Thank you to Jennifer Syrowitz!
After almost six years of excellent work as Audubon Washington’s very able Chapter Conservation Manager, Jennifer Syrowitz is leaving to be the first Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife Federation. The chapters, including Skagit Audubon, have contributed annually to support Jen’s position, which started as a part-time role helping rebuild the state organization, coordinate regional and statewide meetings of Audubon Washington’s 25 chapters, and facilitating Audubon’s environmental advocacy. Jen’s work expanded to a full-time position with the addition of National Audubon funds to further the Climate Change Strategy. All the chapters and state office staff will miss Jen, but we hope the future will bring many opportunities to collaborate on conservation work in her new position.
Climate Change Effects on Birds in National Parks
National Audubon’s science staff recently issued its peer-reviewed study of how climate change is likely to affect the species distribution of birds in national parks in the United States. See
www.audubon.org/climate/national-parks?site=wa&nid=4171 This follows on National Audubon’s nationwide study several years ago and was done in partnership with the National Park Service.
Upcoming Audubon Regional and Statewide Meetings
Skagit Audubon is one of 5 chapters in the Northwest-1 region of Audubon Washington, the others being Pilchuck, Whidbey, San Juan, and North Cascades. The next meeting of our region will be Saturday, April 21st at Padilla Bay’s Breazeale Interpretive Center. Conservation issues are always a key part of these regional meetings.
This year’s annual meeting of all Washington’s Audubon chapters (ACOW) will take place on October 13th at the Brightwater Environmental and Community Center in Woodinville, WA. More details to come.
100th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
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. There’s an easy way to do this via the National Audubon Action Center: go to www.audubon.org/takeaction. Click on “Defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”
Renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund
This is another major priority for National Audubon which affects every part of the U.S. 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
Elk Management in the Skagit Valley
No new information. See the March Conservation Notes for background and suggested action.
Extending the Guemes Channel Trail through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (Anacortes)
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 would 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.
Issues without action needed currently
From this year’s state legislative session, which ended March 8th - -
Putting a price on carbon emissions; Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy
Governor Inslee’s carbon pricing bill (Senate Bill 6203) was one or two votes short of being able to pass the Senate. The bill had yet to go through the House. Unlike this time, a similar bill in the 2017 session did not pass out of the key policy and fiscal committees to make it to the floor for a vote, so this year’s outcome is considered a step towards eventual success of such legislation. On March 2nd, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy filed a proposed initiative with the Secretary of State. For information, go to http://jobscleanenergywa.com/. Initiative 1631 calls for a $15/metric ton of carbon content of fossil fuels and electricity sold or used in the state starting in 2020 with increases in succeeding years. The Alliance needs to gather 260,000 voter signatures by early July for the initiative to appear on November’s ballot. Putting a price on carbon emissions was a key issue this legislative session for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, including Audubon Washington. Seattle Audubon and Audubon Washington are listed on the Alliance’s website among the over 200 organizations that are part of the Alliance. The Audubon Washington board will be discussing carbon legislation proposals, and this will be a topic of the upcoming Audubon Washington regional meetings.
Improving Oil Safety on Puget Sound
This was one of the state legislative issues for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, of which Audubon Washington is a member. Senate Bill 6269 (Oil Spill Prevention Act) introduced by 40th District Senator Kevin Ranker passed and was signed into law. This act closes the barrel tax loophole for oil arriving by pipelines (nearly 40% of the oil coming to Washington) to “provide additional funding for state oil spill prevention and response activities, update geographical response plans, and provide additional funding to research and make recommendations for both tug escorts and a stationed rescue tug for all vessels carrying large quantities of oil across the Salish Sea” (Cascadia Weekly).
Marbled Murrelet: WA Department of Natural Resource’s Long-term Management Strategy for this federally-listed species
Audubon was happy to see passage of House Bill 2285 in the recent state legislative session. This bill replaced one introduced earlier which attempted to stack the deck against marbled murrelet conservation on state trust lands in the name of ensuring revenue to the public institutions that are the beneficiaries of logging these lands. The bill that passed takes a more balanced approach, recognizing the importance of complying with the Endangered Species Act while also granting that there are economic implications for particular communities which should be mitigated through other financial means. It remains to be seen what the final form of DNR’s plan for marbled murrelet habitat on state trust lands will be and whether it will pass muster with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The murrelet is a state and federally-listed species under the Endangered Species Act and is dependent on old-growth forest for nesting.
100% Clean Energy Standard
During the recent state legislative session, Audubon Washington, with partners including Climate Solutions and labor groups, worked hard for passage of this bill. Unfortunately, a small army of utility lobbyists succeeded in blocking House Bill 2995. (See the Audubon news release at http://wa.audubon.org/press-release/washington-legislature-fails-pass-100-percent-fossil-fuel-free-electricity-policy). This bill would have set a 2045 deadline for ending fossil-fuel produced electricity in Washington. The good news is that the bill progressed farther than it could have in the past with the former political balance in the legislature, and good groundwork has been laid for future sessions. It should also be mentioned that another of Audubon’s priorities, establishing a low-carbon fuel standard as exists in Oregon and California, was also blocked by oil industry lobbyists.
Phasing out Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture in Washington
Last fall the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee, representing the state’s 25 chapters, passed a resolution calling for phasing out non-native net pen farming in our state. This was after the escape of many thousands of Atlantic salmon off Cypress Island. The resolution also built on long-term environmental concerns about this type of activity, which is already prohibited in Oregon and California. Audubon Washington subsequently participated very actively in a coalition of groups which worked hard and successfully for passage of House Bill 2957. Fortieth District Representative Kristine Lytton and Senator Kevin Ranker were key players. The bill will phase out nonnative finfish aquaculture in Washington's marine waters. The permit for the Cypress Island net pens in Skagit County has already been suspended by DNR due to failure to comply with its terms. Cooke Aquaculture made a concerted effort to block passage of the legislation in Olympia and has threatened action against the state under NAFTA.
Issues not addressed in the legislative session - -
Coast Guard Plan for Designating Anchorages near Vendovi Island
No new information.
EA-18G “Growler” Increased Airfield Operations and Electronic Warfare Training over the Olympic Peninsula
No new information.
Forest Management Bills in Congress
The Omnibus Budget Bill which Congress recently passed and the President signed fortunately omitted the attempt by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to open the Tongass National Forest to greatly increased cutting of old-growth and waiving the Roadless Rule in Alaska. This rule dating back to the Clinton Administration has long protected wildlife habitat across the U.S. An exception for Alaska would have set a bad precedent for maintain the Rule on nationally-owned public lands nationwide.
Gravel mine (Concrete Nor’West) along the Samish River
Skagit County Planning and Development Services is reconsidering the permit application for this project after citizens provided additional, in-depth information about potential impacts to safety and the environment.
Great Blue Herons: better protecting their nest areas (heronries) in Anacortes’ and Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinances
Skagit Land Trust volunteers and staff have drafted 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 similar improvements to Skagit County’s CAO in its recognition of the importance of protecting heron habitat. The county CAO revision will take place later this year.
Grizzly Bear Restoration in the North Cascades and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s Announcement
On March 23rd, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke made a visit to the National Park Service & U.S. Forest Service office in Sedro-Woolley publicized just the day before. The press release included that Zinke would be making a statement about restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades. Representatives of local tribes, conservation groups supporting grizzly restoration (including Skagit Audubon), local elected officials, agency staff involved in preparing the EIS, and media were invited. The surprise was that Secretary Zinke’s announcement gave clear support to restoring this federally-listed species and praised the Draft EIS, in dramatic contrast to the opposition of the Skagit, Chelan, and Okanogan County Commissioners (none of them present), and certain particularly vocal local residents. Last year the commissioners used public funds to hire the self-proclaimed American Stewards of Liberty (ASL), a small Texas-based organization specializing in asserting extreme private property rights and county supremacy in opposition to the Endangered Species Act, to block grizzly restoration. (The proposed restoration would take place on 6 million acres of public lands, not private property.) ASL worked closely with our county-contracted, long-time D.C. lobbyist Robert Weidner in the attempt to influence Secretary Zinke to halt completion of the EIS and implementation of any restoration plan. At the March 23rd event, demonstrators outside the building displayed signs referring to Zinke’s many decisions that make his pro-grizzly, pro-environment stance a surprise. He directed the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, partners in planning grizzly restoration, to complete the EIS by the end of this year. The agencies are in the process of analyzing and responding to the over 100,000 EIS comments received. It will be important for organizations such as Skagit Audubon to monitor the follow-up to Zinke’s announcement.
Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion to Vancouver, B.C.
During the last month, there was much media coverage of demonstrations in British Columbia against this project. If the project is completed, there will be a huge increase in fossil fuel shipping on the Salish Sea and a likely expansion of the pipeline capacity from Vancouver to March Point.
Tesoro Clean Products Upgrade Project (CPUP)
An overflow crowd attended the February 27, 2018, appeal hearing before the Skagit County Commissioners’ of the County Hearing Examiner’s decision approving Tesoro’s application for a Shoreline Substantial Development permit for this project. From a narrow point of view, this particular permit strictly pertains only to those portions of the project taking place on the water nearby or within 200 feet of the Mean High Water at the refinery property. A coalition of environmental groups opposing the project (Stand.earth, Evergreen Islands, Friends of the Earth, ReSources, and Friends of the San Juans) maintain that the environmental impact statement for the project is inadequate and that a Shoreline Special Conditions Permit should be required. This was a quasi-judicial hearing before the commissioners. Defending the Hearing Examiner’s finding were the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services and Tesoro (a.k.a. Andeavor). Skagit Audubon participated in the scoping phase of the EIS and commented on the draft EIS. On March 9th, the 3 Skagit County Commissioners announced their unanimous decision upholding the Hearing Examiner’s approval of the Shoreline Substantial Development permit and declaring the adequacy of the EIS as not a matter for their adjudication.
As a side note, this whole issue illustrates a peculiarity of the structure of Skagit County government. The 3-commissioner system (versus the county council system in adjacent counties) is the default form of Washington county government dating back to statehood. The commissioners are both the legislative and executive branches of the county government (i.e. they promulgate ordinances and direct their implementation, in this instance overseeing Skagit County Planning and Development Services) and at times are also the judiciary, as in hearing appeals to Hearing Examiner decisions on Planning and Development issues. There is a growing movement to update our county government’s structure as has been done in Whatcom, Snohomish, King, and other Washington counties to create a more efficient, workable, and transparent system.
On April 3rd, the coalition of environmental groups mentioned above filed an appeal of the County Commissioners’ decision with the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board (Skagit Valley Herald, April 5, 2018). A decision is expected within 180 days.
Additional conservation issues
For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months.