Canada – U.S. Cooperation in the Salish Sea: 2021-2024 Action Plan
Introduction: Building on twenty years of international cooperation
The Joint Statement of Cooperation on the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound Ecosystem (“Statement of Cooperation” or “SoC”) was signed by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)Footnote 1 in January 2000. The SoC outlines common goals for the health of the internationally-shared ecosystem and commits the two agencies to work collaboratively to achieve these goalsFootnote 2 .
ECCC and EPA maintain a Working Group under the SoC that develops and periodically updates Action Plans to achieve SoC goals. The Working Group is currently advised by representatives from the Coast Salish Gathering, British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Washington State Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Partnership, the Northwest Straits Commission, and the Salish Sea Institute at Western Washington University.
This document presents the joint Priority Action Items (PAIs) for 2021-2024. High-level results achieved during the preceding 2017-2020 Action Plan are also presented. More detail on the SoC’s twenty-year history, and accomplishments under the 2017-2020 Action Plan can be found on EPA’s "Cooperation with Canada" webpage.
In addition to efforts under the SoC, ECCC and EPA collaborate in several program areas and with a wide variety of partners, including on regional hazard response agreements and the International Airshed Strategy Coordinating Committee.
The “Georgia Basin and Puget Sound Ecosystem” broadly refers to the inland marine waters of Washington and British Columbia comprising Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia, as well as the lands and watersheds draining into themFootnote 3 . More recently, the term “Salish Sea” has been adopted by some geographical naming bodies in both Canada and the United StatesFootnote 4 .
The original SoC recognizes that the Indigenous Peoples of the Georgia Basin and of Puget Sound have been stewards of the lands and resources in the region since time immemorial, honors their traditional values and knowledge, and commits to working with their representatives in an atmosphere of mutual respect to preserve and protect the region. With this Action Plan, we reaffirm and renew these intentions.
Today, more than 8.7 million people inhabit the geographic area referred to as the Salish Sea ecosystem and projections envision an increase to over 10.5 million people by the year 2040Footnote 5 .
Supporting the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference and Health of the Salish Sea Report
Promoting information exchange across the border is a foundational goal of the SoC, as it helps to identify priorities and opportunities for effective coordination and cooperation.
The biennial Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference was proposed in the original SoC and has become one of the largest, most comprehensive transboundary ecosystem conferences in the region, with more than 1,500 participants attending recent conferences. Proceedings of recent and past conferences are archived, and selected themes are captured in a series of articles in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound’s Salish Sea Currents magazine, synthesizing ecosystem research and management approaches in the Salish Sea. Although the 2020 Conference program shifted to a free, online, and reduced-program format due to the coronavirus pandemic, registration markedly increased to 3,700 attendees.
SoC Working Group members support the Conference by participating in the Executive and Program Committees as well as convening special sessions within the Conference to explore and foster progress across all PAIs. Examples of SoC member-led sessions from 2018 include: “Federal Initiatives I: Puget Sound Federal Task Force” and “Federal Initiatives II: Oceans Protection Plan.”
The transboundary Health of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Report describes trends in indicators that can help identify priorities for future action across the entire Salish Sea ecosystem. The current suite of indicators are: air quality (fine particulates), marine species at risk, Chinook salmon, southern resident killer whales, toxics in the food web, freshwater quality, marine water quality, stream flow, shellfish harvesting, and swimming beaches. These indicators help show progress in sustainably managing the Salish Sea ecosystem and its valuable resources, where conditions are declining, and where course corrections are needed. Each indicator was updated in 2020 and published online in 2021 in the report mentioned above.
For 2021-2024 we reaffirm our commitment to strengthen these two key regional cross-border information sharing mechanisms. We will continue supporting the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference and the Health of the Salish Sea report. Our engagement in the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference will be directly linked to the other priorities identified in this Action Plan.
Our Priorities for 2021-2024 are to:
- Support the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (SSEC).
- Maintain and further develop the transboundary Salish Sea ecosystem health indicators.
Promoting Targeted Transboundary Information Exchange
In addition to the conference and ecosystem indicators reporting, regular meetings and communication with the SoC Working Group are key information-sharing opportunities. We convene focused discussions with members and guests to explore and highlight issues related to the PAIs.
For example, in recent years we have brought special presentations to the SoC Working Group on topics including U.S. federal storm surge and coastal ocean modelling, marine plastics, and the response to the Big Bar landslide.
For 2021-2024 we reaffirm our commitment to informing the SoC Working Group and other ecosystem partners of federal initiatives in the Salish Sea such as the Oceans Protection Plan, the U.S. Federal Task Force for Puget Sound, and relevant climate change and environmental initiatives. Further, we will continue work to increase awareness and understanding of developments in environmental and impact review and notification processes.
Our Priorities for 2021-2024 are to:
- Promote and foster coordination and information sharing activities on Salish Sea-related federal initiatives, and identify opportunities where U.S. and Canadian federal interests and mechanisms may intersect.
- Support information-sharing activities on environmental and impact assessment and notification processes for projects in the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Strengthening Transboundary Coordination Mechanisms
The SoC recognizes the many existing cross-border and other coordination and information-sharing mechanisms and states the intention to “work through these cooperative mechanisms to the fullest extent possible.”
border mechanisms within the Salish Sea region have evolved greatly since the SoC was signed in 2000. Several major developments bear note. First, the Coast Salish Gathering has emerged as a unique environmental policy forum where Coast Salish Tribal and First Nations governments, state, provincial and federal governments build mutual understanding and discuss strategies to address environmental issues facing our shared Salish Sea region.
Second, salmon and estuary recovery and protection efforts by local, tribal, federal, and state actors in the Puget Sound basin have converged into a strong, coordinated Puget Sound ecosystem protection and restoration effort, coordinated by the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency.
Third, the Washington State-British Columbia Environmental Cooperation Council utilizes working or task groups as needed to target topical transboundary issues.
The SoC Working Group continues to support and engage with these mechanisms. For example, as advisory members of the Working Group, staff coordinators of the Coast Salish Gathering have represented and conveyed perspectives arising from this forum. Working Group members also support ongoing activities of a BC-WA Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group. In May 2017, the Working Group convened a special webinar on EPA technical initiatives relevant to the BC/WA Nooksack River Transboundary Task Group. WA and BC continue to lead this work, to which EPA and ECCC contribute as observers to this new forum.
We are also working to solidify transboundary representation within the Puget Sound “Management Conference”Footnote 6 ; a Canadian scientist now serves on the Puget Sound Science Panel, and there is opportunity for increased Canadian participation as ex officio members of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Coordination Board.
For 2021-2024, we will continue to support existing and emerging transboundary coordination mechanisms.
Our Priorities for 2021-2024 are to:
- Support State/Provincial and local transboundary coordination and information sharing mechanisms.
- Support Tribal-First Nation transboundary coordination and information sharing mechanisms.
Working Group Administration
ECCC and EPA share in the administration of the SoC Working Group that includes:
- Planning, convening, facilitating, and reporting on semi-annual Working Group meetings;
- Leading the development and implementation of Action Plans;
- Convening special meetings and information-sharing sessions to spotlight topics of priority transboundary interest;
- Identifying and pursuing opportunities to further advance SoC goals and Action Plan PAIs, including as raised by Working Group Advisory Members, Working Group meeting guests, and SoC Action Plan evaluation and review processes;
- Keeping ECCC and EPA senior leadership informed of key SoC-related developments and supporting their engagement in SoC-related transboundary forums; and
- Sharing information about each agency’s relevant activities and protocols.
In addition to these activities, during the 2017-2020 Action Plan period, the Working Group co-chairs established a “Sharing Information” email series to inform Working Group members of developments and opportunities relevant to the PAIs. Since the first email in 2018, more than 50 updates have been shared on major policy and funding initiatives, environmental review processes, and other projects on both sides of the border.
ECCC and EPA intend to continue to support these Working Group Administration activities in the 2021-24 Action Plan period.
Finally, ECCC and EPA commit to adaptively manage the Working Group Terms of Reference, Working Group structure and function, and Priority Action Item commitments, consistent with Tribal trust and treaty, reconciliation with First Nations, and other related mandates, responsibilities, and priorities.
Environment and Climate Change Canada-Environmental Protection Agency
Joint Statement of Cooperation on the Salish Sea Ecosystem
Priority Action Item (PAI)
|Outcome||Proposed Outputs||Primary Responsibility|
|1 - Support for the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (SSEC)||
|2 - Maintain and further develop the transboundary Salish Sea ecosystem health Indicators||
EPA & ECCC
|3 - Support information sharing activities on environmental and impact assessment and notification processes for projects in the Salish Sea ecosystem||
EPA & ECCC
|4 - Support Tribal-First Nation transboundary coordination and information sharing mechanisms||
EPA & ECCC
Coast Salish Gathering advisory members
|5 - Support State/Provincial and local transboundary coordination and information sharing mechanisms||
EPA & ECCC
|6 - Promote and foster coordination and information sharing activities on Salish Sea-related federal Initiatives; identify opportunities where US and Canadian federal interests and mechanisms may intersect||
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