Conservation Notes - February 2021
- Last Updated: February 8, 2021
The following three items are on the agenda for the February 2, 2021, Skagit Audubon board meeting.
- Skagit County Shoreline Master Program update
Skagit County Planning & Development Services (PDS) is working on a periodic update of the county’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) required under the state’s Shoreline Management Act. With a contractor’s help, the county is at the same time drafting the comprehensive update due some years ago but never completed. The “Master Program” is the collection of land use regulations pertaining to shoreline protection and development. For a succinct explanation of this planning project, go to this Skagit County webpage: Shoreline Master Program Update (skagitcounty.net)
The first of a series of virtual public meetings on the update took place January 21st. To register for the future monthly public meetings (each with different content) and to find detailed information about the current and also past Skagit County Shoreline Master Program planning efforts, go to https://skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/SMPmain.htm
The draft Shoreline Master Program update should come out this week. Because this is relevant to habitat protection, Skagit Audubon should submit comments (e.g. protecting the shoreline spawning areas of forage fish which are the principal food of many seabirds). There may be opportunities to collaborate with other conservation organizations. The county’s deadline for completion of the Master Program update and adoption by the County Commissioners is June 2021, which the planning staff readily admit is optimistic. The program then goes to the WA Department of Ecology for review and approval. Note that certain cities, such as Anacortes, are also required to have and update their own Shoreline Master Program. The county’s SMP applies only to the unincorporated parts of Skagit County.
- Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission’s decision to permit Navy special operations training in 16 or 17 state parks.
Last year the Navy requested permission to conduct special operations (SEAL) training in 28 state parks. Late in 2020, the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for the Navy’s proposal, meaning that the Commission believes the proposed activity would not have significant adverse effects on natural or cultural resources or on the experience of park visitors as long as specified mitigations are implemented. You can peruse that original list of mitigations and read other background information on the State Parks webpage: http://bit.ly/ParksSEPA. There is more background information at https://parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-proposal.
Despite considerable public opposition, including from Skagit Audubon, on January 28th the Commission voted 4-3 to allow SEAL training in 16 or 17 state parks and added additional requirements to the list of mitigations. The as yet unspecified parks in which training could take place would presumably be from the list of 28 originally requested. The first 9 months of the 5-year permit will be a trial period during which the training exercises would only be allowed at night. This provision would seem to make it difficult to do the proposed training as described, which the Navy states can last up to 72 hours. There were also provisions added to the MDNS to somewhat better protect plants and animals. Some of the parks commissioners were not convinced that military training is appropriate in state parks nor that the Navy does not have sufficient access to a broad range of other private and public properties where the training could be conducted. The Navy counters that in many years of doing training in (a much smaller number of) state parks, there has never been a complaint. This is not quite true: see the resolution which the Langley City Council passed last year.
According to the January 29, 2021, news release by the State Parks & Recreation Commission, “The mitigated conditions and criteria will ultimately determine which specific parks are permitted.” (https://parks.state.wa.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=674). The changes to the MDNS reflect some of the concerns expressed by Skagit Audubon and probably other commenters, such as expanding the protected area around eagle nests to the distance actually recommended by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and requiring that the Navy be provided with a map of each park clearly showing areas off limits to protect rare plants, key nesting areas, etc. There is, however, no reflection of the concerns we expressed about disturbance to the federally listed Marbled Murrelet or other sensitive bird species. The revised MDNS does appropriately call for much more involvement by state parks staff in monitoring the Navy’s activity in the parks including assessing impacts after the training sessions.
- Environmental Priorties Coalition (EPC) Labboy Days, Fedbruary 8-10
As in many past years, the Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), of which Audubon is a member, will be holding a lobbying event in Olympia, where the legislative session began January 11th. This year, rather than one day, the event will be Lobby Days extending from February 8 to 10. There will be training on communicating with legislators, reviews of the EPC legislative priorities, and appointments to meet virtually with legislators from your district. To register for Lobby Days, go to Environmental Priorities Coalition - WEC (wecprotects.org).
From the EPC website: “For the 2021 legislative session, we have adopted three priorities essential for healthy communities and a thriving environment: Clean Fuels Now, Clean & Just Transportation, and Conservation Works. Our Partnership Agenda for 2021 includes the HEAL (Healthy Environment for All) Act, Voting Justice, the Working Families Tax Credit/Recovery Rebate Campaign, and the Worker Protection Act. You will also learn (during Lobby Days) about other key legislation like Washington Can't Wait: Updating the Growth Management Act and the Resilient Future platform.”
Read summaries of the priorities on the EPC website.
Audubon’s own priorities, which overlap those of the EPC, are:
1.Protect conservation funding in the state operating and capital budgets
2.Pass a Clean Fuel Standard
3.Update the Growth Management Act to include climate change and environmental justice as planning elements
The Clean Fuel Standard has gone before the legislature several times and may succeed in 2021. With transportation the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, this bill would be a significant step in addressing climate change, a crisis for both birds and people.
Read about Audubon’s work in the legislature and get involved: https://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2020. Scroll to the bottom of the web page to find more details on the Audubon priorities.
Updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following
- Restoring the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act
On January 19th, National Audubon along with other environmental organizations brought suit in federal court to overturn the Trump administration’s weakening of how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is implemented. The administration’s rule-making, completed in the last days of the outgoing administration, ignored an earlier court ruling and changed the Act to only apply to deliberate harm to the many species of protected birds. Audubon’s suit is part of a multi-pronged effort to solidify the protection which the MBTA had provided since its passage in 1918. For more details about the Act, see the Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes from January 2021 on the chapter website under the Conservation tab (www.skagitaudubon.org).
- Mining in Skagit County
. There are 3 pending issues related to mining in Skagit County.
- On November 30, 2020, County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford approved permitting the expansion of the gravel mine near Lake Erie on Fidalgo Island from 17.7 to 53.5 acres. Evergreen Islands has appealed the decision to the Board of County Commissioners, who will hear the case February 9th. Evergreen Islands cited groundwater impacts and related landslide risks to the nearby bluffs and residences as having been insufficiently considered. The Skagit Valley Herald reported on the appeal in its January 31, 2021, edition on page A4.
- There have been no further developments in the proposed new gravel mine off Grip Road near the Samish River.
- The Department of Natural Resources(DNR) continues to gather information related to the proposed reopening and expansion of the Big Bear Mine (quarry) near Marblemount. Nearby residents continue to supply DNR with information and concerns. DNR is seeking to have consultation meetings with the Tribes who expressed concerns.
Other Skagit Audubon conservation issues and activities
For additional information about some of the above issues and others, on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/) go to the Conservation tab, then to Conservation Notes and scroll down to earlier editions.
Issues needing action:
One of the easiest ways for Audubon members to advocate for the protection of birds and other wildlife and their habitat is to act on action alerts from Washington Audubon and National Audubon. Sign up for Washington Audubon’s Action Network at https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/JGKjknsVTUKMSr4BoP2Nvw2. Recognizing that climate change poses the greatest of all threats to birds, Audubon Washington is especially focused on advancing policies and laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Find and participate in National Audubon’s current issue campaigns at https://www.audubon.org/takeaction. Sign up there to receive alerts.