Tag Archives: ecology

Puget Sound Science Panel completes two-year plan

I wonder if anyone has noticed that I’ve been away from this Water Ways blog for a time. Aside from visiting my youngest daughter in Yakima, where she had her first baby, I’ve been occupied with breaking news for the Kitsap Sun.

There is no shortage of things to talk about, however, and I’d like to start with the recently approved two-year Science Work Plan for the Puget Sound Partnership.

Joe Gaydos

In developing a plan to investigate science-related questions, the Partnership’s Science Panel set out to identify weaknesses in our overall understanding of the Puget Sound ecosystem. The panel chose to be strategic about filling the gaps in our knowledge.

“We want to know everything, of course,” chairman Joe Gaydos told me. “But just because there’s a gap in our knowledge does not mean we should go out and do a study.

“The real question is, where does the lack of science hinder our ability to make decisions? We’re not just doing science for science’s sake but to help us make better decisions.”

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Governor’s rule-suspension order raises questions

Business and environmental groups have been waiting for the other shoe to drop since Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that she was suspending state rule-making activities. Her declared motive was to provide small businesses “stability and predictability they need to help with our state’s recovery.”

At the time of the announcement on Nov. 17, the governor indicated that her executive order (PDF 14 kb) would not apply across the board. Some regulations would continue to move through the rule-making process. Criteria for exempting rules (PDF 20 kb) from the moratorium were wide enough to slide through nearly any regulation that the governor wishes to pursue.

Regulations may continue through the rule-making process if they are:

  • Required by federal or state law or required to maintain federally delegated or authorized programs;
  • Required by court order;
  • Necessary to manage budget shortfalls, maintain fund solvency, or for revenue generating activities;
  • Necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare or necessary to avoid an immediate threat to the state’s natural resources;
  • Beneficial to or requested or supported by the regulated entities, local governments or small businesses that it affects;
  • The subject of negotiated rule-making or pilot rule-making that involved substantial participation by interested parties before the development of the proposed rule;
  • A permanent rule previously covered by emergency rules; or
  • An expedited rule under RCW 34.05.353 where the proposed rules relate only to internal governmental operations.

Let’s face it. To really understand what this means, we must wait for the list of regulations that will actually be placed on hold for the next year or more. On environmental issues, both business leaders and environmental activists have interpreted Gregoire’s move as a relaxation of her aggressive environmental policies. But how far that will go is yet to be seen. Remember, she said recently that we cannot take a time-out on saving Puget Sound, recession or not. (See Water Ways, Oct. 21)

Each agency must report by the end of January which rules they want to suspend and which they want to keep moving through the process, along with justifications for their decisions.

Almost immediately after Gregoire’s executive order was announced, Washington Department of Ecology posted a list of six rules that will proceed. They are related to greenhouse gas reporting, air pollution sources, Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, Upper Kittitas groundwater management, and chemicals of concern in children’s toys.

At the end of this blog entry, I’ve listed all the Ecology regulations now moving through the pipeline.

Washington House Republicans credited Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, with coming up with the idea of suspending state regulations. In August, Orcutt sent a letter asking Gregoire to suspend all regulations except for those related to health emergencies and fishing and hunting seasons.
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UW and WSU try to integrate environmental programs

Washington state’s two largest universities are struggling to reorganize their natural resources departments into ways that make sense in the modern world. It has been argued that the way universities structure their studies can influence scientific thinking and political actions across the state.

These recent initiatives are borne out of a recognition that environmental sciences have connections across the various disciplines. Forestry, aquatic resources, hydrology, oceanography, wildlife ecology, marine biology and so on have been specialties in themselves for many years. In the real world, however, these areas of study no longer stand alone, if they ever did.

The University of Washington Board of Regents recently approved a new College of the Environment, but it remains just a shell of an idea at this time.

Washington State University is going through an even larger reorganization that could consolidate departments across the entire campus.

Brian Boyle, former commissioner of public lands, suggests that the UW needs a new institute, not a new college. As he suggests in Tuesday’s CrossCut magazine:

The UW could have much more influence on how the region and nation address environmental issues through science by creating institutes for Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences…. This could be done by creating a virtual environment, with porous walls, for teaching, research, outreach, and collaboration that involves every person at the UW with expertise in environmental interactions.

Whoever says collaboration has to take place in the same room, the same building, the same college, hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in bioengineering, nanotechnology, surgery, or even Facebook.

Exploring these possibilities would be better than just rearranging boxes on organizational charts and demoting existing academic units. Done right, with all 400 faculty and 50 programs able to play a role, a UW Center for Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences could be a flexible reflection of the multidisciplinary approach of the new century, rather than a recapitulation of old models and old failures.

At WSU, a new Provost report calls for a major restructuring of the entire university course program. According to a news release issued in May, the report calls for the creation of an “area” focused on environmental sustainability. To start with, it would include resources from the School of Earth and Environmental Science, the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and the Department of Community and Rural Sociology.

“In some areas, structures have been created that no longer make sense in an era where both research and teaching are increasingly interdisciplinary,” WSU Provost and Executive Vice President Robert Bates said in the news release.

It seems Boyle’s idea may already be part of the thinking at WSU, but it may need further investigation.

Check out the full report on WSU’s Web site.