Tag Archives: triage

Debate over restoration dollars begins to warm gradually

I want to let you in on a little debate that will become vitally important to salmon restoration in the coming weeks. It’s not really going on behind the scenes, so some of you may be aware of it. But it hasn’t yet been formulated as a stark policy issue.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, not far from the heart of salmon country
Kitsap Sun photo

Basically, the question is this: Should limited dollars be spent to protect the best habitat remaining, restore slightly degraded systems to high-quality habitat, or try to bring salmon back to urban areas where the most people live.

In the Aug. 7 edition of Crosscut, writer Daniel Jack Chasan invoked the word “triage” when he said that “we’ll never have enough money to do everything; so it makes sense to concentrate resources on the most significant projects with the greatest chances of success.”

Dan mentions a conversation he had with David Dicks, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, and he quoted John Lombard, author of “Saving Puget Sound” in making his point that putting money into urban streams may be a waste of money in terms of habitat benefits.

In her latest blog, Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, did not mention Dan’s piece by name, but she mentioned “triage” and emphasized that she wants to “put the wooden stake into the heart of this kind of thinking.”

She continues:

This is the kind of thinking that gets us beautiful places to visit but unhealthy places to live. This is the kind of thinking that gets us places for salmon to spawn but nothing for the salmon to eat when they leave the rivers. This is the kind of thinking that gets us lovely areas to observe orca whales—as they die out because of contamination in our urban bays, and not enough salmon to eat.

This is the kind of thinking that encourages us to believe that it doesn’t matter what poisons we pour on our lawn or how much pavement we spread around in our urban areas.

If we “triage” and write off our urban areas, we write off the lowlands and we write off a healthy Puget Sound. That’s because a healthy Puget Sound ecosystem is tied together by clean water, clean air, shorelines, wetlands, currents and plants and animals that move from place to place. Simplistic thinking about “triage” might sound practical, sensible, efficient, business-like and even effective—but it’s not…

We want to bring the patient back to health. Trying to save its heart at the expense of its kidneys and liver is the path to failure.

Kathy makes a passionate and powerful argument about the need for holistic medicine. Definitions are important, it turns out. Is the patient we’re talking about Puget Sound as a whole? Is it a watershed or just a stream or a bay?

I particularly like her reminder that many of our cities are built at the river mouths. We might not ever restore these areas enough to call them prime spawning habitat, but we can do things to help the adult fish make it through on their way upstream to spawn. We might help the juveniles survive on their way to the ocean.

Kathy is a member of the Ecosystem Coordination Board of the Puget Sound Partnership. It sounds like she is ready to make a strong case when this issue comes up as part of the Puget Sound Action Agenda — and it will. Remember, that the four Action Agenda priorities include focusing on the “most urgent and important problems,” as well as protecting the most “intact ecosystems.”

Going back to Dan Chasan’s article, some good points are made about where to find money for ecosystem restoration. For example, the Washington Department of Transportation spends millions of dollars each year to mitigate highway construction projects. We could take a look at whether all this money is best spent at the edge of the highway, as it is now, or whether it might be moved upstream or downstream to solve more significant ecosystem problems.

I have been thinking about another source of money that may have some merit. Lately, Kitsap County planning officials have been approving land-use variances right and left, and I’m sure Kitsap is not alone.

For example, a stream or shoreline buffer may be 100 feet, but many legal building sites don’t have enough property for the full buffer width. So, with the help of a hired biologist, the county frequently approves a buffer of 50 feet or less. Mitigation may include planting some shrubs, but I doubt that the resulting “functions and values” measure up to a larger buffer.

I realize that this idea will be controversial, and it isn’t ready for prime time. But would if there was a fee per foot for the variance, with credit given back for the mitigation work? At $100 a foot, a shoreline variance of 50 feet would provide $5,000. If the plantings cost $1,000, the property owner would contribute $4,000 into a fund for restoration somewhere else in that watershed. It’s just a thought, so be kind with any attacks you feel are necessary.