U.S. EPA commits funding to support PSI’s role in Puget Sound science

The Puget Sound Institute and Puget Sound Partnership are located at the Center for Urban Waters on the eastern shore of Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway.

The Puget Sound Institute and Puget Sound Partnership are located at the Center for Urban Waters on the eastern shore of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway.

A collaboration between the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute (PSI), Oregon State University, Northern Economics, and the Puget Sound Partnership has been selected by the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the region’s science program. The four-year cooperative agreement provides an anticipated $7.25 million to create and communicate timely and policy-relevant science to support and enhance new recovery strategies. The collaboration also strengthens monitoring and modeling programs and identifies and promotes regional science priorities.

The Puget Sound Partnership will receive and administer the primary award and other partners will receive sub-awards from PSP over the four-year project period.

“As Puget Sound continues to feel the impacts from a changing climate and a rapidly growing population, it is more important than ever that policy decisions are grounded in solid and accessible science” said PSI Director Joel Baker. “We will need the creativity and energy of the region’s diverse science community to meet the challenges of restoring and protecting Puget Sound.”

In addition to contributing targeted technical support, this award provides PSI and its partners the capacity to explore emerging issues, to combine thinking across topics, and to connect with other regional, national, and international ecosystem recovery efforts.

The new funding continues work already underway at PSI to connect the dots between scientific findings around the region. “The goal is to combine big picture, ecosystem-scale thinking with practical solutions,” Baker said. “Given the thousands of scientists and practitioners working to understand the health of Puget Sound, synthesis and analysis is a critical need.”

A strong area of focus will include the region’s newly established Implementation Strategies, a series of inter-agency recovery plans funded by the EPA’s National Estuary Program. The Puget Sound Partnership will help to integrate these strategies across a broad range of agencies and other groups.

The grant also expands the role of social science and communications in the Puget Sound recovery process. Partnerships with Oregon State University and Northern Economics will support an improved understanding of how humans interact and engage with the Puget Sound ecosystem. Social scientists with those organizations will work closely with Puget Sound’s Local Integrating Organizations to develop cost-benefit frameworks and other decision-making tools. Funding for communication supports continued development of informative science articles in PSI’s Salish Sea Currents magazine series on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Funding for the collaboration begins in October 2017 and is slated to run through 2021.

The Puget Sound Institute was established at the University of Washington Tacoma in 2010 to identify and catalyze the science driving Puget Sound and Salish Sea ecosystem recovery. Since its founding, PSI has advanced our understanding of the region through synthesis, original research and communication in support of state and federal agencies, tribes and other organizations working in the region.

Share

Interview: Can ’Silicon Valley North’ change the way we think about Salish Sea recovery?

South Lake Union Streetcar, August 2017. Photo: SDOT (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdot_photos/36924152151/

South Lake Union Streetcar, August 2017. Photo: SDOT (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdot_photos/36924152151/

A strong economy propelled by a world-leading technology industry is expected to draw millions of new residents to the Salish Sea region within decades. This changing population brings with it new strains on the environment but also new perspectives. Incoming residents may not see Puget Sound the same way as previous generations. Many will have different relationships to the natural world or come from other cultural backgrounds and traditions.

Technology will also play a role, not just as an economic driver, but as an influence on the way that people receive and share information. Our smartphones and digital lifestyles will have their own geography, and some say we will have to navigate and understand that virtual world as surely as we understand the bays and inlets of Puget Sound. Given this changing landscape, can Puget Sound recovery efforts adapt and keep pace? Puget Sound Partnership Science Panel member Robert Ewing says it’s absolutely critical.

Ewing is currently a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources and is actively involved with strategic training for members of Seattle’s technology industry through the organization Pathwise, where he is Director of the group’s Fellows Program. He will be co-chairing a special panel with PSI at next year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference titled “Can ‘Silicon Valley North’ change the way we think about Salish Sea recovery?” PSI spoke with Ewing earlier this year and asked him how he thinks the Puget Sound science community can reach the region’s changing population — particularly its technology sector — and why it matters.

PSI: In the broadest sense, who do we need to bring to the table?

Robert Ewing (RE): I think everybody who lives in the region is a potential constituent as well as visitors and others. I think we ought to be able to articulate the region’s importance in terms of the quality of life here, the reason that businesses locate here — the [conditions] that allow us to live in a healthy, natural environment. All those things are part of what we’re trying to accomplish and should have resonance for everybody in a sort of a civic, nonpolitical frame of mind.

PSI: How important do you think the technology sector and its economic engine are to the equation?

RE: If you really were doing some business model development and you looked at the distribution of brainpower and wealth in Puget Sound, you would quickly come to a conclusion that those are the people you should be talking to. And the management council for the [Puget Sound] Partnership is part of that community — Bill Ruckelshaus certainly was — so it’s not like there hasn’t been contact or thinking there. But if you were an objective observer looking at who lives in the Puget Sound region, you’d want to know how to deal with all those people and bring them to the table.

PSI: Do you think those folks — the Bill Gates’s and the Jeff Bezos’s — really care about the environment? Or do they care more about making money and building software?

RE: I’m doing some work with a leadership training group called Pathwise. I’m managing their fellowship program. Most of their students are Microsoft, Expedia, Gates Foundation professionals and engineers. And in dealing with them I find that most of them don’t think about the environment very much. But you don’t have to talk very long until they get quite interested.

I’ve been in a class with engineers [whose] whole world is about getting a search a nanosecond faster than Google. Just giving them a few minutes to think about where they are in the world with their family and so on can open a path to environmental discussions.

We are all so much more capable through intuition and emotion to understand the world we live in and that we are part of the natural world, but we don’t communicate in that way. That’s something Pathwise is trying to do and is doing pretty successfully. I’m not saying I’m an expert in these things, but I see it working.

PSI: So what should we do to bring these people in?

RE: There are a lot of people struggling with exactly how to do this. I think there’s a way of not putting all the action items within a bureaucratic framework. There are ways to think more experientially, and organically, about how to move forward. [We should] try more things. Be more open to ideas and changes. Be more adaptable. One of the reasons that I’ve wanted to be active on the science panel is I think we have to be able to answer the question you just posed. That’s going to take a collaborative effort, an open source effort if you will. This is where the brainpower of the region comes in. I mean, we have Amazon, the University and a variety of start-ups and a lot of smart people walking the streets. Collectively, I think the answer is there. We just need to figure out how to bring it all into action. My goal is to be around the people who can figure this out. And hopefully it’s younger, higher powered people with a lot of energy with some guidance from people with experience. My main goal is to try to have this dialogue go forward and find the resources we need to collectively involve the people who will give us the answer.

About Robert Ewing:

Robert Ewing was trained as an economist and holds a PhD in Wildland Resource Science. He has worked in both the private and public sectors and was Director of Timberlands Strategic Planning for Weyerhaeuser for 20 years. Before that, he was head of resource assessment and strategic planning at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He is currently a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources and is Director of the Pathwise Fellows Program.

Related article: Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem

See also: Land Development and Land Cover Implementation Strategy.

Share

Year in review: 2016

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

This year has been as busy as any we have had since our founding in 2010. As we look forward to year seven (!) of our organization, we have put together a sort of highlight reel of accomplishments.

At various points, PSI scientists worked to prioritize emerging contaminants in our waterways. We studied the health of forage fish populations, analyzed eelgrass abundance and brought together key scientific findings for Puget Sound’s marine and nearshore. 

Most recently, our team began helping to develop new state and federal Implementation Strategies that will prioritize future Puget Sound cleanup efforts (you can read more about the Implementation Strategies in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound).

Through it all, we have kept you informed with dozens of articles in our magazine Salish Sea Currents, as well as many new papers in scientific journals. After a strong 2016, we believe that science is more vital than ever to Puget Sound recovery. We look forward to building on our accomplishments in 2017.

View some of PSI’s research and products.

Share

New report details the broad sweep of climate change in Puget Sound

PS-SoK_2015_cover_0A new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute and the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the expected impacts of climate change on the Puget Sound region.

The report was produced by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, and is meant as an easy-to-read summary that covers topics such as increasing landslides, flooding, sea level rise, impacts on human health, agriculture and rising stream temperatures for salmon. Partners in the report include NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, the Puget Sound Partnership, the WWU Huxley Spatial Institute and others including dozens of contributing scientists. Major funding for the report was provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Download: “State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound” 

You can also read highlights from the report in a three-part series from Puget Sound Institute senior writer Chris Dunagan. This week’s story covers the potential increase in landslides, something of special concern during the winter rainy season. Continue reading

Share

Shifting ground: climate change may increase the risk of landslides

Landslides, which all too often kill people, destroy homes and disrupt transportation networks, could increase in the coming years as a result of climate change. A new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute looks at what we might expect in the region, especially during the winter months when rains and flooding reach their peak. PSI senior writer Christopher Dunagan brings us part one of a three-part series on some of the report’s findings.

Continue reading

Share

State report says lack of funding is a major barrier to Puget Sound recovery

StateoftheSound2015_reportcoverThe 2015 State of the Sound report from the Puget Sound Partnership points to lack of funding as one of the leading barriers to Puget Sound recovery. The report looks at ongoing progress to restore the health of the ecosystem, but according to the Partnership’s Executive Director Sheida Sahandy, “The rate at which we as a community are continuing to damage Puget Sound is greater than the rate at which we are fixing it.”

Overall, funding has fallen far short of critical needs, the report argues. Projects described in the state’s recovery plan as ‘Near Term Actions’, would have required $875 million to carry out during the years 2014 – 2015, but as of last June had received only $67 million. The period from 2012-2013 had a shortfall of 57%.

funding_NTAs_screenshot

The State of the Sound also describes a lack of significant progress on several key areas of focus for state and federal recovery efforts. The agency tracks a series of ‘Vital Signs’ such as numbers of orcas or fluctuations in herring populations—there are 21 vital signs in all—as indicators of Puget Sound health. “The majority of Vital Sign indicators are, at best, only slowly changing. Few are at—or even within reach of—their 2014 interim targets,” reads the report.

Some vital signs have seen modest improvement, however. The Partnership says that in 2014 removal of shoreline armoring such as seawalls and bulkheads exceeded permits for new armoring structures. Goals for habitat restoration also made some steps forward.

The State of the Sound report includes a series of funding recommendations ranging from continuation of existing allocations to support of legislation that would direct additional funds to key areas like habitats, stormwater and restoration of shellfish beds.

Download the 2015 State of the Sound report.

Share

List of Salish Sea fish grows to 253 species

An illustration of the fourhorn poacher (Hypsagonus quadricornis). Copyright: Joseph R. Tomelleri

An illustration of the fourhorn poacher (Hypsagonus quadricornis). Copyright: Joseph R. Tomelleri

Researchers updating a 1980 fish catalog have found evidence of 37 additional fish species in the Salish Sea. This information, accompanied by hundreds of detailed illustrations, is seeding a new reference book expected to gain wide use among scientists, anglers and conservationists. Read an interview with one of the book’s co-authors in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. 

Share

Leadership Council to consider new State of the Sound report

The Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council will review a draft of the latest State of the Sound report at its October 15th meeting in La Conner. It will also hear from the UW Climate Impacts Group about a new report commissioned by the EPA and the Puget Sound Institute analyzing future climate conditions in the region.

View the media release from the Puget Sound Partnership.

Share

Puget Sound Fact Book now available

PugetSoundFactbookCoverV3Have you ever wanted to know how much water is in Puget Sound? Or the weight of a giant Pacific octopus? Where can you find the skinny on stormwater pollution or local climate change? The Puget Sound Institute provides a new reference guide with key facts about the health and makeup of the ecosystem. Download a copy today.

Funding for this project was provided by the EPA and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Share

Identifying ecosystem services in Puget Sound

Sunset over Puget Sound near Golden Gardens. photo by Wondelane.

Sunset over Puget Sound near Golden Gardens. photo by Wonderlane.

The ecosystem services concept has become the leading framework for understanding and communicating the human dimensions of environmental change. A new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute focuses on several of these ecosystem benefits, including economic, social and cultural services linked to Puget Sound recovery.

Read the full report on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Share

An in-depth look at harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea

Harbor porpoise surfacing. Photo: Erin D'Agnese, WDFW

Harbor porpoise surfacing. Photo: Erin D’Agnese, WDFW

In the 1940s, harbor porpoise were among the most frequently sighted cetaceans in Puget Sound, but by the early 1970s they had all but disappeared. Their numbers have since increased, but they remain a Species of Concern in the state of Washington. A new in-depth species profile looks at the status of harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea, and brings together some of the most comprehensive information to-date about their regional ecology and behavior. The profile was prepared by Jacqlynn Zier and Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Read the full report.

Share