Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force

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Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force

The Puget Sound/Georgia Basin ecosystem consists of three shallow marine basins: the Strait of Georgia to the north, Puget Sound to the south, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca that connects this inland sea to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to open water, the ecosystem includes islands, shorelines, wetlands , and the watersheds of several mountain ranges whose freshwater rivers dilute the salt water. This rich and diverse ecosystem spans the United States-Canadian border and is threatened by population growth , urbanization, agriculture, and industry. In addition to Pacific salmon , valuable ground fish, and marine mammals including orca whales , Puget Sound/Georgia Basin has three of North America's busiest portsSeattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.). Already an estimated 58% of the coastal wetlands of Puget Sound and 18% of the Strait of Georgia wetlands, which provide vital habitat to fish and birds, have been lost to development.

The Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force was created 1992 by the B.C./Washington Environmental Cooperation Council to coordinate priority environmental efforts between the state of Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The task force includes representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service , the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada , and the Department of Environment Canada . State and provincial representation include the Washington Departments of Ecology, Natural Resources, and Fish and Wildlife and the B.C. Ministries of Water, Land and Air Protection and Sustainable Resource Management (formerly combined under the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks). The task force also includes representatives from the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, the Northwest Straits Commission, the Coast Salish Sea Council, and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The task force is charged with addressing marine, near-shore, and shoreline environmental issues for the entire Puget Sound/Georgia Basin shared ecosystem, as well as identifying and responding to new issues that may affect the shared waters.

The task force pursues project funding and promotes communication and cooperation among federal, state, provincial, local, and tribal/aboriginal governments and groups. In 1994, a Marine Science Panel (MSP), made up of Washington and B.C. scientists, identified priority environmental issues to be addressed by the task force's working groups. The task force cooperates with government agencies on implementation of the working groups' proposals.

The MSP recommended that fish and wildlife management shift its goal from maximum sustainable harvest to species protection. To this end, the task force's highest priority issues are protecting marine life, establishing marine protected areas (MPAs), and preventing near-shore and wetland habitat loss and the introduction of exotic or non-indigenous species (NIS). The Task Force Work Group on Marine Protected Areas has conducted an assessment of Puget Sound MPAs. The B.C. Nearshore Habitat Loss Work Group has devised a plan for preventing coastal habitat loss in the Georgia Basin. The Washington Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordination Committee and the B.C. Working Group on Non-Indigenous Species have worked to develop nuisance species legislation and proposals for regulating ballast water release from ships, a major source of NIS introduction. In collaboration with various agencies, the task force has launched a public NIS education program.

The medium priority recommendations of the MSP included the control of toxic waste discharges and the prevention of large oil spills and major diversions of freshwater for dams and other projects. The Washington and B.C. toxic chemical work groups have undertaken research, inventoried contaminated sites, and assessed the movement of toxic chemicals through the shared waters.

On May 15, 2002 the Transboundary Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Environmental Indicators Working Group released their ecosystem indicators report, concluding that population growth constitutes the primary threat to the region. During the 1990s, the region's population grew by about 20% to seven million people. It is projected to grow another 32% by 2020. Whereas most of the growth during the 1990s was in urban areas, new growth is expected to occur in more rural areas. The report found that air pollution from inhalable particles has declined since 1994; the amount of waste produced per person has remained about the same; and recycling has increased, particularly in B.C. However the loss of stream and shoreline habitats to development is endangering the region's plants and animals. In the Georgia Basin almost 35% of the freshwater fish and 12% of the reptiles are in danger of extinction , as are 18% of Puget Sound's freshwater fish and 25% of its reptiles. The harbor seals of Puget Sound are much more heavily contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) than the Strait of Georgia seals. PCB contamination levels have remained constant for more than 14 years, despite major cleanup efforts. The harbor seals also are contaminated with other persistent organic pollutants including dioxins and furans . The report found that most of the ecosystem's protected land is in the mountains: only 1% of land below 3,000 ft (914 m) is protected.

[Margaret Alic Ph.D. ]



Mills, Mary Lou. Strategy and Recommended Action List for Protection and Restoration of Marine Life in the Inland Waters of Washington State. Seattle: Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force, 1999.


The British Columbia Nearshore Habitat Loss Work Group. A Strategy to Prevent Coastal Habitat Loss and Degradation in the Georgia Basin. June 2001 [May 2002]. <www.wa.gov/pswqat/shared/pdfs/Coastal_main.pdf>.

Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force. Pathways to Our Optimal Future: A Five-Year Review of the Activities of the International Task Force. Puget Sound-Georgia Basin Environmental Initiative. [May 2002]. <http://www.wa.gov/puget_sound/shared/pdfs/_December_1_f.al_in_sequenc.pdf>.

"Shared Waters, Puget Sound On-Line." Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force. [May 2002]. <www.wa.gov/pswqat/shared/backgrnd.html>.

Transboundary Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Environmental Indicators Working Group. Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Ecosystem Indicators Report. May 15, 2002 [June 2002]. <wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/cppl/gbpsei/index.html>.

Washington Sea Grant Program. Shared Waters: The Vulnerable Inland Sea of British Columbia and Washington. Shared Waters, Puget Sound On-Line. [May 2002]. <www.wa.gov/pswqat/shared/bcwaswl.html>.


Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, PO Box 9360 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BCCanada V8W 9M2 (250) 387-9422, Fax: (250) 356-6464, <http://www.gov.bc.ca/wlap>

Puget Sound/Georgia Basin International Task Force, Email: [email protected], <http://www.wa.gov/puget_sound/shared/shared.html>

Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, PO Box 40900, Olympia, WA USA 98504-0900 (360) 407-7300, Toll Free: (800) 54-SOUND, <http://www.wa.gov/puget_sound>