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Hood Canal summer chum in Salmon Creek on the Olympic Peninsula. Listed as threatened, summer chum in Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca have made a remarkable comeback. // Photo: Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Key job changes at Hood Canal Coordinating Council set the stage for summer chum delisting

Three blog posts this week consider the Hood Canal Coordinating Council and two of its groundbreaking initiatives: removal of Hood Canal summer chum from the Endangered Species List, and a structured mitigation program that is protecting and restoring the Hood Canal ecosystem. This first post looks at the council itself and recent leadership changes.

Scott Brewer, who has served as executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council for the past 16 years, has stepped down from that position to focus his attention on the council’s efforts to remove Hood Canal summer chum from the Endangered Species List.

Scott Brewer

This unique population of chum salmon, listed as threatened, has made a remarkable comeback and appears on the verge of meeting federal requirements for delisting. If the latest efforts are successful, Hood Canal summer chum will be declared “recovered,” marking the first time in history that a salmon population has been taken off the endangered list.

David Dicks, the first executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership from 2007 to 2010, has been chosen by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council to take over as executive director in charge of the council’s numerous programs. The council was formed in 1985 to harmonize environmental policies in the three counties surrounding Hood Canal — a 68-mile-long fjord that separates the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. The council is governed by elected officials from the three counties and two tribes in the region.

Together, Dicks, Brewer and the entire council hope to lead the threatened summer chum over the finish line to safety, even as they continue to protect and restore the overall Hood Canal ecosystem. Ongoing council programs focus on all salmon species, along with shellfish, water quality and land uses through what is called an “integrated approach.”

“Summer chum are doing much better,” said Dicks, an attorney who has been working on conservation issues for more than 20 years. “I think recovery could be a very significant thing. This is not just a Hood Canal Coordinating Council story; I think this could be a big win for salmon recovery at large.”

David Dicks

Brewer will take on the role of the coordinating council’s “salmon policy and science adviser,” a new position created to coordinate with federal, state and tribal officials involved in the formal recovery process for Hood Canal summer chum. For delisting, proponents must provide scientific evidence that the population has recovered and that threats to extinction have diminished.

“We have all been working on a petition to delist,” Brewer said. “And once you get these fish off the list, you have to be sure to sustain them to keep them off the list. We want to get people thinking in this way.”

Scott Brewer’s story

Scott ‘s new position as salmon policy and science adviser brings him back around to a full-time focus on salmon, which constituted his work during the early part of his career as well as his first role with the coordinating council.

With a master’s degree in fisheries from the University of Washington, Scott worked as a UW research biologist in the early 1980s. Next, he served as fisheries manager for the Skokomish Tribe, staff ecologist for American Rivers, natural resources director for the S’Klallam Tribe and senior ecologist for King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks. He joined Hood Canal Coordinating Council in 2002 as “salmon recovery program manager.” Six years later, he became the executive director of the council.

Hood Canal summer chum are made up of two populations, those in Hood Canal (green circle) and those in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (blue circle). Together, they are recognized as an evolutionarily significant unit, or ESU, that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. // Map: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

“As executive director, I have not been able to focus as much as I would like on salmon recovery,” Scott told me. “I’m excited to get back to my life’s work. I was there helping to write the summer chum recovery plan (in 2005), and I look forward to working with the tribes and state … as we pitch the case for why delisting should happen.”

Scott’s new role will mesh with that of Alicia Olivas, the council’s salmon program implementation manager and lead entity coordinator. Alicia’s job is to coordinate salmon-restoration grants and help carry out projects for all salmon species in Hood Canal. In addition to focusing on summer chum, Scott will tackle science questions that come before council members.

By maintaining his long relationship with the council, Scott will be on hand to help David Dicks during the transition, although everyone seems open to new approaches that David can bring to the council, Scott said. David brings experience in the role of networking with officials in the political arena, Scott noted.

David also has worked with environmental mitigation on a large scale, and he looks forward to offering ideas to improve Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s “in-lieu fee” mitigation program.

Under this federally approved program, the Navy, for one, has provided funds to the council “In lieu of” carrying out projects to compensate for environmental damage caused by military construction at the Bangor submarine base on Hood Canal (Naval Base Kitsap). The coordinating council uses the Navy money to purchase, protect and restore habitat in measurable ways. Mitigation projects are designed to fully compensate for environmental damage that cannot be avoided from construction. Some of the funds are held in reserve to monitor the changes and ensure protection far into the future.

The in-lieu fee mitigation program can be incorporated into most construction projects on Hood Canal. Among others, the Washington State Department of Transportation has used the program to offset damage from highway projects in Belfair.

David Dicks’ story

David Dicks has a lifelong connection to Hood Canal, where he spent portions of every summer from birth until his junior year of high school. While his father — former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks — was serving in Congress, David attended schools in Washington, D.C.

“Every year, after school got out, we would leave DC and go to our grandparents house,” he said. “We had this little cabin on the beach. We spent every summer fishing and crabbing.”

While the crabs have practically disappeared compared to the abundance of past years, efforts to address failing septic systems have reduced the bacterial pollution along the shoreline, he said. Protecting and restoring habitat for salmon and all other species in Hood Canal must remain the top priority, he added.

David’s mother, Suzie Callison Dicks, comes from a family that homesteaded in southern Hood Canal in the 1800s. David’s parents later bought a home on Sunset Beach, closer to Belfair. About 15 years ago, David and his wife, Antonia Jindrich, bought a property with a trailer on the other side of the canal near Dewatto.

David said his love for the natural conditions of Hood Canal inspired him to go into environmental law. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his law degree with a certificate in environmental law.

His first job was with the law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, where he helped facilitate a salmon-recovery effort among King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, called the Tri-County Endangered Species Act Response. It was the precursor to the more expansive recovery effort, Shared Strategy for Puget Sound. He also worked to develop salmon-protection rules for private forests, a major collaboration among agencies, tribes, landowners and environmental groups, leading to what is now called the Forest and Fish Law.

In 2002, he joined the Cascadia Law Group, where he helped develop the concept and legal framework for an ecosystem-recovery effort for all of Puget Sound, which led to legislative approval of the Puget Sound Partnership in 2007.

“It started out literally as a back-of-the-napkin thing,” he said, “growing into a unified plan with a system of setting priorities.”

David Dicks became the first executive director of the Partnership, overseen by the Leadership Council, which makes major policy decisions, taking advice from a wide-ranging Ecosystem Coordination Board along with a Science Panel of technical experts.

Pulling all the people together and writing the agency’s first Action Agenda was a major challenge, David said. The goal was to establish priorities and distribute restoration funding. It took time and a multitude of meetings to bring the ideas together and to get state and federal agencies to orient their efforts into the unified program. Among the powerful figures involved in early efforts were the late Bill Ruckelshaus, the first director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the late Billy Frank, Native American fishing-rights activist who chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“It was a big-time change with big players, and we were running as fast as we could,” David said. “The concept was to be different and think different, and some people didn’t like that.”

David said he learned to be patient and to work closely with people to overcome bureaucratic inertia. He said the experience should serve him well in his new role on the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

“I do understand that you can’t run out and do everything at once,” he said. “People have been here since 1985. This is not a fresh piece of paper. If people want to make the council more impactful over time, it will take some smart planning.”

Hood Canal programs

The Hood Canal Coordinating Council is governed by the county commissioners from the surrounding counties of Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson, along with officials from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes. The council uniquely serves a variety of roles established in state law and recognized by federal agencies:

David said the overall goal of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council is to protect the priceless beauty and natural systems of Hood Canal for future generations. In his new position, he said he feels like he is coming home to the place he wants to be.

“I love Hood Canal. I grew up on it. It is my place, personally and programmatically. Water quality, salmon recovery and mitigation. This is what I want to do. It is as close to being substantively ‘in my wheelhouse’ as I can get.”

Part 2 of this series will address the delisting of summer chum, and Part 3 will focus on the mitigation program and potential changes on the way.

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