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Tuesday, December 30th

Reader Disputes Reason’s For Orca Decline

Mark Anderson's recent report "The Southern Resident Orca Population Crashes In 2008: Starvation" included many, many mistakes and fabrications that readers of the Island Guardian may want to see corrected.

The most glaring error is he's ignoring the need to restore salmon habitat, which is widely understood to be the most important action needed to save the orcas. The op-ed distracts from that essential message and dilutes the motivation and public pressure needed to do the hard job of restoring salmon habitat so orcas will once again have year-round food supplies.

• His first and second points, that whale watch boats are to blame, was stated by him, and possibly by Dave Bain, at the PSP meeting, but it was not the consensus. Lack of salmon was the primary problem discussed at the meeting.

• PCBs are not pesticides. They are flame retardants, and the damage they do to marine mammals was not dreamed up by anybody. He's completely confused by the difference between PCBs and pesticides. See: "High PCB concentrations in free-ranging Pacific killer whales, Orcinus orca: Effects of age, sex and dietary preference" Ross, Peter S., et al. (2000).

• Anderson seems unaware that PBDEs, another class of flame retardants, are rising rapidly in the ecosystem and are also extremely harmful to marine mammals. See:
"PBDEs, PBBs, and PCNs in Three Communities of Free-Ranging Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) from the Northeastern Pacific Ocean" Rayne, et al. (2004).

• No scientist says either PCBs or pesticides are the primary cause of whale deaths. Anderson rebuts an argument that is not being made. They are separate, serious problems that compound nutritional deficiencies, but are not as important as the lack of food.

• There is a direct correlation between low chinook count and whale deaths. See:
"Linking prey to population dynamics: did food limitation cause recent declines of 'resident' killer whales (Orcinis orca) in British Columbia?" Ford, John K.B., et al (2005).

• The Center for Whale Research, presumably the "original permitted researcher," never ran a whale watch business. Earthwatch volunteers conducted and helped fund photo-identification research, by which we know everything we know about the demographics of the Southern Resident orcas, information needed to even know the population was in decline and required for their designation as endangered under the ESA.

• Orca Network, presumably the "website that reports all whale whereabouts" has never sent out or posted real-time sightings. He twice condemns a practice that is not practiced.

• As per the guidelines, professional boats approach slowly, parallel the whales at over 100 yards away and shut down engines whenever possible. All boat traffic, including private boats and shipping traffic, causes noise that could impact the whales. In the case of the whale watch boats, the effects are mitigated by adherence to the guidelines, as per county regulations and monitored by SoundWatch. Boat passengers are generally provided the environmental background to understand that lack of chinook salmon is starving the orcas and so salmon habitat must be restored, reinforcing the political pressure to accomplish that daunting task.

• Ken Balcomb founded The Whale Museum in 1979, and asked Mark to coordinate volunteers during the initial refurbishing of the Odd Fellows Hall and installation of the museum.

• The Whale Museum was indeed research-based, to be based on the research of the Center for Whale Research, then known as Orca Survey. That relationship was severed in 1980.

Howard Garrett
Greenbank WA 98253

(Mark Anderson’s response to Garrett’s comments follows)

First, since his is a fairly emotional letter, I think it important that Howie Garrett make two public disclosures which relate to conflict of interest: first, that he is part-brother to Ken Balcomb, who started the first successful large-scale whale watching business on San Juan; and, second, that Howie’s website makes money, via online advertising and other means, by providing whale locations to whale watchers of all kinds.

I will also make full disclosure: I have never made a cent from my work with Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, and, in contrast, have donated tens of thousands of dollars, in cash, to whale research by others, in an attempt to expand scientific knowledge about what is killing our local whales. We don’t make money off the whales.

In other words, before anyone expresses an opinion on this subject, they should be compelled to make full disclosure of whether they, and / or anyone in their family, make money watching whales.

I’ll take Howie’s points in order:

1. Salmon. Howie seems confused here, saying we made an error by ignoring the importance of salmon. The first sentence of our first point is, ”These whales have a diet composed of about 70% chinook (king) salmon; when that population crashes, as it did this year off the California coast and locally, the whales pay.”

As I noted in speaking to the People for Puget Sound meeting at the Friday Harbor Labs, and as Orca Relief has noted for over a decade now, the decline in salmon lays the foundations for whale starvation. We strongly believe in, and support, all efforts to restore salmon runs, and always have.

2. The role of whale watch boats. Again, Howie is confused; we never made the statement he seems to be attributing to us. But we strongly believe that starving whales, already on the endangered species list, should not be chased regularly by boats, for financial gain. Virtually every paper on boat / whale interactions depicts negative interactions, and most of these contribute to the starvation condition foundations of low salmon count.

3. PCBs. More confusion. As a Stanford graduate in marine biochemistry, I have some appreciation for chemicals in the sea, and what they do. While Howie mistakenly calls PCBs fire retardants, they in fact are generally found as electrical insulating liquids in things like old transformers and other electrical equipment. He is probably thinking of PBDEs, which are flame retardants.

For decades, conservationists have tried to make the case that PCBs were the cause of whale death, but in fact there is absolutely no correlation between the two -something he continues to fail to admit. With the advent of each new chemical, new studies are needed. But this “red herring” is fairly easily put aside by noting that whale populations increase, as they have done for the last five years, while PBDE concentrations also increase. There is no correlation.

All of these chemicals, including PBDEs, are bad, but real scientists don’t confuse the idea of something being bad, with whether it is the cause of, or correlates with, something else. Howie has consistently confused finding high chemical counts in tissue, with whether this is causing death.

To make matters even more confusing, Howie states that “no scientist says either PCBs or pesticides are the primary cause of whale deaths.” But here is a quote from Howie himself, taken from his website December 26th:

“The orcas' steep population decline is a reflection of the problems and issues facing the greater Puget Sound marine and watershed ecosystems: declining salmon runs, PCB contamination, and the effects of a rapidly increasing human population ”

No wonder the public is confused.

Orca Relief is very strongly in favor of all efforts to remove all toxic chemicals from the environment, even if they cannot be shown to be the direct cause of whale death.

4. Regarding the Center for Whale Research being the first whale watch operators. I happened to be working with Ken Balcomb when he initiated his Earthwatch program: each “volunteer” paid thousands of dollars, shared with the Center, for the pleasure of going out in boats and photographic whales, generally over a week or so. These came in shifts over a summer term.

I have a signed letter from Ken Balcomb claiming to have been making just under $100,000 per year through these efforts. This was the first financially successful effort to take large amounts of money from the public for whale watching, even if the results included lots of useful photos for the Center.

5. Boat Rules and Behavior. I am not sure what point Howie is trying to make in this description, but it is important to note again that what may look benign above the water to a tourist, may be having critically negative effects on whale starvation. We know that boats cause whales to need more food, and while lowering their foraging efficiency. The result is predictable and avoidable: already starving, they need more food, and get less. This happens even when all boats obey all current rules -rules which have their origins in 1950s-dated federal guidelines for watching gray whales.

6. The Whale Museum. Ken Balcomb had the idea for the museum, asked me if I would create it, and I said “yes,” the second time around. Since Ken had no money, I required his board to agree to let the Museum be run financially autonomously. I arranged the lease for the building, and with Annie Howell (Adams) managed day/night construction work teams; took the vision from a shop-for-money to the world’s first research-based whale museum, and found and managed all of the five hundred or so volunteers. Ken contributed $400 (in two checks) and a skeleton (not yet cleaned) to the cause; I raised the rest of the money, recruited support from five local universities, and from the local San Juan community. The museum’s appraised value on opening: about a quarter million dollars.

Ken later offered me the job of executive director of his parent company -with my pay to come from the Museum. (I drew very little pay, ever, from the Museum, preferring to invest the money in exhibits.) I saw this as another way of getting the Museum’s money, and declined. His board, made mostly of family members and housemates, then fired me. All of the Museum membership quit in a day, and the Museum advisory board immediately took over his company’s board positions and fired Ken, which is why he had to change his company name.

Yes, Ken had the idea for a museum / shop in town. And yes, I and my friends did almost all the rest. I usually say we were co-founders, which doesn’t accurately reflect the work load or funding allocation, but seems otherwise fair, even now.

I am sorry Howie raised this also-unrelated issue, but perhaps this was as good a chance as any, a couple of decades late, to get the real story into the public record. We tried to publish this at the time in the Museum journal Cetus, but Howie and others physically removed those pages, according to then-Curator Bruce Stedman. I have the only remaining original issue.

In summary: I hope your readers realize the lengths to which Howie Garrett, and others involved in making money chasing our endangered orca, will go, in order to avoid their own responsibility in protecting the orca.

It is illegal to pursue them; I hope, now that we have pointed this out, that this is enforced. The fastest, simplest way to remove starvation pressure on the whales is to halt operations of the whale watch fleet. Unlike toxins remedies, which require decades, this could be done in a day, with immediate beneficial effect.

It also makes no sense to advertise orca whereabouts, since it is illegal to pursue them. This data should be embargoed for days or a week before being given to the public on a website.

I thank Howie, and the Island Guardian, for giving me this opportunity to further clarify the history of these events, and what is known today about what is killing the local whales.

Mark Anderson


Sunday, December 21st

Well Done Orcas Fire Department!

Re: Fire at 585 Karen Lane, Orcas Island

To whomever it may concern:

While we were all in bed on the night of December 15th Orcas Island firefighters were saving a home in one of the most difficult situations that they could come up against.
At 11:00 PM the fire department was dispatched to “smoke in a residence with smoke alarms sounding.”

The firefighters faced 20 degree weather with snow on the ground and wind gusting to 50 mph. They encounter a driveway that is too steep and icy to drive down, forcing the firefighters to hand carry all their hose and equipment down to the house.

After many slips and falls they venture from the cold into a basement that is filled with hot black smoke. Once inside, they must find a fire they can’t see. The heat is so intense that the thermostats on the walls have melted.

After searching through the smoke and heat for the fire they realize it is either under the floor, in the walls, or even worse: both. Trained for this, the Firefighters begin removing areas of sheetrock to locate a fire that is traveling under the floor and into the walls.

They have their hoses laid out but some have already frozen solid from the extreme cold, rendering them useless. But, these firefighters knew to expect the unexpected. They had back up hoses laid out and ready and were able to use them to stop the fire before it destroyed the home.

Orcas residents should be proud of these well-trained men and women who took on a fire in some of the worst circumstances and performed like the professionals they are. WELL DONE ORCAS FIRE DEPARTMENT.


Robert Low
San Juan County Fire Marshal


Wednesday, December 10th


Draft Needs Changes
To the Editor:

The Cell Phone Task Force has leaked the first drafts of its new ordinance. As feared, it allows cell towers and antennas everywhere and everyplace in SJC with only a 50' (or less!) setback. We can do better! We can improve emergency communication without endangering public health, causing world-class uglification, and destroying the property values of our low and fixed income residents. The world standard for cellular phone antenna setback is 1500'. SJC has plenty of SAFE locations for new cell towers, we don't need to put them right next to places where people live and work.

Please contact County Council Members Knapp, Myhr, Pratt, and Rosenfeld and ask them to keep our existing ordinance (SJCC Chapt. 16.80). We need to act fast as the new rules are being rushed through.

Steve Ludwig
Lopez Island

(For the record, the Cell Phone Task Force has made available the working draft documents to anyone who requests it, and as a result, Mr. Ludwig has received a copy of one of the latest drafts -which, as the name implies, is a work in progress, and not a Final Draft. Note: The publisher of the Island Guardian is a private citizen ad hock member of the task force, due not to his association with The Island Guardian, but as a past member of the advisory teams that drafted both the Comprehensive Plan and the Uniform Development Code )

Councilman Peterson Responds To Mr. Ludwig's Guest Editorial
To the Editor:

Steve Ludwig hopes to “muster solidarity” to “defeat the cell tower threat. I believe that some response to his views would help County residents gain a more accurate perspective than Mr. Ludwig provides. His essay includes so many misrepresentations of fact and unsupported allegations that to address them all is not possible in the space available to me here. I will try to offer evidence to counter his principal points while presenting the origins of the cell phone task force and the facts from which its evolving conclusions are derived.

The task force was formed in August of 2008 after acknowledgment from the County Council that it should address an agreed-upon goal from the two immediately preceding annual retreats. The council aim to improve cell-phone coverage responded to numerous requests from members of the public safety community as well as many citizens who had contacted council members with concerns about cell phone coverage. The council advertised in the local media to ask potential task force participants to contact us and agreed to have me serve as the chair. The resulting composition reflects considerable diversity and includes men and women who reside in all three primary ferry-served islands. The nearly overwhelming number of volunteers made it challenging to limit the size of the group to manageable numbers. In the months since the task force’s formation more citizens have expressed interest in serving as news of its efforts have become known.

We reported back to the County Council at the end of September as directed in the original motion that formed the committee. At that time the council agreed with our two recommendations to: 1. Draft a new ordinance to be considered as a replacement for the current regulations, and 2. Prepare the documents necessary for removing the existing regulations, should a new ordinance be approved. We are very close to having a draft ready to begin the public review process which will in turn result in public hearings -first at the Planning Commission, and then at the County Council. There will be abundant opportunity for the public to influence any final decision by the council.

I would like to offer brief responses to some of Mr. Ludwig’s assertions:

* He argues that “San Juan County residents have been protected from these horrors by one of the best cell tower ordinances in the U.S. since 1997…”

The fact is that the current regulations are very obsolete and likely illegal since considerable technological advances have occurred in the last 12 years that negate the exclusive need for “towers.” Case law has also found that overly restrictive local regulations can be overruled by federal laws which preempt them.

* Mr. Ludwig is critical of the make-up of the task force, saying that it is “made up entirely of cell phone enthusiasts…” In fact, we have a fire chief representing emergency responders, an Opalco representative, a member representing the Economic Development Council, and a number of residents who, as a result of their background, have technical expertise. None of the members wants to place any of our citizens at risk, imperil property values, add blight to the landscape, or in any other manner do harm. In my opinion and after much time spent with the task force, all of its members are bright, thoughtful, generous with their time and energy, and committed to producing a beneficial solution to the lack of cell phone coverage in much of the county.

I believe the efforts of this task force will produce a safer, more secure and productive life-style for all of our residents and visitors without any of the “horrors” Mr. Ludwig is so concerned about.

Rich Peterson
San Juan County
Council District 2
I challenge Mr. Ludwig
To the Editor:

Regarding Mr. Ludwig's recent Guest Editorial

In his last article regarding cell phone towers Mr. Ludwig referred to cell phone users as “insatiable and repugnant”. Now he is claiming that most of us in San Juan County are "rootless", and have no regard for our homes and our own welfare.

His hysterical rhetoric stems from an unfounded fear of change and technology. He would have you believe that cell phone towers are the scourge of the country side, reeking havoc on all who venture near one. But this could not be further from the truth.

I challenge Mr. Ludwig to site a single case where anyone has been harmed by a cell phone tower, such as the one in the middle of Friday Harbor. Which, by the way, most people are unaware of because it looks nothing like a cell phone tower. (The reference may be to a flag pole that is also a cell tower -Ed)

Terry Whalen
Friday Harbor
Ludwig's Irrational Editorial
To the Editor:

After reading Steve Ludwig's irrational Guest Editorial on the possible revision of the cell tower ordinance, I debated whether or not it was even worthwhile to respond to the ranting of such an extremist. However, his column is so full of unsubstantiated statements, some kind of riposte is necessary.

First, there is no hard scientific evidence to support his "chicken little" statements about radiation produced by cell towers. Whatever is out there supporting this view is anecdotal at best and apocalyptic at it's worse. Second, there is no evidence that the location of a cell tower diminishes property values or results in the inability of people to sell their homes.

The ability to erect towers that don't look like towers has greatly mitigated the impact on the surrounding properties. Third, there is no conspiracy surrounding this move to write a more reasonable ordinance. The driving force was indeed a need to vastly improve the ability of the police, fire and EMS services to be able to communicate.

I for one, feel that if just one person's life is saved because of improved communication services, it's well worth it.

Will an ancillary benefit of this new ordinance result in better service for the large majority of San Juan residents who now have a cell phone. Of course it will. What's wrong with majority being served rather than being subjected to the tyranny of the minority. The most striking example i can give to Mr. Green Party is that of a contractor on the job. Which is greener. A 20 mile round trip from the job site to the lumber yard in a 12 mpg truck or a single cell phone call?

Maybe the answer for Mr. Ludwig is to see if Lopez can be excluded from the new ordinance and remain under the rules of the existing one. Let the rest of us proceed into the 21st century.

John Bird
Friday Harbor


Friday, December 5th

Thank You For Helping The Food Bank

To the Editor:

Kings Market would like to thank all of our customers who contributed their turkey punch cards to the Friday Harbor Food Bank. Because of you we were able to give the food bank 225 turkeys this year compared to 140 last year.

We would like to thank our upstairs Kings Marine crew, Theresa, Sharon, Abe and gang for their contribution to helping us raise money for the food bank with our Santa pictures.

An extra thank you to Kate Schuman who volunteered her gift of song with some Christmas music to raise donations also for the food bank.

Thank you to our wonderful customers and staff!

Sandi Guard for Kings Market
Friday Harbor


Thursday, December 4th

What Would You Give Up To Save A Life?

What would you give up to save a life?

With just $3, Orcas Island High School students can allow a woman in Darfur to safely collect firewood for a week. With just $5, Orcas Island High School students can enable urgent warnings of an attack to reach villages in Eastern Burma.

On December 3rd, Participate in STAND Fast by pledging to give up one luxury item and donating the money you would’ve spent on that item to the Genocide Intervention Network’s groundbreaking civilian protection program. Just think about it. By skipping a latte for the day, you’ll be working with students all over the globe to save lives in Darfur and Burma.

Never again was the promise that the United States government made after the genocide in Rwanda fourteen years ago, yet here we are AGAIN six years into a horrific war that the United State Congress has named “Genocide”. We, at Orcas Island High School, are making a public STAND against genocide in building a movement to end it.

December 3rd many of us will be fasting, collecting money, and writing letters to make our voices heard for the people in Darfur. There will be a donation box in the public high school office, please help us break the silence by educating yourself on genocide.

Thank you,

Maddy Smith,
class of 2009


Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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