Endangered predators and endangered prey: Seasonal diet of Southern Resident killer whales – PLOS One

New research out regarding Southern Resident killer whales and their needs for chinook. Very good research here, based on scat samples over long periods of time.

Abstract

Understanding diet is critical for conservation of endangered predators. Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) (Orcinus orca) are an endangered population occurring primarily along the outer coast and inland waters of Washington and British Columbia. Insufficient prey has been identified as a factor limiting their recovery, so a clear understanding of their seasonal diet is a high conservation priority. Previous studies have shown that their summer diet in inland waters consists primarily of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), despite that species’ rarity compared to some other salmonids. During other times of the year, when occurrence patterns include other portions of their range, their diet remains largely unknown. To address this data gap, we collected feces and prey remains from October to May 2004–2017 in both the Salish Sea and outer coast waters. Using visual and genetic species identification for prey remains and genetic approaches for fecal samples, we characterized the diet of the SRKWs in fall, winter, and spring. Chinook salmon were identified as an important prey item year-round, averaging ~50% of their diet in the fall, increasing to 70–80% in the mid-winter/early spring, and increasing to nearly 100% in the spring. Other salmon species and non-salmonid fishes, also made substantial dietary contributions. The relatively high species diversity in winter suggested a possible lack of Chinook salmon, probably due to seasonally lower densities, based on SRKW’s proclivity to selectively consume this species in other seasons. A wide diversity of Chinook salmon stocks were consumed, many of which are also at risk. Although outer coast Chinook samples included 14 stocks, four rivers systems accounted for over 90% of samples, predominantly the Columbia River. Increasing the abundance of Chinook salmon stocks that inhabit the whales’ winter range may be an effective conservation strategy for this population.

Read the whole research paper here.

Endangered predators and endangered prey: Seasonal diet of Southern Resident killer whales (plos.org)

The never ending Spotted Owl saga

Once again, after the Trump Administration tried to roll-back the laws protecting the last remaining old growth on the Olympic Peninsula, the Biden Administration will take a look at whether science played any role at all. Likely not. Even if it goes through, it won’t bring back the one log trucks that helped wipe out virtually all of the habitat for old growth species. That ship sailed with the passage of shipping whole logs to Japan in the late 1970s, and that was about the time the last one log truck ran on the Peninsula.. Long before the Spotted Owl was the issue. Blame it on the desire to cut every last old growth for profit. The Spotted Owl issue was simply a logical outcome of wiping out the forests that they depend on.


The U.S. Interior Department is delaying and reviewing the Trump administration’s last-minute roll-back of federal protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl, which called for slashing protections from millions of acres of Northwest forests. On Jan. 15, just days before leaving office, the Trump administration published a final rule revising Endangered Species Act protections for the northern spotted owl. The rule lifted critical-habitat protections for the bird from 3.4 million acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s had proposed a far more modest revision, seeking to remove critical habitat status from a little over 200,000 acres in 15 counties in Oregon. Monica Samayoa reports. (OPB)

OPB

Biden administration will reconsider northern spotted owl forest protection rollbacks

Federal Judge George Boldt issues historic ruling affirming Native American treaty fishing rights on February 12, 1974

On this day, history for both the NW Tribes and all Tribes across this country changed for the better. One of the most important rulings in the history of U.S.< > Tribal relations, no matter which side of this you may have been on. For the Tribes, it showed that the legal system could work for them. For non-natives, it showed that their dominance of the fisheries and other resources was over and that “honoring the treaties” was a not just a hollow phrase. Nothing would be the same again. It also represents the only way forward if we are going to continue to build a coalition that can effectively restore the salmon runs. The Tribes have been the most effective partners in doing this work, as shown by the Jamestown, Elwa and Port Gamble S’Klallam peoples. We raise our hands in thanks for this day. We have little time left to save the runs, and the small incremental progress being made needs to accelerate.



On February 12, 1974, Federal Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) issues an historic ruling reaffirming the rights of Washington’s Indian tribes to fish in accustomed places. The “Boldt Decision” allocates 50 percent of the annual catch to treaty tribes, which enrages other fishermen. At the same time Judge Boldt denies landless tribes — among them the Samish, Snoqualmie, Steilacoom, and Duwamish — federal recognition and treaty rights. Western Washington tribes had been assured the right to fish at “usual and accustomed grounds and stations” by Federal treaties signed in 1854 and 1855, but during the next 50 years Euro-American immigrants — armed with larger boats, modern technology, and the regulatory muscle of the state — gradually displaced them. The campaign to reassert Native American fishing rights began in 1964 with “fish-ins” on the Puyallup River led by Robert Satiacum (1929-1991) and Billy Frank Jr. (1931-2014), who defied Washington state attempts to regulate their fishing. (History Link)

Federal Judge George Boldt issues historic ruling affirming Native American treaty fishing rights on February 12, 1974

Democrats urge investigation into removal of owl protections – KNKX

In badminton the thing you hit to the opponent is called the “shuttlecock”. In the game of “blame something for the destruction of Northwest virgin forests and the subsequent loss of the old fashioned timber industry” the shuttlecock has been the indicator species, the Spotted Owl. It’s again back in play this year.

The Trump administration took the side of the rural timber industry, who has blamed the Spotted Owl on their industry’s decline, despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary (i.e. starting with no real limits on old growth logging for the last 100 years until it was too late, the advent of the chain saw and other high yield mechanical harvesting starting in the 1940s, and the real death knell, the decision of Congress in the 1970s to allow raw logs to be shipped to Japan), the industry continues to believe that if only we allowed this indicator species to die off, we could return to the heyday of one log trucks plying highway 101. That idea flies in the face of the reality that less than 1% of old growth forest in the Pacific NW still exists. So what is the fight about, really?

Eight Democratic lawmakers called Tuesday for an investigation into “potential scientific meddling” by the Trump administration in its rule to remove critical habitat protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

KNKX.ORG

Read the latest Spotted Owl badminton game overview and all it’s sordid details, here.

https://www.knkx.org/post/democrats-urge-investigation-removal-owl-protections

NW Salmon “Teetering on the brink of extinction” – KNKX

More evidence that we are not doing enough, and perhaps we are doing the wrong things. More science is needed, and more enforcement of rules protecting habitat and species. Time is about up. We have gone in one generation from vast schools of the finest protein source imaginable to zero.


Washington’s salmon are “teetering on the brink of extinction,” according to a new report. It says the state must change how it’s responding to climate change and the growing number of people in Washington. Washington’s State of Salmon in Watersheds report says time is running out for the Northwest’s iconic fish. The report, which is issued every two years, shows a trend of warming waters and habitat degradation is causing trouble for its salmon runs. Ten of the 14 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the state are not getting any better. Of those, five are “in crisis.” Courtney Flatt and Bellamy Pailthorp report. (KNKX)

Report lays out bleak picture of Northwest salmon ‘teetering on the brink of extinction’

Sea otter reintroduction to more of the Pacific Coast gets a nudge from Congress – KNKX

Some good environmental news! Tom Banse writes about the successful efforts to get money inserted into the newly passed budget to help continue the reintroduction of sea otters to the west coast. Info on Washington counts of sea otters also in this story.

“I’m very pleased. This is very timely,” Bailey said in an interview. “It will definitely help U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service develop a strategic approach for how best to conserve and protect sea otters on the Pacific Coast.”

https://www.knkx.org/post/sea-otter-reintroduction-more-pacific-coast-gets-nudge-congress

Lawsuit launched over stalled habitat protection for endangered west coast orcas

It’s about time, the Trump administration has been stalling long enough.


The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government today [12/16] for its failure to finalize expanded habitat protections for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, whose population has dipped to just 74 orcas. The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed designating 15,627 square miles of new critical habitat in September 2019. The rule would expand current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur. The proposed rule followed an April 2019 court-ordered agreement after the Center sued the Trump administration in 2018 for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act. The Act requires agencies to finalize proposed rules within one year. Today’s notice letter gives the Fisheries Service 60 days to comply. (Center for Biological Diversity News Release)

Lawsuit Launched Over Stalled Habitat Protection for Endangered West Coast Orcas

Sunflower sea stars declared critically endangered on West Coast – Hakai Institute

Another indicator moving the wrong way.


One of the largest sea star species in the world has been listed as critically endangered on Thursday after a global study shows the species population has been decimated by a marine epidemic. The sunflower sea star, once abundant in marine waters from Alaska to Baja California in Mexico, is on the brink of extinction along the West Coast waters in the United States after a marine wildlife epidemic event referred to as the sea star wasting syndrome began in 2013…Oregon State University, along with The Nature Conservancy and dozens of conservation groups, led a groundbreaking study that found 90.6% of the species population has been wiped out and estimated as many as 5.75 billion animals died from the disease since the die-off began. This has led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) as critically endangered. Monica Samayoa reports. (OPB) See also: Sunflower Stars Now Critically Endangered  Though sunflower star numbers have plummeted, scientists are holding out hope for these once-common denizens of the Pacific. (Hakai Institute)

Sunflower sea stars declared critically endangered on West Coast

To help save orcas, pause whale watching – Opinion at Crosscut

Donna Sandstrom and Tim Ragen give their take on a proposal to possibly protect Orca from excessive noise and harassment. This is a highly contested idea by the whale watching industry and this represents one sides point of view. Read it, do some research and make up your own mind. You can have a say online at the Zoom link noted below.


Suspending commercial whale-watching boats can help southern resident killer whales avoid extinction. Opinion by Donna Sandstrom and Tim Ragen (Crosscut) And, if you like to watch:Sentinels of Silence? Whale Watching, Noise, and the Orca   Ecosong (10/22/20) And, to have a say: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Public Hearing on Commercial Whale Watching, Dec. 4, 11:15 a.m. via Zoom

To help save orcas, pause whale watching

Quiet Sound underwater noise reduction program could soon slow ships, protect Orcas -KNKX

The British Columbia pilot program in this was a success. Glad to see that we are going to try this soon. A common sense approach to fixing part of the problems plaguing the Orca population.


Underwater noise from ship traffic is one of the major threats to Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident orcas. It can interfere with the whales’ ability to communicate, navigate by echolocation and find the increasingly scarce salmon they prefer. A recommendation from the orca recovery task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018-19 is to reduce noise and disturbance from large vessels. Work is underway to develop a program called “Quiet Sound,” which will alert ships to the presence of whales so they can re-route or slow down. Bellamy Pailthorp reports. (KNKX)

Quiet Sound underwater noise reduction program could soon slow ships, protect orcas

Millions have been spent on orca recovery: Is it working? – Everett Herald


And a follow up to the previous story, this is a good layman’s overview of the issue of salmon and orca recovery. It focus’ on Snohomish County but also discusses Sound wide issues. Notice, no mention of hatcheries here. It’s about habitat recovery. This article appears to have come out from under the paywall at this point.

Restoring destroyed salmon habitat is the key to regaining Southern Resident killer whale numbers. Julia-Grace Sanders reports. (Everett Herald)

Everett Herald

Millions have been spent on orca recovery: Is it working?

Controversy flares up over proposed policy revisions for state salmon hatcheries -PSI

This is a never ending story, because neither the Tribes, the sports & commercial fisheries, nor the politicians of any stripe are willing to entertain what is needed, which is an elimination of most hatcheries. Why? Because science has proven they don’t work. We have had hatcheries since at least the 1940s and they have not helped produce more wild salmon, nor added significantly to anything but sports fishing and farmed at a huge cost to taxpayers. (The exception to this is to protect almost extinct runs for tribal subsistence which is a valid concern for cultural survival of our Tribes. )We once had monstrous runs of wild (and free) fish for anyone to eat that would simply go out and catch them. They provided for lower income people in times of need. We have squandered that resource for many reasons, and have infected many of them with virus’ transmitted through farmed fish. We have spent vast resources trying to produce significant runs in hatcheries. None of this has worked. The science says to end hatcheries, but the political football of this issue just won’t let it go away. The future looks like we will lose our wild salmon in favor of robo-fish, farmed and produced simply for human and animal consumption. We do this at our peril. Just look at what one virus, picine reovirus (https://raincoastresearch.org/salmon-farm-impacts/viruses/piscine-reovirus/) has done to farmed fish stocks around the world.

So with that preamble, here’s today’s story>

A state policy revision that could boost salmon production at fish hatcheries in Washington state has raised red flags among scientists and environmental groups worried about potential damage to wild salmon runs.


The proposed hatchery policy, under review by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, could derail a 20-year effort to implement critical hatchery reforms, opponents argue. Major concerns revolve around threats to the future of wild salmon populations — including declines in genetic diversity and increasing competition from large numbers of hatchery fish. At the same time, a variety of sport and commercial fishing groups have thrown their support to increased hatchery production, saying that policies to protect wild salmon have reduced fishing opportunities while doing little to save wild salmon. Christopher Dunagan writes. (Puget Sound Institute)

Controversy flares up over proposed policy revisions for state salmon hatcheries

Minor bridge modifications could help young steelhead escape from Hood Canal – PSI

As this blog has reported for many years, the Hood Canal Floating bridge is a barrier likely the primary issue responsible for the massive decline in salmon in the Canal. An unintended consequence of our putting a floating bridge in rather than one that would be a suspension bridge. Chris Dunagan brings us up to speed on the latest work by engineers to address this mistake.


Help could be on the way for migrating steelhead and salmon in Hood Canal, where many young fish are killed each year by seals and other predators that lie in wait at the Hood Canal floating bridge. As many as 50 percent of the steelhead migrants perish as they arrive at the bridge, where predators pick them off one by one. The bridge is supported by floating concrete pontoons, forming a nearly solid barrier across the waterway. Young steelhead generally swim near the surface, making them especially vulnerable to predation, although some fish will dive under the bridge to get to the other side. Engineers are currently designing minor modifications to a few bridge pontoons to help the fish find their way through existing gaps in the structure. Chris Dunagan reports. (Puget Sound Institute)

Minor bridge modifications could help young steelhead escape from Hood Canal

Hood Canal nearing a potential ‘first’ for salmon recovery – KIRO News

Hood Canal nearing a potential ‘first’ for salmon recovery.

In the Hood Canal Region there is an ongoing effort to de-list summer chum, a move that would be a “first” nationwide. A number of people who spoke with KIRO 7 believe that could happen within the next two years.

KIRO News 7

https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/hood-canal-nearing-potential-first-salmon-recovery/ZSKKVIDLTNH2LAQTEUTSMKQBUE/

Endangered Species Act protections sought for a Northwest freshwater mussel -OPB

Another species needing urgent protection here in our State. While this is specific to Central Oregon I assume that these are found in our waters as well.

A 2017 analysis that looked at historic versus recent distributing areas of the species and found that the populations have declined by almost 50% of its historic range and it has been accelerating in recent years.

A nonprofit conservation group has filed a petition for Endangered Species Act protections for a unique species of mussel that is vanishing from rivers and streams in the Pacific Northwest.

https://www.opb.org/article/2020/08/20/endangered-species-act-protections-sought-for-a-northwest-freshwater-mussel/

Washington wolf population increased only 11% after another season of killing Phys.org

The state continues to kill wolves to please one, yes, just one, rancher who refuses to follow best practice guidelines. bringing on wolf attacks on his herd. It is a travesty. Inslee ought to be ashamed. Again, we watch as politics dictates environmental degradation. There have been no confirmed wolf sitings on the Olympic Peninsula, though they are expected at some point.

“Washington’s wolf population increased by just 11% in 2019, according to figures released today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. – Dramatically less than what is needed to sustain the healthy growth of a wolf population into additional good wolf habitat across the state. “

State releases plan for protecting the marbled murrelet

The highly contentious ongoing story of the State’s attempt to protect the endangered marbled murrelet continues. Whether this attempt will be successfull, it’s the first real movement since interim plan of 1997. As the article points out, there is a timber revenue stream at stake, and the enviromentalists following this point out that it’s likely not enough to save the bird long term.  I must say, having been over in Skagit valley in the last year, the arguement that they need more timber to harvest seems absurd, in that their mills are seemingly being buried under mounds of raw logs waiting to be milled. I saw a stack of logs about 4 stories high when I drove by, the largest I had seen in decades. So I would question their acting like they were being starved for logs. Of course, there is a revenue stream if you simply cut everything, but that isn’t the answer to saving the bird.  The question is constantly asked, “What is the value of wildlife?” Is an answer to that, “That’s the wrong question.” Maybe we should be asking, “Why must everything have a value assigned to it?”

After two decades of studying a small bird called the marbled murrelet that is found in coastal habitats of Washington including in Skagit County, the state has released a new management plan for the species. The management plan was drafted by and applies to lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. It is the outcome of a multiyear environmental impact statement, or EIS, process that weighed options for protecting the bird and supporting the state’s timber industry. The marbled murrelet is federally listed as threatened due to the loss of coastal forest habitat where it nests and raises its young. The once-abundant species is now estimated to be down to about 6,000 in the state, according to a news release. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

State releases plan for protecting the marbled murrelet

17 States Sue Feds Over Endangered Species Act Rules – AP

Perhaps we should consider the cost benefit analysis of saving humans.I don’t think we would be allowed to be saved if all species on this planet would be able to cast a vote for or against us.

Seventeen states sued the Trump administration Wednesday to block rules weakening the Endangered Species Act, saying the changes would make it tougher to protect wildlife even in the midst of a global extinction crisis. The lawsuit, in federal court in San Francisco, follows a similar challenge filed last month by several environmental groups, including the Humane Society and the Sierra Club. The new rules begin taking effect Thursday. They for the first time allow officials to consider how much it would cost to save a species. They also remove blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and make it easier for creatures to be removed from the protected list…The states challenging Trump’s rules are California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia and New York City were also named as plaintiffs. Gene Johnson report. (Associated Press)

17 States Sue Feds Over Endangered Species Act Rules

Fish and Wildlife Commission lists pinto abalone as endangered;

WDFW advances plans to save valuable and splendid sea snail. The Washington State Dept of Fish and Wildlife have decided, with urging from a number of stakeholders including the Skagit and Jefferson Marine Resource Committees, to list the Pinto  as endangered.

Here’s the Press Release:

Date
Contact

Henry Carson, (360) 888-8494; Jason Wettstein (360) 902-2254

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working with federal and state

Juvenile abalone
Pinto abaloneJosh Bouma/Puget Sound Restoration Fund

partners to protect and conserve a species of large sea snail with a shell, a taste, and lifestyle that led to its wide-scale destruction.

The pinto abalone — the only abalone species native to Washington — has experienced a drastic reduction in population in recent decades. From 1992-2017, the population fell by an estimated 97 percent, putting the species at risk of local extinction.

Historically prized as food and for its contrasting red and green shell with an iridescent interior, pinto abalone is a species too popular for its own good.

Overfishing over decades starting in the 1960s led to population declines. While the agency and partners acted to protect the snails, including closing the fishery in 1994, significant levels of poaching and the abalone’s distinctive reproductive cycle meant a cycle of continuing declines despite action.

“Males and females spawn directly into the water, and without sufficient population density, fertilization does not occur, and the animals fail to reproduce,” said Hank Carson, WDFW research scientist.

Now partners are expanding the pinto abalone recovery effort at conservation hatchery facilities at the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration (https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/news/features/hatchery) in Kitsap County.

“Our abalone captive-breeding and reintroduction program is a promising recovery strategy, but much work remains to achieve self-sustaining populations in the state,” said Carson.

With the listing determination in hand after the commission decision today, the agency is set to conduct this work with long-time partners such as NOAA and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Next steps include writing a formal recovery plan to reduce threats and build the species population, establishing additional satellite growing facilities to increase production, a conservation genetics and disease-risk assessment, and expansion of field work to determine the best places to out-plant these rare and distinctive creatures.

The 2019 legislature has supported funding to recover pinto abalone, including $900,000 for work through June 2021.

“When it comes to recovery of the Puget Sound ecosystem, everything is connected and attention to detail is important,” said Senator Christine Rolfes from Washington’s 23rd district. “Recovery of lesser-known species like the nearly depleted pinto abalone is critical for a healthy and more resilient Puget Sound and the salmon and orca whales we all love. I’m glad the legislature agreed to support this effort,” she added.

Carson said he is grateful for the partners and people who support pinto abalone work. “This species is far too interesting and valuable to disappear from Washington’s waters,” he said.

For more information about the pinto abalone in Washington, see WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/haliotis-kamtschatkana.

 

Also from the Skagit Valley News:
The marine snails that have been the focus of restoration efforts in Skagit County and surrounding areas for years are officially endangered. The state Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission made the decision Friday to officially list the pinto abalone as a state endangered species. Fish & Wildlife Research scientist Hank Carson said during the commission meeting that the listing has support from Skagit, Jefferson, Island and San Juan county officials as well as area conservation organizations. The state-level determination means illegally harvesting the species — prized for its meat and shiny shell — will be a gross misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald) See also: Skagit County at center of restoration effort for marine snail  Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

Marine snail gains state endangered species listing

Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

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