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Western waters may soon be the Salish Sea Add to ...

British Columbia's cabinet is now the last barrier to officially renaming the body of water that lies off B.C.'s Lower Mainland and northwestern Washington State the Salish Sea.

The proposed new name for the waters stretching from the Strait of Georgia through Puget Sound and beyond to the Strait of Juan de Fuca was once so contentious that government bodies refused to even discuss it. But the Salish Sea designation was approved yesterday in Washington, D.C., by the United States Board on Geographic Names, making it official "for use on United States products," said Louis Yost, the board's executive secretary.

The Washington State Board on Geographic Names gave its approval on Oct. 30 in Olympia, the state capital.

But for the Salish Sea to fulfill the ambitions of marine biologist Bert Webber - who dreamed up the name and the idea of a regional "sea" to tackle cross-boundary environmental issues - Canada also has to sign on.

The Geographical Names Board of Canada in Ottawa has approved the name in principle, but it needs approval from all jurisdictions involved. B.C. is the last holdout. "One more approval from the British Columbia government is required before the name is official as a transboundary feature in Canada," said Jacinthe Perras, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada, in an e-mail.

Pat Bell, B.C.'s Minister of Forests and Range, will take the issue to the provincial cabinet this month, said ministry spokesperson Vivian Thomas. A spokesperson for Premier Gordon Campbell forwarded queries to Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister George Abbott, who was not immediately available for comment.

If approved, the name will be used in addition to those already in use, and will not displace existing official names, such as the Strait of Georgia, that appear on charts and maps. The British Columbia Geographical Names Office approved naming the waters the Salish Sea in August.

Prof. Webber, a retired marine biologist at the University of Western Washington, has fought for the renaming since the 1980s. His motive is purely scientific, he said, and is aimed at making residents of the region think about their impact on the entire ecosystem in terms of pollution, water use and conservation of fish and marine mammals, from salmon to orcas.

He chose the name Salish Sea in honour of the aboriginal people of Washington State and southern British Columbia whose culture and linguistic group is now known as Coast Salish.

"They themselves didn't ever have a name for this body of water," Prof. Webber said. "But I was looking for a name that was unique to this area, and thought that to acknowledge the indigenous peoples who were here first would be an appropriate thing to do."

He said the Salish Sea comprises bodies of water fed mostly by the Fraser River, which drives the currents in the area by pushing river water along the surface, overriding the salt water on the bottom.

"That circulation occurs all the way down Puget Sound and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca," he said.

Rocky Wilson, chief of Hwlitsum First Nation in Delta, B.C., said in an interview that he approves of the name because "it identifies the Coast Salish ownership of the sea."

"The Salish Sea is an integral part of our culture, and our whole existence," Mr. Wilson said.

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