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Did you hear what it will take? Watch our 2021 Annual Meeting!

by Friends of the San Juans on October 14, 2021 No comments

To those of you who joined us for our 2021 Annual Meeting – thank you!

To those of you who missed last week’s event — if only you could have been there! But don’t worry, here’s a link to the recording!

We witnessed compelling testimonials, gained insight during our engaging conversation with Lynda Mapes, and celebrated our achievements.

I encourage you to watch our Executive Director Brent Lyles’ segment where he shares the case for growing organizational capacity to address the challenges we are facing in the coming year and beyond.

We know the answer to what Lynda Mapes so clearly states – what will it take? We believe the answer is us. All of us. It will take you and Friends of the San Juans. Together we have what it takes to ensure we can make a difference to address climate change impacts to the islands, mentor our youth, and continue to advocate with policy and community involvement for the sustainability and resilience of our orca, salmon, forage fish, and natural shorelines.

We will need your financial support and we will need your voice.

Please donate online today or text the word “Friends” to 360-317-2610. You can also mail your check to Friends at PO Box 1344, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.

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Friends of the San JuansDid you hear what it will take? Watch our 2021 Annual Meeting!

We’re hiring a Legal Director & Staff Attorney

by Friends of the San Juans on September 29, 2021 No comments

Friends is looking for a Legal Director and Staff Attorney (Legal Director) to join our team. The Legal Director leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational activities, including policy analysis and advocacy, public outreach and education, fundraising, and coalition building. The Legal Director has a key role in implementing our mission to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea for people and nature. Click here to see the full job description. 

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Friends of the San JuansWe’re hiring a Legal Director & Staff Attorney

Read our September Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

by Friends of the San Juans on September 11, 2021 No comments

Check out the September issue of our e-newsletter – Highwater Marks! You’ll learn about: registering for our 2021 Annual Meeting with special guest Lynda Mapes, how to engage with the San Juan County Council this week about important issues for our environment and community, the latest shoreline restoration project at Salmon Point on Lopez Island, our “friends” of Friends – plus more actions, news, and updates! Read it here.

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Friends of the San JuansRead our September Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

Salmon Habitat Restoration at Salmon Point, Lopez Island

by Friends of the San Juans on September 10, 2021 No comments

It was an exciting week for local forage fish and out-migrating juvenile salmon as Friends of the San Juans and the Salmon Point Community have successfully restored priority shoreline habitat along their local beach.

At the south end of Lopez Island, two areas of failed rock armoring and rock fill were covering portions of a documented surf smelt spawning beach, negatively impacting the habitat available for forage fish to lay their eggs on. The beach is also in a priority area for out-migrating juvenile salmon, which feed on forage fish along with many other critters such as insects that benefit from a natural shoreline. Our endangered orca, of course, rely on healthy salmon populations.

Michael Budnick, of Northwest Concepts, implemented the project, which was designed by Coastal Geologic Services. Approximately 42 cubic yards of medium to large boulders along with four large toxic creosote logs were removed from the upper beach, along the forage fish spawning habitat zone. Last winter, to complement recent beach restoration actions, Flower Mountain Tree Service planted 220 native trees and shrubs along the shoreline. Restoration efforts were supported by a grant from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Salmon Point Community Association.

“The Salmon Point community members have been fantastic partners on this important project to improve habitat for spawning forage fish and juvenile salmon” notes Tina Whitman, Friends Science Director.

To learn more about Friends’ shoreline habitat restoration projects visit our restoration webpage.

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Friends of the San JuansSalmon Habitat Restoration at Salmon Point, Lopez Island

Words from the Next Generation: Parties without Plastic

by Friends of the San Juans on July 8, 2021 No comments

For many, summer is a time for gatherings with family and friends, now more than ever after a year of isolation. However, parties can become synonymous with plastic—food, utensils, cups, plates, even decorations all comprised of the everlasting polymer. To help you participate in Plastic Free July, this articleexplores alternatives to the conventional plastic-based party.

A meal is often at the center of a get-together, but food does not have to revolve around plastic. When planning a gathering, buying in bulk is often a good option for both plastic reduction and cost reduction, and opting for fresh, local produce and homemade goods can help eliminate plastic packaging. While this may seem overwhelming, organizing a potluck is a way to shift some of the responsibility to the guests while continuing to keep food-related plastic use low. Going beyond plastic, food waste can be a product of gatherings, so make sure to encourage guests to take home leftovers.

The largest contributor to waste at parties is usually cutlery and dishware. Fortunately, this is also the category with the most convenient alternatives. Paper, bamboo, or reusable materials such as metal and glass can be implemented for everything from straws to plates. However, be aware that greenwashing (falsely implying that a product is more environmentally friendly than it is) is common. A product may be loosely labeled as “biodegradable” with no legal consequences for its legitimacy. Sometimes the best way to avoid greenwashed products while reducing dish-based waste is to use reusable items; mason jars are a good option for a lower cost. You could also ask party guests to bring their own cutlery and dishware, and this could be made into an event: guests could vote on the best reusable items in various categories, for example “most quirky” or “most innovative.” Friends of the San Juans also has a set of reusable plates and utensils for thirty people available for borrowing; contact us if you would like to arrange to pick them up at our office in Friday Harbor.

Finally, there are opportunities to reduce plastic with party decorations and gifts. Recent studies have highlighted the negative impacts of balloon pollution. Balloons are one decoration easily replaced with alternatives such as streamers or bunting made of paper. Plastic tablecloths, too, can be swapped out for reusable fabric ones. Wrapping gifts in newspaper or paper grocery bags and forgoing bows and ribbons can help reduce present-related waste.

Gatherings and celebrations are hallmarks of summer, and a few creative solutions and alternatives can eliminate the use of plastic for these events. I hope this article has been a helpful starting point for your party, just one of many opportunities for plastic reduction on an individual level. Happy summer!

Written by Kaia Olson, high school junior from Spokane

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Friends of the San JuansWords from the Next Generation: Parties without Plastic

Explosive Development Drives Interest in County’s Comp Plan Update

by Friends of the San Juans on June 10, 2021 No comments

Judging by construction permits and real estate transactions, the pressure and speed of development in San Juan County has never been greater. Fortunately, the County’s Comprehensive Plan, or Comp Plan, can be a key tool for managing growth and protecting our County’s rural character. Right now, citizen interest is growing in how this tool can best ensure that sensible, science-based planning and environmental stewardship manage growth and development in our County.

One element of the Comp Plan update is that the County can change the designation or zoning of land. For example, the County is currently considering opening up 127 acres of protected forest lands to allow for more intense development. In San Juan County, we need forest lands as they are essential support for our current forest economy, rural character, and benefits like air and water quality, aquifer recharge, recreational activities, healthy wildlife habitat and connectivity, and carbon sequestration.  The parcels in question are currently zoned as Forest Resource Lands, but the County’s Planning Commission recently voted to preliminarily recommend changing these parcels to the Rural Farm Forest designation. A Rural Farm Forest zoning would allow vacation rentals and non-forestry commercial uses and would triple the allowance for impervious surface on the properties.

Citizens are mobilizing to oppose this decision through efforts like Friends of the San Juans’ Comp Plan Action Team. Both at the Planning Commission and County Council meetings, our community has the opportunity to weigh in on whether opening up these Forest Resource Lands to more intense development makes the most sense for environmental stewardship, climate resilience, and preserving the rural character of our island communities.

In addition to the Comp Plan’s importance for guiding how development unfolds in the San Juan Islands over the next 20 years, it also lays the groundwork for the County’s response to the climate crisis. To their credit, the County’s Community Development staff have done an admirable job in making climate-forward recommendations to the Planning Commission on environmental issues in the Comp Plan update. For example, new language in the Comp Plan update includes recommendations for a County-wide climate change impact study, energy-efficiency upgrades, and climate mitigation in a variety of contexts. But a strong climate response requires strong voices from our community, watchdogging the process to make sure our County’s climate response is strong and bold; climate action should be a requirement, not just a recommendation.

Through the Comp Plan Action Team and other efforts, Friends of the San Juans is joining with other organizations and community efforts, encouraging San Juan County’s citizens to engage effectively in the Comp Plan update process, both to address the current explosion of development and to put climate response and climate resiliency front and center. For information about joining in on the Comp Plan Action Team’s monthly meetings, email Brent Lyles.


Photo above by Rainshadow Consulting

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Friends of the San JuansExplosive Development Drives Interest in County’s Comp Plan Update

Protect What You Love: Green Boating in the San Juan Islands

by Friends of the San Juans on May 13, 2021 No comments

The rich marine environment of the San Juan Islands offers extensive recreational opportunities such as wildlife viewing, fishing, and crabbing. Last year’s pandemic-related travel restrictions led to huge increases in boat traffic in the islands, and this summer is shaping up to be extra busy as well.

All of these extra boats — crowding waterways, marinas, and anchorages — add stress on the marine ecosystem. However, there are simple things local and visiting boaters can do to protect habitat and be part of the solution for at-risk species such as Marbled Murrelet seabirds, Chinook salmon, and the Southern Resident killer whales.

Pacific herring lay their eggs on blades of eelgrass. Photo credit: Eiko Jones

To appreciate the potential impacts of boats, it’s helpful to understand our marine habitats: Orcas eat salmon, salmon eat forage fish, and forage fish need healthy, natural beaches and shallow-water eelgrass and kelp habitats to lay their eggs in.

What are forage fish?

Located near the bottom of the food chain, forage fish play an important role converting plankton into high energy meals for the birds, marine mammals, and big fish we all love. In the islands, our primary forage fish are Pacific herring, who spawn on eelgrass, and surf smelt and Pacific sand lance, who spawn on beaches.

What is eelgrass?

Eelgrass is a flowering plant that grows in shallow, light-filled marine waters. The long blades of eelgrass provide food and shelter for many juvenile fish and shellfish of ecological, cultural, commercial, and recreational importance, like Dungeness crabs and juvenile Chinook salmon. Herring spawn on eelgrass beds in Eastsound and West Sound on Orcas Island; Shoal, Hunter and Mud Bays on Lopez Island; and Blind Bay on Shaw Island. As these areas are also very popular anchorages, it means that boaters need to provide extra care and protection when in these bays.

Endangered species rely upon forage fish and eelgrass.

Like the Marbled Murrelet, other seabirds including this Rhinocerous Auklet feed on forage fish. Photo credit: Andrew Reding

Endangered Marbled Murrelet seabirds that nest in old-growth forests across northern Washington and southern British Columbia use the San Juan Islands as a year-round foraging area. During their summer breeding season, the San Juans are an especially important foraging spot, and you may see these small birds scoop up a bill full of small forage fish and head back to the forests where their young chicks await in the nest.

Chinook salmon utilize the shorelines in the San Juans for “rearing habitat.” When young salmon make the long journey from their natal rivers to the ocean, the islands’ protected beaches and bays play an extremely important role as their pit stop. How many little fish they can eat along the way plays a big role in how quickly they grow, and how many survive their critical first summer. And of course, Chinook salmon are key to the success of our Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Currently, only 75 individuals make up the entire Southern Resident killer whale population. To maintain and grow these highly endangered families, everyone needs to do their part to be stewards of the Salish Sea.

Luckily there are simple things that boaters can do to help!

Sailboats anchored on a busy day in the San Juan Islands. Photo Credit: Mark Gardner

How can you help?

Below are some tips on how you can protect marine habitats and forage fish and help ensure salmon, seabirds, rockfish, and the endangered Southern Resident killer whales have enough to eat.

Avoid anchoring in herring spawning grounds — anchor out in waters deeper than the eelgrass growing zone, or use a mooring buoy when staying outside a marina. Use the detailed and site-specific “anchor out of eelgrass” map to plan ahead and ensure your boating experience in the San Juan Islands is safe and enjoyable for people and nature!

Protect marine mammals by keeping your distance, reducing speeds, and turning off fish finders and echo sounders when not in use.

Keep marine waters clean by using pump outs, maintaining your boat, and quickly cleaning even small spills.

For more boater resources, visit Pick up your own Green Boating brochure at local marinas and visitor information centers. And if you have visitors coming on their private boat, please share this information with them too.

All of us can also help improve marine habitats and protect species by limiting use of lawn fertilizers and garden chemicals, preserving vegetation to avoid runoff and siltation of marine waters, and avoiding single-use plastics.

We wish everyone a fun and safe summer!

Photo above: Sailboats anchored on a busy day in the San Juan Islands, by Mark Gardner

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Friends of the San JuansProtect What You Love: Green Boating in the San Juan Islands

Words from the Next Generation: Turning Off the Faucet of Plastic

by Friends of the San Juans on April 9, 2021 No comments

Our modern lives are inevitably tied to plastic. The so-called Everlasting Polymer is the epitome of convenience, so it was love at first sight for our consumerist culture. Plastic pollution is a major threat to biosphere health, and the problem is constantly worsening. Single-use plastics comprise about 50% of the 8 million tons of plastic entering the oceans each year (, and quantities of this waste can be found all over the world, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to our own San Juan Islands.

The demands to clean up our seas of waste have multiplied in recent years as we finally realize the cost of our convenient lives. But we cannot hope that simply cleaning up our mess will make a dent in the issue unless we address it at the source. To explain this, I often use the analogy of trying to mop up a floor when a faucet is still pouring water onto it. We need to turn off the faucet of plastic production and use.

Luckily, different technologies, both new and old, are slowly moving to replace plastic. In recent years, discussion about actions individuals can take to reduce their plastic use has been circulating. Individual action is certainly a meaningful and measurable way to make a difference, but it is just one of many spheres of influence for change. Community and legislative action are the stepping stones between individual change and cultural/political change.

This article coincides with several events on both the community and legislative action levels involving plastic. In the Washington State Legislature, Bill SB5022 has passed both the house and senate and is on its way to Governor Inslee’s desk! This bill takes great steps to improve recycling and reduce plastic pollution. Companion legislative action involving single-use plastics may be considered by San Juan County soon. And the annual Great Islands Cleanup is set to take place on Saturday, April 24th—a chance for the community to work together to care for these islands that matter so much to us.

All these actions are as important for change as personally reducing plastic use is. In order to comprehensively address our plastic problem, we must approach it from multiple levels: the individual, community, and legislative levels. In other words, it takes a village to turn off the faucet.

by Kaia Olson, high school sophomore from Spokane 

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Friends of the San JuansWords from the Next Generation: Turning Off the Faucet of Plastic

Friends of the San Juans and Southern Resident Killer Whales Achieve Victory in Court

by Friends of the San Juans on April 8, 2021 No comments

This week, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge David Freeman delivered a court victory both to Friends of the San Juans and to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. “We’re very excited about this ruling,” said Brent Lyles, Friends’ Executive Director, “and it’s been a long time coming!” The issue started in early 2019, when the Phillips 66 Refinery applied to Whatcom County for permits to install a new 300,000-barrel storage tank for crude oil and an 80,000-barrel storage tank for fuel oil.

In reviewing the project application, Lovel Pratt, Friends’ Marine Protection and Policy Director, noted that Phillips 66 had failed to provide important information. More storage tanks usually mean more tankers, and Phillips 66 didn’t quantify the amount or types of vessel traffic associated with this project. That prevented Whatcom County from assessing the potential impacts of project-related vessel traffic on the Salish Sea ecosystem, including impacts to the region’s critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Friends submitted comments; however, the revised Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance didn’t adequately address the project’s potential impacts to the orcas.

Friends of the San Juans appealed Whatcom County’s decision, and in November 2019 the Hearing Examiner’s decision modified the required mitigations to help ensure that this project will not likely result in significant adverse impacts to Southern Resident Killer Whales. Phillips 66 chose to file an appeal, naming both Friends of the San Juans and Whatcom County as co-respondents. In June 2020, the matter went before Whatcom County Superior Court, and this week we finally received a win for the Southern Residents. According to Judge Freeman, “the Court concludes that the hearings examiner did not exceed his authority in modifying the conditions in his final order” noting that “the record is significant with respect to environmental impacts of increased vessel traffic on resident killer whales.”

“Project applications that would increase vessel traffic in critical orca habitat should always be required to thoroughly address potential impacts,” said Brent Lyles. “Whenever possible, we need to reduce and not increase vessel noise and presence impacts, the risk of ship strikes, and oil-spill risks for this beloved and endangered population. This decision is an historic victory for the Southern Resident Killer Whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem.”

Learn more and read the judge’s decision.

Thank you to the Northwest Fund for the Environment and the Bullitt Foundation for supporting this legal work.

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Friends of the San JuansFriends of the San Juans and Southern Resident Killer Whales Achieve Victory in Court

Tell Washington State to say YES to Southern Resident Killer Whales & NO to industries that could cause oil spills!

by Friends of the San Juans on March 29, 2021 No comments

Sign this petition to tell Washington State’s Department of Ecology to require the industries that could cause a major oil spill to comply with state regulations, and to identify and fund the reconnaissance and deterrence operations that will be needed to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales from a major oil spill. Tell Ecology to not let industries’ lack of compliance with state law result in a major oil spill that is devastating to the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

It is critical that the Southern Residents be kept away from an oil spill. The National Marine Fisheries Service states, “Their small population size and social structure…puts them at risk for a catastrophic event, such as an oil spill, that could impact the entire population.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Executive Order 18-02 also states that “the potential for a catastrophic oil spill continues to threaten Southern Residents and the entire ecosystem of Puget Sound.”

The population’s vulnerability to oil spills is further magnified because the population includes so few females that are of reproductive age. The oil spill response planning and securing the necessary personnel and equipment for the reconnaissance and deterrence phases of the wildlife response operations are therefore critical to keeping the Southern Residents away from an oil spill and preventing their extinction.

Join 20 organizations in asking the Washington State Department of Ecology to require oil spill contingency plans to include the required wildlife response protections for the critically endangered Southern Residents.

Sign the petition today! Thank you for taking action to help protect Southern Residents and their ecosystem!

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Friends of the San JuansTell Washington State to say YES to Southern Resident Killer Whales & NO to industries that could cause oil spills!