Washington state

Tide of comments favors name proposal for ‘Salish Sea’

Bellingham resident Bert Webber wants “Salish Sea” adopted as the overarching name for the inland marine waters of Western Washington and southern British Columbia.

The Washington Board of Geographic Names will consider his proposal Oct. 30.

“Cautiously optimistic,” is how Webber described his mindset. “This is a bureaucratic process ... you just don’t know.”

Webber suggested the same idea 19 years ago, but officials then said there was little support for the notion and said Salish Sea wasn’t a widely used term. This time, sentiment seems to be flowing in Webber’s direction.

In recent years, marine scientists, Indian tribes, agencies and other people have begun using the term Salish Sea when referring to the waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And of the 36 comments sent to the state board, 29 support Webber.

A retired professor of marine ecology at Western Washington University, Webber says Puget Sound and the two straits are ecologically distinct from the ocean, and giving them a common name would highlight their connection.

A shared name would remind people of the need for cross-border approaches to marine issues, he says, and would acknowledge the Salish tribes who originally inhabited the inland waters.

Nine of the 29 comments in support came from Whatcom County residents.

“It fills a need for a catch-all term for the waters, replacing such awkward colloquialisms as ‘North Puget Sound’ commonly (but inaccurately) used to designate the waters around Bellingham,” wrote Eric Bowen of Bellingham.

Valerie Partridge, who works in an environmental assessment program for the state Department of Ecology, also likes the idea.

“It would make my job easier and my reports more readable!” she wrote. “Instead of writing reports referring to the ‘southern Strait of Georgia, eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound proper, ‘I could refer to the ‘Salish Sea.’”