If you see me speak these days, chances are you’ll see “the map.”
For many years, I’ve scrawled little maps on napkins and place mats in conversations over coffee to help demonstrate the challenges salmon have to face to migrate between the Pacific and their streams of origin. In most of those cases, the sketchy little maps did seem to help enlighten individuals to the expanding environmental challenges we all face in the Pacific Northwest. They have been good tools to demonstrate challenges tribes face in maintaining their culture, livelihoods and identity as a people.
Today, even with greatly reduced fishing, those challenges are far tougher and more plentiful than ever. No napkin or place mat map will hold all the problems.
A recent public opinion poll, which revealed that 80 percent of the people here think Puget Sound is healthy, made the need for public education more than evident. But how can so many people be convinced to open their eyes to the truth about Puget Sound? We’ve published tons of newsletters, sent out thousands of news releases, sponsored public forums, invested in television specials, set up exhibits and produced curricula for the schools—all saying that pollution and habitat destruction are big problems, and that everyone who lives here has a responsibility to help deal with them. Needless to say, the results of the public opinion poll were disappointing.
So what can we do differently? The idea came to me in a flash. I speak to thousands of people every year and my bottom line message is often the same. We need to take care of the salmon, along with all the habitats and creatures associated with the salmon, if we expect to provide a healthy environment, culture and sustainable economy for our children. If people won’t heed the environmental warnings—and apparently they won’t because the habitat problems just keep getting bigger—maybe they’ll believe their eyes. At first I thought the notion was a passing fantasy. I mean, millions of people see the Puget Sound every day, and they actually still think it’s healthy.
But as I thought about it, it became clear that most people just don’t know what to look for. They look at the Sound and see the pretty boats and the sun glistening off the water. Some even fancy the rainbow colors the sunlight creates when it bounces off oily sheens on the water’s surface. They don’t notice the lack of feeder fish, and they can’t see most of the contaminants or the diminished forests of eel grass under the water’s surface.
The solution? A map, of course! If little sketches of maps have helped illustrate my thoughts to small numbers of people through the years, maybe a big map will help larger numbers of people listen more carefully. I realized, of course, that even a very large map can’t hold all the habitat problems we face without turning into one large ink blot. There just isn’t enough room on any map for all the oil tankers, cruise ships, leaky sewers and septic systems or the hundreds of other contributors to the witches brew in Puget Sound and coastal waters that’s poisoning the fish and whales, shellfish beds, sea plants and all the other forms of life that sustain our way of life.
So, “the map”—coming soon to a movie screen, website or television near you—will focus on some key examples of the types of habitat problems everyone should be aware of. It will include information about the dry rivers and aquifers in the Northwest. It will feature the dead zones off the coast—large areas where life is void due to de-oxygenation. It might also include the melting glaciers and shellfish closures that encompass most of Puget Sound. “The map” will depict the continued devastation of nature in southern Alaska caused by the Exxon Valdez spill a decade and a half ago, and the much larger Exxon Venezuela that, like many tankers since, nearly crashed just off our coast shortly after the Valdez incident. On “the map” you will see many habitat problems, and hopefully realize that they are characteristic of many more.
Most of all, I hope you will find the motivation on “the map” to finally take personal action to help turn the tide on these problems by cleaning up your act at home and by getting involved in the political effort to make the changes we have got to make if we hope to have a healthy Northwest environment in the years to come.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, NWIFC (360) 438-1180