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Murray Celebrates Success of Northwest Straits Commission in Cleaning Up Puget Sound and Empowering Citizens to Restore the Environment

Jun 05 2004

Independent Report shows Northwest Straits Commission should be continued; Murray vows to reauthorize the Initiative

(Everett, WA) - Declaring the citizen-driven effort to restore the Northwest Straits an overwhelming success, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) congratulated the Northwest Straits Commission at its annual convention today and pledged to introduce legislation to continue the program. Murray helped launch the innovative grassroots approach seven years ago and secured over $4 million for the restoration efforts in the past six years.

In remarks to more than 100 environmental leaders, Senator Murray vowed to continue her fight to fund and renew the Northwest Straits Commission when its authorization expires next fall.

“You knocked our socks off,” Murray said. “You have done amazing work that has exceeded all of my expectations, and I am going to continue fighting for you in the United States Senate.”

In the late 1990s, Washington communities were divided over how to protect marine resources in the Northwest Straits; an area in the northwest part of Washington from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Northern Puget Sound to the Canadian border.

In 1997, Senator Murray and Congressman Jack Metcalf (R-Langley) joined forces, bringing opposing stakeholders together, to create an advisory commission that would address local issues. At a time when few thought the experiment would work, their coordinated efforts created an innovate model of restoring and protecting marine habitats. As a result, the Northwest Straits Commission was created a year later as the best approach to restoring the marine resources of the Northwest Straits.

Murray and Metcalf secured funding for the Northwest Straits Commission with the requirement that after five years an independent panel would evaluate its progress. In April, a national evaluation panel of experts chaired by Bill Ruckelshaus declared the program worthwhile, encouraging Congress to continue supporting the Northwest Straits Commission. “They have used local ideas and sound science to come up with useful, effective accomplishments,” said Ruckelshaus.

Murray said the success of the Northwest Straits Commission is especially due to its work bringing “people together from different viewpoints and getting them to work together as partners.”

Today, the Northwest Straits Commission and its seven-county volunteer groups extend from Clallam, Jefferson, Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island and Snohomish counties.

“Whether you’re working alongside your neighbors to remove derelict fishing gear, recruiting volunteers, or attending your local Marine Resources Committee meetings, you are helping to restore and protect the marine resources of Northern Puget Sound,” Murray told volunteers at the event. The Northwest Straits Commission proves to all that it is an effective model in restoring our marine ecosystems. The program has removed fishing nets, laid hundreds of thousands of oysters, and influenced citizens to become more environmentally conscious.

“Friends, seven years ago, we started a journey together. We built on a boat that many people said would never float. Today, seven years later, we’re making a real difference for a part of our environment that touches all of our lives,” Murray said.

Senator Murray vowed to establish a permanent program for the Commission. Murray expects reauthorization of the commission will start when Congress begins to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act next year.

“I will be there on the Senate floor holding up the Northwest Straits Initiative as a national model for how to address conversation issues in a way that brings people together and get things done,” Murray said. “We are the model that is help up around the country. I’m here to say thank you and congratulations.”

Senator Murray’s Remarks Follow:

Thank you, Kathy, for that warm introduction.

Friends, we are here today because of one crazy idea, an idea that we could find a new and better way to protect the things we care about in the Pacific Northwest. And it is a crazy idea, because in communities all across the country, there are strong disagreements about how to deal with our natural resources.

Usually, there are two camps. One group of people who want strict regulations and another group of people who don't want the government telling them what they can and cannot do. And there isn't much middle ground. Often, these disagreements split communities apart, tangle up local governments, and drag on for years in court. And while all that time is wasted, the resource is squandered, and nobody wins. We have all seen that script play out many times. But here in the Pacific Northwest, we thought we could write our own script, so we took a gamble.

We ventured that we could bring people together with sound science and clear benchmarks to save the Northwest Straits. We thought we could let citizens manage a recovery instead of being managed themselves. Back in 1997, it was an experiment that few people thought could work. Today, seven years later, the results are in.

Not only is this experiment still alive, but you have met every benchmark of progress that Congress set five years ago. And as we know in April, an expert panel, chaired by Bill Ruckelshaus, said with one, clear voice that Congress should continue what you have started.

Back in 1998, there was no model for a citizen-driven, volunteer, science-based, restoration effort. Today, we are the model that is held up around the country. I'm here to say thank you and congratulations.

Congress said - we'll give you five years – show us what you can do, and you knocked our socks off. Miles of derelict gear removed, hundreds of thousands of oysters laid, hundreds of volunteers recruited, and those are just three small examples of your progress. Today I want to reflect on where we've come from and where we need to go.

As I think about how this got started, I remember one of the first times I went up to Congressman Jack Metcalf and asked for his help on something. I was a relatively new member of the Washington State Senate. I was working on a bill to ensure that neighbors were notified when their trees were going to be sprayed with pesticides. That's because from my kitchen window, I'd watched in horror as my own son was sprayed by a pesticide truck while he was playing in our yard.

So I wrote a bill in the State Senate, and I went to Jack Metcalf, who was the chairman of the committee, and asked him to hold a hearing on it. Jack said no. He said that too many people opposed it and that it was too dicey an issue.

On that day, if you'd told me that Jack and I would come together to lead an effort on something as controversial as the Northwest Straits, I'd have said you were crazy. But a few days later, Jack came up to me and said something had happened to change his mind. He was driving from his house on Whidbey Island to the store, and he noticed that they were spraying the trees on the side of the road. He didn't think much of it, and he went about his shopping. But when he got out of the store and headed back home, he saw some kids, under those same trees, eating berries that had just been sprayed with pesticides. Jack told me that he now wanted to hold a hearing. He did, and the bill I introduced eventually became law.

As I think back on that conversation, I realize it set a precedent for our later work on the Northwest Straits. They were both controversial issues that had strong and vocal supporters on each side. But there was something at the heart of both of those disagreements that everyone agreed was worth protecting: kids in one case and our marine resources in the other.

A few years later, Jack entered the U.S. House and I entered the U.S. Senate at the same time. And as you all know there was huge fight over the future of the Northwest Straits. Jack and I had different views, but we both found common ground in protecting an area we love.

To me, that's what legislation ought to be about. And it's really a tribute to Jack as well because he was willing to say – let's work together on this. And it has always been a bipartisan effort with Jack and Slade Gordon and so many others.

Funding

But it hasn't been easy to get people in Washington, D.C. to understand what we're doing, or to agree to fund it. In fact, because the funding comes from two separate subcommittees, we had to persuade a lot of legislators that this investment was worth every penny.

Sometimes it was a hard fight. I remember back in 2000 when the funding was short by $200,000 on the House side. I didn't know if it would work, but I decided to try to make up that shortfall on the Senate side. I went to my committee hearing, and I told the chairman, Senator Kit Bond, that we needed to cover the shortfall so that everyone who was working on this back in Washington state would be able to keep making progress. In the end, we got that funding, and you were able to stay on track.

Sometimes legislators were fascinated by what we were doing. I remember talking to Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland one year about how we needed money from the VA-HUD subcommittee. She was really excited about what we were doing, and she thought it was a great model for their efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. It hasn't always been easy, but I am proud to say that over the past six years, I've secured more than $4 million to help restore our Northwest Straits.

You Are Making a Difference



While it has been challenging to get the funding we need in Washington, D.C., it has also been tremendously rewarding to see the changes you've made in so many ways. It seems like I'm always running into people who are working to restore the Straits.

As some of you know, I have a house on Whidbey Island, and I remember walking on the beach with my husband a few summers ago. Rob and I came across two people who were taking measurements on the beach. We started talking to them, and we learned that they were volunteers getting data for the Northwest Straits Initiative. Another time, I remember getting a notice in the mail asking us to check our eel grass and report back, and we did and our neighbors did too.

Last December, I was at Fort Casey Park and got to meet with WSU Beach Watchers who are working with you as partners. And most recently, I was so proud to read that the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recognized the tremendous benefits of citizen-driven conservation and restoration effort.

Whether you’re working alongside your neighbors to remove derelict fishing gear, recruiting new volunteers, or attending your local MRC meetings, you are helping to restore and protect the marine resources of Northern Puget Sound.

The truth is, I see your work everywhere I go. I see it in people who are volunteering their time. I see it in neighbors who are now more conscious of their responsibilities. And I see it in school children who are getting involved in protection today and will be for life.

Your Progress

So after five years, what do we have to show for your efforts? I think there are three overriding accomplishments.

The first, and most unlikely, is that you've brought people together from different viewpoints and got them to work together as partners. Because of you, the Northwest Straits Initiative enjoys strong support from local, county and tribal governments, the scientific community, along with economic, recreational and conservation interests.

Second, anyway you look at the data, you have met your benchmarks. The progress you have made, and the results you've achieved are beyond question.

Finally, and this is the one that's so powerful- you've changed the way the ordinary citizens think about our resources. That's not something that happens by passing a law or issuing a mandate. That's something you build one person at a time by making people aware of what's happening, giving them a stake in the outcome, and then asking them to lend a hand. And that is where lasting change comes from.

Looking Ahead

So what does the future hold for the experiment that we've created? As you know, the authorization that Congress passed five years ago is set to expire this fall. I'm proud to announce that later this year, I will introduce legislation to reauthorize and expand the Northwest Straits Initiative.

So my first step will be laying down a bill later this year. I think the real push for reauthorization will come next year when Congress begins to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act and considers the recommendations of Oceans Commission. I will be there on the Senate floor holding up the Northwest Straits Initiative as a national model for how to address conservation issues in a way that brings people together and gets things done.

The bottom line is that you have done amazing work that has exceeded all of my expectations, and I am going to continue fighting for you in the United States Senate.

Before I close there are so many people I want to thank, and I only have time to mention a few by name. Terry Williams, Dave Fluharty, and Kathy Fletcher – you all served on the Murray-Metcalf Commission back in 1997, and you continue to be involved to this day. I also want to thank Terry Stevens for his continued support and his work at Padilla Bay. Although he wasn’t able to join us today, I also want to thank Bill Ruckelshaus for chairing the evaluation panel. I’d like to thank Tom Cowen for his leadership and tireless efforts on behalf of the Northwest Straits Initiative. Tom, you've been a driving force behind this effort, and I thank you. Finally, I want to thank all of the volunteers who have given so much of their time to make this a success.

Friends, seven years ago, we started a journey together. We built a boat that many people said would never float. Today, seven years later, we're making a real difference for a part of our environment that touches all of our lives. You showed it could be done, and your work will have an impact, not just here in the Northwest, but in every community where stakeholders are looking for a better way to get past the roadblocks and finally make progress. And I can't think of a better legacy than that.