Improving awareness of the ecological, social, cultural and economic importance of salmon.

To kick off the Year of the Salmon, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission held a photo contest last fall. The theme of “Salmon and people in a changing world” matched the theme of the IYS. The winning photo, shown on this page, is titled “Releasing some chinook fry in Surrey!” by photographer Fernando Lessa, a resident of North Vancouver, B.C.

Events scheduled this year include:

Salmon Recovery Conference: April 8-9, Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The conference brings together those involved in salmon recovery in Washington state with the idea of sharing best practices and improving local recovery plans.

The Second North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission IYS Workshop: May 18-20, Portland, Ore. The workshop will focus on the latest information on salmon, including their migration, distribution, growth and survival.

World Salmon Forum: Aug. 21-23, Seattle. The forum aims to bring together scientists, advocates and foundations with an interest in understanding the science and improving the management of wild salmon in both the Pacific and Atlantic regions.

Coho Festival, 2019: Sept. 8, West Vancouver, B.C. The festival, put on by the Coho Society, is a celebration of returning salmon and a fund-raiser for salmon-restoration projects.

To recognize that salmon are cherished on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, I’ve included a video featuring George Eustice, Great Britain’s Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Many organizations have proposed specific projects this year, including some mentioned on the IYS website.

Documents and websites related to IYS:

Climate Sense: Congressional hearings and the Green New Deal

Congress is becoming active on climate change — at least with respect to hearings and proposed legislation. Progressive Democrats, including newly elected members of the House, are expressing hope that climate change will be taken off the back burner and brought to a simmering boil. I would also like to point you to some new findings about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan region of Asia.

Item 1: Climate change hearings

In taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, House leaders wasted no time this week in turning their attention to climate change. Three separate hearings were held on the issue, two at the same time on Wednesday and the third on Thursday.

The Democrats’ strategy seems to be for members to spell out the science of climate change, describe the environmental dangers and balance the economic risks and benefits of possible solutions. But, as described by National Public Radio reporter Rebecca Hersher, Democrats must unify their own approaches to the problem while trying to bring Republicans into the discussion.

“You know, I don’t think there’s going to be universal agreement on a high bipartisan level to do anything about climate change,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in the interview with Hersher (above).

The hearing in Grijalva’s committee (first video) opens with two governors, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican.

“In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue,” says Republican Baker in his testimony (PDF 249 kb). “While there may sometimes be disagreement on specific policies, we understand the science and we know the impacts are real.

“We know through experience that mitigation to clean up our energy supply and transportation system, paired with adaptation strategies to reduce risk and build resilience can foster strong communities, protect residents and natural resources, and contribute to strong economic growth and innovation throughout the state.”

Check out the committee’s website for a list of speakers and links to their prepared testimony.

The title of the concurrent hearing on Wednesday was “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change.” It was before the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change under the Energy and Commerce Committee. Despite the word “climate” in the formal name of the committee, there have been no climate-change hearings before the committee for six years while Democrats were in the wilderness.

Watch the hearing in the second video on this page. For a list of witnesses and their prepared testimony, go to the subcommittee’s webpage on the hearing.

The following day, Thursday, the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing focused largely on the effects of climate change on the ocean. Watch the third video for details.

Chairman Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, said at the outset that he wanted to change the tone and approach of the discussions about climate change. He said he intends to allow Republican members to call witnesses of their choosing and he hoped that both parties could even agree to some “joint” witnesses.

It didn’t take long, however, for Huffman to express disappointment, after Republicans called witnesses who downplayed the urgency of climate change. Huffman even pushed back against Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician with the Heritage Foundation, who claimed that reducing greenhouse gases could have devastating impacts on the economy.

“I’m a little disappointed that instead of focusing on the health of our oceans and some of the seemingly obvious things we need to acknowledge and work on together, that we got this thick denialism,” Huffman told Eos reporter Randy Showstack after the hearing. “It’s sort of the last gasp of a certain type of politics that is starting to give way to reality and to science. But we’ll continue to see it from time to time…

“It is cold comfort to the lobstermen that a statistician from the Heritage Foundation hypothesizes that there may be beneficial aspects to CO2 concentrations,” he continued. “They’re losing their industry because of ocean acidification, and I don’t think they’re interested in these intellectual games that right-wing institutes want to play on this issue.”

The hearing is shown in the third video on this page. A witness list and links to prepared testimony can be found on the committee’s webpage.

Item 2: Green New Deal

Liberal Democrats, led by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, rolled out a plan this week to battle climate change under the title Green New Deal.

“The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republicans greeted it with derision,” noted reporters Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. “Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote, according to a Democratic leadership aide with direct knowledge of her plans.”

I was going to share a fact sheet to help explain what the program would entail, but there’s been some controversy about various drafts of the fact sheets floating around, and some versions have even been called “a hoax” by advisers to the Green New Deal campaign. See today’s story by Tal Axelrod in “The Hill.”

Anyway, Ocasio-Cortez is pointing people to the actual resolution submitted to Congress. Perhaps some reliable fact sheets will be written from the resolution, with opposing viewpoints considered.

Item 3: Melting Himalayan glaciers

High-altitude glaciers, such as those in the Himalayan Mountains, are melting faster than ice packs at lower elevations, placing huge populations at risk of social upheaval before many other places around the world, according to a comprehensive new report.

River flows in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra are expected to increase until about 2050 as the glaciers melt away, and then decrease to catastrophic flows as the ice disappears.

Half the children in Himalayan villages are already undernourished, placing them at greater risk from climate change, as reported in the Nepali Times, which addresses the report.

“Nepal’s national poverty rate is 23 percent, but 42 percent of the country’s mountain dwellers are poor,” says the story by Kunda Dixit, who quotes from the report. “Because they have fewer choices, the poorest are already beginning to suffer from erratic weather and other impacts of climate change, adding to the push-factors in outmigration.

“The report also lays out policy options for countries in the Himalaya, which include increased cross-border cooperation among them to battle common threats. One concrete step would be China, Nepal and India cooperating on disaster early warning on future Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. The report also calls for added investment in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal targets which would build resilience among mountain peoples by giving them more options to adapt.”

The 627-page report, called “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment,” can be reviewed through the Springer link. The last video on this page is a discussion by David Molden, head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, which produced the report.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Climate Sense: U.S. stuck in icebox while Australia comes out of the oven

Last week, I shared stories about a record heat wave that has been causing severe fires, drought and medical emergencies in Australia. This week, I was pleased to see climatologists and meteorologists in the U.S. take time to explain to average people how we can have bitter cold amid a phenomenon called climate change, which is raising the average temperature across the Earth.

By the way, January was the hottest month ever for Australia, according to an article by BBC News, telling just how bad it got. Temperatures have moderated the past few days.

Item 1: Explaining the polar vortex

“The country is freezing in an unprecedented fashion, and global warming is to blame. Sound crazy?” Thus begins a clear-eyed explanation of the Earth’s atmosphere and the role of the polar vortex in a story written by Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist and science writer.

The story, published by Forbes magazine, is accompanied by graphics that help with the explanation. This is a complex subject, so my advice is to read the story carefully and appreciate the complexity. I’ve read this piece three times now, and I’m growing more confident that I can explain these important concepts to friends and family.

Item 2: Meteorologists play an important role

Seattle’s KING 5 TV meteorologist Darren Peck tackled the polar vortex issue for local viewers, demonstrating the importance of TV weather forecasters in helping the public understand climate change.

Darren, who joined a rather sizeable weather staff at King 5, came to Seattle last year from Sacramento. His presentation on the polar vortex can be seen in the first video on this page.

Item 3: Calling on all TV meteorologists

“Climate Matters,” developed by the independent organization “Climate Central,” serves as a resource for broadcast meteorologists and journalists covering climate change.

As stated on the Climate Matters website:

“Knowing that TV meteorologists are among the best and most trusted local science communicators, Climate Matters began in 2010 as a pilot project with a single TV meteorologist in Columbia, S.C., with funding from the National Science Foundation. Jim Gandy of WXLT gave his viewers regular updates on how climate change was affecting them through the inaugural Climate Matters.”

In the second video Gandy explains how he uses Climate Matters in his local broadcasts.

Sean Sublette, a Climate Matters meteorologist, says that Climate Matters is making a difference by providing information and graphics.

“The Climate Matters program continues to grow, as more the 600 media meteorologists now receive our Climate Matters releases,” Sean told me in an email. “Nine of those receiving our weekly emails are currently employed on the air in Washington state.”

Sean said the organization does not give out individual names of participants, nor is it clear how much anyone uses the information. Seattle affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are connected in some way, along with others in Spokane and Yakima, he said.

Anyone can sign up for information provided by Climate Central through the online subscription form.

Item 4: President Trump weighs in

With all the climate experts that President Trump can call on for an education about climate change, why does he insist on remaining ignorant — or at least appearing to be? Surely by now he knows the difference between weather and climate, since the topic has come up many times before. Maybe Trump thinks this joke is still funny.

In the third video provided by CNN, the network’s Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon attempt to explain the president’s behavior.

“Maybe he’s just playing to the crowd,” Lemon says. “Maybe he is just reading the room and he understands that his folks don’t want climate change to be real, so he’s trying to reconfirm their beliefs already. It could just be that simple, because it would be stunning that anyone who has any knowledge and any education … wouldn’t believe in actual science and scientists.”

Item 5: Evidence of the polar vortex

The last video is an image captured by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard the Aqua satellite. The video shows the various temperatures of the Arctic air mass, known as the polar vortex, as it moves around the Earth from Jan. 21 to Jan. 29. The coldest temperatures, shown in purple, are as low as 40 degrees below zero (-40 degrees, both F and C), reaching as far south as South Dakota. (Credit for the graphic goes to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech AIRS Project.)

Item 6: Fewer extreme cold temps

Despite the anomalies in the polar vortex, there have been twice as many record highs as record lows since 2010, according to a story by Climate Central.

“In the last half-century, 96 percent of our 244 locations have recorded a rise of at least 1°F in their yearly coldest temperature, while only 2 percent have seen a decrease of at least 1°F,” the story says.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Amusing Monday: Silly children’s songs about creatures in the sea

“Riding on a Lobster Tail” is a live show produced by singer/songwriter/actor Angela Woodhull of Gainesville, Fla. The program, designed to educate children, comes in two versions: a large stage show with singers, dancers and musicians and a one-person storytelling, sing-along show.

The story revolves around a family aboard a cruise ship who learns about a a variety of sea creatures that they encounter. “Queen Angelina,” as Angela is known in her stage life, tells the story while singing about the various animals.

I discovered at least 15 songs written for the show as I searched for music to fit with the “Water Ways” theme of this blog. See the YouTube search page for “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

I learned that Angela has produced programs for educating children that go far beyond marine creatures to other stories of nature to issues of health and everyday living. In all, she has written more than 300 songs, including down-to-earth songs about getting your ears pierced at the mall and taking care of head lice to wacky songs about populating Mars with potato salad and a kid with two left shoes. Check out Angela’s YouTube channel with about 100 videos.

“I don’t know where these songs come from,” she said in a news release. “I think they are spiritual gifts.”

One evening, a song entered her head without warning and she pulled into the parking lot at a closed shopping center in Forsyth, Mo., to capture the song on paper before it disappeared. A police officer pulled up and demanded to know what she was doing.

After she explained, the cop said, “Well then, let’s hear that song.” And so it was that Angela launched into “The Cow Song” for the very first time, with a chorus of “Moo, moo, moos!” The officer kept his flashlight directed to the singer’s face and never even cracked a smile. Listen to “The Cow Song” for yourself and see if you can figure out how the officer remained unamused.

Angela Woodhull first introduced her comedy music at nursing homes, then moved on to sing-alongs for college students before focusing on children.

“When children dance and laugh,” she said, “they’re more likely to remember the ABC’s of good nutrition, health and fitness – and have fun!”

For information, visit the website “Celebrate Life Arts.” One can contact Angela by email, celebratelifearts@yahoo.com.

Here are songs from the show “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

Climate Sense: Public opinions shift; economic experts propose plan

I would like to share five items related to the Australian summer, medical doctors’ responsibility, public opinions and an approach to carbon taxation favored by many leading economists.

Item 1: Australian weather

It’s summer in Australia, where temperatures in the town of Adelaide reached 115.9 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded for a major Australian city. See Associated Press story.

Records were shattered in cities throughout South Australia, as the nation heads toward what could be the hottest January ever for the country. In at least one location, temperatures exceeded 120 degrees F. (49 degrees C.), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In Tasmania on Friday, the heat wave combined with a prolonged drought left Australia struggling with more than 50 wildfires, and at least two homes were burned down, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Item 2: Health emergency

“As physicians, we have a special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering. Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission,” says an editorial by two doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors can encourage lifestyle changes that reduce the environmental footprint, but they can also play a role in educating people about the health consequences of climate change, say Dr. Caren G. Solomon, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Regina C. LaRocque, an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We can help motivate people to act by clarifying the links between environmental degradation and tangible problems, such as air pollution, insectborne diseases and heatstroke,” they write. “We can also emphasize the health benefits that will accrue as we move to alternative sources of energy.”

The editorial was written in relation to an article in the same Jan. 17 edition of NEJM, a report by Drs. Andy Haines and Kristie Ebi titled “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health.”

Item 3: Public opinions on climate change and carbon pricing

Nearly half of Americans (48%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now,” according to the latest survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. That’s an increase of 16 percent since March 2015 and 9 percent since March 2018.

Read the executive summary or the full report, “Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018” by going to the Yale website.

In a different survey, Americans demonstrated growing support for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided they are given sufficient details on how the revenues would be used, according to November’s National Survey on Energy and the Environment, which has been tracking public opinions for the past 10 years.

A majority (60%) of Democrats said they would support a carbon tax even when given little information about how that tax would be designed. But the same is true of only 30% of Republicans, according to the summary of findings.

Yet a majority of both groups are more supportive of a carbon tax when details are given about how the revenues would be used. Among Democrats, 85 percent would support a tax that directs revenues to clean energy projects or to improve energy efficiency, while Republicans support those concepts at 66 and 69 percent.

Item 4: Economists favor carbon dividend

A growing number of economists from both political parties — including four former Federal Reserve chairmen — favors a carbon dividend plan to “send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The plan has such broad appeal because it would be “revenue neutral” by giving rebates to all Americans while reducing regulatory uncertainty, according to the group.

In addition to the former Federal Reserve chiefs, the list includes 27 Nobel Laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers and two former U.S. Treasury secretaries, George Shultz and Lawrence Summers. Schultz and Summers authored a seven-page outline of the plan called “The Dividend Advantage (PDF 1.3 mb).

“For the first time, there’s consensus among economists on what to do with the money, and the answer is to give it back to the American people,” said Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council backing the plan, as quoted in Bloomberg.

Item 5: Explaining carbon pricing with chickens

If carbon pricing has you confused, it may be time to return to basics with a video featuring chickens as a way to understand the economic forces that could bring greenhouse gases under control. The video focuses on the two major pricing mechanisms — carbon tax and cap and trade. The “carbon dividend plan,” supported by the economists mentioned above, would simply redistribute the tax to everyone, regardless of how much tax they paid.

The video, seen on this page, was posted on EarthFix Media, a partnership of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, KLCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Amusing Monday: Researchers untangle the mystery of hagfish slime

“Hundreds of meters deep in the dark of the ocean, a shark glides toward what seems like a meal. It’s kind of ugly, eel-like and not particularly meaty, but still probably food. So the shark strikes.

“This is where the interaction of biology and physics gets mysterious, as the shark finds its dinner interrupted by a cloud of protective slime that appears out of nowhere around an otherwise placid hagfish.”

I don’t usually begin my “Amusing Monday” blog posts with a quote from a news release, but writer Chris Barncard has described precisely what leads up to an encounter between a fish predator and the mysterious hagfish. Biting a hagfish sends a shudder of revulsion through an enemy trying to eat it. The news release, found on the website of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, describes the research that has led to a mathematical description of an attack by hagfish slime.

“In the blink of an eye (or the flash of attacking tail and teeth), the hagfish can produce many times its own body’s volume in slime,” writes Chris Barncard. “The goop is so thick and fibrous, predators have little choice but to spit out the hagfish and try to clear their mouths.”

Jean-Luc Thiffeault, a UW-Madison math professor, has been working to mathematically model the hagfish response, which can occur in half a second.

“The mouth of the shark is immediately chock full of this gel,” he said. “In fact, it often kills them, because it clogs their gills.”

I’ve pulled together some amusing videos of hagfish to show this strange fish in action. The video at the bottom of the page was offered by the researchers to show how the slime is able to expand so suddenly. As usual, go full-screen for the best view.

When the hagfish is attacked, gel is ejected from glands in its skin. The gel consists of seawater-trapping threads that are coiled up into “skeins” each having a diameter about twice the width of a human hair. Each tiny skein is coiled so tightly that it can release up to six inches of thread.

Previous researchers found that it took several hours for the skeins to unwind if they were placed in still water, whereas stirring the water speeded up the process.

Study collaborators Randy Ewoldt, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Illinois, and his graduate student Gaurav Chaudhary studied the process under a microscope and worked with Thiffeault to describe the fluid dynamics.

“Our model hinges on an idea of a small piece that’s initially dangling out, and then a piece that’s being pulled away,” Thiffeault was quoted as saying. “Think of it as a roll of tape. To start pulling tape from a new roll, you may have to hunt for the end and pick it loose with your fingernail. But if there’s already a free end, it’s easy to catch it with something and get going….

“The main conclusion of our model is we think the mechanism relies on the threads getting caught on something else — other threads, all the surfaces on the inside of a predator’s mouth, pretty much anything — and it’s from there it can really be explosive.”

Improving the hydrodynamics of the system are proteins found in mucous that can help break apart the skeins.

“Nothing is going to happen as nicely as in our model — which is more of a good start for anyone who wants to take more measurements — but our model shows the physical forces play the biggest role,” Thiffeault said.

While hagfish may act like an alien creature, understanding the behavior of tangled threads in a microscopic world could lead to new applications for gel technology in the world of industry and medicine, according to the researchers. At least one company, Benthic labs, is working on developing a synthetic slime that could be used in consumer products, such as packaging and clothing, in place of materials derived from petroleum.

One species of hagfish, Pacific hagfish, can be found off the West Coast from Canada to Mexico in waters from 50 to 3,000 feet deep.

Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

The story of salmon recovery in Washington state is a mixture of good and bad news, according to the latest “State of the Salmon” report issued by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

It’s the usual story of congratulations for 20 years of salmon restoration and protection, along with a sobering reminder about how the growing human population in our region has systematically dismantled natural functions for nearly 150 years.

“We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The report reminds us that salmon are important to the culture of our region and to the ecosystem, which includes our cherished killer whales. It is, however, frustrating for everyone to see so little progress in the number of salmon returning to the streams, as reflected in this summary found in the report:

  • Getting worse: Puget Sound chinook, Upper Columbia River spring chinook
  • Not making progress: Upper Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River chum, Lower Columbia River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River spring chinook, Snake River spring and summer chinook
  • Showing signs of progress: Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Lake Ozette sockeye, Lower Columbia River steelhead, Snake River steelhead, Puget Sound steelhead
  • Approaching recovery goals: Hood Canal summer chum, Snake River fall chinook

It would be reassuring if we could know that our efforts in salmon recovery are making some real difference before we “double down on our efforts,” as the governor suggests. That’s why I spent considerable time trying to answer the question of whether we have turned the corner on habitat destruction in Puget Sound. Could we at least be improving the habitat faster than we are degrading it with new development? Check out “Are we making progress on salmon recovery” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

As I point out in the article, this question is not just a matter of counting salmon that return to the streams, because many factors are involved in salmon survival. Researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are investigating habitat conditions and the fate of young salmon before they reach saltwater, based on many ongoing studies. I’m hoping their upcoming findings can boost confidence that restoration work is on the right track.

Looking beyond the streams, I have reported on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which is asking important questions about what happens to young salmon after they leave the streams and head out to sea. You can read the four-part series called “Marine survival: New clues emerging in salmon deaths” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

The new “State of the Salmon” report describes, in a general way, the work that needs to be done, concluding that renewed efforts should be focused on:

  • Larger habitat restoration and protection projects
  • Better control of harmful development
  • Management and cleanup of stormwater
  • Addressing climate change
  • Restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat
  • Engaging communities
  • Reducing salmon predators and destructive invasive species, and
  • Integration of harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions

These general discussions, which are found in Section 9 of the executive summary to the “State of the Salmon” report, could be helpful if you haven’t heard any of this before. If you would like more details, however, I would direct you to these documents:

One of the most engaging sections of the new “State of the Salmon” report is the one containing “Salmon Recovery Stories.” If you read through all 24 of these stories (not necessarily in one sitting), you can confirm what you already know, and you are bound to learn some new things along the way. I know I did. The writing is tight and informative, while the pictures, videos are graphics complete the story-telling. The section is like a primer in salmon restoration.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to recover salmon,” Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, said in a news release. “We know what needs to be done, and we have the people in place to do the hard work. We just haven’t received the funding necessary to do what’s required of us.”

Amusing Monday: Simon shares quirky, all-too-familiar stories of a cat

British animator Simon Tofield has turned his love affair with cats into an amusing series of cartoon videos, delighting millions of viewers on YouTube and other outlets.

For his inspiration, Simon relies on his memories of his numerous companions through the years — Jess, Maisy, Hugh, Teddy, Poppy and Lilly — but the name of the cat in his cartoon is known simply as Simon’s Cat.

The first video on this page asks the question “Do cats really hate water?” It is from Simon’s highly informative series called “Simon’s Cat Logic,” in which cat behavioral expert Nicky Trevorrow joins the conversation to explain how cats think.

I have always loved cats and thought I knew something about them, but I have been learning quite a lot from listening to Nicky’s advice in these videos. For example, I never thought it made much difference where you place a bowl of cat food, but Nicky suggests that the food bowl be placed apart from the water bowl, because cats in the wild keep their food away from their water source. She also advises cat owners to place the food bowl out from a wall, so that the cat can eat with the wall behind and thus be able to peer into the open space for protection. It’s at least worth some experimentation.

The second video on this page is Simon’s very first “Simon’s Cat” animation from March 4, 2008, called “Cat Man Do.” It illustrates perhaps the most important question in a cat’s life: Who really is in control?

From that first video, Simon went on to produce a series of short delightful animations that cover all sorts of cat experiences, including interactions with other animals. Check out the full list of Simon’s Cat Shorts.

In 2013, he produced a video that tells about his early life and how he progressed to become a professional animator with an ongoing love of cats. It’s called “The Simon’s Cat Story.”

His Latest video, released in December, is called “Winter Games” and can be viewed in the third video player on this page.

Simon’s most ambitious project so far is a 13-minute full color action video with sound effects and music called “Off to the Vet,” which you can view in the last video player on this page. The care that went into this project is obvious, but if you want to see behind the scenes and learn about the intricacies of animation, check out the 10 videos that cover all aspects of the production, from story inspiration to character voices, along with a companion book of the same name.

Simon, who works as an animator at Tandem Films in London, has had a lot of success with his cat animations, branching into:

As for cat knowledge you can use, check out these episodes of “Cat Logic”:

Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year

In October, I was grabbed by a headline on a column by Margaret Sullivan, who writes about media issues for the Washington Post: “The planet is on a fast path to destruction. The media must cover this like it’s the only story that matters.” See Water Ways, Oct. 23.

Margaret Sullivan
Photo: Michael Benabib

As I wrote in my blog post, “Climate change is not a subject that generates happy news. It is not a subject that most politicians wish to address in any form, but it is one subject that separates those who care about the future of the planet from those who care only about short-term economic benefits or political gains.”

Nearly every time I write about climate change, someone reaches out to me to ask that I keep telling the climate story in my blog. I do a lot of reading about water-related issues, of course, and I am constantly learning about climate change — from detailed studies by scientists to government plans to address a future with greater floods, larger forest fires and extensive loss of marine life.

I have decided this year to share some of the more fascinating, ground-breaking or inspiring reports that I come across during my reading. I may provide just a link to an article or scientific report with a brief commentary, as opposed to a full-blown discussion. I’m going to label these brief references “Climate Sense” — as in the headline on this blog post. I hope we can all become better informed about this issue so vital to the future of humanity. (As always, one can subscribe to this blog in the column to the right.)

On Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press devoted its entire program to Climate Change — the science, the damage, the cost and the politics. Watch the entire show at Meet the Press online, or check out the individual segments on YouTube.

It is difficult for a Sunday-morning program to tackle a singular topic, especially in this era of Donald Trump, said anchor Chuck Todd at the beginning of the news show. Climate change, he noted, is an “Earth-changing subject that doesn’t get talked about this thoroughly, on television news at least.”

I was impressed when Chuck Todd threw down the gauntlet by emphasizing that his hour-long program would not devote any time to a debate over the existence of climate change.

“The Earth is getting hotter, and human activity is a major cause — period,” he said. “We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

What Americans think about climate change from a political perspective was covered in a segment called “Digital Download,” the first video on this page. I also found it interesting to hear how some experts thought they could better engage the public in climate change, as shown in the second video.

Whether Congress will seriously address climate change in the next two years is yet to be seen, but we know that the debate is coming to the Washington Legislature, with Gov. Jay Inslee leading the charge. Check out the governor’s announcement or read my interview with state Sen. Christine Rolfes, which I wrote after Washington voters rejected a carbon-tax proposal on November’s ballot.

I would like us to always remember the words about climate change from Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan:

“There is a lot happening in the nation and the world, a constant rush of news. Much of it deserves our attention as journalists and news consumers. But we need to figure out how to make the main thing matter.

“In short, when it comes to climate change, we — the media, the public, the world — need radical transformation, and we need it now. Just as the smartest minds in earth science have issued their warning, the best minds in media should be giving sustained attention to how to tell this most important story in a way that will create change.

“We may be doomed even if that happens,” she concludes. “But we’re surely doomed if it doesn’t.”

Amusing Monday: Taking on plastic pollution with a lighthearted approach

Last June, 10 days after the European Union announced major legislation to ban or otherwise control single-use plastic products, the European Commission launched a public-relations campaign to raise awareness and promote individual actions to reduce the problem of plastics.

The campaign, which asks “Are you ready to change?,” includes a lighthearted video designed to encourage people to question their choices of single-use plastics, such as cutlery, water bottles, plates and straws. Check out the first video on this page.

“The campaign is aimed at young, dynamic adults who are always on-the-go,” according to a statement by the European Commission. “The vast majority of this group is well aware of, and concerned by, the environmental impact of single-use plastics and the health-related risks caused by plastic waste and marine litter. But despite the level of awareness among the target audience, this does not translate into their daily choices: They continue to enjoy their take-away coffees and use straws in their drinks.”

A series of short videos cleverly emphasizes “the seductive power of single-use items,” such as the plastic bag. The script for the plastic-bag video, the second one on this page, goes like this:

“Its seduction technique is hard to resist. Always there when you need it, it waits for you at the end of shop counters, ready to help out and leave with you, hand in hand. But the morality of this fake friend is disturbingly flimsy. It will leave you in the first gust of wind, preferring to hang out with its friends on the beach, pollute the ocean and threaten marine life.

“Help protect our beaches and oceans. Don’t fall for the single-use plastic bag. Start a long-term relationship with a smarter alternative. Why not use reusable carry bags, totes or baskets? A solid alternative!”

Click on the following to see other videos featuring “seductive” plastics:

The United Nations has its own public-relations effort to battle single-use plastics. Called the Clean Seas Campaign, the project has enlisted the support of more than 50 countries throughout the world, many with specific commitments to reduce plastic pollution, according to a news release and webpage called “Tide-turners” about nations and private companies tackling the plastic problem. The United States is not listed among them.

In a UN video, a woman declares, “This relationship isn’t working; I’m breaking up with you.” But there’s a psychological problem looming over her conviction. In a new video, released last week in time for the holidays, the same woman confronts the problem of running into her “ex.” She learns that even with the best intentions it is not easy to get away from plastics in our modern world.

For more information about the European Union’s efforts to confront plastic pollution, take a look at my Water Ways post from yesterday.