The state Board on Geographic Names Friday voted 5-1 in favor of adding Salish Sea as one of the approved names for Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

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OLYMPIA — Local tribes called it Whulge. George Vancouver named it for his buddy Peter. And now yet another name for Puget Sound is nearly official: the Salish Sea.

The Washington State Board on Geographic Names Friday voted 5-1 in favor of adding Salish Sea as an approved name for the body of water encompassing Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia and the many watery connections in between.

Board members said they approved the name to acknowledge the ecological continuum that spans the international boundary between Canada and the United States.

The name still awaits approval by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and its Canadian counterpart, which may happen as soon as next month.

For the proposal’s proponent, Bert Webber, a retired Bellingham biologist, the state’s approval is a long-awaited step. Webber first proposed the name in 1989, but he withdrew the request from the board’s consideration for a lack of interest.

Since then, human population in the region has increased, and several key species, including chinook salmon and killer whales, have been pushed to the brink of extinction, signaling more than ever the need for a conservation effort that crosses the border, Webber said.

“What’s in a name?” Webber said. “There are some 7 million people spread around the Salish Sea, and we all have to work to preserve and protect it.” He renewed his request to the board a year and a half ago. This time, it was an idea whose time had come.

Cities and tribes in British Columbia wrote to the state board in support of the idea, as did Washington tribes, cities, historic societies and agencies, state records show.

“We are the shoreline and salmon people, many of our songs, traditions, and ancient names and ceremonies are tied to the waters of the Salish Sea,” wrote Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe on behalf of tribes on both sides of the border that endorsed the name. “For us the simple alliance of the governing bodies agreeing to see the relationship of the waters … provides hope that we can work together toward a healthy ecosystem for seven generations into the future.”

Advocates of the name celebrated Friday. “It’s an ecological victory,” said Joe Gaydos, chief scientist for the SeaDoc Society, a nonprofit marine-science group that has used the name for years. “We talk about place-based conservation, but how do you do that without a name for the place or a sense of place? The border doesn’t mean anything for the killer whales and the Pacific salmon that cross it every day.”

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency charged with preserving and protecting Puget Sound, said he appreciates the name — to a point. Don’t look for any name change to the Salish Sea Partnership from him though, Dicks said.

“It’s scientifically valid, that is for sure,” Dicks said of the name Salish Sea. “But there probably are not 100 people who have heard of it. We have a brand, and we are sticking with it.”

The board’s action does not replace the name Puget Sound. Rather, the board’s action means Salish Sea becomes an additional name to be used by cartographers and others to designate the waters encompassing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound south to Olympia.

Two speakers opposed the adoption at the meeting, saying not enough people were aware of the proposal and that it could be confusing. Board member Shirley Lewis cast the lone opposing vote, echoing those concerns.

Board Chairman Peter Goldmark, who heads the state Department of Natural Resources, voted yes, saying the name is “a logical addition to existing names to describe an ecological region.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com