When John Lombard was pushed out of his King County job as ecosystem coordinator of the 700-square-mile Lake Washington watershed in 2000 ...

Share story

When John Lombard was pushed out of his King County job as ecosystem coordinator of the 700-square-mile Lake Washington watershed in 2000, it didn’t exactly shut him up.

The issue at hand was political insistence on a new fish hatchery. Ecologists such as Lombard regard them as a long-term mistake that destroys native fish runs, while politicians find them a short-term way to prop up the numbers.

But the broader issue was the continuing decline of Puget Sound. So Lombard eventually quit the county, took a part-time consulting job and spent the past five years writing the most ambitious analysis ever attempted of what we’re doing wrong and could do right: a new book called “Saving Puget Sound: A Conservation Strategy for the 21st Century.”

Lombard estimates he’s given up $200,000 in salary to write the book, published by the American Fisheries Society and University of Washington Press. If his wife, Jenny Haykin, hadn’t agreed to help with her own salary — even as the couple were having their two children — it wouldn’t have happened.

Lombard, 45, lives on Victory Creek in northeast Seattle. He’s rare in being able to look beyond the Thornton Creek Alliance he works with to the Puget Sound basin as a whole. He thinks the money poured into urban salmon recovery would be better spent in rural areas where it buys more land or rehabilitation. “The natural history of this region will be decided in rural areas,” he says.

Unfortunately, victory will not come cheap. Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed $250 million for Puget Sound restoration; Lombard thinks a more realistic figure is $10 billion over the next 20 years, financed by “environmental sin taxes” like a sales tax on gasoline. This would buy stream buffers, restore wetlands and clean up the worst bays.

“This is not a wacko liberal Seattle idea,” he recently told a La Conner audience. Seattle’s natural environment is why it has drawn a workforce with more college graduates than any city in the nation, he said.

Will anyone listen? Lombard tirelessly speaks to any audience that will hear him. He has a Web site, and ends his talks with a quote from Albert Einstein:

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”