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Western’s Salish Sea Institute founder gives on-campus lecture

Have you heard of the Salish Sea?

Bert Webber is the founder of Western’s Salish Sea Institute and was one of the founders of Huxley College of the Environment, where he was a professor of geography and environmental science. He has since retired from Western but remains actively involved in the Salish Sea Institute.

Webber’s lecture “Salish Seas: What’s in a Name?” took place Wednesday, Oct. 26, in Wilson Library’s Map Collection room.

Webber coined the name Salish Sea to describe a diverse ecosystem which includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia and the Puget Sound, according to the Salish Sea Website.

In October 2009, the name Salish Sea became officially recognized, Webber said.

Webber says to understand something, is to name it, and hopes that naming the Salish Sea will encourage the 7 million people residing along it to make more of a preservation effort.

Speaking to his personal connection with the Salish Sea, Webber cited growing up on the Strait of Georgia, and his family’s affinity for fishing as reasons for his activism. He showed photos of his family catching large fish which no longer live in those waters.

“For 150 years, we have been partying. In that time, we have trashed the place. Now we are picking up the empties, but [we] have not repaired the damage.”

Western’s Salish Sea Institute founder Bert Webber

The idea of the name Salish Sea unifying an area that has always been connected but never recognized as such is of interest to the Center for Service-Learning’s First Year Educational Coordinator Natalie Baloy.

“I’m interested in how this concept of the Salish Sea could be a point of entry for community engagement or a way for students to get involved in thinking about their community, not just as Bellingham, but in this broader geographic context of the Salish Sea,” Baloy said.

Senior Evan Phillippi, an economics major, was compelled by Webber’s presentation.

“I felt the emotional appeal, where (Webber) was talking about growing up and … showing how (the Salish Sea has) changed over the course of time, was pretty impactful. The sense of urgency that he added by doing that was what I felt added to the speech the most,” Phillippi said.

While restoration of the Salish Sea is in the process, there is still much work to be done.

Webber left the audience with a quote from one of his colleagues that served as a metaphor for what has been done and what still needs to be accomplished.

“For 150 years, we have been partying. In that time, we have trashed the place. Now we are picking up the empties, but [we] have not repaired the damage,” Webber read.

Bellingham has demonstrated the most improvement in terms of areas around the Salish Sea, Webber said.

In 1970, Webber and his classes used to see examples of damage to Salish Sea, by looking through a pipe that served south Bellingham.

“At low tide, you could stand at the top of that pipe, look in the hole, and it was untreated sewage. We don’t do that anymore,” Webber said.

The Salish Sea encompasses a broad geographical region, connecting a wide array of places with an official name.

One way students can get involved with the preservation and restoration of the Salish Sea is by joining Students for the Salish Sea, a newly formed campus club which started in summer 2016.

Club activities are varied, ranging from working on political campaigns to reaching out to communities and being activists.

Sophomore Rondi Nordal is a member of Students for the Salish Sea.

“One thing that we’re working on is starting a petition raising awareness for the Nooksack River. What we’re trying to do is designate it as wild and scenic through Congress, which would essentially protect the northern part of the river,”  Nordal said.

The petition would prevent hydroelectric projects on the river and also create a quarter-mile buffer on either side of the river, where people can’t develop or do logging, Nordal said.

The club’s primary mode of communication is through their Facebook page which is titled “Students for the Salish Sea WWU.” Club meeting take place Fridays, at 4 p.m., in Viking Union.

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