I believe it is time for a new approach to the issue of whales and other natural resources on the West Coast.
The spotlight of public attention has been directed this past year on the killing of a gray whale, on 17 May 1999, by members of the Makah tribe of Native Americans at the Neah Bay Reservation in the State of Washington. But there are much broader issues to be dealt with in the Pacific Coast area of the Northern United States and Southern Canada.
The Cetacean Society International (CSI) wishes to appeal to leaders of the Makah tribe and concerned non-governmental organizations to redirect their focus from the narrow issue of defending or opposing gray whale killing to the broader question of "What will constitute the optimum utilization of all the natural resources in this abundant area?"
What existing and new activities can best advance the long-term economic and cultural interests of all those living in this special region?
Earlier this year, CSI sent communications to officials in the Clinton administration and to representatives of some 20 non-governmental organizations, urging that a new initiative be undertaken to explore and support a variety of alternative uses of whales and other resources in the Northwest. Specifically, we proposed the holding of a jointly-sponsored Regional Whale and Natural Resource Conference, sometime in the winter or spring of 2000.
Positive expressions of interest were received from a number of individuals and groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS - Toni Frohoff), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - Karen Steuer), the West Coast Anti-Whaling Society, Vancouver, BC (Anna Hall), and the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, Portland, Oregon (SEI - Dr. Deborah Brosnan).
It was reported that there already has been some talk among grassroots organizations in the area about a regional conference that would focus on whales, the sea, and other natural resources generally, and include a whale watching component with support from native groups that have chosen to seek to develop whale watching.
For any such conference to succeed, it would be essential for representatives of the Makah and other area tribes to be involved in the planning of it from the very beginning.
Rolland Schmitten, NOAA Deputy Assistant Administrator for International Affairs, has indicated possible government interest in such a project, and it has been suggested that, if requested by the Makah, some federal assistance might be able to be secured to support a regional conference on the optimum uses of natural resources, including whales.
The emphasis would need to be on positively seeking a variety of economic opportunities, rather than on negatively opposing and trying to stop any further whale killing. In addition to whale watching, already being carried out in some areas, proposals could be explored, for example, for research projects involving Makah and others in gray whale photo-identification and biopsy work.
CSI is not in a position to convene a West Coast Conference. This will have to be done by people on the scene. However, the CSI Board has authorized a contribution from our limited treasury of up to $1,000 toward travel and other expenses for the holding of a one or two-day planning meeting of interested representatives, including Makah and other native tribes. It has been suggested that Tourism Victoria might be able to get a venue for a much reduced cost, and that there is a world class conference center there.
If any individual or group on the West Coast is willing to take the initiative in setting up such a planning session this fall, CSI will send them the names and addresses of persons and organizations already having indicated an interest. E-mail messages concerning this project should be addressed to: RobbinsB@aol.com and upon confirmation, CSI funding will be forwarded to the responsible party.
Surely, this offers a positive, hopeful goal for the new millennium: "A West Coast Conference on the Optimum Utilization of Whales and Other Natural Resources."
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