News of the demise of People for Puget Sound is like the passing of an admired and trusted friend.
Indeed, for 21 years Kathy Fletcher inspired thousands of donors, staff and volunteers to pay attention to the Sound, to restore beaches, to push the legislature, governor, and Federal and local officials. We all benefited from her tenacious advocacy for a healthy Puget Sound, and hoped the energy could continue after her retirement last year. Many good people sought to continue the work, but the relentless force of a down economy and massive pressure on donors and governments alike were, in the end, decisive.
The work remains: with state agencies like Puget Sound Partnership, with nonprofits and science institutions, with our leaders, and with all of us.
One of the clear and important accomplishments of the Puget Sound Partnership is that science has finally been effectively deployed to give us more clarity about the Sound’s actual condition, and to establish a benchmark of metrics through which we can focus on progress, or lack of it. Knowledge of the problems faced by the Sound has not sunk in with the voters or public at large. But generations of participants in the health-of-Puget-Sound efforts long ago concluded that this would be a lengthy, complicated path.
In January, we will have a new governor carefully choosing his priorities. The leaders of the major marine conservation organizations met separately with Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna earlier this year in Puget Sound Hall at Seattle Aquarium to share our concerns and to learn where Puget Sound fits in the priorities of each. Each candidate voiced the visceral ownership of the Sound felt by those who grew up swimming, sailing and enjoying Puget Sound, and each committed to pursue state policies that will protect the Sound. They each agreed that leadership on this issue is important to them personally and to their families.
But for years we have lived through the ebb and flow of idealistic enthusiasm later dulled by the scale, complexity and cost of effective actions.
In recent years former PSP chair Bill Ruckelshaus pointed out that the problem has changed. The big industrial polluters of the last century have been edged out by the modern threat: millions of us moving in to the Puget Sound basin with oil from our cars and fertilizer from our lawns washing toxics into the Sound with each heavy rain. New solutions are in order.
The next governor and legislature must take the measure of the threats to the Sound, resource constraints and the distraction of voters, and place these side-by-side with the new scientific measurements of the health of the Sound. Come January, we need a realistic commitment to picking up the fitful progress made under Governor Gregoire. We should all extend a hand to keep the Puget Sound Partnership moving with the new energy, talents and political moxie of our next governor.
We know the intent will be there. But as Kathy Fletcher discovered long ago, it is a matter of one step at a time.