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Smooth sailing for the Salish Sea?

In an unusual act of international cooperation, the proposal to name the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest is being handled by both countries at once.
All of the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia comprise the Salish Sea.

All of the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia comprise the Salish Sea. Washington Department of Ecology

Adding names to the map can be complicated, especially if two countries are involved. The proposal to create an "umbrella" name for the inland waters of the Northwest, designating as the Salish Sea the waters from British Columbia's Desolation Sound to Washington's southern Puget Sound, is an example. First, the concept has to pass muster in Washington and British Columbia. It it does, then it gets referred to each country's national place name board. That's two countries, one province, one state, all weighing in, any of which could choose to adopt, deny, or defer the request along the way.

But a couple of things have happened that have resulted in an integrated, simultaneous, and cooperative process for the Salish Sea proposal. The Washington State Board of Geographic Names, the British Columbia Geographic Names Office, The Geographical Names Board of Canada and the United States Board of Geographic Names have cooperated on soliciting input on the name designation, having send a joint letter earlier this summer to gauge public and professional support for the Salish Sea concept.

Sources say this is being done for two reasons. One is to save time and money. The Washington board lost all of its funding when the Department of Natural Resources cut its budget in response to the deficit. The board itself still exists (it survived an effort to terminate it, but a review of state laws revealed that it's role is legally necessary). Joining forces to solicit input makes sense when resources are scarce, or non-existent. And everyone will be making their decision on the same set of data.

Second, the tide of public opinion seems to be flowing with the Salish Sea proposal. There's nothing official known yet (the Washington board is slated to make a decision at its October meeting), but cooperation is easier if there's a sense that consensus might be achievable. Caleb Maki, who has staffed the Washington board, says public feedback here is running 80 percent or higher for the Salish Sea proposal. When people realize that the new name doesn't change anything (Georgia Strait will still be Georgia Strait, Puget Sound stays Puget Sound), opposition drops to almost zero.

The hunch is, the Salish Sea has a very good shot of being added to the maps and charts by the U.S. and Canada simultaneously, which is partly what the whole concept of the Salish Sea is about: recognizing a geographical feature, in this case an ecosystem, that transcends human-drawn boundaries.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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