Conservation Notes - March 2021
- Last Updated: March 10, 2021
- Status of Audubon priorities in the state legislature
March 2nd, when the Skagit Audubon board met, was the 51st day of the 105 day state legislative session. March 9th, a week later, is the cutoff date for bills to pass out of their Chamber of Origin, whether Senate or House, in order to continue forward. Adam Maxwell, Audubon Washington’s lead on legislation, provides a weekly update. Find the latest, including on bills not mentioned in the summaries below, at: https://wa.audubon.org/sites/default/files/static_pages/attachments/weekly_legislative_update_9.pdf.
Several priority bills for Audubon Washington are doing well. On March 1st, SB 5141 (the HEAL Act (Healthy Environment For All), to implement the recommendations of the environmental justice task force, passed the Senate and now goes to the House. This bill defines environmental justice in state law and requires measures to be taken by key state agencies. It is also one of the Environmental Priorities Coalition’s top goals.
HB1091, the Clean Fuels Standard, which would reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and support phasing out fossil fuels in the transportation sector (e.g. by electrification and switching to bio-fuels) passed out of the House on February 27th and is now in the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology. Transportation accounts for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. Adopting a Clean Fuels Standard such as California, Oregon, and British Columbia have long had would help significantly reduce Washington’s emissions related to climate change.
HB1099, requiring that climate change (i.e. emissions reductions and climate resilience) be addressed in updating city and county Comprehensive Plans under the Growth Management Act, has not yet been voted on in the House, where it originated. Counties such as ours that have been slow to acknowledge the necessity of planning for climate change need the push to do so. If HB1099 does not receive a majority vote on the floor of the House by March 9th, the bill is dead for the legislative session.
This being an alternate year longer session, the state’s 2-year budget will be debated and passed (actually 3 budgets: operating, capital, and transportation). All 3 have implications for Audubon’s mission and goals. The latter half of the legislative session will focus especially on budget bills. One of Audubon Washington’s priorities is to maintain adequate funding for the state agencies that protect species and their habitat, such as Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and for grant programs in the capital budget to protect and restore habitat, add to state parks and other protected lands, etc. A current, local example of why this is important: A few months ago, Skagit Audubon wrote Washington State Parks urging purchase of 80 acres for sale adjacent to Deception Pass State Park, which would be a significant addition to this busiest of our state parks. The property is the largest undeveloped, privately-owned parcel on Fidalgo Island. Funds for this type of addition to state parks come from a part of the biennial capital budget called the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). This is our state’s largest public funding source for outdoor community projects, providing matching funds to add to state and local parks, create new parks, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve working lands through easements.
One of the other bills Audubon supports, HB 1117 (Promoting salmon recovery through revisions to the state's comprehensive planning framework) has passed the House. Among its provisions, this bill would include salmon recovery in the areas to be addressed in county and city Comprehensive Plans and change the standard for mitigating impact of publicly funded projects from “no net ecological loss” to “net ecological gain.” Salmon recovery is flagging under the “no net loss” standard; hence the need to do more to support recovery of declining salmonid species. Note that when this change was proposed in the 2020 legislative session, the Skagit County Commissioners wrote a letter in opposition.
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 Audubon priorities.
- Day of Action regarding Navy SEAL training in state parks
On January 28, 2021, by a vote of 4-3 the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission approved the Navy’s request to conduct special operations (SEAL) training in “16 or 17” state parks. The particular parks from the Navy’s originally requested list of 28 were not specified. (For details: https://parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-training-proposal) The Commission-approved Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (i.e. the judgement that the Navy’s proposed activities would not have significant adverse effects if certain mitigations took place) as modified addressed some but not all the concerns which Skagit Audubon and other commenters expressed.
The Not In Our Parks Coalition has formed to oppose and appeal the Commission’s decision and may pursue legislation to ban military exercises in state parks. The Coalition is planning a Day of Action for March 13. To help with this activity, contact Skagit Audubon member Allison Warner at NotinOurParksEvents@gmail.com. Allison writes:
“A number of activities both from home and dispersed, socially-distant actions at the Parks are in planning stages. There is a groundswell of opposition to the Park’s approval of Navy Special Ops training and we intend to show it. The Governor and our legislators need to hear us.
“The activities are aimed at raising public awareness and gathering more signatures and letters to the Governor and electeds, as well as increasing donations for the appeal of the State Parks Commission decision.
“Activities at the Parks will include: tailgate tabling at boat launches and main parking areas, picketing and signage at park entrances, signature gathering and handing out informational fliers. For those staying at home, virtual postcard parties, and letters to the editor are among the ways to be involved.
“We invite you to help organize and to participate on the day of. What park do you want to help at? We are planning for events at: Deception State Park, South Whidbey State Park, Fort Worden State park, Fort Flagler State Park, Camano Island State Park and Cama Beach State Park.”
The Coalition’s website will soon be available with more information: notinourparks.org
Updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following
- 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 Shoreline Master Program is the collection of land use regulations pertaining to shoreline protection and development. The on-line open house is the best source for information and also the place to register for the monthly public update meetings: https://skagitcountysmp.squarespace.com. The next meeting will be 6p-7p on March 11th. To find more 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 (SMP) is now out though the deadline for public comments has not yet been announced – maybe some time in April? Because the SMP is relevant to habitat protection, Skagit Audubon will likely submit comments. We will consider, for example, whether the shoreline spawning areas of forage fish, principal food for many seabirds, are adequately protected. The draft plan also appears to pay little attention to addressing the coming impacts of sea level rise. The county’s deadline for completion of the Master Program update and adoption by the County Commissioners is June 2021, a timeline the planning staff indicate 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.
- 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 apply only 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 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). Skagit Audubon submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in late February supporting delay in implementing the administrative rule finalized January 7 which would take the heart out of the MBTA and urging that steps be taken to revive the previous approach to implementing the act.
- Mining in Skagit County
There are 3 pending issues related to mining in Skagit County.
- Lake Erie Gravel Mine: 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 appealed this decision to the Board of County Commissioners, citing lack of analysis of groundwater impacts and related landslide risks to nearby bluffs and residences plus safety concerns from increased truck traffic. On February 23rd, the County Commissioners voted 3-0 to remand the case to the Hearing Examiner for consideration of the potential geological hazards. They dismissed further considerations of the other points in the appeal.
- Grip Road Gravel Mine: There have been no further developments in the proposed new gravel mine off Grip Road near the Samish River.
- Big Bear Mine: 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. Local residents tracking the project have found evidence that, though represented differently, this projected mining appears to be very similar to the Kiewit Corporation’s plan in 2019. That plan was to quarry large stone for use on coastal jetties over many years. Martin Marietta Corporation appears to now be the company seeking to acquire stone for this purpose through the local quarry owners, Cunningham Crushing.
For the Kiewit proposal, Skagit County took the lead on the environmental and other reviews and acted as the principal permitting agency. In the present case, Skagit County has not sought to be involved at all, leaving permitting to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is requiring much less scrutiny than would be likely with the county in the lead. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has asked DNR to withdraw its “Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance” and require a full Environmental Impact Statement as with the Kiewit proposal. So far, the state agencies do not appear to agree on this.
The Skagit River Alliance is a locally-based organization formed at the time of the Kiewit proposal and now working on the new proposal by Cunningham Crushing, owners of the mine. The Alliance wants Skagit County to take responsibility for reviewing the project, rather than DNR being the lead. You can read more on the alliance’s website: https://www.skagitriveralliance.org.
It would seem consistent for Skagit County Planning & Development Services to take the lead in reviewing this project as it did with the eventually withdrawn Kiewit proposal. County staff are more likely to be attentive to the concerns of Skagit County residents than DNR’s mine permitting staff based in Olympia. There is a greater possibility that county staff would also consider the off-site impacts of the project; for example, increased heavy truck traffic on the South Skagit Highway and State Route 20, which we understand DNR has refused to do. If you would like to help, write to Skagit County Planning & Development Services and urge that they take the lead reviewing the proposal for the Big Bear Mine (1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon WA 98273).
6. Farmed Island alternative: full restoration
In late February, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) announced the decision to fully restore the Farmed Island to estuarine wetland; that is, the Island Unit of Skagit Wildlife Area. Farmed Island, actually two islands connected by a bridge, lies in the Skagit River across from the boat launch at the area known to birders as “Wylie Slough” or the “Game Range.” Farmed Island derives its name from crops WDFW has long planted there to attract ducks, and it has been a highly favored waterfowl hunting area for many years. The precipitous decline in salmon populations, particularly chinook, now listed under the Endangered Species Act, is driving the restoration of estuarine habitat on which this species depends at a key point in its life cycle. Much estuarine habitat has been lost around Puget Sound through diking to create farmland, as at Farmed Island and along the shores of Fir Island. Where possible, publicly owned land, such as Wylie Slough, Fir Island Farms (a.k.a. Hayton), and now Farmed Island are being restored in whole or part to the estuarine habitat they once were. This habitat is also important to certain species of birds, including shorebirds and waterfowl, although the farmed crops likely support more ducks and geese than will natural wetlands though at the cost of other bird species and salmon. Skagit Audubon participated in WDFW’s advisory committee for this project and supported the full restoration alternative. Waterfowl hunting groups were strongly opposed. WDFW is now pursuing funding to carry out the restoration, removing dikes and tide gates, etc.
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
From the March 2021 Skagit Flyer newsletter:
“National Audubon is collaborating with many other conservation organizations plus businesses and outdoor activity groups to support passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This act would dedicate substantial annual funding to implementing the Wildlife Action Plans each state has written to be eligible for federal funding to protect wildlife, particularly non-hunted species. You can read the plan for our state at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/swap. The available federal funds have always been far below the need. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) lists about 1,600 species in trouble, but collectively the states’ Wildlife Action Plans describe almost 12,000 more that are in decline and without attention will become eligible for ESA listing in the future. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would greatly increase funding for protecting non-game species and their habitat and would forestall the declines that result in ESA listing followed by very expensive recovery programs or by extinction. This bi-partisan bill had many co-sponsors in the last Congress but did not fare as well in the Senate. It will be reintroduced in the present Congress. While more information and action alerts will be forthcoming from National Audubon, you can read about this initiative now and how to help on this National Wildlife Federation page: https:// www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Wildlife-Conservation/Policy/Recovering-Americas-Wildlife-Act.
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:
A simple way for Audubon members to advocate for the protection of birds and other wildlife and their habitat is to respond to action alerts from Washington Audubon and National Audubon. Sign up for Audubon Washington’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 national alerts. The National Audubon website (https://www.audubon.org) has abundant information on its many current conservation campaigns.