Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



Transboundary water management, Transboundary watersheds, Cross-border cooperation


There are transboundary watersheds all over the globe in which community members are concerned about the healthy water ecosystems and take actions. Governance systems, policies, and local stakeholders’ engagement in transboundary water management can be quite different from one country to another, depending on political regimes, interstate relations, histories of civil society, available funding and more.

The Salish Sea is a transboundary body of water bisected by the U.S–Canada border between Washington State and British Columbia. In addition to governmental agencies, Indigenous people and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are increasingly playing a role in crossborder cooperation within the basin.

This research paper addresses the status of non-state actors in transboundary environmental governance in the Salish Sea, with particular attention to local NGOs, informal networks, and environmental activism. I have conducted content analysis of NGO websites with a focus on their activities and projects, including financial mechanisms, with a cross-border focus. I also studied professional and scientific transboundary networks in the Salish Sea Basin and conducted interviews with representatives of NGOs, research institutes, Indigenous nations, and governmental institutions both in Washington State and British Columbia.

My research showed that there are a large number of NGOs working on common problems in the marine region, including oil spill prevention, fisheries, or orca protection. Washington State and British Columbia NGOs and environmental groups have a good understanding of their colleagues’ work across the border and informal networks are functioning well. However, despite active environmental groups around the Salish Sea, there are few NGO-to-NGO partnerships that are jointly planned and funded. The few existing cross-border NGO projects that do exist are mostly technical ones, with scientific research or conservation as the main component. The absence of public and private funding for cross-border cooperation and general policy support for transboundary cooperation are major obstacles.

This report also compares environmental NGOs and networks in the Salish Sea with the Baltic Sea area in northern Europe. This analysis conveys that there are more examples of pan-Baltic networks and unions of NGOs, towns, scientific organizations, and SMEs, whose work is supported by national and EU grant programs, than in the Salish Sea. NGOs in the Salish Sea region rely mainly on private donors while Baltic Sea organizations depend on public grants. In Europe, support for cross-border cooperation is mainly motivated by a desire to build a common European identity, which is not the case in Canada–U.S. relations. Civic environmentalism in the form of protests and action groups against environmentally unfriendly activities of companies or governments is more vibrant in the Salish Sea compared with the Baltic Sea. Both in the Salish Sea and Baltic Sea region, universities and the scientific community can be named as leaders of transboundary cooperation.


Margit Säre was the Border Policy Research Institute & University of Victoria Cross Border Research Fellow 2018,

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Non-state actors (International relations); Non-governmental organizations--Law and legislation; Environmental policy--International cooperation; Environmental management--International cooperation; Watersheds--British Columbia; Watersheds--Washington (State); Salish Sea (B.C. and Wash.)--Environmental aspects

Geographic Coverage

Salish Sea (B.C. and Wash.)


periodicals; technical reports




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