Orcas gain increasing clout during fishing season discussions

Puget Sound’s endangered killer whales are becoming fully integrated into annual planning efforts that divide up the available salmon harvest among user groups — including sport, commercial and tribal fishers.

An orca mother named Calypso (L-94) nurses her young calf Windsong (L-121) in 2015.
Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium under NMFS and FAA permits.

The southern resident killer whales should be given priority for salmon over human fishers, according to a fishing policy adopted for 2019-2023 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. The new policy calls for “proper protection to SRKW from reduction to prey availability or from fishery vessel traffic …”

The problem with allocating a specific number of salmon to the orcas is that the whales cannot tell us when or where they would like to take salmon for their own consumption. The result, now in the planning stages, is to limit or close fishing in areas where the orcas are most likely to forage during the fishing seasons.

As revealed yesterday during the annual “North of Falcon” forecast meeting, fewer chinook salmon — the orcas’ primary food — are expected to return to Puget Sound this year compared to last year, but more coho salmon should be available for sport and tribal fishermen. The challenge, according to harvest managers, is to set fishing seasons to take harvestable coho without unduly affecting the wild chinook — a threatened species in Puget Sound.

Yesterday’s meeting marked the kickoff of negotiations between state and tribal co-managers, who are charged with developing a fishing plan by April 15. See the full meeting schedule and other info.

A paper released last month by Fish and Wildlife experts noted that there are “significantly more chinook salmon available in Puget Sound than what is needed to sustain the SRKW population now.” Eliminating Puget Sound fisheries would likely provide less than 1 percent more chinook available for the killer whales, the report says.

Plans this year will include limits on fishing to maintain chinook abundance where the whales are likely to forage, according to planning documents. “This approach ensures that fisheries are responsive to SRKW needs and managed in a way that provides adequate prey for SRKWs.”

A similar approach was started last year, but it was not fully integrated into the planning effort. After the negotiations were complete and the fishing seasons were set, the National Marine Fisheries Service called for additional steps to protect the whales. Fish and Wildlife officials then asked fishermen to honor a voluntary “no-go zone” along the western shoreline of San Juan Island. In September, they followed up by closing fishing throughout the San Juan Islands. Check out Water Ways, Feb. 28, 2018, for pre-planning discussions and May 9, 2018, for later adjustments.

Thanks to a new Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, reductions in chinook fishing in Alaska and Canada are expected to return more Puget Sound chinook to their home waters (Water Ways, Jan. 12). But the goal is to increase the number of wild spawners returning to the streams, as well as feeding the orcas, so it isn’t clear yet how those additional chinook will be handled in computer models that help managers decide when and where fishing takes place.

Overall for Puget Sound, the number of hatchery chinook is expected to be down 6 percent from last year’s forecast, but the actual returns appear to be somewhat higher than forecast. Wild chinook are up slightly from 2018, but they make up just 12 percent of the total chinook run. The wild fish are the ones protected under federal law, because they maintain the gene pool for survival under natural conditions.

Anticipated low returns of chinook to the Stillaguamish River in North Puget Sound and to mid-Hood Canal could constrain fishing opportunities throughout Puget Sound, as salmon managers try to protect enough of those fish for spawning. We often see one constraining stock, but having two this year increases the challenge of protecting both of those wild stocks from fishing impacts, managers say.

In yesterday’s meeting, some anglers raised questions about last year’s decision to limit fishing in Central and South Puget Sound to protect those Hood Canal chinook. Would Hood Canal fish that make their way to the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula really find their way back to the west side? For now, federal authorities responsible for the threatened chinook will continue with that assumption, according to Ron Warren, WDFW’s assistant director in charge of the agency’s Fish Program.

With hatchery coho up 35 percent over last year, sport fishermen might see greater fishing opportunities, although catching those extra coho without further reducing the number of wild chinook spawners will be a challenge, managers say.

Consistent with the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, the Fish and Wildlife Commission is reviewing a plan to increase the number of hatchery chinook to feed the killer whales. About 30 million young chinook would be released into Puget Sound, with another 20 million in the Columbia River, according to a white paper on the proposal. Release areas were chosen so that migration routes of the salmon would correspond with likely foraging areas for the orcas while avoiding areas where the increased hatchery fish would conflict with wild chinook.

Whether those increased hatchery fish would provide increased fishing opportunities for anglers is yet to be determined, officials said, because of the need to protect wild chinook populations.

The picture of salmon returns to streams on the Washington Coast is somewhat similar to Puget Sound. Chinook fisheries are likely to be about the same as last year, while increased coho runs could allow for more fishing, particularly in Grays Harbor. But returns to the Quinault and Quillayute rivers are expected to be down, thus complicating the picture.

The total forecast for Columbia River chinook this year is slightly lower than last year’s forecast of 365,000 fish, but only about 290,900 actually returned — so there are questions about what went wrong with the forecast. Expected returns are only about half of the 10-year average, so fishing on the Columbia could be reduced in several areas to protect fall chinook as well as an anticipated low run of steelhead.

Amusing Monday: Colbert has fun with Trump’s climate views

I’m not a regular viewer of Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show,” so I wasn’t aware of how much he talks about climate change in his monologues and intros until I began reviewing video clips of the show.

Colbert especially likes to joke about the Trump administration’s management of climate change — or should I say the administration’s apparent desire for the subject to just go away.

Last week, Colbert lambasted the appointment of William Happer to head a committee formed to determine whether climate change poses a threat to national security. Happer is a physicist who has no formal training in climate science, although he served as director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science under the George HW Bush administration.

Happer’s claim to fame has been his assertion that global warming is largely a natural phenomenon and that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is really a good thing.

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” he told CNBC in 2014, a comment that did not go unnoticed by Colbert.

If Happer didn’t seem so serious about all this, he might have a career as a comedian, considering his colorful use of language. Bess Levin of Vanity Fair rounded up several of his other comments, including this quote from Climate Depot: “If plants could vote, they would vote for coal.”

If you’d like to dig deeply into Happer’s beliefs, check out the article he wrote called “The Truth about greenhouse gases” in “First Things” along with a rebuttal in Climate Science & Policy Watch by Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute.

Sorry, I’m getting off the track. My intention here in this “Amusing Monday” piece is to share some of the many Colbert clips about climate change. Besides the videos on this page, I’ve embedded links to other videos in the text below. Check out this cartoon intro that describes Trump’s climate change committee as a hapless group of superheroes.

With all the hubbub surrounding the Green New Deal, Colbert presents another cartoon showing Kermit the Frog singing the song, “It’s not easy being green” with words relevant to the current topic (second video on this page).

Rather than shy away from science issues, Colbert may take time to explain things in a somewhat accurate way before going off on funny tangents. Other times, he just makes fun of what Trump himself says about climate and weather, as in the third video above.

When a draft of the government report was leaked to the press in 2017, Colbert wondered in a three-minute monologue whether secret weather reports would be next, especially in light of a directive from the Department of Agriculture calling on its employees to stop using the term “climate change.”

In a cartoon featuring Frosty the Snowman, Frosty says he stands with President Trump when it comes to climate and weather. “Relax Snowflake,” Frosty tells a little girl, “you’re just brainwashed by the liberal media” — and then he melts away.

During the recent cold snap in the Midwest, Colbert effuses about Trump’s recent tweet: “What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you!” If Trump actually believed in climate change, his comment might have been funny at one time. This discussion took up the first two minutes and 20 seconds of Colbert’s monologue.

When the president denied being a climate denier in an interview with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl, Colbert took him to task during the first 50 seconds of a monologue from October.

Back when the president announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, designed to reduce the worldwide production of greenhouse gases, Colbert produced a satiric video (above) called “Planet Earth 2025” in which he portrays the voice of David Attenborough.

In the last video on this page (starting at 2 minutes), Colbert ridicules Trump for his ambivalence about climate change and his claim of having a “natural instinct for science.”

Climate Sense: Concerns rise over methane and auto-emission rules

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of trapping far more heat than the same amount carbon dioxide, at least in the short term. This week, I point you to some new studies regarding the release of methane and news about a potential showdown between state and federal governments over fuel-economy standards.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is not well understood by many people. Methane can absorb more than 100 times as much energy as an equal weight of carbon dioxide, experts say, but methane breaks down in the atmosphere over time, so the effect of releasing a ton of methane actually decreases as time goes on.

Graphic: Environmental Protection Agency

Methane’s “global warming potential,” or GWP, is said to be 28-36 times higher than CO2 when considering the effects over 100 years — so methane is regarded as a major contributor to climate change. Check out the explanation of GWP by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sources of methane are widespread — from vegetation naturally decomposing in wetlands to incidental releases during natural gas production and transport. Figuring out the amount of methane coming from various sources has been a puzzle for climate scientists.

Item 1: Oil and natural gas production increases GHG emissions

A new study led by NASA researchers and published in Nature Communications has come to the unwelcome conclusion that a dramatic increase in atmospheric methane can be linked to the increased production of petroleum in the U.S. Writer Sharon Kelly explains in EcoWatch how the study helps to solve the mystery of the “missing methane.”

“The sharp increase in methane emissions correlates closely with the U.S. fracking boom,” Jim Warren, executive director of the climate watchdog group NC WARN, was quoted as saying. “Leaking and venting of unburned gas — which is mostly methane — makes natural gas even worse for the climate than coal.”

The video, shown here, is produced by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, but it provides a good representation of where methane leaks may occur.

Item 2: Methane leaks not easily identified in some regions

Methane leaks from oil and natural gas production are not only bad for climate change but they are a loss of potential revenue for petroleum producers, so nobody wants leaks. Since 2008, the industry in the United States has been required to use optical gas imaging technology to detect methane leaks, as described by Sabrina Shankman of Inside Climate News.

But the current technology for detecting such leaks does not function reliably when the temperature gets well below zero, as it often does in the oil fields around Prudhoe Bay, she says, adding another example where methane leaks may go undetected and unreported.

Meanwhile, the EPA under the Trump administration has been moving to reduce leak-detection requirements for oil and gas fields, although they are facing challenges in court, Sabrina reports.

Item 3: Arctic bogs could produce spiraling methane releases

Increasing rains in the Arctic could hasten the pace of spring thawing, releasing more and more methane from the permafrost, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters.

“At a thawing wetland complex in Interior Alaska, we found that interactions between rain and deep soil temperatures controlled methane emissions,” the authors reported. “In rainy years, recharge from the watershed rapidly altered wetland soil temperatures, warming the top ~80 centimeters (31 inches) of soil in spring and summer and cooling it in autumn. When soils were warmed by spring rainfall, methane emissions increased by ~30 percent.”

“The findings are cause for concern,” writes Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News, “because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms. The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop.”

Item 4: Sightline series examines methane issues

Sightline Institute, a Northwest organization that promotes sustainability by offering “practical vision and innovative thinking,” has produced a three-part series on the methane issue written by Tarika Powell:

  1. Calling natural gas a ‘bridge fuel’ is alarmingly deceptive
  2. Methane’s 20- and 100-year climate effect is like ‘CO2 on steroids’
  3. Studying full methane life cycle critical to Pacific Northwest policy

The discussion about methane is part of an ongoing series (now 46 articles) called “Fracked fuel and petrochemical projects in the Pacific Northwest,” in which Sightline profiles the risks of projects that would produce or transport methanol, zylene, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and other products in the region.

Item 5: Showdown coming on California emissions standards

This week, Reuters and other news organizations reported that the Trump administration has formally stopped negotiating with California officials about federal plans to roll back national fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles.

For years, California maintained standards stricter than those of the federal government to reduce pollution and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. At least 12 other states have adopted California’s standards, allowed under a special exemption from the EPA. Now that an exemption could be revoked, setting up a court fight.

Standards proposed under the Obama administration would require automakers to roughly double average fuel efficiency by 2025, but the Trump administration wants to freeze those standards at 2020 levels, saying further changes would raise the cost of vehicles to an unacceptable level.

“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.”

New ‘civil enforcement’ proposed for violations of hydraulic permits

Concerns about the endangered southern resident killer whales seems to be spurring legislative support for new enforcement tools that could be used to protect shoreline habitat.

Bills in both the state House and Senate would allow stop-work orders to be issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife when shoreline construction is done without permits or exceeds permit conditions. If passed, the law would require that Fish and Wildlife officials first work with contractors and property owners to achieve “voluntary compliance.”

Working with property owners is the key, stressed Jeff Davis, deputy director of Fish and Wildlife in charge of habitat protection. Under current law, property owners who commit serious permit violations are charged with criminal misdemeanors. That’s neither good for the agency nor for the property owner, who may end up battling each other in court, said Davis, who once worked as a Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist in Kitsap County.

The criminal approach may work well with “egregious violations of the law,” Davis told the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, “but it’s not an appropriate tool for the vast majority of noncompliance we see out there. We would rather work with people so they are in compliance and there aren’t impacts to fish.”

Fish and Wildlife officials have been seeking this type of “civil authority” for years, but groups representing counties, businesses, farms and property-rights advocates have opposed granting the agency any further authority, and previous bills have been stripped down or otherwise killed in the Legislature.

This time, advocates have invoked concerns about orcas, carefully laying out a case that connects the protection of shorelines to tiny forage fish, which spawn in sand or on vegetation along the shoreline. Forage fish are eaten by salmon, which are essential food for the orcas.

Improving permitting and enforcement through the state’s Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) system was a recommendation from the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force and became a governor-request bill in the Legislature. The proposed HPA procedures are reflected in House Bill 1579 and Senate Bill 5580.

Orcas are in serious danger of extinction, said Jay Manning, chairman of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council, which oversees recovery of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

“Without good habitat, we cannot restore salmon,” Manning testified, “and without salmon recovery, orca recovery is highly unlikely. This bill does something really simple and really important to protect habitat. It makes the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hydraulic Project Approval program enforceable.”

The HPA system was first approved in 1941 to protect streams from damage, and it was later extended to marine shorelines. Unlike later habitat-protection laws, violations of the state’s Hydraulics Code have been treated as crimes, involving uniformed officers, prosecutors and judges.

I recall sitting in court in 1992 when a major landowner was accused of clearing trees from a wetland in Central Kitsap without a permit. He contended that the Department of Fish and Wildlife had no jurisdiction over his property, because the wetland was isolated and not connected to a salmon stream. State authorities contended otherwise.

The deputy prosecutor laid out the facts of the case before a judge, spelling out the nature of the stream running through the property, and witnesses described damage to the wetland and the species living there.

When the prosecution rested, I expected to hear arguments from the defense attorney. Instead, the attorney moved for dismissal, and the judge threw the case out of court. The reason was simple: The prosecutor never established that the defendant was the person who caused the damage, even though his identity was never in question. None of the witnesses had been asked to point to the defendant sitting in the courtroom, as required by court procedures.

Later, the 80-acre property was acquired by Kitsap County, which undertook extensive wetland- and stream-restoration projects.

I’m aware of other criminal cases involving allegedly illegal shoreline development. In the best cases, the property owner agrees to repair any damage in return for a deferred prosecution, in which event the charges are dropped after restoration is complete. Sometimes, additional fines are levied. But it often becomes a contentious battle involving lawyers. It seems that more could be accomplished through cooperation — which is the goal of the legislation.

Tom Davis of the Washington Farm Bureau advised legislators to be cautious when expanding the authority of Fish and Wildlife.

“The stop-work order could be especially harmful to farmers who have a very short time to do work on their land,” he said, adding that the bill might be acceptable with some changes, including limits for when stop-work orders could be issued.

Other opponents include the Washington Association of Counties, which has had a contentious relationship with Fish and Wildlife over jurisdiction. Counties have generally opposed state requirements to obtain HPAs for work on roads and bridges that may be some distance from the water. In December, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that HPAs can be required for any project that can affect the waters.

HB 1579 allows for property owners to file a “pre-application” when there is a question about whether Fish and Wildlife will require a permit. The bill eliminates a requirement that the agency approve all bulkheads or shoreline armoring, with or without mitigation measures. That change would make the law more consistent with the Shoreline Management Act, which requires shoreline property owners to prove a need for a bulkhead.

Pacific sand lance at rest on sand.
Photo: Collin Smith, USGS

The concern about bulkheads is that they can cover up spawning habitat for surf smelt and sand lance, eliminate sandy substrate needed for eelgrass, and increase predation of small fish, including baby salmon, swimming along the shoreline.

The bill would raise fines for violations from $100 per day to $10,000 per violation. It includes provisions for appealing any enforcement action, including the stop-work order.

Another provision of the bill adds a licensing requirement for saltwater smelt fishing, which is currently exempt in areas where fishing is allowed.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, spoke in favor of the bill, saying orcas have been “sacred” to generations of Suquamish people who helped preserve the landscape they inherited.

“The orca are going to need us to do a lot of little things and a lot of bold things for us to preserve their habitat,” Forsman said. “We need to push the balance away from so much development back to what is needed for the southern resident killer whales.”

An amendment that would have limited the changes to counties in the Puget Sound region was rejected by Democrats on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Opponents argued that the civil procedure would be more effective enforcement for development on salmon streams in all portions of the state.

HB 1579 was passed out of the committee on an 8-6 vote, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans present voting against the measure. A second hearing on the bill was held yesterday in the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate bill received testimony Feb. 5 but no action has been taken.

With regard to the need to protect shoreline habitat, I would like to refer you to a series of articles I helped produce for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound:

Amusing Monday: NOAA’s top photos, videos and stories

A photograph of a tiny orange octopus was the most popular image last year among all the photographs posted to Instagram by NOAA Fisheries, the agency formally called the National Marine Fisheries Service. More than 2,000 people “liked” the picture and many more viewed it from among more than 150 top photographs posted last year by NOAA Fisheries’ Communications shop on its Instagram page.

A baby octopus found on an autonomous reef monitoring structure. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: James Morioka/NOAA

The octopus photo was taken during a NOAA expedition to assess the health of coral reefs in the Pacific Remote Islands, which had undergone a massive die-off in 2016 and 2017 caused by excessive warm water. The tiny octopus was discovered on an “autonomous reef monitoring structure” used to measure the recovery of ocean ecosystems. For details about the voyage, see NOAA’s story “Research Expedition to Assess Coral Reef Conditions and Recovery from Mass Bleaching.”

Another popular NOAA photo from last year was a picture of a large number of green sea turtles basking along the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Green sea turtles bask on a beach in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: Marylou Staman/NOAA

Starting in 1973, NOAA biologists have traveled to these remote islands to monitor nesting activity among the turtles. They work day and night, counting and marking turtles with unique numbers for identity. Citizens who spot numbered turtles are asked to report them. For more details, check out the story “Honu Count 2018: Help us find numbered sea turtles in Hawaii.”

A video that tells a story of sea turtles also came out among the most popular videos produced by NOAA last year. The story of how their populations are changing is fascinating, and turtles always get attention from readers and viewers, according to NOAA officials.

“One of the really interesting things about sea turtles is their sex is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures producing more females,” says Michael Jensen, a marine biologist with Ocean Associates.

Jensen, working on a turtle study with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, is the primary voice on the video, in which he talks about how warmer waters in portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are producing about 99 percent female turtles. These findings are based on new genetic studies that track where the turtles are born.

“It’s important to remember that they’ve been around for a hundred million years,” Jensen said. “They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs. They’ve adapted to a changing climate through that whole time. However, the climate is changing faster now than it has ever. The question we are all asking now is: Will they be able to adapt, and will they be able to adapt fast enough. We certainly hope so.”

Humpback whale // Photo: NOAA

One of NOAA’s top stories of last year, as always, was a focus on whales. Communication folks put together some interesting facts for Whale Week, including this one: “Male humpback whales found in U.S. waters sing complex songs in winter breeding areas … that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard miles away.” OK, maybe most of us already knew that, but for each of the 10 whales mentioned, you will find links to a lot more details, such as with humpbacks.

If you are interested in Puget Sound, I would point you toward the “marine mammal” section of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Blue shark // Photo: Mark Conlin/NOAA

NOAA’s number-one story of 2018 was one put together for Shark Week: “12 shark facts that may surprise you.” Here’s a fact that may not be as obvious as it seems:

“Blue sharks are really blue. The blue shark displays a brilliant blue color on the upper portion of its body and is normally snowy white beneath. The mako and porbeagle sharks also exhibit a blue coloration, but it is not nearly as brilliant as that of a blue shark. In life, most sharks are brown, olive, or grayish.”

Another popular “story,” which is actually listed as 16 separate stories, involves issues of sustainable seafood, with mention of National Seafood Month in October. Stories address sustainable labeling, consumer preferences, cuts of fish, fishermen perspectives, species recovery, aquaculture, economics, climate change and descriptions of a variety of individual fish species.

The list of NOAA Fisheries’ top stories, photos and videos can be found on the agency’s news website.

Climate Sense: Talking about climate change

The urgency of addressing climate change in meaningful ways — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions — seems to be lost on many Americans. Many others, however, feel the urgency to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

Beyond reducing energy consumption in our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about climate change, according to a variety of experts who have been sharing their strategies for action.

When I started this “Climate Sense” series, my goal was to share information I come across during my readings about climate change. At the same time, I’ve been trying to include this topic in my everyday conversations, sharing new findings and learning how others feel about the changing weather and more serious problems. This week, I’d like to share some ideas for getting more people into the conversation.

Item 1: Can we dig out of this garbage compactor?

Umbra, Grist magazine’s advice columnist, responded to a question from a reader who wanted to know whether it would make ANY difference to talk to young people about how to fight climate change.

Umbra (Eve Andrews) compares the situation with climate change to a scene in the first “Star Wars” movie in which Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are trapped in a putrid garbage compactor with the walls closing in. The anxiety is running high, but there are no clear escape routes.

With climate change, a sizable number of people believe climate change is real and dangerous, but they don’t feel strongly enough to become politically active. This group is called “informed but idle” by John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Activating these people could tip the balance toward real change, experts say.

Item 2: Understanding another person’s viewpoint

Karin Kirk, a climate scientist who focuses on social behavior, discusses why various groups of people believe what they do about climate change.

“Not every person offering pushback is doing so for the same reason,” she writes in Yale Climate Connections. “Sure, some people are itching for a fight, but myriad others have genuine questions, hold only tentative beliefs, or are in-sync with the mainstream science but not inclined to do anything about it. Gauging someone else’s underlying position can help focus one’s attention on whether — and how — to engage.”

Karin’s advice, like that of many others, is to avoid battling with so-called “trolls,” who will never change their minds, while being willing to share information, beliefs and feelings with everyone else. The video is a TEDx talk by Karin in Bozeman, Mont.

Item 3: Who is able to change his or her mind?

In another article in Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk takes a look at people who have admitted to changing their minds about climate change. Many of them started out denying the reality or cause of climate change because of beliefs by family members or friends. They just never changed their attitudes — until they did.

As Karin reported, four factors turned out to be the main reasons that people changed their minds: 1) a close look at scientific evidence, 2) concern for the Earth’s future, 3) weird weather, and 4) a realization that contrarian evidence is not reliable.

Item 4: Building momentum for change

Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, is another climate scientist trying to find ways to talk to people about climate change. She is a lead author on the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

“The world is changing,” she says in the Ted Talk video shown here. “But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”

“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.”

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:

Amusing Monday: Snow swimming; so what’s holding you back?

If deep snow has fallen around your house, you might as well throw caution to the wind and go swimming. Put on your swimming suit, dive into a snow drift and swim hard — freestyle, backstroke or even butterfly. More than a few crazy people have done it.

With all the fresh snow we’ve had the past few days in the Puget Sound region, I thought I could find some fresh videos of the so-called snow swimming challenge. My search came up empty, but if anyone knows of any new videos — or if you make a new one yourself — feel free to share the link.

The first video on this page, posted Jan. 19, shows the basics of the sport in its simplest form. Nicole, who posted the video, is a competitive high school swimmer in Ohio, as one can see from her other videos.

One of the best compilation videos was put together two years ago and posted by Swirly Pancake Films. That’s the second video. Some of these video clips were captured several years ago, but I think they’re still amusing.

The third video, posted in January, shows Andri Ragetti, a Swiss freestyle skier who is shown attacking the snow in an entirely new way. Ragetti accomplished an “epic 2018 campaign,” landing on the podium in six out of six World Cup competitions, according to his biography for the X Games. He was the first skier ever to land back-to-back triples in a slopestyle competition (Aspen 2016) and the first to land a quad cork 1800 (South Tyrol, Italy, 2017).

The last video is a vlog by Sierra, who begins the video with a commitment to go for a swim in the snow. Her discussion is amusing, as she spends most of the next three minutes talking herself into it and then later regretting it.

“You may be wondering, what made you want to jump in a cold, really cold, disgusting cold pile of snow?” she ponders. “I don’t know what to tell you. I just looked out the window, and it’s like, that’s it; I’m gonna make the jump; I’m gonna do it.”

The question is, did she ever really swim in the snow, as the video title suggests?

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.”

Learning the fate of Springer’s stick, a key to an orca rescue

When is a medical intervention appropriate for a sick or ailing killer whale?

It’s a complicated question, as I learned by interviewing a variety of experts in a two-part series just published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

One aspect of the story that I found interesting was how a simple tree branch helped to make a connection between humans and a lonely orca named Springer. If you have read my story, you might be interested in how the stick played an ongoing role after the rescue.

The question of medical intervention with wild killer whales has become more urgent with an ongoing drop in the population of the critically endangered southern resident orcas of Puget Sound.

Last summer, the world watched as 4-year-old Scarlet, a female orca designated J50, became emaciated and eventually died. Medical experts tried unsuccessfully to help her, and they are still debating whether they did too much or too little.

In contrast, we have the story of Springer, or A73, an orphan killer whale who was successfully rescued from Puget Sound, nursed back to health and returned to her family in Northern British Columbia.

Differences between the two cases are stark. No doubt the biggest difference is that Springer was all alone, whereas Scarlet stayed with her close-knit family. Anything done to Scarlet, helpful or not, had effects on all the orcas around her.

As I learned while talking to folks about Springer, the lonely whale found an attachment to humans through a stick, which served as both a back scratcher and a toy. The stick became the key to getting a blood sample from a moving whale, and the blood sample was essential to moving ahead with the rescue, as I explained in the story.

What happened to the stick after Springer was captured and taken to a net pen for rehab?

Dr. Pete Schroeder, a veterinarian who helped get the blood sample, told me the stick stayed with the whale in the net pen. Sometimes people working with her would bring out the stick after she ate her meal of fish. It was a type of reward, Pete said. He calls the stick a “transitional object,” a term from psychology for an item that brings comfort.

“She loved that stick,” Pete said. “She swam up to it, recognized it and did 360s around it.”

The stick also went with Springer to Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island, where she was released to her family calling to her through the water.

A First Nations dance group, called the Le-La-La Dancers, is known for performing traditional Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced kwa kwa key wok) dances, representing the First Nations culture of the North Vancouver Island region. One dance is enhanced with a unique five-foot-long mask of a killer whale. The dancer’s moves — up and down, and side to side — represent the diving, breaching and swimming of a killer whale. Check out the video on this page.

As Pete recalled, “They used that special orca mask in a ceremony as we handed the stick over to the First Nations band. We hoped that they could use it to somehow influence Springer’s homecoming to her pod.”

After Springer was released from the net pen on Hanson Island, she swam out to her pod, but she did not stay with the whales. Slow to integrate with her own kind, she approached fishing boats and other vessels, even as the whale researchers asked boaters not to interact with her.

“We knew we had a problem,” Pete said, “and we were asked by the First Nations people to attend a meeting.”

The researchers were told about the history and culture of the native people and the spiritual relationships with the animals of the region, especially the killer whales.

George Taylor, who leads the Le-La-La Dancers, said a special ceremony was held for Springer using the killer whale mask and the stick. The dance with the mask has been performed many times, George told me. It represents the transformation of a killer whale into a man.

The “sacred stick,” as George calls it, was brought into the ceremonial dance to revisit the connection between Springer and the people who knew her. George has long felt a spiritual connection to killer whales, a connection that started years ago when he was approached by orcas during a fishing trip.

“The killer whales came and swam around me,” he said. “It seemed like they knew who I was.”

Some things are too mysterious to explain with science, Pete said. For whatever reason, the timing of the ceremony involving the stick coincided with Springer’s permanent break with the humans and a return to more natural ways.

“After the ceremony,” Pete recalled, “she stayed with her pod and never approached humans again.”

George says he does not know what happened to the stick after that.

Springer stories: Read “Pod reunion: Waters of home welcome Springer,” July 14th, 2002