Comment: More work needed after mixed report on State of Sound

The Puget Sound Partnership’s latest report points to areas of the environment that need our efforts.

By William Derry / For The Herald

The Puget Sound Partnership has released its biennial State of the Sound report, which finds that while overall the Puget Sound is holding on, its recovery remains uncertain.

This very mixed scorecard is concerning. Merely clinging to life with little movement toward improvement of the health of the sound, its ecosystems and species is not sufficient progress in the restoration of this beautiful inland sea around which we live.

The report uses 44 vital signs to represent the many aspects of the health of the sound. While six of those vital signs are looking up and five are clearly down, 23 show no clear trend of decline or improvement and seven have mixed results with both good and bad components (three have insufficient data). A few examples of particular vital signs:

Estuarine wetlands, where fresh and saltwater mix, are critical to salmon, marine birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Nearly 80 percent of estuarine wetlands around Puget Sound have been diked for urban development or farmland in the last 150 years. We are fortunate in Snohomish County to have the Snohomish County Surface Water Management Division, the Tulalip Tribes and the Stillaguamish Tribe, Nature Conservancy and others that have restored thousands of acres of estuary for the Snohomish and Stillaguamish Rivers. Still more of this work is needed.

Terrestrial birds, especially those dependent on the once-thriving forests around the sound, are in steady decline, starting in the late 1960s. For example, the golden-crowned kinglet, one of our smallest perching birds, found primarily in montane conifer forests, has declined by 60 percent in the western U.S. over the last 60 years. Protection of mature and old-growth forest is of particular importance to this species and others dependent on these habitats.

A sign with mixed results is that of marine birds. Four species were selected to represent marine birds in the sound. Marbled murrelet populations have been declining at a rate of 5 percent per year since 2000. Scoters have been declining at about 2 percent per year. Pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklet populations appear to be stable, although a recent study shows some declines in the latter.

If we want the Puget Sound to be the vital functioning ecosystem it once was, we are going to have to do more. We must protect old-growth forests and protect and restore key marine habitats such as kelp and eelgrass beds. We must reduce shoreline armoring that impacts functioning shoreline ecosystems and production of forage fish, vital prey for salmon and marine birds.

In Snohomish County roughly half our marine shoreline is armored by the Burlington Northern Railroad and the ports of Edmonds and Everett.

We live in a magnificent place that is struggling to hold its own and must all do more to help it to recover and to thrive.

William E. Derry is president of the Pilchuck Audubon Society. He lives in Edmonds.

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