Letters to the Editor

Work locally on orca recovery plan

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to extend the comment period on its proposed regulations to close off much of the west side of San Juan Island to boat traffic in order to protect the orca.

By doing so, they state that this will mean that the regulations cannot be implemented in 2010.

Clearly, this action by NOAA was in response to the significant public resistance to the proposal, evidenced by public hearings at which hundreds of local residents questioned the science behind the proposal, the timing of the regulations, and described and decried the potential economic impacts. Equally passionate were supporters of the proposal, who endorsed the science and the intent of the regulations.

I was not an impartial observer in this process. As a kayaker, I found the science supporting a ban on kayaking in the area to be thin or nonexistent. And while I don’t believe short-term economic impacts should be a determining factor in environmental decisions, I thought that a realistic discussion of the economic impacts should be part of the discussion. And I found the arguments persuasive that depletion of the orcas’ food source (chinook salmon) and a toxic environment were the major threats to the orcas’ continued existence.

But my opinions are relatively uninformed. There are many people in the county who are much more knowledgeable about the science and the impacts than I. And that is why I think we need to take the opportunity that this delay gives us to get all the stakeholders in a room and spend the next year trying to come up with our own proposals to protect the orca.

This would require people willing to put down their rhetorical weapons and personal animosities, and be willing to have a reasoned and reasonable discussion, agreeing on a process, assembling and evaluating the relevant science, analyzing the impacts, having multiple public discussions, and seeing if we can’t come up with a comprehensive plan (or plans) of our own.

Clearly, this would not be easy and probably not at all fun. But if we don’t do it here, it will be done in Seattle or D.C. (or Oregon!), and the impact of our participation will be minimized.

At the risk of sounding parochial, I don’t think that would be a good thing.

Charles A. Richardson
Friday Harbor

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