Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I Like Maps

I like maps

Here's a map of North American watersheds (2MB) that I found at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation:

North American watersheds

It really helps to visualize the local watersheds and regions that make up Cascadia. The seaboard watersheds north of California (in mint green) and the light green range of the Columbia River watershed show its maximum extent. Note how the Puget Sound/Strait of Georgia area is a single watershed from the Fraser River to the Nisqually River. That's the heart of Cascadia, though I'd also include the Willamette River and Cowlitz River valleys for historical and cultural reasons--even though they are tributaries of the Columbia--along with southern Vancouver Island and the Olympic and northern Oregon coasts.

It's also a good demonstration of the other major ecoregions in North America. This raises an issue concerning management of our waterways. Wouldn't it make more sense to have bioregional management for the major systems, rather than relying upon the national and state governments do it? These are clearly federal issues because they cross state boundaries, so each national government could reasonably enact legislation creating watershed districts. Those that cross national boundaries could empower watershed districts by treaty, maybe as a modification to NAFTA. The organization that made this map, the CEC, was established as a supplement to NAFTA, so there's precedent for greater cooperation. It's just a matter of expanding the environmental agreement.

For North America, I see the following continental watershed districts based on this map, 23 in total:

Hudson Bay
Saskatchewan River
Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River
North Pacific (the rest of Alaska, and BC north of the Strait of Georgia)
Puget Sound/Strait of Georgia/Olympics (Cascadia proper)
Pacific Coast (Oregon and California)
Mexican Pacific (Baja to Chiapas)
Mexican Atlantic
Mexican Interior
Colorado River
Nevada (no outlets to the sea)
Rio Grande
Missouri River
Arkansas River
Ohio River
Mississippi River
Gulf Coast
Atlantic Coast

That would shrink the management scope from something like 97 governments (including federal governments, states, provinces, and territories), many of which are fighting over jurisdiction, to 23 each with a clearly-defined mandate. There would be some sharing of responsibility for major tributary systems to larger rivers (Missouri and Mississippi, say), as well as for all watersheds opening into a common part of the ocean (such as those around the Gulf of Mexico.

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What this is about, Part II

So now that I've set the stage with my discussion of bioregionalism in Cascadia, what does it actually mean in terms of specific topics of interest for this blog? The short answer is that any topic that relates to this framework, starting from my personal life and working outward to issues of global importance, is relevant here. Anyone who shares interest in these same topics is welcome to comment, even if your own personal and regional context is quite different. In fact, I particularly welcome comments from people in other parts of the world who nevertheless feel a sense of common experience or perspective. By enjoying the common ground that brings us together, we broaden the scope of the communities in which we live. On the Internet, many of those communities are united in experience despite strong geographical differences and long distances.

Personal issues relevant to this blog include my own personal experiences of and reflections on life in Cascadia that speak to broader concerns. These are likely to be the least common, but could range all over the map of possibility.

Local issues include:

  • The health of local watersheds, including possible daylighting of urban creeks, including Horse Creek in my own neighborhood
  • Water quality and animal and fish habitat in local creeks, the Sammamish River, and the greater Lake Washington watershed.
  • The protection of local wetlands and urban biodiversity in general, and the coexistence of humans and animals in urban and suburban environments.
  • Sustainable development and urban density, focusing on projects and policies in my immediate area in the northshore of Lake Washington, and particularly Bothell.
  • Occasional architecture musing and whining.
  • The protection of green space and parks.
  • Cycling trails and facilities.
  • Future transportation options between my local area and nearby towns and cities. Muttering about the lack of rail options in the Northshore area, and lamentations about Lynnwood.
  • Road projects that affect life in the area.
  • Cleaning up local air and water. Why I'm not bothered about the waste treatment plant and related pipeline in my neighborhood.

Regional issues include:

  • The water quality and bio-diversity in Puget Sound and other interior waters of the Pacific Northwest including British Columbia.
  • The health of local forests and other important ecosystems such as fisheries. What's the proper mix of ecological, recreational, and industrial uses?
  • Regional transportation issues. Why is monorail dead, and is there a place for it in the future? What's good and bad about Sound Transit? Why is there no prospect for high-speed rail? When can we stop favoring cars over everything else? Why can't Seattle and its environs ever get this right? What can we learn from Vancouver and Portland?
  • Urban and suburban sprawl in the Puget Sound region, and how to prevent it. The state's Growth Management Act. The King County Critical Areas Ordinance. The lies of "wise use."
  • Education
  • Local economics and important industries and companies
  • Lowering barriers at the US-Canadian border
  • Regional earthquake and other disaster preparedness
  • Other county, state, and regional cross-border issues

Global issues include:

  • Climate change and the health of our oceans and atmosphere
  • Poverty, disease, and underdevelopment
  • Natural disaster management
  • War
  • The impact of trade
  • Immigration
  • The proper role of international agreements and organizations, and how to integrate them with local and regional concerns.
  • National issues when I simply can't avoid ranting (or more rarely, raving) about them.

I'm not really an expert on any of these subjects. I studied history and political science extensively and my bachelor's degree relates to those areas. But mostly I'm just interested in these subjects as an informed citizen and resident in this part of the world.

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So what's all this about, anyway?

When I created a blog called "The Daily Cascadian," I risked committing myself to three principles inherent in the title:

First, the name suggests posts on a regular schedule. If taken literally, I should have something to say each day. Additionally, when I post the content should relate in some way to this nebulous thing called "Cascadia." Finally, the definite article suggests that my efforts are unique. There may be other daily blogs and other Cascadian ones, but this is the Daily Cascadian.

On all three points, I'm sure to fall short, which is why my title is more a suggestion and goal than an outright declaration. But I should at least clarify what I consider the domain and purpose of this site.

First, it's a place for me to write about things that are not solely personal, that have a larger social impact beyond me and my immediate friends and relatives, and may be of interest to anyone who stumbles onto my site. This means that I will sometimes opine about the larger world beyond "Cascadia." But the name is intended to be a focus, a reminder to ground even my larger commentary in my own experience, and in the context of the communities of which I am a part. My intention is to relate most posts back to this conceptual center.

"Cascadia" is a bit of a problematic word. As I've already mentioned, it doesn't have a commonly-agreed definition. Most people who live in the area, no matter how it is defined, are probably not familiar with the term, and would likely resist the concept even if they were. In particular, Canadians in British Columbia are usually mystified by the idea and often annoyed. It's a term that can be simultaneously provincial and mistaken for nationalist. It can be seen to threaten existing national, regional, and cultural identities, while also implying new divisions.

When I speak of Cascadia, I don't speak of a different national identity, and I don't intend for it to threaten existing labels or concepts. To me, it is simply a description for my personal regional community. It is a way of overcoming barriers and seeking common ground. It's a framework that adds to our collective understanding of ourselves. It suggests new ways that people from different backgrounds who share a common region of the world can cooperate to make their shared world better.

Ultimately, "Cascadia" is an ecological concept, which is only secondarily social or political. As humans, we are part of a larger ecology that we have a tremendous capacity to change. That means we have a responsibility to act consciously within an ecological framework. This responsibility has personal and political consequences.

The World Wildlife Fund, one of the most prominent organizations to support global biodiversity, popularized the concept of the "ecoregion" or "bioregion." An ecoregion is defined as:

"A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that:
(a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
(b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
(c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence. "

The WWF defines 8 major ecozones and 867 ecoregions (counting only terrestrial areas and not marine areas). One of those ecozones is the Nearctic, which is nearly identical to what is now North America. It is ecologically distinct because it exists on a continental plate that was separated from others long enough to develop a unique ecosystem.

One interesting thing to note about these ecozones is how much they change over time and how much they interact in the global ecosytem. For example, all canines, camel-like creatures, and equines originated in North America, as did the Cheetah, though most of those creatures have been found predominantly outside of the area throughout recorded history.

My ecoregion, as defined by the WWF, is the "Puget lowland forests" ecoregion. It includes the coastal areas around Puget Sound and nearby interior coastal waters from Vancouver, BC to Olympia, WA. 95% of this ecoregion has been altered by urbanization and agriculture, so ecological issues largely concern the health and welfare of the people here, and maintaining what biological diversity remains in the context of the larger region's ecology.

The Puget lowlands forest ecoregion is part of a larger grouping of "temperate coniferous forests" ecoregions in North America. Adjacent eco-regions include the "British Columbia mainland coastal forests," the "Cascade Mountains leeward forests," the "Central and Southern Cascades forests," and the "Central Pacific coastal forests" (Vancouver Island, the Olympic Peninsula, and the coastal ranges in Oregon). Some non-WWF ecoregion classification systems include all of these areas as a single ecoregion. Collectively, they make up the heart of what I call "Cascadia."

Surrounding these ecoregions are the "Fraser Plateau and Basin complex ," the "Okanogan dry forests," the"Central British Columbia Mountain forests," and the "Eastern Cascades forests." These represent a secondary region that can be seen as part of a broader "Cascadia."

Further out (from north to south) are the "Northern Pacific coastal forests" around Prince William Sound in Alaska, the "Northern transitional alpine forests" east of the Alaskan panhandle in British Columbia, the "Pacific Coastal Mountain icefields and tundra" bio-region which is the only tundra bio-region in this grouping of temperate forests, the "Queen Charlotte Islands" in coastal BC, the "Blue Mountains forests," and the "Klamath-Siskiyou forests"in Oregon and northern California. These regions have much in common with the Cascadian regions, but with the possible exception of the last region are far enough removed from the Cascades that the term is not really appropriate. However, they could be grouped with the Cascadian regions as part of a larger "Pacific Coast" super-region.

Finally, there are several interior ecoregions in Eastern Washington and Oregon, north-central British Columbia, northern California, and Alaska that could be seen as part of the larger region. They connect to the coastal regions through common watersheds, particularly those along major rivers such as the Fraser River, the Columbia River, the Snake River, and their tributaries.

These are the natural regions to which I feel some local affinity, starting with those closest to me and working outward. Any farther out beyond these regions, and my interest is as a human being and concerned foreigner. They relate more closely to the global view in which my region and super-region interact with other parts of the planet.

These areas collectively define my geographical regions of interest, and mark an ecological framework that's useful in focusing my personal, social, and political concerns and relating them to a broader context. My interest corresponds well to the concept of bioregionalism, in which ecoregions help to define the political, cultural, and ecological milieu and decision-making processes of people within each region. Rather than replace our existing political and social processes, I see bioregionalism as a helpful concept that can lead to new processes and institutions, as well as individual choices and behaviors, that supplement the effectiveness of existing institutions.

So, hopefully I haven't lost everyone by now. In future posts, I'll build on the foundation of bioregionalism to explain the key issues that are important to me as someone who lives in this particular part of the world and is interested in what happens both here and on the planet as a whole.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cascadia Heats Up

Global warming is killing the Pacific Northwest Coast.

From the Oregonian:

Ocean scientists took their first look Tuesday into the oxygen-starved "dead zone" spreading off the Oregon Coast and were shocked by what they saw: a lifeless wasteland of thousands of dead crabs, starfish and no live fish at all...

...Dead Dungeness crabs off Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats, "were like jellybeans in a jar. You just can't count them, there were so many."

Oxygen levels in places along the central Oregon Coast have sunk to the lowest levels ever recorded on the West Coast of the United States, said Francis Chan, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, an alliance of research institutions.

Scientists suspect swings in the Earth's climate tied to global warming may be shifting wind conditions to bring about such grim results.

Right now, the dead zone is complete in only a few spots, but signs of low oxygen levels stretch for 70 linear miles, and reportedly 2100 square miles total.

The Seattle Times tries to blunt the impact by noting that crab harvests in Oregon in some places have hit records, but it makes sense that if crabs were fleeing low-oxygen areas they might be more plentiful in other areas in the short-term, until those areas are fished or the extent of the dead zone expands. Needless to say, I don't feel too confident that a decent crab harvest in places is a good sign.

There are other worrying signs in our region recently, including a sighting in Oregon of a rare "king-of-salmon" fish associated with warm waters, and an epidemic of shellfish poisoning in Hood Canal associated with unusually warm temperatures. Hood Canal is something of a bellwether because its shape and location make it particularly susceptible. There's also a huge algae bloom off Vancouver Island this summer, again associated with warm waters.

This should be a big story locally, but it was a throwaway article yesterday or today depending upon the newspaper, and the TV is focused on terrorism hysteria and war (I had to stumble over a blog post to find it myself). But this is the real big story, not just locally but at any level. Our way of life is killing the sea, and with it the natural heritage we need to survive and thrive. Nothing is more important.

Oh, and it's not just the Northwest. A similar warming trend has been noticed in California, which is experiencing El Nino like conditions even though it's not an El Nino year.

Maybe the consistency with global warming models is coincidental, though with similar symptoms apparent in other places around the world such as the English Channel, the coincidences start to become too numerous to dismiss. It could just be a bad year, but the problem with climate change is that it's indistinguishable at the local level from a bad year. Regardless of the full range of causes and in the absence of certainty, we ought to take this threat very seriously. That means examining the global picture and taking reasonable precautions based upon the global model.

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Friday, August 04, 2006


I've chosen to label this site as Cascadian because that regional identity is an important part of who I am. My family has history in the region going back four generations, when my paternal great-grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, arrived in this country during the first decade of the 20th century. Victor Hujanen entered the country in New York, passed through Finnish immigrant communities in the Midwest, and ended up working copper mines in Butte, Montana.

That was a time of great immigrant and labor unrest, and Victor was deeply involved in the local unions, including the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as the Wobblies. The Wobblies supported worker's rights and free speech, demonized the management class, disregarded electoral and partisan politics, and called for industrial democracy through "one big union" rather than several distinct unions. None of this sat well with the powers that be or the more conservative elements of society, and several violent episodes involving the Wobblies and their enemies occurred throughout the country, but particularly in the Northwest.

My grandfather was born in Butte in 1917, and a few years later the whole family moved to Aberdeen, Washington, a coastal logging and fishing town with a history of labor radicalism. Victor's lungs were failing from years working in the mines, and he took a job as a barber. My grandpa grew up spending much of his time in the old Finn Hall, a Wobbly watering hole and social gathering place, where politics, music, eating, and drinking combined to cement the community. The town was divided at the time by political and ethnic factions. The rival Red Hall, with some Finns and Russians, was supportive of the Bolshevik revolution. As a child, my grandpa and his friends often engaged in rivalry with the Swedish kids living just across the river, forming gangs whose activities never got more serious than throwing rocks and chasing each other around town. His gang was the "River Rats."

As he grew up, my grandpa realized he had a talent for playing the fiddle. The guys at the Finn Hall recognized this and pooled money to send him off to music school at Cornish in Seattle. This was in the middle of the Great Depression, and he ended up working various jobs until war came. Shortly after the war began, granda joined the Army Air Force and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas as an aircraft mechanic. While he was there, he met and married my grandmother, the daughter of a German-American immigrant who was also German Consul to the state of Texas. Fortunately, he was never deployed abroad and spent the entire war in Texas.

My father was born in 1944. In the late 1940s they moved to Seattle. Victor died of black lung disease near that time, and my great-grandmother remarried Tom Brown, a local activist in the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU). Tom found my grandpa a job as a longshoreman. He ended up working there, and at the Seattle Symphony as a violinist, until his retirement from both in the 1980s.

My mom, meanwhile, was born in 1947 to parents who had worked in Seattle during the war. They moved back to North Dakota for a few years to join the extended family, but relatively quickly returned to Seattle. My parents met in 1964 at the old Flag Pavilion in Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World's Fair. The event was a summer hootenanny for the presidential campaign of Lyndon Johnson, who was fighting the war on poverty and promised to keep the nation out of war.

I was born in Seattle, on Capitol Hill, in 1969, the second of their children. Despite having four generations of family history here, my siblings and I are the first to be born in Washington (though western Montana is certainly part of the greater Northwest.)

As a Northwesterner, I grew up appreciating fishing, hiking, boating, sailing, and clamming. Of all those regional pastimes of my youth, the hiking was the only one that really took. I learned to love the outdoors and particularly the natural beauty of the local mountains and forests. As I grew up, I saw those forests come under attack, from unsustainable logging, ill-conceived suburban sprawl, and industrial pollution. I saw old farm and foothill towns turned into outer suburbs. I saw the ability to make decisions about our region's resources and ways of life outsourced to transnational corporations and the federal government in Washington, DC. I began to realize that I identified more with my regional background than with my national background. I saw that our nation was going awry, and that nationalism was taking over for national community. I consider myself first a human, and then a political liberal, and when it comes to geographic identity the region comes first. The Pacific Northwest is my home, and I am a Northwesterner. But that's a mouthful, and now there's another word that means more or less the same thing: Cascadian.

I'm still an American, and I admire American ideals even as they are realized less frequently and the reality of the American nation becomes uglier. I don't think that those ideals and that identity should be abandoned. But I think that all Americans, regardless of where we live, can find ways to improve our way of life by rejecting a blind nationalism and integrating our regional identities into how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. Some of our collective decisions make more sense at the regional level, defined by a common geographical history and destiny.

Cascadia can be defined many ways, but at its heart it is the natural bioregion that includes the Cascade Mountains and all of the waterways that connect those mountains to Puget Sound and other interior coastal waters that lead eventually to the Pacific Ocean. The Cascades run from just north of the Canadian border to Mount Shasta in northern California. Some people include Lassen Peak in the Cascades, but in most respects it's better seen as part of the Sierra Nevadas. Cascadia proper then is the coastal area between Vancouver BC and the Fraser River Valley in the north, and Humboldt County and the Klamath River Valley in the south. Because the Columbia River passes through the mountains and is fed by rivers on the east side of the Cascades, the basic definition includes several counties east of the mountains as well. This region includes some of the most spectacular mountains in North America, including several active volcanoes in Washington and Oregon. It includes three great regional cities in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. It includes a huge interior coastal region that crosses national borders. It includes the world's largest temperate rain forests.

Other people would define Cascadia more broadly. If the Columbia River fed from the Cascades is part of Cascadia, some would conclude that its entire length and all of its other tributaries count as well. This is also true of tributaries of other cross-mountain rivers such as the Skagit and Klamath and Fraser. This definition expands Cascadia, via the Snake River and other large tributaries of the Columbia, through Idaho and western Montana to the Rockies. This view often includes east of the Cascades rivers that don't eventually cross the mountains to the west, adding much of Oregon and a significant chunk of northern California.

Still others, noting the common anthropological, historical, and geographical features of the larger Pacific Northwest, expand the notion of Cascadia to include much of British Columbia and even parts of Alaska. The largest definition of Cascadia includes all water basins flowing into the Pacific north of the Sierra Nevada mountains, even though the Cascades themselves only cover a minority of that land. Most of the people in the expanded view of Cascadia would not agree with this regional identity (Alaskas see themselves as Alaskans, not Northwesterners), so it's usually a better idea to stick with the less expansive view.

So that's Cascadia. I'll sometimes post about issues relevant to my home region, and I'm posting here as Cascadian, even when I'm talking about national, international, or other non-regional topics.

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The Daily Cas

The Daily Cascadian is intended as a journal of personal, political, and cultural thoughts, updated regularly (though perhaps not daily). I am a native of the Pacific Northwest whose perspective tends to range all over the liberal-progressive-left-wing side of the map, though my specific views can be iconoclastic.

This site and its URL is in no way associated with Daily Kos, The Daily Olympian, or any other similarly named publication online or off. It just seemed slightly clever and memorable, and wasn't taken. There is one Google result for "The Daily Cascadian," but it's a single passing hypothetical reference by someone posting in Eugene, OR in 1998, and I figure if they haven't done anything with the name since then there's no reason I can't.

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