Conservation Notes, April 2020
- Last Updated: April 13, 2020
Comment letter to WA Department of Ecology concerning the plan for cleaning up the March Point Landfill (a.k.a. Whitmarsh Dump)
From 1950 to 1973, the March Point Landfill received a variety of waste, including highly toxic materials, from Skagit County, Texaco, Shell Oil Company, and possibly other petrochemical industries in the vicinity. Cleaning up this site is a high priority for the Department of Ecology (DOE). Skagit Audubon commented in 2016 on the alternative approaches being considered. Partly for reasons of cost, rather than removing all the dumped material, DOE plans to cap the site in a way that is designed to prevent rainwater infiltration and stop the leaching of toxic substances into the adjacent lagoon, which connects to Padilla Bay. Of special relevance to Skagit Audubon is the fact that directly across March Point Road from the landfill site is the March Point heronry, now believed to be the largest on the West Coast and a central point for the heron population all around the Salish Sea. As herons have lost nesting habitat, they increasingly concentrate their nesting activity in a few large heronries rather than many smaller ones. As seen at the Samish Island heronry in 2017, disturbances, sometimes difficult to pinpoint, can cause abandonment of heronries any time during the nesting season. The challenge in cleaning up the March Point Landfill will be to avoid causing abandonment of the heronry in the process. The original deadline for comments to DOE was April 7th. An extension was requested and has been granted to April 17th. Information about this project and how to comment is at https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=304. For suggested talking points or to read Skagit Audubon’s comment letter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Write your own comments, use some of the talking points, or simply say you support the Audubon letter, if you do.
Additional issue needing action:
Navy’s request to use state parks for training
The Navy has a 5-year permit expiring May 1, 2020, to conduct “Special Operations Training” in 5 specific Washington State Parks. On February 12, 2020, the Navy applied for permission to expand this use of our state park lands to 29 parks. You can read about this request and how to comment at https://parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-training-proposal. The decision will be made by the State Parks and Recreation Commission at a regularly scheduled meeting later this year. You can read the Navy’s position on this request and its response to actual or anticipated criticism in a letter and presentation by Rear Admiral C.S. Gray, Commander, Navy Region Northwest at https://parks.state.wa.us/DocumentCenter/View/15170/Navy-Special-Operations---WA-State-Parks-Commission-letter-3-12-20. Among the 29 parks where the Navy would like to conduct training are Cama Beach, Camano Island, Deception Pass, Fort Casey, Fort Ebey, Joseph Whidbey, South Whidbey, etc. (though not Larrabee or Bayview in Skagit County).
Recent conservation-related action by Skagit Audubon
Regulation of motorized suction dredge mining
On March 18th, Governor Inslee signed legislation (ESHB 1261) by which Washington will join most other western states in regulating motorized suction dredge mining. This practice is very damaging to fish spawning habitat and was previously unregulated in Washington, even in waters with federally and state-listed fish, such as Chinook Salmon. Skagit Audubon joined many other conservation organizations in signing a follow-up letter by Washington Wild to the Fish & Wildlife Commission urging vigorous implementation of the act and close cooperation with the Department of Ecology.
Updates on Additional Issues
- Audubon priorities in the state legislative session which ended March 12, 2020
As a participant in the Environmental Priorities Coalition of over 20 conservation groups, Audubon Washington supported 4 bills during the session and in addition advocated for several others. From an Audubon perspective, there was both success and disappointment. Successes included:
- The Sustainable Farms and Fields measure (Senate Bill 5947) passed with financial incentives for farmers to reduce use of fossil fuels and enhance soil’s ability to hold carbon. Governor Inslee, who, to put it mildly, rightly has other things on his mind, signed this bill into law on the very last possible day, April 3.
- A Zero Emissions Vehicles mandate (Senate Bill 5811) was signed March 25th. This legislation enables Washington to require automakers to stock a certain percentage of zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) at dealerships. Washington is the 12th state to apply ZEV requirements to automakers. These states comprise more than one-third of the total U.S. auto market. The ZEV program requires that in 2020, about 3% of all new cars sold in the state be zero emissions vehicles (mostly EVs), rising to about 8% by 2025. The law will encourage manufacturers to advertise and stock electric vehicles and increase the volume of EV sales.
- Funds were allocated to map the best places in the Columbia Basin to site large scale solar energy facilities with least impact to agriculture and the environment. Unfortunately, this was among the allocations Governor Inslee found it necessary to veto in late March in light of expenses and revenue declines due to the coronavirus pandemic and related costs.
- The supplementary budget included restoration of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife funding for basic operations which it lost in 2008. (see note just above)
- A statewide ban on most single-use, thin plastic bags in retail stores passed.
After failing in the 2019 session, SB 5323 passed both houses in early 2020 and was signed by Governor Inslee on March 25th. The law goes into effect January 1, 2021. A few of the provisions:
- Prohibits retail establishments from providing single-use plastic bags or paper and reusable plastic bags that do not meet recycled content guidelines.
- Allows retail establishments without local ordinances to use existing inventory of single-use plastic bags for up to one year from the date of implementation.
- Retailers will charge $0.08 for paper carry-home bags and thick reusable plastic bags (2.25 mil thick) and keep the pass-through charge.
- Produce bags, newspaper bags, and dry-cleaning bags are exempt as are small bags for prescription drugs, nails, etc.
- Funding was granted to explore how to implement the principle of “net ecological gain” (in place of “no net loss”) in shoreline project development so that salmon habitat is recovered and Southern Resident Orcas are not starved into extinction.
Though the Legislature failed to authorize the Department of Ecology to regulate indirect greenhouse gas emissions attributable to oil and gas distributors by establishing authority under the Clean Air Rule, it did accelerate the schedule for getting the state as a whole to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (House Bill 2311). This bill also made it policy to look to forests and farms to sequester carbon. The bill sets ambitious targets to cut emissions but creates no specific path to meet them. Forty-five percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. To reduce emissions it’s essential to face this reality and act. Yet, for the second time in two years, the Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1110) passed the House but died in the Senate Transportation Committee, where the Chairman would not allow it to come to a vote. As already in California and Oregon, a Clean Fuel Standard would reduce the carbon content of fuels and create incentives to transition away from fossil fuels in the transportation sector. That it should fail because of a possible increase in per gallon fuel costs speaks to the failure of key political figures to truly take the climate crisis seriously.
- Improving the protection of heronries in Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance
See the March Conservation Notes for detail on this important issue. The Skagit County Planning Commission (https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningCommission/main.htm) will at some point pass its recommendation on to the Board of County Commissioners that there be no upgrade to the Critical Areas Ordinance in regard to protecting heronries. Because of the cancellation or change in date of meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic, this action has not yet taken place. It will be important to convey to the County Commissioners what citizens such as Audubon members think of the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Watch for information on when the County Commissioners will meet to make their decision on whether to accept the recommendation and for how you can express your opinion.
Letters, emails, or calls to the County Commissioners are needed to make clear the strong public support for better protecting heronries. The 2017 sudden abandonment of the Samish Island heronry’s over 300 nests during the breeding season prompted Skagit Land Trust’s work on this issue and is a vivid example of what can happen when heronries are inadequately protected. You can find background information on the Land Trust’s website at http://www.skagitlandtrust.org/pages/takeaction.aspx or contact email@example.com. More information will be available in the near future. Please note that emails to the County Commissioners are best sent to their individual email addresses rather than to the general email address for the Board of Commissioners: Ken Dahlstedt: KenD@co.skagit.wa.us; Ron Wesen: RonW@co.skagit.wa.us; Lisa Janicki: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Audubon Washington’s overview of the legislative session: https://wa.audubon.org/news/2020-legislative-session-wraps-mixed-results.
- Funding the Land & Water Conservation Fund and Addressing Maintenance Backlog on Federal Public Lands
Within the last year or two, the great efforts of Washington’s Senator Maria Cantwell were essential to the passage of federal legislation permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For over 50 years, this program has used revenues from offshore oil and gas leases to buy and preserve land in and around national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges as well as supporting state and local parks. It has rarely been the case that Congress authorized the full funding for LWCF allowed under the law. Now bipartisan legislation has been introduced into the Senate which would permanently fund the LWCF at its full allowed level. The bill, Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), combines this with yearly funding to begin addressing the huge backlog of infrastructure maintenance needs on federally managed public lands (national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, BLM lands). In a rare instance of bipartisanship, this was introduced on March 9, 2020.
The Nature Conservancy website has this overview (https://www.nature.org/en-us/newsroom/great-american-outdoors-act-introduced/):
“A bipartisan group of 56 U.S. senators – a majority of the U.S. Senate – has introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, which would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and restore national parks by helping address the backlog of maintenance needs. …
The Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422) combines two previous bills that each have strong bipartisan support from more than half of Congress. The first would provide full and permanent funding of $900 million each year for LWCF, the amount it is authorized to receive from offshore oil and gas revenues – not tax dollars. It has been used for more than 50 years to protect places in every state in the nation ranging from national parks to historic battlefields to local ballfields. The second, the Restore Our Parks Act, would invest $1.9 billion annually for the next five years in deferred maintenance for lands managed by the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education.”
Other issues Skagit Audubon is following
For information about these issues, on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/) go to the Conservation tab, then to Conservation Notes and scroll down to earlier monthly editions.
- DNR’s Marbled Murrelet Management Plan and Sustainable Harvest Calculation and related lawsuits.
- Fish Farming by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific and related lawsuits.
- Revision of the Critical Areas Ordinance of the City of Anacortes in relation to protecting wetlands. Connected to this: the city’s proposed routing of the Guemes Channel Trail through the buffer of the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve.
- Retention of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest and throughout the U.S.
- Increase in the number of Growler flights from Whidbey Naval Air Station and their effect on people, protected wildlife such as the Marbled Murrelet, along with the effects of radar-jamming training flights over Olympic National Park (Marbled Murrelet, Spotted Owl, etc.) and adjacent marine shoreline and waters.