By Paul S. Anderson
Conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” We’ve been seriously tinkering with the Salish Sea for decades and, as recent events have shown with our Chinook salmon and orcas, our tinkering hasn’t been very intelligent. Until the past few decades, little or no value was given to nearshore waters or their uplands. Recent research shows, however, that the nearshore, including the shore regularly flooded and exposed by the tides, the beaches and bluffs as well as the forests fronting the shoreline, are all critical components of a healthy and resilient sea. Without fully understanding the importance of these pieces, we’ve been throwing them away. We are now learning that putting them back may not be so easy.
The recent decision by the Supreme Court of Washington to not review an appeal of the $55,000 shoreline penalty by the Washington State Department of Ecology against Orca Dreams, LLC (The Journal of the San Juan Islands; Aug. 22, 2018; “Honeywells are complying with DOE │Update”) affirms the importance of an intact nearshore and DOE’s authority to enforce the Shoreline Management Act. The penalty, upheld through a series of appeals, was issued for the unauthorized clearing of 80 trees on the bank above the water. The State Court of Appeals decision upholding the penalty also said it was an issue of fairness; the penalty is a sanction against those seeking an unfair advantage by not following the rules.
The SMA of 1971 recognizes that our shorelines are a finite and invaluable public resource and that increasing shoreline development negatively impacts this resource. An important goal of the SMA is “protecting against adverse effects to public health, the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the waters of the state and their aquatic life,…” Even in 1971, there was an understanding that activities in the uplands along the shoreline can impact the health and aesthetic value of the shore and shoreline waters. Undisturbed native shoreline plants are a key element of the shoreline, supplying structure, shade and food to nearshore waters. Bluff erosion provides sand and gravel that build and sustain our beaches that are, in turn, spawning grounds for surf smelt and sand lance that salmon and seabirds depend on. Nearshore waters are a critical rearing ground for juvenile Chinook salmon. Adult Chinook salmon are the single most important food for our Southern resident killer whales, both of which are continuing to decline.
We now have a better understanding of how these pieces fit together and how important it is to keep all of these pieces to sustain the Salish Sea. It is reassuring to see the courts acknowledge the importance of intact shoreline forests in the Orca Dreams decision. Common sense and fairness have prevailed. Going forward, we must be more mindful in the choices we make and be sure we fully value all of the pieces we have been given.
Anderson was the lead investigator and witness for the Department of Ecology in the Honeywell case. Anderson is also on the board of directors for the Friends of the San Juans.