‘People have got to stand up’ Award hoped to spotlight public’s role in Puget Sound restoration

SEATTLE – Billy Frank Jr. remembers the time, in about 1970, when the San Diego Zoo tried to capture some killer whales in Puget Sound, near the mouth of the Nisqually River.

“They had nets out and were trying to capture our killer whales. The tribes went down there and said, ‘You’re not going to do this,’” Frank recalled.

The zoo backed down.

Frank said restoring the health of Puget Sound demands the same courage to stand firm. “People have got to stand up and say, ‘This is our home. You’d better take care of it,’” he said.

Today, Puget Sound’s killer whales are symbols of a new battle. Dead killer whales have been found to contain enough PCBs – a chemical found in industrial lubricants – to qualify the carcasses as hazardous waste. Areas of Hood Canal in South Puget Sound are dead zones. The Duwamish River is a Superfund cleanup site. Depleted salmon populations struggle to recover from pollution and habitat lost to development.

Frank, Nisqually, is co-chairman of the Puget Sound Partnership, a governor-appointed panel charged with developing a plan to restore the health of Puget Sound by 2020. For their work, Frank and the co-chairmen received the Seventh Generation Legacy Award at the 14th annual Salmon Homecoming Celebration on Nov. 16 at the University of Washington.

The award’s name reflects the Native tradition of basing decisions made today on the impacts they will have on descendants seven generations from now.

The award is presented annually by the Salmon Homecoming Alliance “to acknowledge the great importance of team spirit between tribal and non-tribal communities, particularly in the pursuit of environmental protection and natural resource management,” according to alliance President Gerald James, Lummi.

James said of the alliance, “We are here to celebrate the salmon, the greatest of all Northwest icons, and our common link to good health, strong spirit and sustainable prosperity.”

Frank, who is also chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, hopes the award contributes to public awareness of what it will take to restore Puget Sound’s health.

“We’re going to have to work hard to get the public to understand the condition of the Pacific Coast and the Sound. Whatever happens in the Sound affects our ocean, and vice versa. Our job is to continue on with this plan. If we don’t get the public on our side, we’re not going to go anywhere.”

Co-chairing the partnership with Frank are William Ruckelshaus, former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology.

They have submitted to Gov. Christine Gregoire a draft plan to restore the health of the sound in 14 years. Among the recommendations:

• Protect existing habitat and prevent further losses; restore the amount and quality of habitat, and reduce fragmentation; restore freshwater and marine habitats and restore 100 miles of shoreline.

• Significantly reduce toxins entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters; clean up all sites on the state’s priority list and Superfund sites by 2020; significantly reduce pollution from human and animal wastes in fresh and marine waters; replace or repair septic systems on Hood Canal and other sensitive areas of Puget Sound.

• Improve water quality and habitat by managing stormwater runoff; accelerate the efficient use of reclaimed water to reduce demand on potable water supply and to improve stream flows.

• Implement recovery plans for chinook salmon, bull trout, sea otters and southern resident killer whales; create and implement recovery programs for species at risk of extinction without recovery plans, such as marine birds.

• Set harvest quotas that account for the numbers of animals required for ecosystem needs.

• Build greater public understanding and involvement in improving Puget Sound.

• Determine how much money is spent on Puget Sound protection and restoration, and determine how effective that spending is. “A lot of money is spent on Puget Sound, but there’s no coordination,” Frank said. “A big part is accountability.”

Implementing the recommendations will require a change in how Puget Sound-area residents live, how communities develop and how people behave in the environment that sustains them. Frank said this will require legislation, money and public will.

“We’ve got to give the Legislature and the politicians a chance to decide what they’re going to do. A lot of legislation has to change in time. The status quo is unacceptable. We are still giving permits to poison Puget Sound.”

He added, “It’s going to take leadership. It’s also going to take people who are going to say, ‘We’ve got to change.’ The people are the most important part of this.”

After the award presentation, Ruckelshaus said, “Communities all along the Puget Sound need to get actively involved in its restoration. I think we have the opportunity to show the rest of the world how to take an ecosystem that’s in decline [and] restore and maintain it.”

One example of how salmon habitat can be restored was recognized at the award ceremony. The Nisqually Tribe bought 140 acres from farmers Kenny and Donna Braget. Nisqually removed the tidegates to natural estuarine and wetland habitat, and now salmon swim where cattle once roamed. Nisqually plans to convert 700 more acres into wetlands beginning in 2007.

For its longtime efforts to protect and restore the habitat of the Nisqually River, the Nisqually Tribe received the alliance’s Stewardship Award.

The alliance’s Cornerstone Award was presented to the Muckleshoot Tribe. “Muckleshoot has always been the host of Salmon Homecoming and has demonstrated stalwart support for Salmon Homecoming programs,” James said in a release. “Without them, there would be no Salmon Homecoming. The tribe has stood strong in defense of the environment here for many years.”

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