Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes - September 2018
- Last Updated: September 16, 2018
Reminder: Register for the Annual Meeting of the Audubon Chapters of Washington
This year’s annual meeting of Washington’s Audubon chapters (ACOW) will take place Saturday, October 13th at the Brightwater Environmental and Community Center in Woodinville, WA from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. To register: http://wa.audubon.org/events/audubon-council-washington-1. This is always a great opportunity to network, get inspired, and learn what the other 24 Audubon chapters and the state office are doing. The annual meeting of the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee will be the afternoon of October 12th from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The meeting is open to all Audubon members.
Skagit Audubon September 4, 2018, Board Meeting Agenda Items
1. Recruitment for Puget Sound Seabird Survey
Seattle Audubon has received funding from the National Estuary Program to expand the geographic area of the Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS). This is a community and citizen science program started in 2007 to monitor seabirds throughout Puget Sound. (www.seabirdsurvey.org) Earlier in the summer, Toby Ross, Science Manager for Seattle Audubon, and his co-worker Jenn Lang spent a day with me visiting and evaluating potential sites for seabird surveying along the shorelines of Skagit County. Toby winnowed the possibilities down to the following with the potential for adding more in future years:
The sites we’ve identified as good locations for seabird surveys are:
- Green Point (Washington Park)
- North Beach, Guemes Island
- Young’s Park, Guemes Island
- Edens Road, Guemes Island
- Kelly’s Point Beach, Guemes Island
- Weaverling Spit
- Bay View State Park
- Padilla Bay Interpretive Center (viewing platform across Bayview-Edison Road)
- Samish Island Beach Access
- Clayton Beach, Larrabee State Park
Surveys will be done the first Saturday of each month, October through April. Sea birds will be counted for 30 minutes at each site, and teams typically do more than one site each survey day.
The next step is recruiting volunteers to do the survey work in teams of four. Training for those in the Skagit area will be at Deception Pass State Park on Friday, Sep 21st 5:30pm-7:30pm.
The 3 steps for participation are:
- Complete Seattle Audubon’s online volunteer registration form - http://bit.ly/2zWo7uQ
- RSVP for the training to be held at Deception Pass on Sep 21st - http://bit.ly/2LnJFoG
- Take the (fun) Seabird ID Quiz to document your skill level - http://bit.ly/2m94XrX
(Remember that on each team of 4 there is room for a variety of levels of skill.)
2. Extending the Guemes Channel Trail through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (Anacortes)
Various groups of Anacortes citizens either concerned about the environmental impacts of this trail or strongly in favor of completing it from downtown Anacortes to Washington Park continue to work on advancing their goals. Pending further information from people directly involved in trying to motivate the City to put a priority on protecting the environment by doing more careful and complete planning, I’ll limit my remarks to what is in the September Skagit Flyer’s Conservation Report:
“In an ever more developed Anacortes, Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) is a refuge for birds and other wildlife and for people too. The city’s plans to extend the Guemes Channel Trail, a wide, paved bicycle and walking path, right through the length of the preserve’s wetland buffer has the potential to significantly degrade the quality of this habitat. Careful planning sometimes finds a way to preserve the ecological functions which wetland buffers are meant to provide and still allow some development, but this possibility should not be assumed. The notion that we can have it all - - in this instance, a richly diverse biological preserve and a non-motorized transportation corridor - - is too often wishful thinking. Rather than plunging ahead without adequate study, review, and planning, the city should proceed with care and professionalism and not assume the trail must go through the buffer come what may. Skagit Audubon is allied with other groups in calling for a more considered approach to the Guemes Channel Trail project at SHIP and along its entire route. Rather than being granted a Categorical Exclusion from environmental review, this project should go through an Environmental Assessment, including consideration of alternate routes for the path. If you live in Anacortes, please ask your city councilmember and mayor to support this careful approach.”
Next steps for Skagit Audubon include submitting a letter to WA Department of Transportation requesting that the extension of the Guemes Channel Trail past or through the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve be required to undergo an Environmental Assessment, including full consideration of reasonable alternatives, rather than being granted a Categorical Exclusion. Such exclusions from environmental review are only appropriate for projects that clearly will have no significant environmental impact and that are not controversial. The Guemes Channel Trail fails both these tests.
Some background information:
The Anacortes City Council at its May 21, 2018, meeting heard presentations concerning this project and took public comment. Katherine O’Hara, board member of Skagit Audubon, was among those who spoke in opposition to the proposal (http://anacortes.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=292). Board member Jane Brandt was also present as were other Skagit Audubon members.
Further background (from the April 3rd Conservation Notes):
Public records requests by concerned citizens in Anacortes revealed planning being done by the city’s parks department to construct a 12-foot wide, paved continuation of the Guemes Channel Trail through the wetland buffer at Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve. The ad-hoc committee opposing this idea has documented the city’s failure to comply with the Shoreline Management Act and its own promised mitigation in constructing the Guemes Channel Trail along the shore between the preserve and Lovrick’s boat yard. Skagit Audubon board member Katherine O’Hara, with board approval stated Skagit Audubon’s concerns for the trail proposal at the Anacortes City Council meeting on February 26th. The parks department proposal for a 12-foot wide paved path is apparently connected to the hope of being awarded federal funds through WSDOT meant for development of non-motorized transportation routes (i.e. bike paths). The wetland buffer could possibly lose its ecological functionality with such a trail constructed in it. There would likely be considerable impacts to birds and other wildlife which use the preserve.
Skagit Audubon’s board-approved letter of concern was mailed to Mayor Laurie Gere and the Anacortes City Council Members on April 2nd. Anacortes residents should also contact their member of the city council and the mayor. (Learn which city council member represents you: https://www.cityofanacortes.org/697/City-Council and how to contact her or him.) Describe how the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve is important to you. Consider making these points using your own words:
Anacortes should demonstrate a commitment to environmental sensitivity by effectively mitigating the impacts of the existing Guemes Channel Trail.
There should be no trail-building in the buffer of the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve. Any construction there would impede the buffer’s ecological function of filtering water draining to the preserve, which is important habitat for a wide variety of birds, other wildlife, and plants.
Planning for the continuation of the Guemes Channel Trail should include a full range of alternatives with a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of each. Routing the bicycle trail along the Oakes Avenue right-of-way should be one of the alternatives.
There should be an ample opportunity (at least 45 days) for public review and comment on these alternatives.
Additional Action Items
Blanchard Mountain Core
The passage of the state’s Capital Budget earlier this year made available the remaining funds needed to implement the 2006 Blanchard Forest Strategy. The goal is to take the core 1600 acres of the Blanchard Forest in Skagit County out of timber harvest. The primary mechanism for doing this is the Department of Natural Resource’s Trust Land Transfer Program. On June 14, Skagit Audubon members joined others attending a hearing about the project at the Skagit County Commissioners Chambers. DNR took public testimony, including from Skagit Audubon, about how the agency should prioritize the lands it chooses to be transferred from one category of trust land to another, enabling the Blanchard Forest Strategy to go forward. The Audubon remarks focused on the importance of keeping lands that are good wildlife habitat in a status that would prevent their eventual conversion to development. (Through a series of somewhat complicated steps, there will be a transfer between different types of trust lands managed by DNR and then the acquisition of replacement timber lands that will produce revenue for schools and other public trust beneficiaries in perpetuity.) DNR appeared to be making good progress implementing the strategy.
A celebration of the successful protection of the Blanchard Forest Core will take place Sunday, September 16, 2018. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will speak. The program begins at 11:30 a.m. at Samish Overlook. Shuttles will run 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. RSVP required: http://www.skagitlandtrust.org/pages/takeaction.aspx (scroll down).
Long-term Management Plan for Marbled Murrelet Habitat on State Trust Lands
Six years ago, Skagit Audubon submitted comments to our state’s Department of Natural Resources at the start of DNR’s developing a long-term management plan for marbled murrelet habitat on state trust lands. This is being done in concert with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act. A coalition of conservation groups, including the Audubon Society (represented by Seattle Audubon), has been following the process closely and keeping chapters such as ours informed so that we can participate in the opportunities for comment. The latest in this long saga is the release of a Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (some new alternatives having been added for consideration) for public comment through November 6, 2018. The public meetings which DNR will be holding to provide information and gather comments will include one at the Burlington Library on October 17, 2018 from 6:30 to 8:30. Maria Ruth, who wrote the great book about murrelets titled Rare Bird and who is a very active member of Black Hills Audubon, will be providing suggestions for comments following analysis of the very lengthy revised EIS by the groups in the coalition. Please take the opportunity to comment on this plan, which has implications for the survival of this fast-declining seabird dependent on a clean Salish Sea for foraging and on old growth trees for nesting. To review the RDEIS and additional information, or to submit comments on this proposal, visit DNR’s website at: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/long-term-conservation-strategy-marbled-murrelet.
Following passage of Washington House Bill 2285 during this year’s session, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz established the “Solutions Table,” a committee comprised of individuals representing trust fund beneficiaries (i.e. various public institutions and local governments), conservationists, and the economic sector. You can read the members’ names and affiliations at https://www.dnr.wa.gov/news/franz%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Csolutions-table%E2%80%9D-new-approach-jobs-and-environment. The basic idea of the legislation was a mandate to find a solution to meeting the Endangered Species Act requirement to protect the federal (and state) listed Marbled Murrelet by taking some state-owned forest lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources out of timber harvest while also providing for the economic needs of communities dependent on revenue from logging DNR trust lands.
National Audubon Action Center:
National Audubon works on national issues pertinent to the Audubon mission which all chapters share. Here are three of the most important issues on which National Audubon is focused. Please add your name in support.
Protecting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in its centennial year
For an overview of this issue, please see the Conservation Report on page 6 of the March 2018 Skagit Flyer newsletter (available on the Skagit Audubon website): http://skagitaudubon.org/documents/SASFlyerMar2018Color.pdf The national administration’s proposed weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the greatest threat to our most important bird protection measure in its hundred-year history. Please add your voice to keeping this law strong and effective by urging your Member of Congress to uphold both the law and its current implementation. Go to www.audubon.org/takeaction. Click on “Defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” Or write, email, or call your Member of Congress and U.S. Senators.
Renewing the Land and Water Conservation Fund
This is another major priority for National Audubon affecting every part of the U.S. WA Senator Maria Cantwell has taken the lead in working to both renew this 54-year old program that has protected millions of acres and put it on more of a permanent basis. Cantwell is the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. See the Conservation Report on page 6 of the March 2018 Skagit Flyer newsletter for why this is important and what you can do: http://skagitaudubon.org/documents/SASFlyerMar2018Color.pdf Also, contact Senator Cantwell to thank her for her work on this important issue.
Protect the Endangered Species Act
In every Congress there are attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Under the present circumstances, there is the most serious possibility yet that this law so important to protecting birds and other wildlife will be severely undercut. https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/hnXMGmJ_JkG3ND-3V83VZQ2?ms=policy-adv-web-website_nas-card-201702xx_esa
“On January 12, 2001, after nearly three years of analysis, the U.S. Forest Service adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to conserve 58.5 million acres (237,000 km²) of pristine National Forests and Grasslands from most logging and road construction.” (Wikipedia) The Roadless Rule protects millions of acres of wildlife habitat and saves taxpayers money by restricting the building of yet more roads on nationally owned public lands. The Forest Service already struggles to prevent the deterioration of the existing many thousands of miles of roads on Forest Service lands and the subsequent environmental degradation from their deterioration. Nonetheless, those who see only foregone private profit when they view a forest are constantly trying to undo the Roadless Rule. In the present Congress, these efforts have so far failed, in part due to the work of Senator Maria Cantwell, who sits on the key committee. The Administration even turned down the State of Alaska’s request for exemption from the Roadless Rule to ramp up cutting old growth trees on the Tongass National Forest. It is likely that they did this because the plan, in fact, is to rewrite and water down the Rule as it applies across the entire U.S. Various conservation groups are tracking these developments which have the potential to seriously degrade millions of acres of wildlife habitat held in trust for the American people and essential to the birds and other wildlife we care about.
Issues without action needed currently
Andeavor (formerly Tesoro and soon part of Marathon Petroleum) Clean Products Upgrade Project (CPUP)
No new information. On April 3rd, the coalition of environmental groups active in opposing the xylene production and shipping portions of this project filed an appeal of the County Commissioners’ decision with the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board (Skagit Valley Herald, April 5, 2018). On February 27th, the Commissioners voted unanimously to support the decision of the Skagit Hearing Examiner that the project could be granted a Shoreline Substantial Development permit. A decision from the Shorelines Hearing Board is expected within 180 days of the filing of the appeal. The members of the coalition include Stand.earth, Evergreen Islands, Friends of the Earth, ReSources, and Friends of the San Juans. Skagit Audubon has participated in giving oral comments at public hearings on CPUP and submitting written comments. Construction of the parts of CPUP not requiring a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit has been underway for some months.
Gravel mine (Concrete Nor’West) along the Samish River
Skagit County Planning and Development Services reconsidered the permit application for this project after citizens provided additional, in-depth information about potential impacts to safety and the environment. The county requested additional and corrected information from Concrete Nor’West/Miles Sand and Gravel, the project proponent. After the proponent failed to respond as required, the county on April 8th rejected the permit application. Following a subsequent hearing before the county Hearing Examiner, the county and the project proponent have been in negotiations. They are expected to come to a settlement this month. (September 2018)
Great Blue Herons: better protecting their nesting areas (heronries) in Anacortes’ and Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinances
Skagit Land Trust volunteers and staff have drafted a suggested revision to the Anacortes Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) to strengthen the protection of heronies as well as areas where great blue herons forage and roost. The city’s CAO is currently being revised. Skagit Audubon should participate in public comment opportunities to support the changes that would benefit herons as well as those pertinent to other wildlife. Skagit Audubon should also support efforts by the Trust to make improvements to Skagit County’s CAO too in its recognition of the importance of protecting heron habitat. There will be opportunities to comment to the Skagit County Commissioners in favor of a strengthened ordinance protecting heronries in the county.
Grizzly Bear Restoration in the North Cascades
Work by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to complete the EIS for grizzly restoration in the North Cascades continues following Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s supportive statement in Sedro-Wooley on March 23rd. The over 100,000 public comments received on the draft EIS are being analyzed. During the summer, the Fish & Wildlife Service held meetings with stakeholder organizations, including Skagit Audubon, and individuals and elected officials to discuss the 10j process. This refers to a section of the Endangered Species Act which provides for measures to be put in place in response to local concerns regarding the management of a listed species. On a related note, the North Central Washington Audubon chapter is researching the involvement of the Chelan County Commissioners in undercutting implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
Growler Flights and Expansion
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), out of concern for severe impacts on natural sounds and quiet in Olympic National Park, continues to take a leading role in addressing the effects of these very loud aircraft. Local organizations on Whidbey Island are also very involved, focused particularly on the impacts on people. In July, Congressman Rick Larsen wrote the Navy questioning the preferred alternative in its Environmental Impact Statement for adding more Growlers (and therefore more flights) to those already based at Naval Air Station Whidbey. NPCA has set up a way for people to readily report Growler overflight noise and its effects. Follow this link: https://arcg.is/0b8zuX . Natural quiet and natural sounds should be as protected as other aspects of the natural world. For Audubon, what’s especially at issue are the impacts on wildlife, including the state and federally listed Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet.
I-1631 - Putting a price on carbon emissions; Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy
The proponents of Initiative 1631 gathered enough vote signatures to qualify for this November’s ballot. I-1631 calls for a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon content for fossil fuels and electricity sold or used in Washington starting in 2020 with annual $2 per metric ton increases thereafter. The board of Audubon Washington voted unanimously to endorse I-1631 and some of the state’s chapters, including Skagit Audubon, have endorsed it also. National Audubon has been making the point for years now that climate change is the number one threat to birds and action is needed without further delay. For information, go to https://yeson1631.org/ or http://jobscleanenergywa.com/. The full text of the initiative is at https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/finaltext_1482.pdf.
Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion to Vancouver, B.C.
The Canadian government plans to buy the existing pipeline to ensure completion of the proposed project to triple its capacity despite local opposition in British Columbia by First Nations groups and municipalities. The pipeline carries tar sands crude from Alberta to Vancouver, B.C. Currently, half the crude oil coming through the pipeline goes to the 4 refineries in Whatcom and Skagit Counties via the 69-mile Puget Sound Pipeline. The federal government of Canada has stated it will also buy this spur. The quantity of tar sands crude flowing to the Cherry Point and March Point refineries will be increased along with the expansion of the Trans Mountain line. If the project is completed, there will be a seven-fold increase in oil tanker trips from the Port of Vancouver into the Salish Sea. There is also the potential for using the Cherry Point and March Point refinery facilities as crude oil export terminals, in possible violation of the Magnuson Amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (https://www.sightline.org/2016/04/27/what-is-the-magnuson-amendment/).
Tar sands crude is heavy oil that sinks when spilled in fresh or salt water. These spills are very difficult or impossible to clean up. On August 30, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals quashed, permits needed for the expansion, halting construction indefinitely. The Court found that the project proponents and federal government of Canada had insufficiently considered the concerns of affected First Nations groups and had failed to examine potential environmental impacts of the huge increase in shipping of oil on the Salish Sea. Work on the pipeline expansion has therefore halted for now, probably pending consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada. For information, see this article in the Vancouver Sun: https://vancouversun.com/business/energy/five-things-to-know-about-todays-trans-mountain-pipeline-court-ruling?utm_source=Sightline%20Institute&utm_medium=web-email&utm_campaign=Sightline%20News%20Selections Also, go to http://speakupspeakoutradio.org/ and scroll down to “Eric de Place on Expansion Plans for the Trans Mountain and Puget Sound Pipelines - August 29, 2018”.
Additional conservation issues
For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months.