1: Think ecosystem: political boundaries are arbitrary
Just because an international border splits an ecosystem, that doesn’t mean it is observed by the fish and wildlife or physical processes that make up the ecosystem and it shouldn’t prevent the people on both sides of the border from working together.
The Puget Sound Basin is only one half of a 17,000 sq. km. ecosystem, the Salish Sea. Efforts to restore Puget Sound or the Georgia Basin will fail the U.S. and Canada do not improve cross-border collaboration. Map: N. Maher
Although there is a major statewide effort to restore Puget Sound by the year 2020, the Puget Sound basin is only one half of a large and unified ecosystem, the Salish Sea. Efforts to restore Puget Sound will fail if they do not incorporate and integrate similar efforts on the Canadian side of the border.
The international political boundary separating the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin is invisible to marine fish and wildlife, species listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act or the Canadian Species at Risk Act, including Southern Resident killer whales, marbled murrelets, and some ecologically significant units or species of Pacific salmon, traverse the boundary daily. Oceanographic processes such as freshwater inflows and wind driven surface currents exchange biota, sediments and nutrients throughout the larger ecosystem. For example, the less saline, more buoyant Fraser River plume can be observed by satellite imagery flowing across the international boundary throughout the year and tidal oscillations move huge volumes of water across the border four times daily.
International, state, provincial, or tribal, political boundaries impede ecosystem restoration. Management of the iconic Pacific salmon is a striking example of the unique challenges created when ecosystem and political boundaries do not align. The migration patterns of the five species of Pacific salmon in this ecosystem create transboundary fishery regimes containing mixed stocks from numerous river systems of origin (some from USA and others from Canada).
In 1945, the United States and Canada implemented the first bilateral Pacific salmon-sharing agreement, followed by the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty. However, by 1997, as salmon stocks were declining, accusations from both sides about the interception and harvest of fish destined for the other country became so heated that the USA and Canada independently shifted their fishery regimes, foregoing all concerns about stock declines. These “salmon wars” ultimately culminated in a renewed salmon harvest agreement signed in 1999.
While the governments of Washington State and British Columbia signed an Environmental Cooperative Agreement in 1992 to work together on marine issues in the Salish Sea, the agreement is hampered by internal constraints imposed by tribal and federal laws. For instance, a 1974 court decision reaffirmed the treaties between the U.S. Federal Government and 19 tribes in Washington signed in 1885, and ruled that 17 tribes with usual and accustom fishing areas in Puget Sound have the right to 50% of the harvestable fish and shellfish resources. By contrast, in Canada the Federal Government regulates all tribal harvest.
"Thinking ecosystem" requires focusing restoration efforts from the start on all sides of the political border and finding mutually agreeable solutions among all levels of government. The principle worked in the design of the Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Program, a transboundary natural resource management program involving the republics of Kenya and Uganda, and will work for multi-national coastal ecosystems as well.
Focus on the ecosystem as its own legitimate entity can help prevent the past experiences where agreements made when resources were abundant quickly unraveled as those resources declined.