By Tim Manns
Nearing the end of a summer that passed too quickly, lots of conservation issues await attention. Locally, the main one conservation-minded citizens worked on through the summer was not new. In June, this report mentioned the Skagit County Commissioners’ hiring an anti-Endangered Species Act organization, the self-proclaimed American Stewards of Liberty, for advice on preventing the US Fish & Wildlife Service and National Park Service from pursuing restoration of the grizzly to the North Cascades. This project is not some agency whim but, rather, required implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Public reaction to our commissioners taking this action and spending $5,000+ of county funds to do it, was loud and swift. On August 7, the commissioners held an afternoon meeting with scant notice to take public comment and sign a letter to Secretary of Interior Zinke, written by American Stewards of Liberty, calling for a halt to any grizzly restoration work in the Cascades. The letter is replete with exaggeration and inaccuracy; nonetheless, the commissioners made a public show of signing it and claiming they do not actually adhere to the anti-Endangered Species Act, anti-public lands ideology of the Stewards of Liberty. This is, in fact, easily proven untrue. Since at least 2001 Skagit County Commissioners have been paying a Washington, D.C. lobbyist ($137,000 to date) to push for weakening the ESA, giving local officials such as themselves control over national public lands, and, with a recent $5,000 additional payment, undercutting grizzly restoration in the vast wilderness of the North Cascades. The mission of the Audubon Society is the protection and restoration of wildlife diversity and the habitat to support it. Until now, we had little idea how contrary to this mission the thinking and activities of our county commissioners actually are. We will continue to work with other groups and individuals to preserve our national public lands and to keep this bedrock environmental law, the Endangered Species Act, strong.
Issues related to fossil fuels continue in the Northwest. With marine waters, two oil refineries at March Point, pipelines, and a mainline railway, Skagit County remains a key location in the question of whether investment in a fossil-fuel based economy continues or a concerted transition away from fossil fuels gets underway. If British Columbia’s new provincial government is unable to block expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, there will likely be a doubling of the capacity of the Kinder Morgan pipeline already bringing tar sands crude to March Point. Will the refineries then double as terminals for exporting crude oil? These developments promise vastly increased oil tanker and barge traffic in the Salish Sea with a proportional risk of catastrophic spills. A related issue is the Coast Guard’s rulemaking to designate commercial anchorages near Vendovi and Samish Islands without any serious environmental review. And, earlier in the summer, Skagit County Planning & Development Services determined Tesoro’s project to produce and export xylene would have no adverse environmental effects requiring mitigation.
Current wildlife-related issues here in addition to grizzly restoration include Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s proposed plan for managing elk in the Skagit Valley, a National Park Service plan to transplant non-native mountain goats out of Olympic National Park to the North Cascades, where they are native but declining, and the Department of Natural Resources’ long-awaited long-term management plan for the marbled murrelet on state trust lands. For more information on any of these or other issues too numerous to mention here, please contact me (Tim Manns, firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m happy to send any Skagit Audubon member the issues summary prepared for the board.