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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Report, November 2016

manns By Tim Manns

Ballot Initiative 732: Taking Action on Climate Change

Last month’s conservation report discussed Initiative 732, which would set up the first carbon tax in the U.S. If you haven’t voted yet, consider supporting I-732. Climate change is the most serious threat to birds. In Washington 189 species are in danger of losing so much habitat that they will disappear from our state. I-732’s revenue neutral carbon tax is coupled with a 1% reduction in the sales tax rate, elimination of the Business & Occupation tax, and provision of aid to low-income households. It would make our state a shining example to others in acting decisively to roll back carbon emissions. Because gridlock in Washington, D.C. has made legislative action on climate change impossible, the states need to lead the way. Now it’s up to us as voters and as individuals making daily decisions with consequences for the earth’s climate.

Fossil Fuel Projects: It’s Far From Over

Three years ago Shell Anacortes began applying for permits to build the East Gate Crude by Rail project to receive 6 trains of highly volatile Bakken crude oil per week, each with 100 or more tank cars. Many organizations and individuals worked to get Skagit County’s original decision changed to a requirement that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared for this project. Shell’s sudden withdrawal of its plans days after the draft EIS was released in October was a surprise and a relief. The story, though, continues. Presumably, the refinery is seeking other ways to obtain the crude it requires. Bakken, tar sands, or other unrefined oil could arrive via one of the existing pipelines or by increased ship and barge traffic. Watch for:  1) Governor Inslee’s decision on Tesoro-Savage’s plans for a 5 unit-train/day crude oil terminal on the Columbia River at Vancouver 2) plans under review for 2 smaller oil terminals at Grays Harbor, and 3) plans for terminals on the British Columbia coast. Any of these could ship crude to March Point. Also, by the time this newsletter comes out we may see the draft EIS for Tesoro’s plans to produce xylene from gasoline at March Point and ship it to Asia for making plastic.

Many fossil fuel projects in the Northwest have been withdrawn in the last few years, but a significant number are still alive. It’s easy to cast conservation groups as adversaries of the companies involved in procuring coal and oil or transporting it or burning it. Audubon here in Skagit County certainly appreciates the local economic importance of the refineries, their role in providing the fuel we use and many good-paying jobs, their charitable support for great causes in our community, and the role our neighbors and friends who work at the refineries play in making Skagit County a good place to live. At the same time, we would be remiss to act as though nothing needs to change. We need to strongly urge these companies, which are overseen from afar, to do right by our and their community by reducing the air and water pollution the refineries generate and by working towards a better future, one in which fossil fuels are ultimately a mere memory. Climate change presents a huge challenge which can only be met if each person and organization does her, his, or its part, not least of all the big fossil fuel corporation.

Fish & Wildlife Commission supporting the revised listing. We hope the “endangered” designation adds additional impetus to a long-overdue project of the WA Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to write a long-term strategy for managing marbled murrelet habitat on state trust lands. Some of the most important such habitat in Washington is among the 13 million acres DNR oversees, much of it held in trust for school districts and other public entities. For over a century, the approach has been to treat these trust lands strictly as sources of revenue for the beneficiaries. If the marbled murrelet is to survive in Washington, that approach needs updating to see preservation of a rare and wonderful species as a public benefit at least as important as dollars. 

Two more forest management matters: the Blanchard Forest and Urban Forestlands

The Blanchard Forest is comprised of state trust lands north of Burlington at the southern end of the Chuckanut Mountains. Unless the 2017 state legislative session approves $7.7 million to purchase replacement timber lands, a core area of this forest will be cut to produce revenue for certain schools, hospitals, and other public beneficiaries in Skagit County. A hard-won agreement among the DNR and various conservation and recreation

groups will be for naught if this funding is not forthcoming. Besides being a very popular hiking spot, the area to be cut is adjacent to excellent marbled murrelet nesting habitat. And this is a rare place, the only place, where the Cascade foothills reach saltwater. Write your state legislators and let them know you want Blanchard Forest preserved (see Skagit Land Trust: http://www.skagitlandtrust.org/pages/takeaction.aspx or Conservation Northwest: http://www.conservationnw.org/what-we-do/forests/blanchard-mountain.)

In 2015 a loophole in the Forest Practices Act was among the factors enabling clear-cutting of Mount Vernon’s largest remaining privately owned forest tract, which the city had hoped to add to adjacent Little Mountain Park. There was no protection for most of the property’s many wetlands and minimal protection for its 2 streams. Skagit Audubon continues to work with Audubon Washington’s lobbyist to purse amendment of the Forest Practices Act to close this loophole. We believe all forest lands in the state’s Urban Growth Areas should be subject to local critical areas ordinances when those are more protective than the state’s timber harvest rules.

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Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center(Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.

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