I had just reached the stretch of Hwy 101 coming into Port Angeles that offers an expansive view of the forest framing the Olympics. It was in that moment that I had a conscious awareness of gratitude. On this beautiful spring day in May, I was driving to Neah Bay to fish for lingcod and halibut for the next two days and listening to the recording of the Washington v. United States oral argument — often referred to as the Washington state culvert case.
This case is very relevant to my life in Washington. Both as someone who fishes (digs and hunts) for most of my protein and because of my service on the Stillwaters Board. If you haven’t been following it, the state of Washington challenged a Nineth Circuit Court decision which required hundreds of culverts in the state, deemed to violate the “fishing clause” of the treaty, to be removed and replaced on a more accelerated schedule than the state had proposed and thought reasonable. Since I’m an engineer and not an attorney, I’ll avoid getting into the weeds of the case. The decision from the Supreme Court came a few weeks ago. With Justice Kennedy abstaining because of involvement in related earlier cases, the Court found itself split down the middle — leaving theNineth Circuit decision standing.
Depending on your perspective, you may celebrate or curse this outcome. In the context of making good choices for the future, we have to acknowledge there are valid points to be made for and against. These include concerns about shifting limited funds from other worthy projects, potential future cases which could increase our reliance on more carbon intense sources of power and force reductions of water pollutants. All practical issues. For me it comes down to acknowledging that 50% of nothing is nothing and that the “fishing clause” in the treaty will someday be worthless if the fisheries continue to decline as they have been. There is little dispute that our political systems lean heavily toward kicking the can down the road whenever it’s possible to avoid costs. Shouldn’t we do what we can to ensure that the salmon and other fish and wildlife we love will be there tomorrow and for generations to come? Stillwaters recognized the value of liberating the local salt marsh estuary 20 years ago so, thankfully, there are two fewer culverts on the list in Washington.
I am immensely grateful that I live in a part of the world with sufficient natural abundance and regenerative capacity to catch food for myself and share it with family and friends. For more about this case visit Oyez.com which contains summaries and audio from landmark US cases going back decades. The recorded oral argument for the culvert case is available at https://www.oyez.org/cases/2017/17-269 and the Kitsap Sun, Seattle Times, and AP have written articles that are available online.