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News from the Pacific Northwest

Samish, Swinomish waters part of aquatic reserve

ANACORTES, Wash. - Efforts to restore the health of Fidalgo Bay, which is in Samish and Swinomish traditional territory, will get a boost from the bay;s designation as a state aquatic reserve.

A management plan will serve as a guide for the continued monitoring, protection and restoration - as well as environmental education and public use - of the 650-acre reserve. The plan was developed by Samish and Swinomish, the city of Anacortes, oil companies, the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and Skagit Land Trust.

The plan will boost Samish and Swinomish efforts to improve the health of the bay. Both conduct habitat restoration, tideland resource monitoring and water quality monitoring programs. An oil refinery is located on the bay, and Swinomish currently recommends limited consumption of clams and crabs from the bay because of water contamination.

Fidalgo Bay is biologically rich, with expansive areas of eelgrass and tide flats. This estuary supports spawning and habitat of Pacific herring, surf smelt and sand lance. In addition, it provides a home and feeding area for migratory birds, Dungeness crab and animals protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons and Chinook salmon.

The aquatic reserve program is part of a collaborative, governor-initiated effort to improve the health of Puget Sound's waters by 2020.

''As scientists and others study and monitor this reserve and its changes, we are going to continue to learn from this complex Fidalgo Bay ecosystem, and that will help us better manage the bay and similar sites,'' said Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland.

Jim Woods, Makah, named policy adviser for the EPA

SEATTLE - Jim Woods, Makah, has been named senior adviser for tribal policy for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10.

''Mr. Woods brings a wealth of tribal and environmental experience to EPA that will help us build stronger partnerships with our Pacific Northwest and Alaska tribes,'' Seattle EPA Administrator Elin Miller said in a press release. ''We're looking forward to working with him to help build tribal capacity, strengthen our communication networks with tribes, and better protect our natural resources.''

In a statement released by EPA, Woods said he wants to improve the effectiveness of government-to-government consultation between EPA Region 10 and tribal governments in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

''It is my hope that we will be able to strike a good balance among treaty-guaranteed rights, sustainable resources and overall environmental protection throughout the Northwest and Alaska.''

Woods is director of the sustainable resource management division of the Makah Fisheries management department. He is a member, appointed by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, of the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. He also chairs the National Tribal Air Association and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Intergovernmental Policy Council, and serves on the Ozette Sockeye Salmon Recovery Steering Committee.

DNR collaborates with legislators, Colville to improve forest health

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state Department of Natural Resources is working with legislators and Colville leaders to implement a forest health law passed in the 2007 legislative session.

The new law requires DNR to coordinate the improvement of information sharing on forest health conditions and risks, provide increased technical assistance to landowners, and help establish cooperative forest health projects across multiple land ownerships. The first target area is Stevens County, which includes federal, state, tribal and private forest land.

''If we're going to get ahead of the bugs, instead of chasing them, it's critical that we target a manageable area that reaches across borders from state land to federal, tribal and private lands,'' state Sen. Bob Morton said of the pilot project. ''I'm confident that the pilot project will lead to a successful plan to save [all] forests'' in Washington state.

DNR has hired a forest insect and disease scientist and a forest health specialist in Colville to assist forest landowners, as well as a forest health policy specialist to work with federal agencies.

A first priority is collecting credible data on forest conditions that may be at risk for insects and disease. Once high-risk areas are identified, DNR will improve and expand the agency's assistance to affected landowners and coordinate forest health restoration projects.

Coast Guard, Makah test oil spill response off Washington coast

SEATTLE - The U.S. Coast Guard, Makah Indian Nation, state Department of Ecology and SeaRiver Maritime Inc. conducted a major oil spill drill on the Washington coast May 13 - 14.

The drill tested interagency cooperation in meeting federal, state, county and tribal regulatory requirements for a large-scale oil spill response. The drill is required every three years by the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program.

The drill, off Ocean Shores, Wash., simulated a vessel collision offshore of the Olympic Peninsula with potential impact to the Olympic Marine Sanctuary.

Participants assessed potential environmental and economic impacts; the ability of the unified command to make effective, joint decisions; the ability to effectively and safely respond to a large-scale oil spill in a remote environment; the use and training of volunteers in cleanup efforts; the use of all available spill-response methods, including alternative technologies; and communication with officials, the public and the media.

Phil Rigdon, Yakama, named to forest practices workgroup

SEATTLE - Phil Rigdon, deputy director of the Yakama Nation's Department of Natural Resources, is a member of a state workgroup that is developing ways to reduce carbon emissions in forestry practices.

The Forest Sector Workgroup on Climate Change Mitigation is meeting regularly through October. Appointed by the directors of the departments of Ecology and Natural Resources, the group is developing recommendations on how foresters may voluntarily help the state meet its goals of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

One idea: Sell carbon emission reduction ''credits'' to power plants or other entities required to reduce their emissions in the future. Pacific Northwest forests act as sinks for atmospheric carbon, and careful accounting for those functions could create sellable credits, according to the state DNR.

The recommendations may address commercial and other working forests, forests set aside or managed for conservation, reforestation, and avoiding conversion of forest land to non-forest use.

The workgroup was created by climate change legislation approved in the 2008 state legislative session. Final recommendations are due by Nov. 1.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.