By Tim Manns
Audubon Priorities for the Washington State 2019 Legislature
The annual meeting of Audubon’s Washington chapters took place October 12th and 13th in Woodinville. State Director Gail Gatton described the priorities the state board has adopted for Audubon to pursue in the 2019 legislative session in Olympia. Audubon’s highly experienced legislative advocate Neil Beaver expressed confidence that the House would increase its two-seat Democratic majority and that the Senate’s one-seat Democratic majority would expand as well. Audubon is a centrist organization, but given the potential change in legislators, this shift has good implications for passage of bills important to Audubon. Here’s a quick summary of the 2019 priorities. During the legislative session anticipate being asked to contact your legislators about them.
- 100% clean energy standard. This bill would commit Washington State to generating all its electricity from renewable sources by 2045 and using no electricity generated by burning coal after 2025. This almost passed in the 2018 session and probably would have had time not run out during the short, 60-day session.
- Rangeland Fire Protection Associations. Audubon is concerned about the effects that wildland fire has in the sagebrush expanses of central and eastern Washington. The sagebrush ecosystem is habitat for a unique array of birds. Non-native cheatgrass changes the fire regime in this system, leading to elimination of the native plants on which the birds depend. The formation of Fire Protection Associations would allow private land owners to play a role in fire management, improving response and providing protection for areas now unprotected.
- Support for putting WDFW’s budget on a sounder basis. Historically, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) has depended on hunting and fishing license revenues as its main source of funding. License sales are declining, and the department has had to severely reduce staff in response. For WDFW to meets its mission of conserving all Washington species and their habitats, a mission which parallels Audubon’s, the agency needs adequate funding and staff. Audubon supports a substantial increase in WDFW’s budget for the next biennium and the identification of a permanent long-term funding source to replace funds lost as license sales decline. The Legislature directed WDFW to study possibilities for long-term funding, and now it’s time to act.
Environmental Priorities Coalition
Each legislative session Audubon joins over 20 other conservation organizations in pursuing an agreed short list of environmental priorities. This year the list includes:
- 100% Clean Energy. The same as Audubon’s first priority above.
- Oil spill legislation. This would enact the final pieces of a package of bills introduced during the last several sessions to prevent oil spills and beef up readiness to respond to spills in the Salish Sea and along the Columbia River. The focus in the 2019 session will be requiring escort tugs for oil barges such as those supplying the March Point refineries, and a rescue tug based in the San Juan Islands for tankers or other vessels that lose power and risk running aground.
- Response to decline in Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The Governor’s Task Force on this issue will have draft legislation probably addressing vessel noise reduction, increasing food (i.e. chinook salmon) for these particular orcas, and maybe addressing the problem of contamination in Puget Sound waters.
- Statewide ban on plastic bags. There will be an attempt at legislation to ban plastic bags statewide as has been done in some of Washington’s cities and towns.
The legislative session will begin January14 and run for 105 days. This is the alternate year “long” session during which the next 2-year budget will be written (alternate year short sessions are 60 days).
You will be able to get regular updates on the progress of legislation on the websites of Audubon Washington (http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/advocacy) and the Environmental Priorities Coalition (https://wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition/). Please mark your calendars: on January 29th, Audubon Washington will have a lobby day in Olympia. Members of chapters from around the state will visit their legislators and urge them to support Audubon’s priorities. This is always a worthwhile and educational event. Watch for the details and plan to participate! We can make a difference.
Congressman Rick Larsen Goes Birding
On October 15th, at the request of Second District Congressman Rick Larsen, members of Skagit Audubon took him and Laura Gelwicks, his Bellingham-based Community Liaison, birding at Wylie Slough. Also joining us was Adam Maxwell, the new Campaign Manager for Audubon Washington. While some cooperative Wilson’s Snipe and a few other species provided easy birding, we had an opportunity to tell the Congressman about Audubon’s concern with the Administration’s cutting the heart out of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In this 100th anniversary year of the act, which Audubon helped pass in 1918, the law faces its most severe threat ever. This is the law that has long been interpreted as requiring power and oil companies and others to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable, inadvertent injury to birds. It is the legal basis for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) being required to equip power lines in Skagit County with devices increasing their visibility to swans. Collision with powerlines is one of the two top causes of accidental deaths of swans (poisoning from ingesting lead shot in lake and marsh sediments being the other). The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the law that causes PSE to modify power poles to prevent electrocution of eagles and hawks. When an oil spill results in birds dying, this is the law whose stiff fines give companies an incentive to be more careful. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in 1 million bird deaths and a $100 million fine for that part of the spill’s impact.
In December 2017, the Solicitor’s Office of the Department of the Interior released a reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act exempting all accidental bird deaths, thereby removing the incentive for companies to avoiding killing birds. Multiple environmental groups, including Audubon, and eight state attorneys general, are suing the Administration to reverse this action. There are several things we need to do:
- Write Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking him to add our state to the suit (https://www.atg.wa.gov/contact-us)
- Write Congressman Rick Larsen if you live in the 2nd District, or Congresswoman Suzan DelBene if you’re in the First District, and ask them to oppose legislation that would codify the Administration’s weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Such a bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Liz Cheney (Wyoming). When Skagit Audubon people went birding with Representative Larsen and brought up this act, he immediately turned to his staff person and asked how many letters or emails his office had received on it (none). We need to send him letters or emails to ensure his attention to this problem.
- Please also go to National Audubon’s website and send an email on this topic: https://www.audubon.org/news/migratory-bird-treaty-ac