Letters to the Editor

Critical Areas Ordinance: Protect our heritage in the waters around our islands

Thirty years ago, the waters around the San Juan Islands teemed with waterfowl, salmon, rockfish, and ling cod. The fish and waterfowl fed on the locally spawned forage fish. Now, the birds and the larger fish are almost gone. There is little left for them and for the orcas to eat.

Fifty-foot shoreline setbacks have not protected our sensitive forage -fish spawning beaches and the eelgrass and kelp habitats that shelter the young fish. Near-eradication of major eelgrass beds has occurred in Westcott and Garrison bays. Significant eelgrass declines have occurred in Blind, Mitchell and Nelson bays.

The Westcott Bay Task Force concluded that fertilizers and pesticides leaching from lawns and gardens, as well as leakage from faulty septic systems and sedimentation from upstream tree and shrub removal, together were likely causes of the widespread eelgrass destruction in Westcott and Garrison bays.

The destruction of these and other forage fish spawning grounds resulted in an 88 percent decrease in the county’s herring spawn from 1989 to 2004. If the Westcott Bay/Garrison Bay eradication is included, it is a more than 95 percent decrease.

John Evans maintains that a 100-foot setback helps salmon 5 percent and hurts landowners 40 percent. His numbers are reversed. Unless we immediately protect the few remaining, vital spawning grounds, we will help landowners 5 percent and eliminate the fish, waterfowl and orcas by 90 percent. The Critical Areas Ordinance setbacks, which do not affect existing houses, will probably affect less than 2 percent of shoreline property owners.

County Council and Planning Commission members, you can bow before a small, vocal minority of landowners (most of whom do not own properties in question), and watch further disintegration of the marine food chain ... or you can protect our heritage in the waters around our islands.

You cannot do both.

Janet Alderton
Deer Harbor

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