By Tim Manns
State Legislature: The State Legislature begins its short (non-budget writing), 60-day session January 8. We hope for early approval of the Capital Budget, which failed to pass last session, held hostage for lack of agreement on implementing the State Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision. Hirst has to do with water rights and rural development, with implications for salmon recovery and upholding the rights of tribes and other senior water rights holders. Passage of the Capital Budget should also provide the funds needed to protect Blanchard Forest’s core 1,600 acres here in Skagit County.
Audubon Washington Legislative Priorities: Audubon Washington has set four priorities for the coming state legislative session, the first being “100% Clean Energy”. In partnership with Climate Solutions, Audubon will work for passage of a bill mandating that by 2030 no electricity used in Washington would come from burning coal, and by 2050 all electricity here would be from clean sources. To further this goal, Audubon and other groups will hold a Lobby Day in Olympia January 22nd. To participate (please do!), go to http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2018 for registration and information. Sign up there to receive action alerts too. Audubon’s great strength as a force for conservation in Washington State is its 15,000+ members distributed statewide in 25 chapters.
Audubon’s other priorities for the session address Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture, fire protection in eastern Washington, and funding for coastal research in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, places essential to many thousands of migratory birds. Audubon also joins over 20 other conservation groups in the Environmental Priorities Coalition pressing for mutually agreed priorities in the State Legislature. This year those include passing a healthy food and packaging act, funding the oil-related safety measures passed last session, and putting a price on carbon pollution.
Since my last report, the Skagit County Hearing Examiner approved Andeavor’s (formerly Tesoro) Shoreline Substantial Development Permit for its Clean Products Upgrade Project. The Examiner did not find the arguments of the many commenters, including Skagit Audubon, sufficient to deny the permit or impose conditions. Six conservation groups are appealing the decision to the Skagit County Commissioners, an act of impressive optimism.
Long-Term Management Strategy for Marbled Murrelet Habitat: In last month’s report I incorrectly stated that the Board of Natural Resources, overseeing the Department of Natural Resources, had selected a preferred alternative for the Long-Term Management Strategy for marbled murrelet habitat on state trust lands. It’s more complicated. The board has selected an alternative (a modified version of one of six alternatives which DNR developed) as recommended by staff which now will be further studied before being declared the “preferred”. Details of the modified alternative are not yet out. However, at the most recent meeting of Skagit County’s Forest Advisory Board, staff person Kendra Smith, who had testified for an even less protective alternative, stated that the chosen one would probably mean no further decrease in DNR lands available for logging in Skagit County. However, that is not welcome news to timber companies, which want fewer restrictions, nor to counties very reliant on income from state trust lands. The chosen alternative is also not welcome to conservationists, whose modeling shows it would mean the demise of the murrelet in Washington. The bird’s population has declined 44% here since 2001. A coalition of conservation groups, including Audubon, is advocating for a different approach which would both meet the financial needs of timber-dependent counties and protect the murrelet. This is a long and complicated tale with more chapters to come, including ones to which we can contribute our comments.