Sound is one of the iconic wonders of the world and defines who
we are, not only as tribes, but all residents of Western Washington.
This great body of water was still being formed by receding
glaciers when the tribes arrived, and we have lived off her abundant
natural resources ever since. Over thousands of years our beautiful
and unique inland sea has become a complex ecosystem, supporting
not only an abundance of sea life, but also mixing with freshwater
resources at the mouths of our great rivers, providing a consistent
and plentiful food source for us humans.
This natural resource wealth has influenced every part of our
tribal traditions. Stories of the great salmon runs have been carried
down through the generations, and they tell us these waters once
rippled with silver, as salmon arrived home after several years
out to sea. The clams, crab and mussels were also abundant, and
along with berries, roots and the plants we harvested, our traditional
diet was, and continues to be, sacred to us.
The old Indians used to say, "When the tide is out, the table
For more than 200 years the descendants of the settlers, and
now peoples from around the globe, have called the Puget Sound home.
Like the tribes, they have lived off her rich resources, appreciated
her great beauty and passed laws to protect her from exploitation.
Today, however, the health of Puget Sound is failing fast. In
recent years it has lost 20 percent, or more, of the plankton that
makes up the base of our food web. Everything above plankton in
the food chain is also affected and is showing signs of great stress.
The loss of plankton is beyond comprehension and is the single greatest
barometer of what is happening to the waters we have all largely
taken for granted.
It is time the citizens of Washington, and in particular citizens
of Puget Sound, act on this information. With plankton gone, it
means every animal up the food chain pays the price, including us.
Mark my words: Puget Sound is dying! Finding whales dying from
natural causes is expected. Finding whales that are emaciated and
starving is alarming and will become a common scenario if we do
not address the problem quickly. But what is happening; why are
plankton dying? We are only beginning to understand the complex
interactions between warming ocean waters, how they affect the state's
inland sea, and how human activities play into this alarming situation.
Toxins in the food chain are devastating from the bottom all
the way up. Recent evidence suggests that nutrient pollution, such
as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants, septic
systems, residential homes, agriculture and other sources, are significantly
disrupting the food web in Puget Sound. We cannot continue to ignore
the fact that the sound is the baseline of our livelihoods and that
we humans are only as healthy as our environment.
The great waters and rivers of the Salish Sea have existed since
the last ice age (13,000 years ago) and with the melting of the
ice the Puget Sound was born. Mother Nature has created this beautiful
place we call home, and in less than 200 years, and largely within
the last 100 years, we have managed to undo what Mother Nature provided
How many more years will it take to entirely wipe out sea life
in Puget Sound? Can she sustain the barrage of pollutants that are
killing the plankton for another 50 years? Do we have another 25
years to act before reaching the tipping point, or have we already
arrived? Our window of opportunity to heal her is closing. It is
our duty to do all that we can to improve her health and time is
not on our side.
The Tulalip Tribes have collaborated with governments, nonprofits,
and other entities on a variety of habitat restoration projects,
on and off reservation, and we continue to lobby for the protection
of Puget Sound. One project that we feel very proud to be a part
of is Qualco Energy. Partnering with farmers and environment groups
in the Snohomish River basin we have worked together to build an
anaerobic digester, which channels cow manure away from streams
and fresh groundwater sources by converting it to electricity before
it is sold to the electricity grid. It is an example of the type
of collaboration it will take to restore the health of our Sound.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced his proposal this week to address
the issue of fish consumption that has large implications for our
health and water quality standards. Gov. Inslee's proposal begins
to address Puget Sound's health but not to the level that we had
hoped. While the proposed rate of fish consumption is significantly
higher, his proposal also increases the risk of cancer deaths by
some toxins. The governor's proposal strengthens water quality with
one hand, but weakens it with the other. The net effect seems to
be a very modest change for some chemicals, and no change at all
for others. It also represents yet another delay on committing to
the health of the Puget Sound, and to the health of those who depend
on its resources.
There are no winners in the governor's announcement. We want
to be able to encourage our people to eat more fish and shellfish,
as it sustained them well for many generations, and forms the basis
of our shared ways of life. We remain hopeful that the court of
public opinion will convince the governor to reconsider his proposal
so that when the tide is out it is safe to eat at the table.
Les Parks is the vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.