South Sound Science: Curtis Tanner and question time

Curtis Tanner of Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project provided closing comments.  “My job is to summarize everything and rally the troops.”  Curtis provided a summary of today’s speakers, telling of lessons that he will take away, uplifting solutions, and many questions to consider. 

Sampling of questions:

This was in a panel format, and for the most part I was unable to tell who was speaking, so responses have been consolidated.  I also was unable to include all the questions and responses.

How should or could ports be involved in crafting solutions for South Sound restoration? 

There is the potential; Port of Seattle rephrased its objectives to include environmental priorities.  Shipping is related to the port’s activities, so they need to have a role, eg. oil spills.  Ports/shipping uses a lot of energy, so they are ripe for activity on this front. 

Ports are a peculiar agency under state law.  They need to reflect the public interest, but also they are an economic development agency and grow jobs.  There is constant tension between these two roles. 

Pete Swensson:  It is difficult to determine how much of our economy is due to the port.  The Port of Olympia is fairly small in the Pacific Northwest economy (especially compared to Port of Tacoma).

What’s the best way to balance monitoring  and research?

We often get asked what is the most important: monitoring, research, outreach, or restoration?  The answer: “Yes!” 

Betsy Peabody:  The question of ocean acifidication cannot be answered in a couple of years.  This is an area where we need to act even in the face of uncertainty.  We’re facing upwellings of water containing CO2 from 50 years ago.

To deal with climate change and sustainability issues, we need to make long-term predictions and modeling.  Monitoring can provoke process.  We monitor all the time without thinking about it, eg. census and land use.

Where do you see the role of education?

Citizen involved and engagement is a very important driver to getting stuff done.

On the individual level, we have the freedom to act quickly without restraints.  For example, water conservation.

Linda Hofstad:  Community engagement was essential to our project.  One-by-one we got people to do something.

Regulation vs. market-based system of change (incentives):

Linda Hofstad:  Having the Henderson Inlet program regulatory is eessential.  people are more willing to do the work if the rules apply to everyone  To level the playing field you need some regulation there, and then use incentives to make it easy and painless for residents.

to consider: If you have $2 million a year fo rthe next 10 years, how would you spend it in the South Puget Sound?

What should we advocate for?

  • good science
  • science education
  • energy and water conservation
  • linking actions to consequences
  • active accounting
  • teach people is it easy to act; our resources are finite
  • less sprawl, more compact development
  • more collaboration
  • talking with people who don’t already know science and these problems

South Sound Science: Linda Hofstad

Linda Hofstad, Thurston County, on “Improvement in Henderson Inlet water quality/shellfish harvest status”:

All was going well until State Department of Health started looking at water quality data, and closures and downgrades resulted.

2001 Shellfish Protection District formed, and in 2003 grant dollars became available to develop septic program.

Keys: 1) process;

2) risk-based approach (low risk systems inspected every 3 years, high risk: inspections plus dye test every 6 years);

3) incentives and asssitance (riser rebates, low interest loans, homeowner workshops, and grants)

Many people with septic systems repaired theirs before the inspection/tests.  The #1 neglected maintenance issue was pumping septic tanks.

Stormwater is also a key priority.

What made it happen?  willd, hardwork, cooperation

Who made it happen?  watershed residents, homeowners, farmers, cities, county staff, state agencies

Celebration of success – upgraded shellfish beds in Henderson Inlet

In the last talk of the day Linda Hofstad from Thurston County told a story of success in the effort to improve water quality and upgrade shellfish beds in Henderson Inlet.   After 26 years of over 650 acres of shellfish beds degraded in Henderson Inlet the situation is now turning around and shellfish beds are now being upgraded.  She identified some primary keys to their success:

  • an organized process that addressed local people’s concerns and developed a plan with priority actions.
  • a risk based organized approach to inspection of septic systems – a major target of the effort to address water qualtiy
  • incentives and assistance provided to local homeowners with septic systems including rebates, low interest loans, grants and workshops to help landowners address problem septic systems.

The result of this focused cooperative effort has been the upgrading of shellfish beds in Henderson Inlet.

Large scale analysis of a restoration strategy for South Sound nearshore

A large scale analysis of landform types and restoration opportunities identified 2 major river deltas (Nisqually and Deschutes) ,  144 coastal inlets, 179 barrier embayments, and 288 beaches in the South Puget Sound.   Paul Cereghino from NOAA explained that these different types of nearshore habitat were then examined looking at both degradation of the habitat and the potential of the habitat.   A cluster analysis was used to group the sites into different restoration opportunities and a color coded map with recommendations was created.  

One of the unique opportunities in the South Sound that Paul identified is that the South Sound has the shortest beaches in Puget Sound.  This provides an interesting opportunity to engage local communities who can focus on their local beach.

South Sound Science: Paul Cereghino

Paul Cereghino, NOAA Restoration Center, on “Assessment of human/natural ecosystems for nearshore protection and restoration planning”:

Nearshore systems are physically dynamic.  Critical processes operate at large scales.  The best strategy is based upon the whole situation (social, economic, ecological).

Aims: Plan at the scale of physical systems.  Support quest for USACE Construction General.  Facilitiate regional project comparisons. Identifying high value sites without projects.  Begin integrating protection and restoration.

We want to invest in projects that will deliver in terms of ecosystem benefits/services to Puget Sound.

PSNERP data site is Landform-Based Framework:  river deltas (Nisqually and Deschutes); Coastal Inlets; Barrier Embayments, and beaches (1/3 of all Puget Sound)

As degradation increases, the risk of a threshold change of state, cost, and opportunities for regaining lost services increase as the reliability of restoration decreases.  Degradation differs according to landscapes, and varies in character.

As a site becomes larger, the more complex, quantity, diversity, and/or resilience of ecosystem services increases.

The best strategy might change according to where you fall along the two gradients of potential and degradation.

“Strategy loves opportunity”

South Sound has a shallow mosaic of inlets and embayments, with the shortest beaches in the Puget Sound.  A high percentage of South Sound watershed flows into inlet sites compared to Sound-wide.

Western South Sound Coastal Cutthroat stock assessment suggests population is stable

Larry Phillips from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife explained how very little work has been done to assess the status of coastal cutthroat in South Puget Sound.   Some work has been done in the past few years to establish potential index areas to monitor spawning cutthroat population numbers and to track cutthroat movements using acoustic tags and receivers.  

Results of this work have identified Skookum Creek as a high density population of cutthroat.  Other potential index areas or important spawning locations include Kennedy Creek, Little Creek, Goldsborough Creek and Mill Creek.   The acoustic tagging results have suggested that the cutthroat seem to be staying in South Puget Sound and not migrating out into other parts of Puget Sound.

Chinook survival tied to offshore growth from May to July

An analysis of Chinook survival in Puget Sound and growth patterns in juvenile fish are indicating that the growth period between May to July when the Chinook are primarily feeding offshore is highly correlated with adult survival rates.    Dave Beauchamp from the University of Washington explained that a study looking at feeding rates, food availability, water temperatures and competition found that the adult survival rate was highly correlated with July body weights and there was no correlation with weights in September.  The primary diet items for that critical growth and feeding time were crab larvae and adult and terrestrial insects.

South Sound Science: Larry Phillips

Larry Phillips, Department of Fish and Wildlife, on “Season movements and associated management implications for coastal cutthroat trout in South Puget Sound”:

Presented observational data from multi-year, multi-agency study

Coastal Cutthroat trout is an important sport fish species that historically supported a large harvest fishery, and overharvest resulted in declines (anecdotal).

In 1997 the Natural Marine Fisheries service petitioned to list cutthroat trout under Endangered Species Act.  Determined it wasn’t in danger, but this was based on little data.

Stock Status challenges: “Coastal cutthroat trout don’t follow the rules,” and a general lack of data

In 2006 WDFW began surveying South Puget Sound streams to create methods to detect changes in relative abundance.

Fish were tagged with acoustic tags.  There was low post-tagging mortality, and high post-spawning mortality.  None of the tagged fish went outside study area.   

Conclusions include: “Index surveys may be useful at detecting changes in relative abundance over time.”  “Goldsborough and Mill Creek could be important spawning locations in South Puget Sound.”

And then a couple questions for David Beauchamp, regarding stratification of the coastal ocean and the effects of copper.  Recent research has shown that copper hampers coho salmon’s ability to detect predators.

Freezing and salinity used to control invasive mudsnails in Capitol Lake

The invasive New Zealand mud snail was discovered by a birdwatcher/shell enthusiast  in Capitol Lake in October of 2009.  There has been an intensive effort to control the mudsnail since it’s discovery.   Mudsnails outcompete native gastropods by outfeeding them and they don’t serve as an alternative food source for fish.  They have been spreading west from the Great Lakes where it is believed they were introduced through the release of European ship’s ballast water.

Wendy Brown from the Invasive Species Council warned the audience that these mudsnails have also been spread by unsuspected restoration biologists by moving them from one stream restoration site to another.  She also told the story of one biologist who found over 120 mudsnails hidden in the mud on his boots. 

Two primary methods have been attempted in Capitol Lake to try to control the invasion – freezing and increased salinity levels.   The freezing was found to be very effective – killing 98 percent of the snails.  The saltwater flush from opening the tidegate in the lake caused increased salinities above 20 for 7 to 8 hours.  This was much less effective than the freezing – only 12 percent mortality.  

Next steps will be to continue to experiment with freezing conditions this winter, weather permitting, and to do some follow up small scale trials of salt concentrations.

Ocean acidification could have local impacts on South Sound shellfish populations

Shellfish growers in Oregon and Washington are finding that their shellfish production is being negatively impacted by increasing ocean acidity caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Betsy Peabody explained how the shellfish are not able to grow their shells when the ocean water acid levels are too high.  

There is a study of natural shellfish populations in Puget Sound to see if there is a similar impact on their populations as what is being experienced in the hatcheries.  At Big Cove in Totten Inlet and Dabob Bay in Hood Canal it was found that high periods of spatfall coincided with low CO2 conditions in the water in both 2009 and 2010.   There is not enough evidence yet to demonstrate a definite effect from acidification on natural shellfish populations, but it is recommended that monitoring continue to look for an impact.