Commentary: Inspirational conference puts focus on saving Puget Sound, its salmon and orcas

The City of Edmonds contingent with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal: from left, Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite, Mayor Dave Earling, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis and Public Works Director Phil Williams.

I have been to many good conferences in my four decades of working in the financial and regulatory sector, but I must admit last week’s conference for “Puget Sound Days on the Hill” was the most inspirational ever! The four-day conference — hosted by the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) — provided a myriad of history, educational and environmental aspects, legislative updating and an overall communal discussion on how can we save our Puget Sound, hence our salmon and by extension our orcas.

I attended as a representative of WRIA 8 (Water Resource Area Inventory 8) and the City of Edmonds. This was PSP’s fifth year of having this conference and the group has grown from a mere 20 to now over 75.  I met a number of members of Congress and have included some of their quotes that inspired me. I have been on WRIA 8 for nine years and have learned a tremendous amount about our local Watershed 8 – so it was wonderful to meet other representatives from state and federal agencies, state universities, state, county and local officials and commissions and leaders from Governor Inslee’s office.

To summarize the week, I emailed Joe Scordino, who is a former NOAA official and heads up the Save our Marsh Group, Edmonds Stream Team and Students Saving Salmon: “Good morning Joe, this is been a wonderful experience for me being on the environmental side of life. As you know being in the financial world as a banker/regulator, I was always around numbers people for years and that really was not invigorating. We can get that Willow Creek Marsh daylighted and it will happen within the next couple years”.

I did have some funny moments — like trying to act like a scientist and use the term “turbidity” in front of the Honorable Senator Maria Cantwell and staff and for the life of me, I could not get that word out of my mouth correctly! But I was happy that Maria is the daughter of Rose Cantwell — whom I know through the Edmonds Senior Center — and I am sure Maria knew I was just tired from a long week of walking, talking, meeting, greeting and learning more about our Puget Sound, near-shore estuaries and our rivers.

Senator Cantwell has worked tirelessly on preserving our pristine waters and is a leading advocate on ocean acidification science. She understands the impact of tourism on Washington’s economy and how the environment is a key factor. She thanked me for the nine years of work that I have done for WRIA 8 and asked me “What can I do to help you with the Edmonds Marsh Estuary Restoration?”

What follows are a few quotes and ideas I jotted down when our federal representatives visited our forum for a quick question-and-answers session.

Rep. Denny Heck opened by thanking the PSP and all of us by saying, “we have made great progress — but we have a long way to go. This place is broken right now but we are working on infrastructure issues and stormwater resolutions.”  He later quoted the Billy Frank Jr. gravestone, which states: “Time is Running Out.”

To summarize in one paragraph the impact Billy Frank Jr. had on local tribal rights, our watersheds and rivers would be difficult; but he committed his life to protecting his Nisqually people’s traditional way of life and to protecting the endangered salmon whose survival is the focus of tribal life. The “fish-ins” and demonstrations Frank Jr. helped organize in the 1960s and 1970s — along with accompanying lawsuits — led to the Boldt decision of 1974, which restored to the federally recognized tribes the legal right to fish as they always had. Frank remained a tireless advocate until his death. Shortly after his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor.

Rep. Derek Kilmer thanked us for the hard work on behalf of all children. “While I cannot give specifics, Puget Sound Days is and has been a great success and we will see federal funding increases in Puget Sound and our near-shore estuaries, so keep up the good work.” He also made reference to Billy Frank Jr., and joked that he has a picture of Frank in his office behind his desk. When meetings got terse or tense, Kilmer would state – “Now what would Billy Frank say?”

Senator Patty Murry, who has been a tireless advocate for our Puget Sound, complimented our work and talked about how it does take a village to get movement. She said in closing, “Thank you for your tenacity regarding this very important issue. It’s all about our future generations to come and this work will pave the way for our environmental future.”

Rep. Suzan Delbene opened with saying, “Washington State has been a leader on climate change and this issue is still not bipartisan.” She continued by stating that the most important thing is to continue to bring people together and move forward in the areas of common ground, which is clean water. “Everyone knows we need clean water,” she said.

Rep. Kim Schrier stated, “Even though I am a pediatrician and am in health care — the health of the environment is much like human health care and for this reason, I am adding my name to the Puget Sound SOS Act today.” The Puget Sound SOS Act was introduced into the House this year by Reps. Heck and Kilmer and this SOS Act would designate the Puget Sound as a nationally significant body of water (like Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes) under the Clean Water Act, and align federal agencies for its protection.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal fired up the room with her enthusiasm for Puget Sound Days on the Hill and the importance of this conference to bring individuals together to help create change. She stated: “Environmental issues are so core for humans’ rights and that advocacy needs to continue — so please do not give up on the urgency of this scale.” She stated that it is important for federal budget to not only look at the environment and infrastructure but the federal government needs to uphold tribal rights. “Stories do matter and you are changing the narrative.”

Gov. Jay Inslee sent Policy Direct Robert Duff to highlight the recent bills that have passed in the Washington Legislature for orca and salmon recovery. He said with a big smile, “We should all be taking victory laps for the overwhelming legislative support for our orcas and Puget Sound.”

So, in closing, we are all making a difference and I will continue to help Edmonds achieve its environmental goals and work with my fellow colleagues on our state initiatives as well. It was a wonderful trip and PSP representatives did a wonderful job making this week eventful and educational and inspirational. I can hardly wait until next year!

— By Diane Buckshis, Edmonds City Council

One Reply to “Commentary: Inspirational conference puts focus on saving Puget Sound, its salmon and orcas”

  1. This informative message from Edmonds Council member Diane Buckshnis is extremely encouraging. Thank you Diane.

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