A list of potential grant candidates, and the ways in which environmental stewardship can benefit human wellbeing, were among topics the Hood Canal Coordinating Council hashed out during its most …
A list of potential grant candidates, and the ways in which environmental stewardship can benefit human wellbeing, were among topics the Hood Canal Coordinating Council hashed out during its most recent monthly meeting in Poulsbo.
Whitney Fleming, a doctoral student with the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, provided an overview of how OSU is collaborating with the Puget Sound Partnership on a project, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, to help integrate human wellbeing into local and regional ecosystem recovery efforts.
“After all, what nature does can make people feel better off,” Fleming said.
The goal is to influence the near-term action plans and priorities of what Fleming refers to as Local Integrating Organizations by using vital signs indicative of human wellbeing – air quality, water quality and recreational quality of life, for example – to allow those LIOs to more clearly identify the social, ecological and economic costs and benefits of different decisions.
“It gives them more concrete, practical tools to evaluate consequences,” Fleming said. “It's not just listing what your options are for development, but ranking what outcomes matter to you most.”
One example, offered by OSU's David Trimbach, is how an LIO that has recognized shellfish beds as a high-priority vital sign can learn to better address the needs of those beds as a result.
“It's another way to use data to inform our decisions,” HCCC watershed planning and policy coordinator Haley Harguth said. “By running the consequence tables, you can see the trade-offs behind each decision more clearly. … It's helpful if you're in need of direction.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean said the practice could be useful as commissioners deliberate on the next draft of their comprehensive plan.
The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners have continued deliberations on their comprehensive plan update scheduled through June 21.
Perhaps most importantly, Fleming sees the human wellbeing project as a means to tie environmental health more directly to people's more basic priorities.
“When you try and sell something as good for the environment, you'll hear people say, 'Well, fish don't pay taxes,'” Fleming said. “But this asks, 'How are people doing?' This is an area that matters.”
Alicia Olivas, lead entity program coordinator for the HCCC, followed up by reporting on the projects proposed through the 2018 grant round, with three in Snow Creek, two in the Big Quilcene Estuary, one in Dosewallips State Park, three in the Duckabush River, one in Big Beef Creek, two in the Tahuya River, two in the Union River and five in the Skokomish River.
The goals of the projects include protecting rivers, forests and salmon, as well as environmental analysis, reconnections of channel estuary design, and work on flood plains, with a total official funding of more than $21 million projected to be awarded for the 2016 and 2017 grant rounds.
“Over the last two years, a lot of these projects have already been funded,” Olivas said. “We leveraged a lot of funding matches, so that funding number is actually closer to more than $30 million.”
As the HCCC reviewed its recent projects and accomplishments, Dean advocated for a larger role for local tribes in the process. As an HCCC board member, Dean expressed concerns about what she sees as the vulnerabilities of rural governments, especially in light of climate change and the recent failure of the Farm Bill to pass in Congress.
“I've been surprised that we haven't heard more about the increased risks of oil tanker traffic in the North Sound,” Dean said, recalling an illuminating conversation with U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA 10th District). “Any opportunity to do some education is good, and there's a lot of value in networking as well.”