Honoring the Legacy of Billy Frank Jr.

Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Lorraine Loomis, vice-chair of the NWIFC and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe.


By Lorraine Loomis, Vice-Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – So much has been written and said about the passing of Billy Frank Jr., our great leader and good friend. Many people are asking how to honor Billy’s memory. Who will take his place?

One way we can honor Billy’s legacy is to carry on his work:

We must recover wild salmon to levels that can once again support harvest. That is the only true measure of salmon recovery. To do that, we must do more to protect and then to restore salmon habitat. Right now we are losing habitat faster than it can be fixed. That must change or we will continue to lose the battle for salmon recovery.

  • We must maintain strong salmon hatchery programs. Most hatcheries were built to mitigate for lost natural wild salmon production caused by damaged and destroyed habitat. Tribal, state and federal hatcheries are operated safely, responsibly and using the best science to minimize impacts on wild salmon. Some hatcheries produce salmon for harvest. Others aid recovery of weak wild stocks. Every hatchery is essential to meeting the tribal treaty right by contributing salmon that are available for harvest. Without hatcheries there would be no fishing at all in most areas of western Washington. We must have hatcheries as long as wild salmon habitat continues to be degraded and disappear.
  • We must achieve a more protective fish consumption rate and maintain the current cancer risk rate to improve water quality and protect the health of everyone who lives in Washington. The two rates are key factors that state government uses to determine how much pollution can be dumped in our waters. The state admits that the current fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day (an amount that would fit on a soda cracker) does not protect most of us who live here. It is among the lowest rates in the country, despite the fact that we have one of the largest populations of fish and shellfish consumers in the United States. Currently the cancer risk rate from toxins in seafood that the state uses to set water quality standards is one in a million, but Gov. Jay Inslee is considering a move to reduce that rate to one in 100,000, a tenfold decrease in protection. We believe Washington’s fish consumption rate should be 175 grams per day – the same as Oregon – and that the cancer risk rate should remain at one in a million.
  • We must really, truly clean up Puget Sound. Every few years state government creates a new agency or cooperative effort to make that cleanup a reality. Year after year, decade after decade, we have all been working toward that goal, but we are not making sufficient progress. The main reason is lack of political will to develop and enforce regulations that could make cleanup a reality. Until that changes, the cleanup of Puget Sound will not happen.
  • We must stop plans to expand the transport and export of coal and oil through our state’s land and waters. Increased oil train and tanker ship traffic and more export terminals offer nothing but problems. The likelihood of oil train explosions and derailments, along with the potential for devastating spills from tanker ships, threaten tribal treaty rights, the environment, our natural resources, our health and even our very lives. The few, mostly short-term jobs that they might provide are just not worth the cost.
  • We must continue to work together on the problems we all share. We have shown that great things can be accomplished through cooperation, such as the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement and the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. If we work together we can achieve both a healthy environment and a healthy economy. If we continue the conflict we will achieve neither outcome. A healthy environment is necessary to support a healthy economy in this region and the people who live here demand it.

Billy worked his entire life to make western Washington a better place for all of us to live. Tribal treaty rights that protect natural resources help make that possible, and benefit everyone who lives here, not just Indian tribes.

As for the question of who will pick up where Billy left off, the answer is all of us. No single person will ever be able to replace him. That’s a job for everyone. There is only one direction we can go: Forward – together – on the path Billy showed us with the teachings he shared.

Group Calls For Expanding Killer Whale Habitat Protection

Cassandra Profita, OPB

An environmental group is calling for a major expansion in habitat protection for Puget Sound’s killer whales.

Research shows the endangered orcas that live in Puget Sound in the summer are venturing up and down the West Coast in the winter to forage for food. Scientists tracking these southern resident orcas have followed the whales as far north as Alaska and as far south as Monterey, Calif.

Given these findings, the Center for Biological Diversity says the whales need a lot more habitat protection than they have now. The group filed a petition Thursday with the National Marine Fisheries Service to expand protected habitat for the whales from Puget Sound to a large swath of ocean area off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

“They need to protect all of their habitat — not just where the whales hang out in the summer,” says Sarah Uhlemann of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Existing vs. proposed critical habitat.

Protected habitat for species listed under the Endangered Species Act, known as “critical habitat,” comes with restrictions on actions taken by the federal government that might threaten the species’ survival.

Uhlemann says those restrictions would apply to federal decisions on salmon fishing, port expansions and other coastal developments. That would mean any time the federal government decides to do anything -– say the Navy decides to practice some sonar or an agency is deciding whether to permit a port expansion — the government would have to fully consider environmental impacts.

“Not only on the whale but also on its habitat –- and if the impacts are too large they have to stop and mitigate, or lessen what those impacts are,” Uhlemann said.

Lynne Barre is a marine biologist and manager in Seattle with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She said the federal government was already considering an expansion in habitat protections for southern resident orcas as its tagging research program has revealed more about where the whales are feeding.

“Our knowledge of their habitat in the ocean is increasing,” Barre said. “Gathering additional information about their coastal habitat was one of the priorities we identified when we listed the orcas for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2005.”

The orcas face threats from a lack of available food because they primarily survive on salmon, Barre said. They also accumulate high levels of contaminants such as flame retardants, legacy pesticides and industrial pollutants that can impact their immune systems. Orcas are acoustic animals that use sound to communicate with each other and find prey, she said, so underwater noises from vessels and other activities pose another threat to the whales.

The existing critical habitat protections in Puget Sound require evaluations of the impacts to whales from pollution discharges, ship passage and construction activities such as pile-driving, Barre said. Federal regulators will have 90 days to decide whether to review the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to expand the area where those kinds of protections apply.

Tulalip Tribes turn “gulch” into Greenwood Creek

Tulalip biologist Brett Shattuck strolls along the recently restored, and named, Greenwood Creek.

Tulalip biologist Brett Shattuck strolls along the recently restored, and named, Greenwood Creek.

Source: Northwest Indian Fishieries Commission

The Tulalip Tribes recently improved rearing habitat in a small coastal stream popular with juvenile chinook.

Known to locals as “the gulch,” the unnamed stream had one of the highest densities of juvenile chinook of all the coastal streams sampled in the Whidbey basin by the Tulalip Tribes and Skagit River System Cooperative. During one electrofishing survey, natural resources staff found 280 chinook among a total of 600 juvenile salmon that also included coho and other species.

“They can live there for many weeks, so it’s more than just acclimating,” said Derek Marks, Timber Fish and Wildlife manager for Tulalip. “They’re actually rearing and growing in there.”

Despite those numbers, the tribes saw room for improvement. At the time, the gulch was little more than a ditch overgrown with invasive plants. Old county stormwater assessments referred to it as Greenwood Creek, probably named for a nearby grange.

A degraded culvert partially impeded fish passage upstream. “The culvert was rusting and on its way out,” said Tulalip biologist Brett Shattuck, project manager for what became the Greenwood Creek Stream Enhancement Project. “The stream was lined with rocks that created more of a flume than a channel.”

Greenwood Creek is county-owned and in a public right-of-way. The tribes and Snohomish County worked with Adopt-a-Stream to replace the culvert, clear the invasives and realign about 250 feet of habitat.

Interpretive signs are planned to help the public understand the importance of small coastal streams to migrating salmon. Before the restoration, people may not have realized that the small drainage ditch was being used by juvenile salmon.

“We want to show people how successful restoration can be in coastal streams, and to raise awareness that these streams have value for fish,” Shattuck said. “We monitored fish use for three years before the project and will continue to monitor it for several years after construction.”

Puyallup Tribe tracking salmon making their way to newly restored habitat

Eric Marks, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, conducts a spawning survey downstream from a new logjam.

Eric Marks, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, conducts a spawning survey downstream from a new logjam.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is already finding salmon using newly restored habitat on the Clearwater River.

“Its great to see salmon using the habitat so soon after the completion of the project,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe. “In a few months, the offspring of these fish we’re seeing migrate and spawn in the Clearwater will be able to use this habitat to rear and find food.”

So far this year, the tribe has counted more than 100 chinook and 250 coho in about a mile of restored river.

The project was managed by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG).

Last summer a total of 18 large and small engineered logjams were installed in the Clearwater River about two miles up from where it joins the White River. Placement of these log jams will reconnect flows to a network of 11 existing side channels, dissipate floods, and increase instream structure and cover in the river.

“Adding the wood and instream structure to the river will encourage the river to move and create habitat in a way it always had,” said Kristin Williamson, SPSSEG project manager.

The Puyallup Tribe conducts extensive spawning surveys throughout the Clearwater for chinook, coho and pink salmon. Data from spawning surveys help natural managers assess the success of habitat projects. Fisheries managers also use the data to help build future salmon fisheries.

“Spawning surveys are a simple and essential tool for managing salmon,” Ladley said. “Nothing beats getting out on the water and counting fish.”

Just downstream from the project site the tribe also recently built a new juvenile chinook acclimation pond. The Puyallup Tribe annually transfers as many as 800,000 juvenile spring chinook from either a state or Muckleshoot tribal hatchery and raises them in several acclimation ponds in the upper White.

“Coho and chinook populations in the White River have demonstrated an encouraging upward trend over the past 15 years. Hopefully this project and other similar efforts will allow this trend to continue and extend to other species such as steelhead that that have not responded favorably,” Ladley said. “The best way to bring them back is to repair what habitat we can and protect what they have left.”

Video: Puyallup Tribe Pink Salmon Study

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is looking at this year’s large pink salmon run that is showing up in the White River but is causing a backup in the fishway, causing a problem for other salmon species to make it upstream. The study will look at the delay associated with the arrival of pinks.


Puyallup Tribe Pink Salmon Study from NW Indian Fisheries Commission on Vimeo.

Way beyond greenwashing: Have corporations captured big conservation?

deforestBy Jonathan Latham, GreenMedInfo

Imagine an international mega-deal. The global organic food industry agrees to support international agribusiness in clearing as much tropical rainforest as they want for farming. In return, agribusiness agrees to farm the now-deforested land using organic methods, and the organic industry encourages its supporters to buy the resulting timber and food under the newly devised “Rainforest Plus” label. There would surely be an international outcry.

Virtually unnoticed, however, even by their own membership, the world’s biggest wildlife conservation groups have agreed exactly to such a scenario, only in reverse. Led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), many of the biggest conservation nonprofits including Conservation International and theNature Conservancy have already agreed to a series of global bargains with international agribusiness. In exchange for vague promises of habitat protection, sustainability and social justice, these conservation groups are offering to greenwash industrial commodity agriculture.

The big conservation nonprofits don’t see it that way of course. According to WWF ’Vice President for Market Transformation’ Jason Clay, the new conservation strategy arose from two fundamental realizations.

The first was that agriculture and food production are the key drivers of almost every environmental concern. From issues as diverse as habitat destruction to over-use of water, from climate change to ocean dead zones, agriculture and food production are globally the primary culprits. To take one example, 80-90% of all fresh water abstracted by humans is for agriculture (e.g. FAO’s State of the World’s Land and Water report ).

This point was emphasized once again in a recent analysis published in the scientific journal Nature. The lead author of this study was Professor Jonathan Foley (Foley et al 2011). Not only is Foley the director of the University of Minnesota-based Institute on the Environment, but he is also a science board member of the Nature Conservancy.

The second crucial realization for WWF was that forest destroyers typically are not peasants with machetes but national and international agribusinesses with bulldozers. It is the latter who deforest tens of thousands of acres at a time. Land clearance on this scale is an ecological disaster, but Claire Robinson of Earth Open Source points out it is also “incredibly socially destructive”, as peasants are driven off their land and communities are destroyed. According to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 60 million people worldwide risk losing their land and means of subsistence from palm plantations.

By about 2004, WWF had come to appreciate the true impacts of industrial agriculture. Instead of informing their membership and initiating protests and boycotts, however, they embarked on a partnership strategy they call ‘market transformation’.

Market Transformation

With WWF leading the way, the conservation nonprofits have negotiated approval schemes for “Responsible” and “Sustainable” farmed commodity crops. According to Clay, the plan is to have agribusinesses sign up to reduce the 4-6 most serious negative impacts of each commodity crop by 70-80%. And if enough growers and suppliers sign up, then the Indonesian rainforests or the Brazilian Cerrado will be saved.

The ambition of market transformation is on a grand scale. There are schemes for palm oil (theRoundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil; RSPO), soybeans (the Round Table on Responsible Soy; RTRS), biofuels (the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels), Sugar (Bonsucro) and also for cotton, shrimp, cocoa and farmed salmon. These are markets each worth many billions of dollars annually and the intention is for these new “Responsible” and Sustainable” certified products to dominate them.

The reward for producers and supermarkets will be that, reinforced on every shopping trip, “Responsible” and “Sustainable” logos and marketing can be expected to have major effects on public perception of the global food supply chain. And the ultimate goal is that, if these schemes are successful, human rights, critical habitats, and global sustainability will receive a huge and globally significant boost.

The role of WWF and other nonprofits in these schemes is to offer their knowledge to negotiate standards, to provide credibility, and to lubricate entry of certified products into international markets. On its UK website, for example, WWF offers its members the chance to “Save the Cerrado” by emailing supermarkets to buy “Responsible Soy”. What WWF argues will be a major leap forward in environmental and social responsibility has already started. “Sustainable” and “Responsible” products are already entering global supply chains.

Reputational Risk

For conservation nonprofits these plans entail risk, one of which is simple guilt by association. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) scheme is typical of these certification schemes. Its membership includes WWF, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, the Nature Conservancy, and other prominent nonprofits. Corporate members include repeatedly vilified members of the industrial food chain. As of January 2012, there are 102 members, including Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, Nestle, BP and UK supermarket ASDA.

That is not the only risk. Membership in the scheme, which includes signatures on press-releases and sometimes on labels, indicates approval for activities that are widely opposed. The RTRS, for example, certifies soybeans grown in large-scale chemical-intensive monocultures. They are usually GMOs. They are mostly fed to animals. And they originate from countries with hungry populations. When 52% ofAmericans think GMOs are unsafe and 93% think GMOs ought to be labeled, for example, this is a risk most organizations dependent on their reputations probably would not consider.

The remedy for such reputational risk is high standards, rigorous certification and watertight traceability procedures. Only credibility at every step can deflect the seemingly obvious suspicion that the conservation nonprofits have been hoodwinked or have somehow ‘sold out’.

So, which one is it? Are “Responsible” and “Sustainable” certifications indicative of a genuine strategic success by WWF and its fellows, or are the schemes nothing more than business as usual with industrial scale greenwashing and a social justice varnish?

Low and Ambiguous Standards

The first place to look is the standards themselves. RTRS standards (version 1, June 2010), to continue with the example of soybeans, cover five ‘principles’. Principle 1 is: Legal Compliance and Good Business Practices. Principle 2 is: Responsible Labour Conditions. Principle 3 is: Responsible Community Relations. Principle 4 is Environmental Responsibility. Principle 5 is Good Agricultural Practice.

Language typical of the standards includes, under Principle 2, Responsible Labour Conditions, section 2.1.1 “No forced, compulsory, bonded, trafficked. or otherwise involuntary labor is used at any stage of production”, while section 2.4.4 states “Workers are not hindered from interacting with external parties outside working hours.”

Under Principle 3: Responsible Community Relations, section 3.3.3 states: “Any complaints and grievances received are dealt with in a timely manner.”

Under Principle 4: Environmental Responsibility, section 4.2 states “Pollution is minimized and production waste is managed responsibly” and section 4.4 states “Expansion of soy cultivation is responsible”.

Under Principle 5: Good Agricultural Practice, Section 5.9 states “Appropriate measures are implemented to prevent the drift of agrochemicals to neighboring areas.”

These samples illustrate the tone of the RTRS principles and guidance.

There are two ways to read these standards. The generous interpretation is to recognize that the sentiments expressed are higher than what are actually practiced in many countries where soybeans are grown, in that the standards broadly follow common practice in Europe or North America. Nevertheless, they are far lower than organic or fairtrade standards; for example they don’t require crop rotation, or prohibit pesticides. Even a generous reading also needs to acknowledge the crucial point that adherence to similar requirements in Europe and North America has contaminated wells, depleted aquifers, degraded rivers, eroded the soil, polluted the oceans, driven species to extinction and depopulated the countryside—to mention only a few well-documented downsides.

There is also a less generous interpretation of the standards. Much of the content is either in the form of statements, or it is merely advice. Thus section 4.2 reads “Pollution is minimized and production waste is managed responsibly.” Imperatives, such as: must, may never, will, etc., are mostly lacking from the document. Worse, key terms such as “pollution”, “minimized”, “responsible” and “timely” (see above) are left undefined. This chronic vagueness means that both certifiers and producers possess effectively infinite latitude to implement or judge the standards. They could never be enforced, in or out of court.

Dubious Verification and Enforcement

Unfortunately, the flaws of RTRS certification do not end there. They include the use of an internal verification system. The RTRS uses professional certifiers, but only those who are members of RTRS. This means that the conservation nonprofits are relying on third parties for compliance information. It also means that only RTRS members can judge whether a principle was adhered to. Even if they consider it was not, there is nothing they can do, since the RTRS has no legal status or sanctions.

The ‘culture’ of deforestation is also important to the standards. Rainforest clearance is often questionably legal, or actively illegal, and usually requires removing existing occupants from the land. It is a world of private armies and bribery. This operating environment makes very relevant the irony under which RTRS members, under Principle 1, volunteer to obey the law. The concept of volunteering to obey the law begs more than a few questions. If an organization is not already obeying the law, what makes WWF suppose that a voluntary code of conduct will persuade it? And does obeying the law meaningfully contribute to a marketing campaign based on responsibility?

Of equal concern is the absence of a clear certification trail. Under the “Mass Balance” system offered by RTRS, soybeans (or derived products) can be sold as “Responsible” that were never grown under the system. Mass Balance means vendors can transfer the certification quantity purchased, to non-RTRS soybeans. Such an opportunity raises the inherent difficulties of traceability and verification to new levels.

How Will Certification Save Wild Habitats?

A key stated goal of WWF is to halt deforestation through the use of maps identifying priority habitat areas that are off-limits to RTRS members. There are crucial questions over these maps, however. Firstly, even though soybeans are already being traded they have yet to be drawn up. Secondly, the maps are to be drawn up by RTRS members themselves. Thirdly, RTRS maps can be periodically redrawn. Fourthly, RTRS members need not certify all of their production acreage. This means they can certify part of their acreage as “Responsible”, but still sell (as “Irresponsible”?) soybeans from formerly virgin habitat. This means WWF’s target for year 2020 of 25% coverage globally and 75% in WWF’s ‘priority areas’ would still allow 25% of the Brazilian soybean harvest to come from newly deforested land. And of course, the scheme cannot prevent non-members, or even non-certified subsidiaries, from specializing in deforestation (1).

These are certification schemes, therefore, with low standards, no methods of enforcement, and enormous loopholes (2). Pete Riley of UK GM Freeze dubs their instigator the “World Wide Fund for naiveté” and believes “the chances of Responsible soy saving the Cerrado are zero.” (3). Claire Robinson agrees: “The RTRS standard will not protect the forests and other sensitive ecosystems. Additionally, it greenwashes soy that’s genetically modified to survive being sprayed with quantities of herbicide that endanger human health and the environment.” There is even a website (www.toxicsoy.org) dedicated to exposing the greenwashing of GMO Soy.

Many other groups apparently share that view. More than 250 large and small sustainable farming, social justice and rainforest preservation groups from all over the world signed a “Letter of Critical Opposition to the RTRS” in 2009. Signatories included the Global Forest CoalitionFriends of the EarthFood First, the British Soil Association and the World Development Movement.

Other commodity certifications involving WWF have also received strong criticism. The Mangrove Action Project in 2008 published a ‘Public Declaration Against the Process of Certification of Industrial Shrimp Aquaculture‘ while the World Rainforest Movement issued ‘Declaration against the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)‘, signed by 256 organizations in October 2008.

What Really Drives Commodity Certification?

Commodity certification is in many ways a strange departure for conservation nonprofits. In the first place the big conservation nonprofits are more normally active in acquiring and researching wild habitats. Secondly, as membership organizations it is hard to envisage these schemes energizing the membership—how many members of the Nature Conservancy will be pleased to find that their organization has been working with Monsanto to promote GM crops as “Responsible”? Indeed, one can argue that these programs are being actively concealed from their members, donors and the public. From their advertising, their websites, and their educational materials, one would presume that poachers, population growth and ignorance are the chief threats to wildlife in developing countries. It is not true, however, and as Jason Clay and the very existence of these certification schemes make clear, senior management knows it well.

In public, the conservation nonprofits justify market transformation as cooperative; they wish to work with others, not against them. However, they have chosen to work preferentially with powerful and wealthy corporations. Why not cooperate instead with small farmers’ movements, indigenous groups, and already successful standards, such as fairtrade, organic and non-GMO? These are causes that could use the help of big international organizations. Why not, with WWF help, embed into organic standards a rainforest conservation element? Why not cooperate with your membership to create engaged consumer power against habitat destruction, monoculture, and industrial farming? Instead, the new “Responsible” and “Sustainable” standards threaten organic, fairtrade, and local food systems—which are some of the environmental movement’s biggest successes.

One clue to the enthusiasm for ‘market transformation’ may be that financial rewards are available. According to Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory, certification is “now a core business” for WWF. Indeed, WWF and the Dutch nonprofit Solidaridad are currently receiving millions of euros from the Dutch government (under its Sustainable Trade Action Plan) to support these schemes. According to the plan 67 million euros have already been committed, and similar amounts are promised (4).

The Threat From the Food Movement

Commodity certification schemes like RTRS can be seen as an inability of global conservation leadership to work constructively with the ordinary people who live in and around wild areas of the globe; or they can be seen as a disregard for fairtrade and organic labels; or as a lost opportunity to inform and energize members and potential members as to the true causes of habitat destruction; or even as a cynical moneymaking scheme. These are all plausible explanations of the enthusiasm for certification schemes and probably each plays a part. None, however, explains why conservation nonprofits would sign up to schemes whose standards and credibility are so low. Especially when, as never before, agribusiness is under pressure to change its destructive social and environmental practices.

The context of these schemes is that we live at an historic moment. Positive alternatives to industrial agriculture, such as fairtrade, organic agriculture, agroecology and the System of Rice Intensification, have shown they can feed the planet, without destroying it, even with a greater population. Consequently, there is now a substantial international consensus of informed opinion (IAASTD) that industrial agriculture is a principal cause of the current environmental crisis and the chief obstacle to hunger eradication.

This consensus is one of several roots of the international food movement. As a powerful synergism of social justice, environmental, sustainability and food quality concerns, the food movement is a clear threat to the long-term existence of the industrial food system. Incidentally, this is why big multinationals have been buying up ethical brands.

Under these circumstances, evading the blame for the environmental devastation of the Amazon, Asia and elsewhere, undermining organic and other genuine certification schemes, and splitting the environmental movement must be a dream come true for members of the industrial food system. A true cynic might surmise that the food industry could hardly have engineered it better had they planned it themselves.

Who Runs Big Conservation?

To guard against such possibilities, nonprofits are required to have boards of directors whose primary legal function is to guard the mission of the organization and to protect its good name. In practice, for conservation nonprofits this means overseeing potential financial conflicts and preventing the organization from lending its name to greenwashing.

So, who are the individuals guarding the mission of global conservation nonprofits? US-WWF boasts (literally) that its new vice-chair was the last CEO of Coca-Cola, Inc. (a member of Bonsucro) and that another board member is Charles O. Holliday Jr., the current chairman of the board of Bank of America, who was formerly CEO of DuPont (owner of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a major player in the GMO industry). The current chair of the executive board at Conservation International, is Rob Walton, better known as chair of the board of WalMart (which now sells ‘sustainably sourced‘ food and owns the supermarket chain ASDA). The boards of WWF and Conservation International do have more than a sprinkling of members with conservation-related careers. But they are heavily outnumbered by business representatives. On the board of Conservation International, for example, are GAP, Intel, Northrop Grumman, JP Morgan, Starbucks and UPS, among others.

At the Nature Conservancy its board of directors has only two members (out of 22) who list an active affiliation to a conservation organization in their board CV (Prof Gretchen Daly and Cristian Samper, head of the US Museum of Natural History). Only one other member even mentions among their qualifications an interest in the subject of conservation. The remaining members are, like Shona Brown, an employee of Google and a board member of Pepsico, or Margaret Whitman who is the current President and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, or Muneer A Satter, a managing director of Goldman Sachs.

So, was market transformation developed with the support of these boards or against their wishes? The latter is hardly likely. The key question then becomes: did these boards in fact instigate market transformation? Did it come from the very top?

Never Ending

Leaving aside whether conservation was ever their true intention, it seems highly unlikely that WWF and its fellow conservation groups will leverage a positive transformation of the food system by bestowing “Sustainable” and “Responsible” standards on agribusiness.  Instead, it appears much more likely that, by undermining existing standards and offering worthless standards of their own, habitat destruction and human misery will only increase.

Market transformation, as envisaged by WWF, nevertheless might have worked. However, WWF neglected to consider that successful certification schemes start from the ground up. Organic and fairtrade began with a large base of committed farmers determined to fashion a better food system. Producers willingly signed up to high standards and clear requirements because they believed in them. Indeed, many already were practicing high standards without certification. But when big players in the food industry have tried to climb on board, game the system and manipulate standards, problems have resulted, even with credible standards like fairtrade and organic. At some point big players will probably undermine these standards. They seem already to be well on the way, but if they succeed their efforts will only have proved that certification standards can never be a substitute for trust, commitment and individual integrity.

The only good news in this story is that it contradicts fundamentally the defeatist arguments of the WWF. Old-fashioned activist strategies, of shaming bad practice, boycotting products and encouraging alternatives, do work. The market opportunity presently being exploited by WWF and company resulted from the success of these strategies, not their failure. Multinational corporations, we should conclude, really do fear activists, non-profits, informed consumers, and small producers all working together.

Biologists want island for salmon habitat; farmers worry about livelihoods

Dan Bates / The HeraldA bald eagle prepares to leave its perch on Smith Island near I-5 and the Snohomish River in January.

Dan Bates / The Herald
A bald eagle prepares to leave its perch on Smith Island near I-5 and the Snohomish River in January.

Noah Haglund, The Herald

EVERETT — Biologists see Snohomish County’s Smith Island project as their best chance to revive threatened chinook salmon in the Puget Sound basin.

Others consider it a threat to their livelihood.

The project is a massive undertaking to breach an old 1930s dike along Union Slough north of Everett and build new dikes farther from the water. By flooding more than 300 acres, the county hopes to bring back some of the salmon habitat converted to farmland after settlers arrived here in the 1800s.

“The Snohomish River basin is the most important chinook-producing river in the Puget Sound area, second only to the Skagit River system,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “Rebuilding the Snohomish River is a very top priority for the entire Puget Sound.”

By sheer size, the Smith Island proposal is the second largest estuary-restoration project in the region after the 750-acre Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in the south Puget Sound.

It will come at a price: $18 million, most of it from grants. The total includes $2 million from the city of Everett.

That’s an awful lot to pay, some argue, for a project estimated to restore 900 or so spawning adult chinook per year to the Snohomish River and its tributaries.

There’s more to the cost than what the county will pay. A neighboring lumber mill and tree farm worry that resulting changes to the estuary could put them out of business. At a minimum, they want to see the county conduct more thorough studies.

There’s also a vocal contingent of farmers dead-set against what they view as needless destruction of what is now agricultural land. State law, they correctly point out, requires the county to protect farmland, even as federal law often spells out conflicting steps to protect salmon.

You can expect to hear more about Smith Island in the coming months — and beyond. After years of study, the county on June 10 issued a final environmental impact statement. That’s a precursor to seeking permits.

Balancing the competing needs of farmers and fish is one of the trickiest feats governments in Western Washington are asked to perform. It’s why Snohomish County convened the nonpartisan Sustainable Lands Strategy three years ago to seek equilibrium.

In Snohomish County government, it’s easy to find leaders on both sides of the fish-farmer teeter-totter.

Somers, who worked as a fisheries biologist for the Tulalip tribes before joining the County Council, said there’s solid science behind the Smith Island project and its benefits for salmon.

The county arrived at this point after more than a decade of study, he said. Nobody was forced from the land.

“We bought the land from a willing seller,” he said. “We have not condemned any land.”

Councilman John Koster, a former dairy farmer, is staunchly opposed because once saltwater floods the ground, it will become unfarmable.

“The bottom line for me is it’s taking out in excess of 300 acres of farm ground when we have people looking to farm and (it flies) in the face of our mandate to conserve farm ground,” he said.

While opposed to the project, Koster can’t see any way for the county to back out. To sell the land, the county would have to repay grants used for the purchase years ago.

“This is a freight train running down the track and I don’t know that it’s even possible to stop it,” Koster said.

The fate of the Smith Island project, from here on, won’t necessarily rest with the County Council.

With a final environmental impact statement issued, people can ask Snohomish County to consider any unanswered concerns.

The county must submit a shoreline development permit, among others, before breaching dikes or any construction. That permit can be appealed after it’s issued, likely late this year. The appeal would go to a state hearings board.

Smith Island sits between Union Slough to the east and the main stem of the Snohomish River to the west.

The county project involves the part of the island east of I-5 and north of Everett’s sewage treatment plant.

Buse Timber, on the west side of I-5, is one of the businesses that could be affected. Originally founded in 1946, Buse has about 70 workers and is now employee-owned.

“We’re not opposed to the project, we just need some assurance,” said Mark Hecker, Buse’s recently retired president and a former commissioner with the local diking district.

The company has two concerns: being protected from floodwaters and being able to use Union Slough to float logs to the mill.

“We’ve never had any flooding as long as those dikes have been there,” Hecker said. “So they’re pretty strong.”

Buse wants the county to make commitments about dredging the slough if the new dike system causes it to silt up.

“That channel is pretty critical for us,” Hecker said. “If that were shut off, it would seriously impact whether we could run or not.”

Another nearby business facing potential effects is Hima Nursery, an 80-acre organic farm on the east side of I-5. Owner Naeem Iqbal worries that tampering with the dikes would prevent his land from draining properly and allow saltwater to seep in, potentially wiping out his nursery.

On Friday, Diking District 5, which is comprised of local landowners, voted to appeal the county’s final environmental impact statement. They’re asking the county for further examination the issues business owners have raised.

“Negotiations with the county have been going on for two and a half years and some of those issues aren’t resolved yet,” attorney Peter Ojala said.

If not for the fish-habitat plans on Smith Island, some farmers would like to grow crops there.

Ken Goehrs, of Everett, represents a Mount Vernon farmer who’s had trouble finding good cropland in the Snohomish Valley.

As Goehrs sees it, the county is looking to spend millions to destroy ag land. If farmed, that same land could provide jobs for dozens of agricultural workers.

“There is not enough farmland here to start with,” he said. “It’s going to destroy farmland. It’s going to take jobs out of the valley and it’s going to take taxes out of their (the county’s) coffers.”

The Smith Island project was spawned by the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing of the chinook salmon.

To address the problem, the federal government in 2007 adopted an overall Puget Sound recovery plan, part of which addresses the Snohomish River basin.

The Smith Island property, by 2001, already had been identified the best of a dozen places in Snohomish County for re-creating salmon habitat, according to a report from the county’s Public Works Department. The other sites would have carried similar costs for realigning dikes.

Federal studies have identified two distinct populations of naturally spawning chinook salmon in the Snohomish estuary: Skykomish chinook and Snoqualmie chinook. Several environmental factors, including habitat loss, have driven those populations to about 3 to 6 percent of historical levels, respectively.

The Puget Sound Partnership, which consists of government agencies, businesses and the public, said the spot near the mouth of the Snohomish River has importance beyond those two groups of salmon.

“This project potentially benefits all 22 populations of chinook in Puget Sound, including Nisqually fish leaving Puget Sound that may use the Snohomish estuary as well,” spokeswoman Alicia Lawver said.

If completed, the Smith Island project would satisfy about a quarter of the goals for restoring salmon habitat in the Snohomish River basin.

Being Frank: Don’t let First Salmon become Last Salmon

By Billy Frank, Jr, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman

Winter snows are melting up in the mountains and soon the only white stuff we’ll see floating in the air will be cottonwood fluff, a sign that the salmon are beginning to return and a reminder that it is time to celebrate the fish that sustains us as a people.

In gatherings large and small, tribes throughout western Washington will celebrate First Salmon ceremonies this spring and summer to welcome home the salmon.

It is an honor for a tribal fisherman to be asked to harvest the First Salmon, a scout for the Salmon People who live in a village under the sea. With drumming and singing the First Salmon is welcomed and shared. The First Salmon’s bones are then returned to the water to allow his spirit to go home. If the First Salmon was shown proper respect, he will tell the Salmon People how well he was treated, and lead them back to the tribe’s fishing area for harvest.

The return of the salmon means tribal fishermen will be returning to the water as well. As part of the First Salmon Ceremony, many tribes also include a Blessing of the Fleet for protection of tribal fishermen and their boats.

But it is getting harder every year to put our tribal fishermen on the water. While careful harvest management by the tribal and state co-managers is making a strong contribution to the recovery of wild salmon, the keys to rebuilding those runs have always been to protect and restore salmon habitat.

Yet day after day we see salmon habitat being lost and damaged, and little being done to stop or fix it. Our declining salmon populations and resulting lost fishing opportunity are mirrors that reflect the increasingly shrinking quality and quantity of salmon habitat in our region. Conservative fisheries are effective only when they go hand-in-hand with equally strong efforts to protect and restore salmon habitat.

The lack of action on protecting and restoring habitat has gotten to the point that we can no longer make up for declining salmon runs simply by reducing harvest. Those days are gone. Even if we stopped all salmon fishing everywhere in western Washington, most weak wild salmon stocks would still never recover. There simply isn’t enough good quality habitat to support them.

But despite everything that’s thrown against them – dams, pollution, predators and much more – the salmon never stop trying to make it home. We can’t stop either. We all need to work harder to make sure the salmon has a good home when he returns.

We don’t want to ever find ourselves contemplating a Last Salmon Ceremony.