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Kids for Puget Sound


Letter to Governor Locke

October 15, 1998

Governor Gary Locke
Governor's Salmon Recovery Office

Dear Governor Locke:

People For Puget Sound, a grassroots group educating and involving people in protecting and restoring Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits, appreciates this opportunity to address its concerns and suggestions regarding the draft State Salmon Recovery Plan. As a partner in The Campaign For The Northwest, we have joined with the environmental community in commenting on the draft plan. This letter specifically focuses on necessary actions for salmon recovery in the estuarine and marine environments, areas where People For Puget Sound's membership and constituency efforts are focused. We appreciate your soliciting specific suggestions from groups such as ours in ways to improve the draft plan.

First, and most important, the draft fails to demonstrate any understanding that meaningful wild salmon recovery must be ecosystem based and must deal with water quality and habitat protection and restoration throughout the marine, estuarine and watershed environments. To ignore estuarine and marine waters and habitats as the plan has done undercuts the scientific understanding that Puget Sound chinook spend critical periods of their life cycle in the estuaries and that more than any other species depend on foodfish which spawn and grow in nearshore marine habitats. Poor water quality, sediments contaminated by toxic chemicals, and loss of critical nearshore habitats in the estuarine and marine environments have been clearly associated with declines in wild salmon and foodfish populations. The next version of the plan must rectify these serious deficiencies to meaningful salmon recovery. We would be happy to work with you to address this problem.

For guidance, we encourage you to turn to The State of Washington Wild Salmonid Policy and to the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed recommendations for Amendment 14 to the Pacific Coast Salmon Plan for Essential Fish Habitat.

The draft plan contains several flaws in general approach and many missed opportunities for specific actions that would address salmon recovery in the estuarine and marine environments.

Flaws in general approach include:

  • A general emphasis on regulatory certainty for businesses at the expense of certainty for salmon recovery;
  • An emphasis on voluntary compliance and extended timelines with little assurance that the result will be salmon recovery;
  • A lack of quantifiable measures in defining successful salmon recovery and in defining consequences of default standards;
  • No clear connection between short-term needs and agency budget requests for the 1999—2001 budgets;
  • An overemphasis on nonpoint pollution due to a glaring de—emphasis of toxic chemical control and cleanup;
  • A lack of integrated science-based analysis and monitoring of plan implementation;
  • A reliance on strategies that have proven ineffective in the past; and
  • A preponderance of process and planning instead of specific actions already known to be effective at protecting and restoring salmon

Regarding water quality and sediment cleanup in the estuarine and marine environments, the draft plan is seriously deficient in addressing sediments contaminated by toxic chemicals, one of the most significant threats to salmon health in the urban estuaries as documented in numerous studies by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In discussion of the Total Maximum Daily Load process, the workload model explicitly excludes contaminated sediments and instead relies on existing contaminated sediments cleanup programs. We know that these programs have never been adequately funded and that Ecology proposes to eliminate its Sediment Management Program unit altogether. This creates a serious gap in the state salmon recovery strategy that cannot be filled by other state and federal agencies. Despite the draft plan's acknowledgment that toxic chemical contamination seriously harms juvenile salmon, the plan gives no priority to enhancing, much less integrating pollution prevention and cleanup in the urban estuaries.

In the area of pollution prevention, we are particularly concerned that the draft plan makes no mention of Clean Water Act requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, no mention of requiring stricter enforcement of discharge limits, and vague reference to review and promulgation of water quality standards which currently are not moving foward. The plan should specifically address fully using available rules and regulations to drive pollution prevention and clearly state that a first order of salmon recovery is strengthening and enforcing discharger permits. The plan should also clearly delineate a timeline for implementing the phase-out rule for bioaccumulative chemicals of concern and timelines for strengthening NPDES toxic limits.

As for nearshore and marine habitats, the draft plan is silent on the urgent need to protect and restore estuarine sloughs and side channels, eelgrass beds and baitfish spawning and rearing areas. Puget Sound salmon recovery will not be successful if salmon are short of food to eat. The draft plan fails to recognize the incremental loss of critical habitat not only from major shoreline developments but also from alterations made by individual property owners. The draft plan fails to integrate and fully utilize existing state authority in protection of salmon and baitfish habitats, such as Hydraulic Project Approval, Department of Natural Resources tideland leases, and Shoreline Management Act. Furthermore, oil kills or genetically damages salmon, but the draft plan is silent on state responsibilities to prevent both large and small oil spills by enhancing safeguards and better enforcement.

The draft plan's discussion of monitoring requirements leaves considerable doubt as to whether a recovery plan would be successful or how we will know whether it is successful. In general, the plan should clearly identify protocols to be adopted, what indicators will be used, who will conduct monitoring, what resources will be needed, how existing data will be integrated, and how monitoring will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and overall effectiveness of salmon recovery. In the estuarine and marine environments, the recovery plan must give priority to improving existing baseline data related to critical nearshore habitats and integrating existing state and local databases.

In the nearshore and marine environment, we believe that an effective compliance program in water quality, sediment cleanup, and habitat protection should combine technical assistance, education and enforcement. We find the draft plan's reliance on voluntary compliance and education to be overly optimistic. Experience to date suggests strongly that compliance will not be achieved. In many respects, strict and equitable enforcement of existing water quality and habitat protection rules and regulations is the "regulatory certainty" businesses desire. It is also the first priority cited by a majority of state voters in polling done in recent years. Hence, the plan must clearly address and reverse the state's chronic timidity about enforcement— a key reason why salmon are going extinct and a significant measure of how meaningful the state's recovery effort will be.

In closing, we would like to articulate two general principles that have guided our comments and a handful of concrete actions you can take right away to demonstrate your leadership and understanding of the importance of the estuarine and marine environments to salmon recovery.

We believe that the first tenet of salmon recovery is to do no more harm. Restoration of degraded habitat is important and necessary, but it is also complicated, uncertain and expensive. Preventing pollution and habitat loss are both good for salmon and cost-effective for the state's taxpayers. State and local governments can use existing laws right now to ensure that our salmon and their habitats suffer no further harm before we embark on longer term planning, acquisitions, and restorations.

The second general principle is that it might be better to do nothing at all to try to save our wild salmon than to do less than what is needed and to fail. We agree wholeheartedly that extinction of our wild salmon is not an option. That means the state must do everything that is needed to save our wild salmon. In that you have our strong support.

Finally, we suggest a few concrete actions you can take to demonstrate your leadership on behalf of the people and the wild salmon that share our Puget Sound estuaries and marine waters:

  • Direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to exercise its full authority in issuance of Hydraulic Permit Approvals to protect salmon and baitfish habitats.
  • Direct the Washington Department of Ecology to reinstate and enhance its Sediments Management Program in its proposed 1999-2001 budget and to integrate estuarine sediment cleanup in its TMDL planning workplan.
  • Direct the Washington Department of Ecology to withhold approval of local variances and conditional use shoreline permits unless the project will result in a net benefit to wild salmon and/or baitfish.
  • Direct all state natural resource agencies to integrate their nearshore habitat databases and to develop standards and guidance to ensure data compatibility, quality assurance, protocols, and other measures critical to wild salmon recovery success.
  • Support the State Commissioner of Public Lands in exercising the public trust doctrine to protect salmon and baitfish habitats associated with state aquatic lands.

These are but a few of the many concrete actions in the estuarine and marine environments that can move us forward in a meaningful way to wild salmon recovery in Puget Sound. Again, we are willing to work with you on the next draft of the plan.

We thank you and your Joint Natural Resources Cabinet for this opportunity to express our concerns and suggestions. We look forward to the next version of the recovery plan.


This letter was signed by Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director of People For Puget Sound.


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