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Puget Sound Institute Director Joel Baker.

PSI Director Joel Baker elected to Washington State Academy of Sciences

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Puget Sound Institute Director and University of Washington Tacoma Professor of Environmental Science Joel Baker is one of 38 new members elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences in 2021.

Baker, an environmental chemist who has worked extensively on science and policy issues related to Puget Sound, was selected for his “foundational work on the environmental fate, behavior, and toxicity of PCBs,” the Academy announced this week. He is the second member of the Puget Sound Institute to be elected to the Academy, joining Puget Sound Institute mathematical biologist Mark Mangel, who was elected to the group in 2020.

The Academy has more than 300 members with expertise across a range of scientific disciplines including the physical, mathematical, biological, and behavioral sciences. It was established by the Washington State Legislature in 2005 as an independent, non-profit advisory group to inform public policy and increase the impact of scientific research in the state. Academy members are elected annually by their peers or inducted due to their election to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, or Medicine. They can serve for an unlimited time while they live and work in the state of Washington.

As part of its role as an advisory body, the Academy will be addressing several high-profile science and policy issues this year. One of these will include a scientific and technical review of the impacts of predation by seals and sea lions on salmon in the Salish Sea, a project commissioned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Scientists say booming populations of harbor seals along the coast may be diminishing the Salish Sea’s endangered Chinook population.

“This project will involve review of the existing science and data around pinniped predation, engagement with salmon co-managers, stakeholders, and scientists beyond the committee,” the Academy wrote in its summer newsletter, “and a report describing the science of pinniped predation, including assessment of scientific and technical aspects of potential management actions.”

The Academy will also look at another topic related to Salish Sea ecosystem recovery, the establishment of a state standard for ‘net ecological gain,’ a topic that has been debated in the state legislature in recent years. Such a standard would call for rules requiring that ecological mitigation outweigh ecological damage from land development, particularly as it relates to salmon recovery and endangered species. The committee will be chaired by Puget Sound Partnership senior science advisor Ron Thom, who is a former president of the Academy.

New members will be officially inducted into the Academy during the group’s Annual Member’s Meeting in September. The Member’s Meeting will be followed by the Academy’s annual symposium on September 23, titled “Covid-19: Science and Society,” which will focus on what scientists have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and the implications for the state. Past symposiums have covered topics such as climate change, wildfires and cannabis research.

Joel Baker established the Puget Sound Institute in 2010 and holds the Port of Tacoma Chair in Environmental Science. He received his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Minnesota and is the Science Director of the UW Tacoma Center for Urban Waters which houses the Puget Sound Institute.