Thursday, August 23, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #21 - Our Spectacular Habitat

If you follow this link, you'll be taken to a video of testimony before the County Council on July 23, 2012. Go to time marker 4:58 to see Barbara Rosenkotter, Salmon Recovery Lead for San Juan County, and Mindy Rowse, NOAA Fisheries Biologist, testify about our fisheries habitat.

You will hear that we have lots of biodiversity and plenty of abundance in our near-shore waters. Is that the sort of evidence that supports the view that our ecosystem is suffering from a lack of protection? Is that the evidence that tells us we need to revise something, or that the current practices of our homeowners are failing to protect functions and values?

Our County Council seems flummoxed by what it means to "protect" a critical area or even what it means to "consider" portions of the county for critical area protection. It's almost as if some of them cannot believe that we really have been protecting our critical areas all along. In the video, you see the Council challenged by basic ecological terms and concepts, like not being able to distinguish between ecosystem "alteration" and de minimis ecological impacts, or finding it difficult to accept that development alterations here have had only de minimis effects on our primary ecological associations and our overall ecosystem health. Lovel, in particular, struggles with ecological concepts in the video; conflating, for example, the density of shoreline parcels with de manifestis ecological risk.

As the video illustrates, one of the things that confuses our Council more than anything else is the use of maps. Whenever our Council is shown maps of critters, wetlands, and habitat, they become mesmerized by the amount of nature out there. Let's face it, nature is everywhere here, even in "developed" areas. If we're going to designate critical areas based on nature, then everywhere here is critical. We don't need more maps of nature to tell us that. However, the map we really need is a map of the ecological risk posed by development, not more maps of nature alone. Protection should be a matter of managing our map of ecological risk, rather than ramming through human-ecosystem apartheid everywhere.

Watch the video. At 5:10, you will hear Patty Miller ask, "What are we doing wrong?" I'll tell you what you're doing wrong. You're asking the wrong question. You should be asking, "Where are the areas of excess ecological risk, if any?" Show me a map of that, or at least a map showing some numerical index related to "level of ecological concern." Don't tell me where the chinook are. Don't tell me where habitat is. And please don't tell me how big you think buffers ought to be. Tell me where development here is creating unacceptably high ecological risk to the viability of populations living in our habitats.

You'll hear Rosenkotter say that we have intact habitat. Mindy Rowse sums up our whole situation nicely at 5:28:30 by saying:
 Habitat in San Juan County is pretty spectacular. I don't think anyone is doing anything wrong at this point.
Out of the mouths of babes and federal fisheries biologists!


  1. Yup, I really think Ms. Rowse, a well-qualified NOAA scientist, went off script. She apparently didn't get the memo about the pollution and toxics dripping from every shoreline. She just spoke from what she sees and knows about the islands. Bad, bad Ms. Rowse.

  2. Yes, I am sure she has been sent off to the re-education camps for re-grooving. I imagine Lovell has been in touch with her direct supervisor about this and she has been transferred to the Aleutian Islands.