In win for fish, oil companies allowed to abandon old rigs

John Upton, Grist

For all the harm that the oil and gas industry inflicts on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, it does offer the marine ecosystem at least one big benefit. Offshore oil-drilling rigs serve as artificial reefs, providing shelter for animals and an anchor for plants, coral, and barnacles. Yet once a well is tapped, the federal government has required the drilling company to uproot its rig to help clear clutter that could obstruct shipping.

Following complaints from fishermen and conservationists, however, the Obama administration is easing those rules. It announced this week that it is making it easier for states to designate abandoned drilling infrastructure as special artificial reef sites.

The move is a win-win. Fish, turtles, and other wildlife get to keep their underwater metropolises — and drilling companies can save on the costs of rig removal. From Fuel Fix:

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has revised the policies to encourage participation in its rigs-to-reefs program, which allows operators to leave non-producing platforms deep in the Gulf as artificial homes for underwater creatures.

So, um, thanks to all the penny-pinching oil companies out there that don’t want to pay to clean up their crap?

Lummi Nation harvests hatchery fish, releases natural origin chinook

Lummi Natural Resources staffers Tony George, left, and Ralph Phair collect a hatchery chinook salmon from a tangle net in the Nooksack River.
Lummi Natural Resources staffers Tony George, left, and Ralph Phair collect a hatchery chinook salmon from a tangle net in the Nooksack River.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Lummi Nation Natural Resources Department is conducting a pilot tangle net fishery for hatchery chinook salmon that allows natural origin fish to be released without harm.

Nooksack River early chinook are part of a major population group that must be recovering before the Puget Sound chinook listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can be delisted.

“We’re trying to conserve all the natural origin fish by using a smaller mesh net,” said Alan Chapman, ESA coordinator for the tribe. “The fish tangle by the snout, rather than the gills or body, so they can be safely released.”

Fish from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Fork Nooksack early chinook hatchery program are marked with a clipped adipose fin and/or coded-wire tag. When a tangle net is used, tribal fishermen can harvest those fish, while releasing the wild ones.

The Lummi Nation contracted with tribal fishermen Rab Washington and Johnny Olsen to fish the small mesh net, with the assistance of natural resources staff who sort the fish, take tissue and scale samples from natural origin fish before releasing them, and take scale samples and coded-wire tag information from the retained hatchery salmon.

“We hope this pilot program will lead to a closely supervised tribal fishery so we can get back to the days our elder fishers reminisce about,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources. “Eventually, we could use the tangle net to harvest pink salmon that haven’t been available to tribal fishermen because of chinook bycatch concerns. This will also increase fishing opportunities during the spring and summer months, and help protect the fall chinook fishery from bycatch concerns.”

The decline in salmon runs has come at a great cost to Lummi fishermen, who make up one of the largest tribal fishing fleets in the country. Increasing fishing opportunities is crucial to supporting their Schelangen, or way of life, and retaining their tribal identity.

“We need to get our kids out fishing so they can understand the way it used to be and why we do what we do,” said Randy Kinley, fisherman and Lummi policy representative. “Future leaders need to remember where we came from, as it was taught to us.”

The tangle net fishery helped the tribe get one step closer to that goal by providing all of the salmon served at the Lummi Nation’s First Salmon Ceremony in May.

“Everyone in our community had an opportunity to feast on the salmon and celebrate our culture and connection to our fishing heritage at our First Salmon Ceremony,” Jefferson said.

The microbeads in your body wash are slowly filling the Great Lakes with plastic

By Sarah Laskow, Grist,

Sigh. You think the world would have caught on by now that plastic is one of the most incidentally destructive inventions the human race has ever come up with. Sure, L.A. just banned plastic bags, which is great. But meanwhile those tiny microbeads — the little bits of plastics in body wash that cosmetics companies invented for no real reason except to have a new thing to sell their customers — are slowly accumulating in the Great Lakes, where fish eat them.

Scientific American reports:

They are too tiny for water treatment plants to filter, so they wash down the drain and into the Great Lakes. The biggest worry: fish such as yellow perch or turtles and seagulls think of them as dinner. If fish or birds eat the inert beads, the material can deprive them of nutrients from real food or get lodged in their stomachs or intestines, blocking digestive systems.

I know, I know. But your skin feels so soft! (Does it? Does it reeeeallly?) Well, don’t worry: Soon you’ll probably be able to buy “natural” mud from the Great Lakes that’s full of the same exact exfoliants!

Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things. Follow her on Twitter.

President Sharp Reacts to Federal IFMAT Report

Quinault Indian Nation

TAHOLAH, WA (6/17/13)— An independent report delivered to the Intertribal Timber Council last week concluded that federal funding levels are lower today than in 1993, leading to reduced tribal staffing levels and disregarding the principles of federal law, according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation and Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

The report, the third made since 1993 by the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team (IFMAT), was delivered to the annual ITC symposium hosted by the Menoninee Tribe and Stockbridge Munsee Community in Wisconsin last Tuesday.  The report concluded that federal funding and, consequently, tribal forest staffing levels are far below those of comparable public and private programs. Achieving equitable funding for tribal programs was a primary purpose for the establishment of the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team and the passage of its enabling legislation, the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act (NIFRMA) in 1990.  Still, tribes nationwide have assumed greater leadership roles through self-determination and self-governance.

“The accomplishments of Indian tribes in improving management of our forests, fish, wildlife, and water have truly been impressive.  Tribes have some of the best scientists and natural resource management programs in the country. We have proven that tribal forests can be managed to provide Indian and non-Indian jobs, support tribal and overall economic development, and sustain our fish, wildlife, water, foods, medicines, and cultures. Healthy forests mean healthy waters, air, animals and people. On the Quinault Reservation, we manage for sustainability of the environment, the economy, and our cultures. As stewards of the land, we take our responsibilities seriously, knowing that today’s decisions will affect our people for seven generations,” said Sharp.

The IFMAT Report does, however, show that our forest resources and forestry programs are suffering from the lack of equitable federal funding.  The potential for tribal management to serve as models for sustainable forestry cannot be fulfilled unless the enormous funding disparity between tribal and non-tribal programs is corrected, according to Sharp.

“We build the best teams and the best programs because we know we must care for the land and natural resources to honor Mother Earth. We have always been here and will always be here. We invest in our natural resource programs for the long run—not just for ourselves, but for our children, and the generations to come, tribal and non-tribal alike. We are appalled that the federal government continues to fail to provide the resources needed to fulfill its fiduciary trust responsibilities for management of Indian forests.  The independent, blue ribbon panel of experts of IFMAT concluded that an additional $100 million and 800 staff positions are needed nationwide to meet even minimum requirements.  The federal government promised to help us protect these lands in nation-to-nation treaties.  In the 1970’s, the Quinault people were forced to sue the United States for mismanagement of our forests.  We know the country faces serious fiscal challenges, but that’s not an acceptable excuse.  We are only asking the United States to keep its word and fulfill its treaty and trust obligations,” said Sharp

When NIFRMA passed in 1990, it called for IFMAT reports every 10 years to be delivered to Congress and the Administration. The law declared (1) that the United States has a trust responsibility toward Indian forest lands and (2) that federal investment in Indian forest management is significantly below the level of investment in Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or private forest land management (25 USC Sec. 3111).

The IFMAT reports are national in scope and focus on: Management practices and funding levels for Indian forest land compared with federal and private forest lands; the health and productivity of Indian forest lands; staffing patterns of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal forestry organizations; timber sale administration procedures, including accountability for proceeds; the potential for reducing BIA rules and regulations consistent with federal trust responsibility; the adequacy of Indian forest land management plans, including their ability to meet tribal needs and priorities; the feasibility of establishing minimum standards for measuring the adequacy of BIA forestry programs in fulfilling trust responsibility and recommendations of reforms and increased funding levels.

In the 49 states outside of Alaska, there are 18 million acres of Indian forests and woodlands on 294 separate Indian reservations. Of this land, nearly 10 million acres are considered commercial woodlands or timberlands. The states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Minnesota and Wisconsin have the greatest concentration of tribal forests.  IFMAT visited the Quinault, Makah, Tulalip, Yakama, Colville, and Spokane tribes as part of the third assessment of the status of Indian forests and forestry.