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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Notes

Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes February 6, 2018

Please note that comments to legislators would be helpful on the priorities mentioned in the sections below concerning current legislation in Olympia. For the remainder of the topics in these notes, if the words “Action Needed” appear in the headline, scan down for suggestions on what you can do.

  • Audubon Washington 2018 State Legislative Priorities

Audubon Washington has the following legislative priorities for the short (i.e. non-budget writing year) 60-day legislative session in Olympia which began January 8. For information on these, go to http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2018. Also look for the Audubon weekly legislative updates posted there.

  • 100% Clean Energy Standard

National Audubon scientists and leaders have been saying for some years now that climate change is the single greatest threat to birds. It follows, then, that addressing climate change is a priority for both National and Washington Audubon and for many Audubon chapters around the country.

Gail Gatton op-ed in February 4, 2018, Everett Herald:

“Our Legislature has a historic opportunity to pass important policy, Senate Bill 6253, that establishes a clean, efficient, renewable energy standard and puts the whole state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy. This is not just an opportunity, it’s the Legislature’s collective duty. And the people want it! Polling shows 66 percent of likely voters support this policy, and nearly half of all respondents said they would be more likely to support their state legislator if they voted for this measure.” The policy written in Senate Bill SB6253 would achieve an approximately 70 percent reduction in electricity-sector carbon emissions by 2035, and full decarbonization of Washington’s electricity sector, the second largest source of state emissions, by the 2040s.” (i.e. all electricity from renewable sources)

  • Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture

Following up on a resolution passed by Washington Audubon chapters at their meeting in October 2017, Audubon Washington is working with a coalition including the Wild Fish Conservancy, ReSources, and other groups to support legislation which would ban additional salmon net pens in Washington and not renew the permits for the existing pens when those expire. Note that following the recent release of the state’s report on the September 2017 collapse of the Atlantic salmon net pen by Cypress Island, Cooke Aquaculture’s lease there was cancelled for violation of conditions. The same company’s operation near Port Angeles was cancelled earlier. Bills to ban net pen fish farms in WA State have been proposed in both chambers of the State legislature:

Sen. Ranker's bill SB 6086 would prevent the state from giving out new or renewed permits for non-native fish pens. Cooke Aquaculture is currently the only company operating non-native fish pens in the region and its current leases will expire by 2025.

Rep. Kristine Lytton’s bill - HB 2418 - would stop all new farms or lease renewals for two years while state agencies review salmon farm certification. The moratorium would not be lifted until the state determines that permits and rules can prevent negative impacts to the environment, native species and tribal treaty fishing rights. The bill would also require the state’s public universities to complete an analysis of Atlantic salmon farming.

  • Fire protections in eastern Washington

There is a significant area of privately owned sage steppe habitat between the Yakima Training Center and Hanford Reach National Monument that is important bird habitat and lacks fire protection. This area is important as a connector between large blocks of habitat. Audubon Washington is working with the landowners towards legislation to create a “Rangeland Fire Protection Association”. Conservation Northwest is a partner in this effort.

  • Environmental Priorities Coalition priorities

The Environmental Priorities Coalition is a network of over 20 leading environmental groups in Washington state that influence policy at the state level (For information and to sign up for updates during the legislative session: https://wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition/). The Washington Environmental Council provides a home for the coalition. Audubon Washington has long been a member. This year’s EPC priorities for the legislative session in Olympia are as follows. Go to http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2018 and scroll to the bottom to find a pdf summarizing these issues:

  • Oil Safety in Puget Sound

Seeking funding to implement the Department of Ecology’s spill plan and to fund the oil spill safety measures passed in earlier legislative sessions. Stand Up To Oil is the lead member of the coalition on this priority.

  • A Price on Carbon Pollution

The presence of this item on the EPC priorities list is an expression of support for the idea of placing a price on carbon emissions. Governor Inslee’s carbon pricing bill, SB6203, has been voted out of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and is now in the Ways and Means Committee. While this is further than such bills have gotten before, prognosis for its passage by both chambers is not very good. If the bill does not pass both Senate and House, the Alliance for Jobs & Clean Energy will likely continue to develop an initiative proposal to place on this fall’s ballot. Note this statement in the January 13, 2018, issue of The Economist magazine (p.58): “Economists have long argued that the most efficient way to curb global warming is to put a price on the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause it. A total of 41 OECD and G20 governments have announced either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, or both. Add state and local schemes, and they cover 15% of the world’s emissions, up from 4% in 2010. … More firms are imposing such pricing on themselves, even in places where policymakers are dragging their feet.” 

  • Healthy Food & Packaging Act

The Toxics Coalition is the lead on this issue.

 

On-going Issues

  • Forest Management Bills in Congress (Action Needed)

For actions you can take, please see the last two paragraphs below under this topic. Also,

contact the Skagit County Commissioners and ask them to direct our D.C. lobbyist to support the Cantwell and Wyden bills rather than the Westerman or Barrasso ones:

County Commissioners:
Lisa Janicki, Ken Dahlstedt, Ron Wesen
1800 Continental Place, Suite 100
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
(360) 416-1300
email: commissioners@co.skagit.wa.us

From the November 2017 Conservation Notes:

One of the issues being ardently pursued by the Washington, D.C., lobbyist (Robert K. Weidner) we as citizens of Skagit County pay for, is passage of the innocuously named Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2936), also called the Westerman Act for its prime sponsor, Representative Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas). The Resilient Federal Forests Act is not, in fact, about making our publicly-owned forests resilient in the face of climate change, bigger and more destructive forest fires, or any such thing. The bill would remove environmental protections and real opportunities for citizen involvement and make increased logging and mining the primary purposes of our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) forested areas. Here’s a sample of what’s in this complicated bill: Projects on Forest Service lands involving up to 30,000 acres could be excluded from environmental review under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). No consideration of impacts on the environment would be required, and the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would no longer be required to consult with the US Fish & Wildlife Service about potential impacts to federally-listed threatened and endangered species. This would be a significant blow to many listed species dependent on public lands for essential habitat. It strikes at the heart of Audubon’s mission of preserving and restoring birds and other wildlife. The bill would also overturn the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001, which has protected our public lands from unnecessary road building and habitat destruction. It would exempt from environmental review clear-cuts up to 10,000 acres (in some cases, 30,000 acres), a huge increase over the present regulation. In late October, the Westerman bill passed the House by a vote of 232-188 with a few beneficial amendments. Fortunately, knowledgeable people feel the bill is unlikely to move in the Senate, where it lacks a prime sponsor.

Meanwhile, Senator Barrasso (WY), member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced a bill with some similar if slightly less drastic provisions. It plays on people’s legitimate concerns about the increasing number and severity of wildland fires to advance the objectives of those who would make timber cutting the primary purpose of national forests and the number one approach to “managing” our national forests. (If the trees are gone, they can’t burn.) An analysis by The Wilderness Society of part of Barrasso’s “Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017” concludes:

“Senator Barrasso’s draft forest management bill would greatly increase logging of national forest lands, while reducing environmental safeguards and opportunities for public involvement in national forest management.  Annual acreage mandates would pressure the Forest Service to prioritize logging over all other uses and resources.  Large expanses of forest up to 6,000 acres (9 square miles) in size could be logged with no consideration of the direct or cumulative impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat, or recreational opportunities.  The legality of Forest Service management activities would be essentially unchallengeable in court, removing an essential check on federal agency compliance with the law.  A bedrock environmental law – the National Environmental Policy Act – would be seriously undermined.  In sum, the bill poses a serious threat to environmental stewardship, public involvement, wildlife conservation, and the rule of law in the national forests.”

Our own Senator Maria Cantwell, as the ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has drafted a bipartisan, more moderate approach to re-energizing and adequately funding national forest management (S. 1991). Here’s what Mitch Friedman of Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest has to say on this:

“I continue to recommend that the best thing we can do at this point is express encouragement and appreciation to our two senators, especially Cantwell, as she’s in a key spot due to her rank on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her bill – S 1991 - is bipartisan, has some great aspects (embracing fire), and is far preferable to the alternatives (such as the Barrasso Bill).  My advice for one easy way we can all help is to send her notes via her website (https://www.cantwell.senate.gov/contact/email), and encourage our members to do the same, to the effect of: ‘I want to thank you for your leadership in protecting our public lands and special places, including the ANWR. I’m particularly concerned today with the danger of Congress passing a bill that would harm our national forests. I’m aware that the House just passed a terrible bill, and similar ones have been introduced in the Senate. Your bill stands as a great exception to those harmful bills, and recognizes the imperative for more fire, as controlled as possible, to restore resilience and health to our dry forest landscapes. I applaud your effort and encourage you to carry on the fight.’”

Also, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has introduced a bipartisan bill to remedy the problem of funding for forest fire fighting coming from robbing other Forest Service accounts, I think including those which would proactively address reduction of susceptibility of national forests to large scale, catastrophic fire: Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017  (H.R.2862/S.1842) (DelBene and Larsen are co-sponsors; Cantwell too). See news release at  https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-crapo-bipartisan-senators-to-congress-permanent-wildfire-funding-fix-must-be-a-top-priority

  • Blanchard Mountain Strategy – implementation funding (Action Needed)

Earlier in the current legislative session, a “fix” of the State Supreme Court’s Hirst decision was agreed upon. There are widely varying opinions as to whether the legislation fixed anything or simply kicked the can down the road. At any rate, Skagit County, alone among all of Washington’s counties, was exempted because an earlier Supreme Court decision here initiated a different planning process for water allocation. With this bill passed, the legislators who blocked passage of the Capital Budget last session relented, and that budget was passed. This provides funding for much school construction across the state, etc. - - and the final and largest part of the funding needed to protect the core 1600 acres of Blanchard Forest. The money will buy replacement acreage to be kept in forestry and provide the trust land beneficiaries with income. For more on this see below. For some reason, after all the work on the part of many members of the public, elected officials, and state employees to get to this point, there is a deadline of 18 months to do all the land acquisition. This is a very ambitious goal, and I don’t know the reason for imposing such an extreme condition or who imposed it. So, protection of those 1600 acres (renamed the Harriet Spanel Forest, in honor of a well-respected 40th District state senator, now passed away) is not yet completely assured.

Some things to do:

  • Thank the members of the 40th District delegation (Sen. Kevin Ranker, Rep. Kristine Lytton and Rep. Jeff Morris) for protecting the Blanchard Mountain forest core, by passing a Capital Budget Bill that includes $10M for the Trust Land Transfer program for the “Harriet Spanel Forest”. 
  • Thank Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki for her continuing role on the Blanchard Strategies Group that will ensure the completion of the strategy.
  • And thank Rep. Steve Tharinger for his important role in getting this funding into the Capital Budget and Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz for holding off on timber harvest in the Blanchard core in the absence of a Capital Budget.

Ranker:  http://sdc.wastateleg.org/ranker/contact/

Lytton:  https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/legislators/kristine-lytton/

Morris:  https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/legislators/jeff-morris/

Janicki: Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki, 1800 Continental Place, Suite 100, Mount Vernon, WA 98273 : commissioners@co.skagit.wa.us

Tharinger: https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/legislators/steve-tharinger/

Franz: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/about/contact-dnr

  • Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve bird surveys

Training for helping with these surveys will be on February 10. If you are interested, contact Eleanor Hines at ReSources (eleanorh@re-sources.org). The next survey is scheduled for February 28 (meet at noon at the March Point Park-and-Ride).

From the November 2017 Conservation Report:

DNR (Erica Bleke) and ReSources (Eleanor Hines) staff convened 6 to 8 volunteers on 2 days so far to test the protocols for this long-term survey. Counts are being done at four points around the reserve. The next survey date (they’re monthly) is November 15 (meet at 11:00 a.m. at the March Point Park and Ride). Skagit Audubon members John Day and Morty Cohen (Skagit Marine Resources Committee member and member of the citizens’ advisory board for the aquatic reserve) are the local leads for this project to gather baseline information about marine birds’ use of this aquatic reserve next to March Point.

  • Great Blue Herons: better protecting their nest areas (heronries) in Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance

The Skagit Land Trust’s Public Policy Committee is drafting proposals for strengthening the protection of heronies under Critical Areas Ordinances of Anacortes and of Skagit County. Such proposals go to the respective jurisdictions’ planning commissions and then, with their recommendation, to the Anacortes City Council and the County Commissioners for decision.

From the November 2017 Conservation Notes:

Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance gives some attention to heronies but is weak on protecting those that have been abandoned and could be re-occupied. The Skagit Heron Foraging Study team, an ad-hoc group led by Matt Kerschbaum and Sue Ehler that has been gathering data about heronies and areas important to Great Blue Herons for foraging and staging/ resting in Skagit County, has collected much useful data in the last 5 or so years. The team is now engaging with Skagit Land Trust’s Public Policy Committee to approach the county about improving the Critical Areas Ordinance to protect former heronies that could be colonized again within 10 years of abandonment. It’s not uncommon for herons to quite suddenly abandon a site, as happened with the large nesting colony on Samish Island last year. Suitable nesting sites are a limiting factor for Great Blue Herons around the Salish Sea and are declining in number as development continues. Skagit Audubon should be prepared to support strengthening the relevant Critical Areas Ordinances. Washington’s Growth Management Act requires that counties and cities have an ordinance addressing allowed uses and required protections for environmentally critical areas.

  • Marbled Murrelet: WA Department of Natural Resource’s Long-term Management Strategy for this federally-listed species

No new information.

From the December 2017 Conservation Notes:

Megan Friesen, Conservation Manager for Seattle Audubon Society, provided this update on November 10, 2017:

There was an all-day Board of Natural Resources (BNR) meeting held on Tuesday Nov. 7. During this meeting the BNR chose their preferred alternative that DNR staff will analyze for the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).  Unfortunately, the plan that BNR chose was the staff proposed alternative from Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This alternative plan does not preserve enough older forest habitat to stabilize the marbled murrelet population, and in population viability analysis shows a population that continues to decrease.

“The Marbled Murrelet Coalition put forward a Conservation Alternative that used the best science available to create a plan that would allow the marbled murrelet populations in WA state to stabilize. There was additional support by the state and EPA to analyze the Conservation Alternative after the comment period in July. Although this plan was not chosen (and this was not particularly surprising based on meetings with DNR), the coalition will continue to push back on DNR and BNR as the process continues. 

“I will be joining in a meeting with the coalition next week to discuss our plans for coordinating our response to the draft SEIS during the public comment period tentatively scheduled for summer of 2018.  I additionally want to highlight how important the Audubon chapters and members have been on this issue, specifically, in moving BNR away from an even less protective alternative (e.g. Alt. B).  The large role the Audubon members have played is acknowledged and appreciated by the other Marbled Murrelet Coalition members and I want to thank you all for your past work as well. There will likely be a great deal more energy that is needed on this issue and I am grateful for you and your background knowledge, enthusiasm, and interest.”

Seattle Audubon represents all Washington Audubon chapters on the Marbled Murrelet Coalition of conservation groups. The November 19 (18?) issue of the Skagit Valley Herald carried a front-page article by reporter Kimberly Cauvel about the issue and the decision of the Board of Natural Resources. It quotes Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt on his opposition to protecting DNR public lands for the murrelet using based on specious reasoning about the continued decline of the spotted owl.

Once DNR comes up with its proposed long-term strategy for murrelet habitat, the question remains as to whether it will be acceptable to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which will evaluate it as an amendment to the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan covering spotted owls and marbled murrelets on DNR lands. DNR’s stated goal in developing the strategy is to: “Not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild.” This sounds like less than a commitment to furthering survival of the murrelet in Washington. Under the present administration in Washington, D.C., there may be scant hope that WA DNR will be required to truly contribute to the murrelet’s continued presence in our state.

From the November 2017 Conservation Notes:

The marbled murrelet is a federally listed threatened species (listed as endangered under Washington State law). The population in Washington has declined by 44% in the past twelve years (4.6% decline per year from 2001 to 2013). Forest lands managed by the WA Department of Natural Resources are particularly important as nesting habitat for this species, which murrelet scientists believe is the number one factor limiting the murrelet’s population. Other issues include conditions and prey availability (i.e. forage fish) in the marine environment and an increased density of nest predators, particularly corvids.

The challenge for the DNR is meeting its fiduciary obligation to: “Generate revenue and other benefits for each trust, in perpetuity,” which the agency has long interpreted to mean “produce revenue,” period. The “other benefits” such as the ecosystem services which forests provide, opportunities for people to experience nature and engage in healthful recreation, etc. are given short shrift. It is certain that DNR and the BNR are being heavily lobbied to maximize access to timber for harvest.

  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (Action Needed)

This year is the centennial of America’s cornerstone bird conservation law. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the principal protection for 950 species of birds not covered under the ESA or Bald and Golden Eagle Protec­tion Act. Late last year, the Department of Interior announced a new interpretation of the act which is contrary to the bipartisan and long-standing interpretation that the act prohibits accidental as well as intentional harming or killing of non-hunted bird species. The radical new interpretation exempts all industrial activities from the law. A bill, H.R. 4239, has been introduced to embed this interpretation in law. If it stands, companies responsible for oil spills will no longer be held legally accountable for injuring or killing birds. Locally, Puget Sound Energy would no longer be required to place the “fire fly” devices on power lines to help Trumpeter Swans avoid the lines. These collisions are the first or second leading cause of accidental death to this species. Energy companies would no longer be required to place structures atop power poles to prevent electrocuting eagles and other raptors. Wind energy companies will not have to site turbines to avoid and minimize the killing of birds. In short, there will no longer be an incentive for industry and utilities to avoid accidental bird deaths. Write Secretary of Interior Zinke and your member of Congress and let them know that this very great threat to birds flies in the face of a long-time, bipartisan understanding of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is unacceptable.

Skagit Audubon added its name to a letter by National Audubon in opposition to the change in interpretation of this important act.

For info: http://www.audubon.org/news/migratory-bird-treaty-act-under-attack-us-house

And a link for action: https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/X2eSSqGMfEuGvIpUrOZ7mQ2?ms=policy-adv-web-website_nas-article-20171110_mbta_alert

  • Millenium Bulk Terminals - Longview

Per Cascadia Weekly on 1/10/18, the company (Utah-based Lighthouse Resources) has filed suit in federal court alleging that WA officials violated federal laws in delaying and denying permits for the proposed terminal.

This week the proponents of this project filed a second lawsuit against the WA Department of Ecology (http://tdn.com/news/local/new-suit-millennium-alleges-ecology-manipulated-study/article_20e5a749-71f4-59d0-a479-7a842bf8c882.html). The Department has refused permits, thus blocking construction of this very large coal-shipping facility.

From the November 2017 Conservation Notes:

On November 14, the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner denied the Shoreline Substantial Development permit and the Shoreline Conditional Use permit this project would require against the county staff recommendation that the permits be approved with conditions. The Hearing Examiner found that the applicant failed to sufficiently address 10 significant adverse impacts identified in the project’s environmental impact statement from rail capacity to noise pollution to detrimental effects on tribal resources. The project proponent has brought suit against the Hearing Examiner.

This very large facility, if built, would transfer coal from trains to ships and barges for export down the Columbia River.  The Final Environmental Impact Statement includes findings that operation of the terminal would increase cancer rates locally by 10% and contribute a large addition to global warming. Earlier this fall, the Department of Ecology denied the project a water quality certification and is now being sued by the project proponent. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has denied the project a required permit for building new docks and dredging the river to make room for the large ships which would transport the coal. If I understand correctly, a Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge recently ruled that DNR Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark in one of his last acts in office was incorrect in denying the project proponent a tidelands sublease to operate docks along the Columbia. In the balance, though, things appear to be going against this project, which would be the largest coal-export terminal in North America. The process of trying to obtain the many permits required nonetheless continues.

This is the last of 6 coal export terminals proposed for the Northwest in recent years. Concerted public opposition, insistence on thorough examination of environmental impacts, and economic realities have sunk each proposal in turn.

  • Off-shore drilling for oil and gas - - Comment deadline: March 9 (Action Needed)

On January 4, 2018, the national Administration published its draft 5-year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. This establishes a schedule of oil and gas lease sales and proposes to open 90% of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas drilling. There’s no need to belabor the risks of drilling operations and spills to marine life, including birds. No one has forgotten the 2010 Gulf Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers, dumped more than 200 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and injured or killed huge numbers of birds, marine mammals, and other creatures while costing the jobs of thousands of people. The website for this proposal is https://www.boem.gov/National-OCS-Program/. Near the bottom of the second section look for the link to send comments (deadline March 9). This proposal will have detrimental effects on so many coastal areas important to migratory and resident birds and on the livelihood of millions of people. Please tell Secretary of Interior Zinke what you think of it.

  • Skagit County Commissioners on Public Land Management & the Endangered Species Act  (Action Needed)

As of February 6, 2018, the Skagit County Commissioners have not yet put renewal of D.C. lobbyist Robert Weidner’s contract on their consent agenda. This agenda appears each Friday on the Commissioners’ website. Commissioner Janicki has stated she will take the item off the consent agenda, call for a vote of the commissioners, and vote against it. Commissioner Dahlstedt has said he will discontinue contracting with Weidner some months into 2018, without giving specific reasons. It appears that Commissioner Dahlstedt continues to believe Mr. Weidner is doing a good job for Skagit County. In early March, the Commissioners will probably all be attending the National Association of Counties meeting in Washington, D.C., where Weidner has traditionally made appointments for them to meet officials to which he introduces them. Feel free to let our Commissioners know what you think about our county’s contracting with Robert Weidner.

From the December 2017 Conservation Notes:

On December 2, 2017, the Skagit Valley Herald published a lengthy article about Skagit County’s long-time contracting with a Washington, D.C. lobbyist who has a decidedly, anti-environmental, anti-public lands agenda. We pay him to lobby on some things not burdened with this orientation, but the goals he pushes with legislators and agency officials are, I would argue, not completely separable and many are contrary to the Audubon mission. You can read the Herald article at https://www.goskagit.com/news/environment/concerns-surround-county-contract-with-d-c-lobbyist/article_4821615e-6a13-59fd-aa12-0d49db881733.html There are now a substantial number of Skagit County citizens working on this situation.

From the November 2017 Conservation Notes:

During the past summer those of us concerned about our county commissioners paying far right-wing groups to oppose national public land ownership and the Endangered Species Act continued to learn more about what our commissioners have been up to. Despite their claims to the contrary, there is good evidence they were well aware of the radical land transfer agenda of the American Lands Council when they spent $2,500/year for our county to be a member of that group, and that they were well aware of the anti-Endangered Species Act and anti-public lands ideology of the self-proclaimed American Stewards of Liberty when they used $5,000+ of public funds for Margaret Byfield to organize a barely advertised public meeting and write a long, propaganda-loaded letter to Secretary of Interior Zinke opposing grizzly restoration in the North Cascades. We learned that our tax money has been paying a Washington, D.C. lobbyist since at least 2001 to work on weakening the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and promoting counties’ rights to decide about resource extraction on national public lands, representing the existence of such lands within county boundaries as a great burden rather than a public benefit. Skagit County has paid lobbyist Robert K. Weidner over $250,000 since the start of the county’s relationship with him in 2001. This total includes $20,000 this year after a $5,000 increase focused on fighting restoration of the grizzly to the North Cascades rather than following the ESA. 

Our commissioners’ opposition to the ESA is particularly significant for Audubon in light of our organization’s mission to protect and restore wildlife habitat. Why would the commissioners, two declared Democrats and one Republican, want to weaken the ESA? Listed species such as the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet need habitat which our commissioners would rather see cut for timber revenue, mined, or otherwise utilized for revenue. Besides what appears to be their genuine personal fear of grizzlies, the commissioners are trying to make points with constituents by claiming they need to protect the safety of the county’s residents from a large predator they’ve been told, and apparently believe, will descend from the vast wilderness of the North Cascades to lay waste the fields (yes, even tulips) and cattle herds of the Skagit Valley, not to mention attacking children and eating all the salmon. Perhaps more importantly in their minds, an increase in the number of grizzlies would supposedly mean interruption of timber cutting operations and interference with their efforts to open more public lands to cutting. Commissioner Janicki has openly referred to US Forest Service management of timber lands in Skagit County as “disgusting” and “a waste of an asset.” It’s unclear if her condemnation includes USFS Wilderness areas, all designated by Congress, lands set aside as Late Successional Reserves under the NW Forest Plan, and other forested acres not subject to harvest for various good reasons. It’s all simply an asset, like a stock or a bond, in the eyes of people to whom forests are primarily for revenue or personal income. Their value as wildlife habitat or places for people to engage with the natural world is at best secondary or not worthy of their consideration. Audubon needs to counter this attitude and work as positively as circumstances allow to help our elected officials see the natural world in a broader perspective appropriate to the 21st century.

Brenda Cunningham’s Public Records Request to Skagit County for documents related to Weidner’s work for Skagit County was finally met in early November. Weidner continues to push for euphemistically-termed “active forest management” and for an executive order that would enshrine the concept of “coordination,” a euphemism for county supremacy, giving county officials a veto over national public land management decisions.

  • Tesoro Clean Products Upgrade Project (CPUP) – Anacortes (Action Needed)

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner has approved Tesoro’s application for the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit for this project. A coalition of conservation groups has appealed this decision to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners. The appeal hearing will take place February 27th at 9:00 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room, Continental Place. Since Skagit Audubon submitted comments earlier in the permitting process, our chapter can make a statement at the hearing (undecided at this point). Anyone else who commented earlier has standing too and can comment at the appeals hearing.

From November 2017 Conservation Report:

On November 1, 2017, I delivered the board-approved Skagit Audubon comment letter on Tesoro’s application for a Shoreline Substantial Development permit for this project. On November 2, I went to the well-attended permit hearing before Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford and joined 54 other people giving 3-minute oral comments.

CPUP packages together very different elements: equipment to capture vapors from marine vessels loading and unloading at the Tesoro dock, equipment to reduce the sulfur content of fuels produced at the refinery, equipment to increase the octane of fuels, and equipment to produce mixed xylenes from reformate. (Reformate is partially refined crude oil, some of which is currently produced at the refinery. More reformate would arrive by barge from a Tesoro refinery in California.) The mixed xylenes would be exported principally to China for use in making plastic and artificial fiber for clothing. Xylene is also used in solvents, as an insecticide, as an additive to gasoline, and for other purposes. It is colorless, toxic, and highly flammable.

Tesoro has already obtained the required permits for and has begun construction of the parts of the project for producing lower-sulfur fuel. This and the portion of CPUP that involves capturing vapor emissions from ships and barges during loading and unloading are, relatively speaking, positive for the environment in contrast with potential problems with xylene production and possible spills. The public comments at the November 2nd hearing which opposed the project, as most did, focused on potential environmental and human health impacts from a xylene or reformate spill, the adverse impact of increased shipping on orcas, incorrect and incomplete calculation of the project’s projected greenhouse gas emissions, and the bigger picture of global warming and the need to stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure. The few pro-project speakers emphasized the 20 jobs the project would create, the importance of the Tesoro refinery to the local economy, and the fact that Tesoro donates to local causes.

Skagit Audubon submitted a scoping comment on this project in April 2017 followed by a comment letter on the draft environmental impact statement in May. Hearing Examiner Dufford said he would try to issue his ruling on the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit in early December. A recent finding by the state’s Shoreline Hearings Board on the Kalama methane plant proposal (directing that the full geographic reach of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions be considered) gives project opponents hope that an appeal of the Examiner’s decision, if necessary, could be successful.

 

  • Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Terminal Project, Vancouver, WA (Action Needed)

This proposed facility would have brought 5 unit trains (100+ tank cars each) from mid-continent oil fields, along the Columbia River, to a terminal at Vancouver where the crude oil would have been transferred to barges and tankers. Thousands of individuals and many organizations, including Audubon Washington on behalf of the chapters in the state including Skagit, submitted comment letters along the way describing potentially catastrophic impacts related to this proposal. On November 28, 2017, the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council unanimously recommended that the governor not approve this project. The Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was recently released, identified several significant impacts that could not be mitigated; e.g., increased train accidents at crossings, emergency response delays due to increased traffic, plus reasonably foreseeable impacts from spills from trains or vessels along the Columbia River. On January 29, 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee decided against permitting the proposed terminal. The project proponents have 30 days from that date to appeal. This fossil fuel infrastructure project would have been the largest of its kind in the U.S. and would only help delay the necessary transition away from fossil fuel use. Consider sending a note thanking the Governor for his careful consideration of the proposal and its implications and for deciding against it:

Gov. Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

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Skagit Audubon

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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.

The board of directors meets at the same location at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, except for the months of July and August.