Puget Sound now officially part of Salish Sea

Published on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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The body of saltwater that stretches 5,500 square miles from Tumwater, Washington to Desolation Sound in British Columbia commonly referred to as Puget Sound has another name.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved a proposal last week to use Salish (pronounced SAY’-lish) Sea as the collective name for the body of water that includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Georgia Strait.

Lou Yost, the board’s executive secretary said the new designation does not change or eliminate the names of any of the several bodies of water within the Salish Sea on either side of the international border but simply creates an overlay for a greater ‘ecoregion.’

The term, which has been adopted by the British Columbia Geographical Names Office, is already used by scientists to describe the unified ecosystem and habitats of the inland waters.

It was first used in 1988 by Bert Webber, a retired marine biologist from Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment, who coined the term based on the waterway’s historical significance to the coastal indigenous peoples who live around southwestern British Columbia and northwest Washington state and are connected by various Coast Salish languages.

Webber first proposed the name change in 1990 but the board rejected it saying there wasn’t a need.

Mike Sato, director of communications for People For Puget Sound, a Seattle-based non-profit environmental group, said the organization has long used the term and that it was an important step to reaching consensus for cross-border stewardship.

“The orca whales and the salmon don’t know there’s a border there,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve all grappled really hard with the idea that this is a shared ecosystem but the governments themselves have a really, really hard time administering in a way that makes sense.

“I think approving the name Salish Sea goes a long way to direct the government and make it easier for them to approach stewardship over these waters in a shared way.”

Officials with the British Columbia Names Office said it would approve the name change in “principle” and adopt the resolution contingent on U.S. approval based on the fact that the name is commonly used among resource management professionals and is recognized by the public.

Geographical Names Board of Canada has also approved a resolution to adopt the name contingent on U.S. approval.