Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes - November 2018
- Last Updated: November 18, 2018
- Audubon Council of Washington (ACOW): WA legislative priorities for 2019
(The following account of ACOW is for the most part what I wrote for the November issue of the Skagit Flyer.)
The annual meeting of Audubon’s Washington chapters took place October 12 and 13 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. During the legislative session anticipate being asked to contact your legislators about these.
- 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 bill almost passed in the 2018 session and probably would have passed if time had 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 birds such as sage grouse depend. The formation of Fire Protection Associations would allow private land owners to play a role in fire management, improving response to fires and providing protection for areas now unprotected.
- Support for putting Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW)’s budget on a sounder basis. Historically, 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 paralleling Audubon’s, the agency needs adequate funding and staff. Audubon supports a substantial increase in WDFW’s budget for the next biennium (WA has a two-year budget cycle) and the identification of a permanent long-term funding source to replace funds lost as license sales decline. The 2018 Legislature directed WDFW to study possibilities for long-term funding, and now it’s time to act. At the October 12th meeting of the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee, comprised of the chapters’ conservation chairs, Tahoma Audubon presented a resolution to the same effect as the above. The resolution was approved. Tahoma Audubon has laid out a strategy and talking points for contacting legislators to support fixing the problem with WDFW’s budget. If you would like to have these, write firstname.lastname@example.org .
Environmental Priorities Coalition
During ACOW, the Environmental Priorities Coalitions target items for the 2019 state legislative session were also presented. 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 (already required for tankers) and basing a rescue tug 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 for these particular orcas (i.e. chinook salmon), and possibly addressing contamination in Puget Sound waters.
- Statewide ban on plastic bags. There will be an attempt at legislation banning plastic bags statewide as already in some of Washington’s cities and towns.
The 105-day legislative session begins January 14th . This is an 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/).
Audubon Lobby Day
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.
- Marbled Murrelet management plan comments
Shortly before the November 6th deadline for comments on the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Long-term Management Plan for Marbled Murrelet Habitat on State Trust Lands, the deadline was extended to December 6th. A coalition of conservation groups, including the Audubon Society (represented by Seattle Audubon), has been following the process closely and keeping the chapters informed so that we can participate in commenting. The latest in this long saga is the release of a Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIS) (some new alternatives having been added for consideration). That is the document open for public comment through December 6, 2018. While Audubon chapters will be submitting comments it would also be very helpful for individuals to comment. Because the RDEIS is long and complicated (but interesting!), the coalition has prepared talking points and a suggested comment letter (https://wecprotects.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Marbled-Murrelet-Coalition_Sample-Comment-Letter-Talking-Points.pdf). You can read background on this issue in the immediately previous Conservation Report on this website. A good source of information on the present status of this issue, including an easy way to comment via the web, is on the website of the Washington Environmental Coalition (WEC): https://wecprotects.org/marbled-murrelet/. WEC is part of the Marbled Murrelet Coalition. To review the RDEIS and additional information, including on how to submit comments on this proposal, visit DNR’s website at: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/long-term-conservation-strategy-marbled-murrelet. DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (responsible for protecting federally-listed species) have prepared a story map that provides good background information and excellent photos of murrelets and their nest sites: http://wadnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=f9b0c468cad84168a292708ebc7012b9.
Recognizing that saving enough nesting habitat to stop the population decline of marbled murrelets will have economic impacts on timber-dependent communities, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz set up a “Solutions Table” to help find well-balanced solutions: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/SolutionsTable. See also the article by Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director, and Paula Swedeen, Policy Director, for Conservation Northwest at https://www.conservationnw.org/murrelets-and-coastal-communities/. Conservation Northwest is also part of the marbled murrelet coalition.
- Supporting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
(Most of the information below appears in an article in the November issue of the Skagit Flyer titled “Congressman Rick Larsen Goes Birding”)
On October 15th, at the request of Second District Congressman Rick Larsen, members of Skagit Audubon took him birding at Wylie Slough. This provided an opportunity to tell the Congressmen 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 Deep Water 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 Laura Gelwicks 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-act
Additional Action Items - -
Big Four Boardwalk: Support for Grant Funds
Skagit Audubon signed on a letter prepared by Pilchuck Audubon Society supporting the award of grant funds to the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild the failed boardwalk at Big Four along the Mountain Loop Highway. This is a popular area for birding and native plant field trips as well as scenery. If you would like to send an individual letter, contact email@example.com.
Extending the Guemes Channel Trail through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (Anacortes)
Please see the immediately previous issue of Conservation Notes for background information. The Anacortes Parks Foundation, long-time advocate of building the Guemes Channel Trail, recently led a tour of the proposed route of the trail past Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP). Representatives of Skagit Audubon were not available to attend at the last minute notice. As of this writing there is not yet information on any changes to the previous plan for routing the trail through the buffer of the SHIP wetland. Residents of Anacortes are urged to contact the Mayor and members of the City Council to express support for protecting the buffer and thereby preventing degradation of the preserve, which is important habitat for a diversity of birds.
Management Plan for San Juan Islands National Monument
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is writing a management plan for San Juan Islands National Monument. The monument was created in 2013 to recognize the beauty of the region’s chain of islands. It includes about 1,000 acres of BLM lands at 76 locations throughout the San Juan Islands. BLM released a draft plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Oct. 5. The agency is now taking public comment on that document and will hold an open house Friday, November 9, in Anacortes. The open house will be at 6 p.m. at the Anacortes Public Library. Comments will be accepted through January 3, 2019. BLM plans to release a final EIS and management plan for the monument next spring. See the BLM website for detailed information: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage¤tPageId=63825.
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
See #3 above under the Board agenda items.
Renewing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
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. Unusually bi-partisan legislation is in the works to permanently renew the LWCF.
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
Issues without action needed currently - -
Clear-cut Near Lake Cavanaugh
An ad-hoc group of residents of the Lake Cavanaugh area in southern Skagit County contacted Skagit Audubon in late October about a planned clear-cut on private property near an occupied marbled murrelet nest site. Timber harvest in such situations must follow requirements under Washington’s Forest Practice Rules including buffers and also timing restrictions related to murrelet nesting activity. In some of the required buffer area, selective logging is permitted. West Side Logging, LLC (owner of the property) and Nielsen Brothers Logging (who appear to have completed the Forest Practices Application and the accompanying Marbled Murrelet Form) have received approval from the Department of Natural Resources, which rules on these applications. I took a close look at the completed murrelet form and sent suggestions to the ad-hoc group on questions they might ask DNR concerning the adequacy of the information provided and the plan for logging in the buffer. The group is also looking into aspects of the harvest plan related to the very steep slopes and numerous streams in the harvest area. Nielsen Brothers is the company that in 2015 clear cut the Hidden Lakes property in Mount Vernon adjacent to Little Mountain Park after refusing appraised value offers on some of the property from the City of Mount Vernon and Skagit Land Trust.
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. In mid-September Concrete Nor’West submitted additional information, as requested, to Skagit County Planning and Development Services. See https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/gravelmine.htm and http://www.skagitdemocrats.org/2017/03/24/central-samish-valley-neighbors/.
Great Blue Herons: better protecting nesting areas (heronries) in Anacortes’ and Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinances
Skagit Land Trust volunteers and staff are suggesting revision of the Anacortes Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) to strengthen the protection of heronies. 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 in its recognition of the importance of protecting heron habitat. On November 5, 2018, Skagit Land Trust Executive Director Molly Doran briefed the Skagit County Commissioners on the Land Trust proposal. This is the first step in getting the revision considered by staff of Planning & Development Services and then the Planning Commission with a recommendation to the County Commissioners, who are the deciders on all land use changes. There will be opportunities to comment to the Planning Commission and the Skagit County Commissioners in favor of a strengthened ordinance protecting heronries in the county.
Growler Flights and Expansion
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), out of concern for severe impacts on natural sounds, quiet, and wildlife 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. NPCA has created 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 protected just 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.
NPCA’s focus has been on the effects of Growlers flying from Whidbey Naval Air Station to the Olympic Peninsula for electronic warfare training. One factor in the impact of this training is the number of Growlers based at Whidbey. Over the last several years, the Navy produced and then revised an Environmental Impact Statement looking at different alternatives for increasing the number of Growlers based there and different scenarios for practicing take-offs and landings at Ault Field (at the main base) and at Outlying Field near Coupeville. The Navy announced its preferred alternative plan (Alternative 2A) in June 2018. It calls for a significant increase in the use of Ault Field and a very large increase in the use of Outlying Field, which more closely resembles the aircraft carrier conditions which the pilots will encounter. The Navy released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on September 28, 2018, for a 30-day comment period. The Secretary of the Navy will make a final decision on the alternative. Skagit Audubon earlier submitted comments urging consideration of potential effects on marbled murrelets in the waters off Whidbey Island and on Trumpeter Swans which winter near the airfield.
Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion to Vancouver, B.C.
No new information. See the last Conservation Report for a description of this issue.
Marathon Petroleum (formerly Andeavor and, before that, Tesoro) Clean Products Upgrade Project (CPUP)
On April 3rd, the coalition of environmental groups active in opposing the xylene production and shipping portions of this project filed an appeal with the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board of the County Commissioners’ decision (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 should be granted a Shoreline Substantial Development permit. On September 28, 2018, the Shorelines Hearings Board issued an Order on Motions for Summary Judgment dismissing the case. The members of the coalition include Stand.earth, Evergreen Islands, Friends of the Earth, ReSources, and Friends of the San Juans. Skagit Audubon participated in giving oral comments at public hearings on CPUP and submitting written comments about potential effects on birds, marine mammals, and more.
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) The first survey in Skagit County took place October 6th with members of Skagit Audubon and other chapters participating. Surveys will continue the first Saturday of each month through April, year after year from now on. Observers will also play a role in providing early information about oil spills and affected birds.
Additional conservation issues
For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months.