Tag Archives: Gary Locke

Facing challenges that could save chinook salmon from extinction

Nineteen years ago this month, then-Governor Gary Locke made a bold declaration about salmon that would echo through time: “Extinction is not an option.”

Juvenile chinook salmon depend on high-quality habitat for their survival.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was a call to action that would lead to major protection and restoration efforts throughout Puget Sound. Still, today, chinook salmon have not experienced a population rebound, as many people had hoped. The failure to thrive has been a disappointment to many, yet we are often reminded that it took 150 years to push salmon to the brink of extinction and it will not be easy to ensure their future.

Last week, concerns about the survival of chinook salmon prompted a coalition of Puget Sound tribes to propose a series of “bold actions,” as I reported in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, later reprinted in the Kitsap Sun.

“The way we are managing lands is not working,” stated salmon expert Dave Herrera, speaking for the tribes. “It may be working for people, but it is not working for fish.”

The bold actions, spelled out in a three-page proposal (PDF 380 kb), include greater controls on the use of land and water, among other things. I won’t describe the details, which you can read in the memo. The ideas were prompted by a new Chinook Salmon Implementation Strategy, designed to accelerate an increase in the Puget Sound chinook population.

The tribes complained that the proposed strategy, as drafted, mostly mimicked the 10-year-old Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan. That plan has made limited progress in restoring wild salmon runs, despite millions of dollars spent to protect and restore habitat while limiting fishing and controlling hatchery production.

In his speech of June 1998, Gov. Locke worried about the risk of extinction for these migratory fish, which are an economic asset as well as a celebrated symbol of the Northwest.

Former Gov. Gary Locke

“In several Puget Sound watersheds, our wild salmon have less than a decade to live, unless we act now,” Locke said in 1998. “And in many more rivers and streams, if the status quo continues, our wild salmon will be gone before my daughter Emily graduates from high school. So we just don’t have any time to waste. For better or for worse, we are about to make history.”

Locke’s speech was indeed historic, as he launched an unprecedented endeavor to rebuild salmon runs at great financial cost. The governor seemed to understand the challenge, as I noted at the time in my coverage of the speech before more than 100 county officials in Tacoma:

“Locke appears to be glancing over his shoulder, ready to duck for cover, as he talks about the financial and political commitments required to keep salmon from disappearing in various parts of the state,” I wrote.

“We need to wake up every morning ready to challenge the status quo,” Locke said, adding that basic changes are needed in the way businesses and average citizens use their land and water resources.

“There is a risk,” Locke said, “in just delivering that message, let alone acting on it.”

The following year, the Washington Legislature created the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to prioritize state and federal funding for salmon recovery. And the next governor, Chris Gregoire, ushered in an even greater ecosystem-recovery effort under guidance of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Wetlands are critical habitat for salmon.
Photo: Eric Grossman, U.S. Geological Survey

Today, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened without these salmon- and ecosystem-recovery efforts. Would the salmon be gone, as Locke predicted? It’s hard to say, but researchers have learned a great deal about what salmon need to survive, and the money is being better targeted toward those needs. As a result, it is understandable why some people are both disappointed with the past and hopeful for the future.

One of the great challenges facing public officials today is to find ways for local governments to truly live up to the standard of “no net loss” of ecological function — a standard required by the state’s Growth Management Act. When new developments affect “critical areas” — such as fish and wildlife habitat — they must include vegetated buffers and stormwater controls to minimize the damage. Then they must enhance degraded habitat — either on-site or off-site — to make up for losses that cannot be avoided.

I used to believe that this goal was unachievable, and I have questioned many state experts about it. How can any developer construct a commercial or residential development and walk away with no net loss of habitat function? The answer is to include a serious restoration component.

One example is the Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s In-Lieu Fee Program, which I wrote about last month in Water Ways (May 19). This program was started on a large scale to mitigate for construction at the Navy’s submarine base at Bangor, but it also works on a small scale, as I mentioned in that blog post.

When an older site is redeveloped, there may be no ecological loss, since the damage was done in the past. But when a developer builds in a new location, the local government is charged with measuring the loss, coming to terms for mitigation and making sure the mitigation is carried out. The concept of “no net loss” works only if the mitigation is permanent — another major challenge in many areas.

If no net loss can be achieved while major restoration efforts continue, we will see a net increase in salmon habitat in the Puget Sound region, and that will be a cause of celebration. One success has been in the program Floodplains by Design, which improves critical off-channel habitat for salmon while reducing flooding problems for nearby residents. Checkout the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the blog post in Water Ways, April 15.

Washington State Department of Commerce, which oversees the Growth Management Act, is in the process of updating its Critical Areas Assistance Handbook (PDF 6 mb), which serves as guidance for local regulations. New information about how to protect habitat for all life stages of salmon will be a key addition to a revised version, soon to be released for public review. See the CAO page on the Department of Commerce website.

Local governments in every part of the state must become part of the discussion if we expect them to carry out the mandate of protecting habitat for salmon. Money for planning and regulatory enforcement must be worked out. One idea I’ve heard is a regional approach that involves a group of compliance officials working to enforce the rules for multiple counties and cities.

No doubt the salmon-recovery effort must be improved. Challenges remain for issues including fishing, predation by marine mammals and climate change. But if the protection and restoration of salmon habitat can outpace unmitigated damage from development, we may be justified in believing that extinction is not an option.

President Obama raises ocean issues to a high priority

President Obama is being praised for his decision to pull together all the ocean-related challenges this nation faces and for plotting a unified course of action.

On Friday, the president issued a memorandum calling for a task force to develop a national ocean policy along with a “framework” for action and a set of objectives. See the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, along with a news story by reporter Doug Palmer of Reuters.

I was tempted to state cynically that actions speak louder than words, so we should curb our enthusiasm about what can be done to save the oceans. But then I talked to Bill Ruckelshaus, who co-chairs the Joint Ocean Commission, a national group dedicated to this topic.

Ruckelshaus seems to be thrilled with this latest development, following years of failed promises from the Bush administration.

“This is quite a significant event, really,” Bill told me. “It moves the oceans up on the presidential agenda, which means they will get more attention from Congress and from agencies in the administration. Presidencies are all about setting agendas, and this means more attention will be paid to the recommendations we made.”

I’ll tell you a little more about what my conversation with Mr. Ruckelshaus, but first I’ll review the history.

Five years ago, similar praise was accorded to President Bush after the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy — a presidentially appointed body — released it’s comprehensive examination of the major problems facing the oceans. The report included a list of potential solutions.

Adm. James D. Watkins, a retired Navy officer who chaired the commission, expressed enthusiasm for the reception he felt the report was getting from the Bush administration.

“President Bush’s response to the Commission’s Report and his signing of Executive Order establishing a Secretarial-level Committee on Ocean Policy … sets into motion the important process of developing and implementing a new national ocean policy,” Watkins declared.

Despite the positive reaction, I don’t believe a whole lot came about. (Review the last three “report cards.”) A separate report written by the Pew Oceans Commission received even less attention.

After the two commissions dissolved, some members — including Ruckelshaus — moved into a new organization called the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a nongovernmental group that maintained pressure for action through annual “report cards” relating the progress, or lack thereof, on ocean issues.

In April of this year, the joint commission issued an urgent new report called “Changing Oceans, Changing World: Ocean Priorities for the Obama Administration and Congress” (PDF 280 kb). I outlined that report in a Water Ways entry on April 7.

And so now we come to today, five months into the new administration, which seems to be trying to do everything at once. Can there really be much energy left for a discussion about the oceans?

Bill Ruckelshaus is undaunted. “I think holding back and doing things one at a time just doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to act while the energy is there.”

Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Nixon, now chairs the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, where he is heading the effort to reverse the degradation of our inland waterways.

President Bush created the U.S. Commission on Oceans, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But pulling all the environmental agencies together and getting Congress to focus on budgets, regulations and international treaties just never came to pass.

Why is Obama’s action different?

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Obama’s people should spark interest in science issues

Two individuals were confirmed this week to key positions related to the future of our natural resources, our natural systems and our “water ways.”

They are Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and John Holdren, White House director of science policy.

The confirmation of former Washington governor Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce — another vital position — moved a step toward confirmation.

We can look forward to all three generating some interesting developments that we will follow on this blog during their time in office.

I liked what Lubchenco told Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin: “Good government depends on good science, but the role of science is to inform, not to dictate policy decisions. These decisions will take into account economics, politics and social values, and that’s the way it is.”

Lubchenco plans to move quickly to set up a new National Climate Service, akin to the National Weather Service.

“NOAA has a key role to play in providing the fundamental knowledge about the climate system, providing data as to how the system is changing and taking all of that information and providing it in a way that’s easy to understand in order to make decisions,” she told Elperin.

Holdren has been called a “chronic alarmist” by William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (PDF 416 kb), and he may well be. But, honestly, I’m looking forward to someone who can stir the pot a little bit.

No, we don’t want someone working as science adviser who exaggerates the realities of climate change. But plenty of people are around to make sure Holdren is standing on solid ground as he struggles with the political realities of getting things done in Washington, D.C.

For a dose of his style, check out this You Tube video of his talk at the John F. Kennedy forum at Harvard in November 2007.

Finally, this week, Locke sailed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where Sen. John D “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.), praised Locke for being a man of the people.

“The people deserve to know that the person working with Congress and this committee every day, to determine the best way to reboot this economy, is a person who – simply put – gets it,” Rockefeller said. “Governor Locke gets it. He understands what is happening on Main Street. He was a governor. He is a civil servant. He is a man with his finger on the pulse of what direction America must head toward in generations to come.”

Locke now heads for a vote before the full Senate.

Commerce Secretary Locke could be good for salmon and whales

Former Washington governor Gary Locke was nominated this morning to be President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce, a department that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies integral to environmental issues in the Northwest.

Gary Locke accepts nomination for Commerce secretary. White House photo by Pete Souza
Gary Locke accepts nomination to be Commerce secretary.
White House photo by Pete Souza

“Gary knows the American Dream. He’s lived it. And that’s why he shares my commitment to do whatever it takes to keep it alive in our time,” Obama said in announcing the nomination. See also a transcript of Obama’s and Locke’s remarks.

I was preparing to write something about Locke’s environmental history in Washington state, then I saw a piece that Howard Garrett of Orca Network had written. So I’ve yielded this space to him, and I would welcome further comments from anyone:

Gov. Locke has been a reliable friend of the Southern Resident orcas.

You may recall that on May 5, 2003, the USS Shoup was training with mid-frequency active sonars in Haro Strait where 23 members of J pod were foraging. The whales were videotaped as they bunched up near the shore and seemed very agitated, and at least 7 porpoises washed up dead days later. In June, 2003 Gov. Locke wrote a letter to the acting secretary of the Navy requesting a report on the incident and an explanation of the mitigation measures to prevent it from happening again. He wrote: “The actual or potential impact of sonar use on Puget Sound marine mammals is a concern.”

Ten years ago Gov. Locke said about our endangered Chinook, “Extinction is not an option.”

As Secretary of Commerce, Locke will preside over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service (responsible for salmon and orca recovery) and will have a key role in determining how to best restore salmon runs in the Salish Sea and from the Columbia River to the Sacramento. The Obama team has declared that respect for science is back, and with Locke at Commerce and OSU marine biologist Jane Lubchenko as the new head of NOAA, there is every reason to expect that sound science will guide restoration efforts, at last.

Also, in December 2002, Governor Locke provided money from his own discretionary funds to pay for the rescue tug at Neah Bay to prevent oil spills, during the state’s $2-billion shortfall.

Gov. Locke is also among the political figures who have supported the goals of the Lolita Come Home campaign to retire the Southern resident orca captured in 1970 who remains on display in a Miami marine park. See Orca Network’s Captivity page.

If Gov. Locke is nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, he will be in a position to act on these principles immediately in the determination of the impacts of the proposed expansion of the Navy’s Northwest Training Range to include most of the waters along the coast from Neah Bay, WA, to Eureka, CA. If approved, multiple ships, subs and aircraft will be practicing with a wide range of sonars including explosive active sonars, along with demolition charges, torpedoes and a variety of anti-submarine munitions. See Orca Network’s page about the training range.

The comment period has been extended to March 11, and NOAA is required to review the proposal and comment on the potential impacts to marine mammals (including endangered Southern Resident orcas) and birds, fish (especially listed chinook salmon) and turtles along the coastline. The Navy EIS says no marine mammal mortalities are anticipated due to mitigations, such as placing observers on ships and listening for whale calls amid the maneuvering ships, sonars and explosions. As Secretary of Commerce, Locke (or Lubchenko) will review the EIS and at the very least, comment on how realistic that prediction of no mortalities really is. It’s unclear whether NOAA can hold up the training range expansion.

Locke can also be a valuable voice in Secretary of State Clinton’s diplomatic initiatives to tone down international tensions following 8 years of Bush/Cheney hostility, which degraded communications and contributed to the perceived need to train for an attack by enemy submarines.

Howard Garrett
Orca Network
Greenbank WA