By Tim Manns
The Washington State Legislature’s 60-day session ended March 8th as scheduled. The record on environmental bills was mixed but better than last year’s. Manka Dhingras’ special election last November shifted the balance of parties in the Senate, changing the committee chairs and allowing bills important to Audubon to advance further than in the last few sessions. For a list of the relevant legislative outcomes, go to http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2018. (Scroll down to the 3/12/2018. Click on bill numbers to find the bill digest, full text, and legislative history.)
Last fall the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee, representing the state’s 25 chapters, passed a resolution calling for phasing out non-native net pen farming in our state. This was after the escape of many thousands of Atlantic salmon off Cypress Island. It also built on long-term environmental concerns about this type of activity, which is already prohibited in Oregon and California. Audubon Washington subsequently participated very actively in a coalition of groups which worked hard and successfully for passage of House Bill 2957. Fortieth District Representative Kristine Lytton and Senator Kevin Ranker were key players. Ranker was also behind the passage of Senate Bill 6269 which significantly strengthens oil transportation safety. And Audubon was happy to see passage of House Bill 2285. This bill replaced one introduced earlier which attempted to stack the deck against marbled murrelet conservation on state trust lands in the name of ensuring revenue to the public institutions that are the beneficiaries of logging these lands. The bill that passed takes a more balanced approach, recognizing the importance of complying with the Endangered Species Act while also granting that there are economic implications for particular communities which should be mitigated through other financial means.
Climate Change: Audubon Washington had high hopes of legislative action on climate change this year after the inaction of recent years. Low carbon fuel standard legislation to reduce carbon emissions from transportation got through several committees before being done in by oil industry lobbyists. As last year, Governor Inslee introduced a bill to put a price on carbon emissions, and this time it made it to the Senate floor but was one or two votes short of passage. The small army of utility lobbyists then went after the 100% clean energy bill on which Audubon Washington and partner organizations were particularly focused. This bill would have set a 2045 deadline for ending fossil-fuel produced electricity in Washington. Time ran out for passage, but the bill progressed farther than it could have in the past, and good groundwork was laid for future sessions. Within days of the demise of the Governor’s carbon pricing bill, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy filed a voter initiative on carbon pricing which will be on next November’s ballot if the Alliance gathers enough signatures (https://jobscleanenergywa.com/)
Guemes Channel Trail: If you live in Anacortes, you may be aware of the concern about the City Parks Department’s as yet unannounced plan to extend the Guemes Channel Trail through the wetland buffer of the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve. This plan seems to have been created without adequate attention to environmental impacts and the characteristics of the preserve which people value so highly. Skagit Audubon has birding field trips there several times each year and maintains Purple Martin boxes just off shore. It is excellent habitat for a variety of species uncommon, if present at all, elsewhere in Anacortes. The buffer helps filter run-off from the adjacent housing development. The proposed trail, a 12-foot-wide, paved bike path, would interfere with the buffer’s ecological function. If you live in Anacortes, consider contacting the Mayor Laurie Gere and your council member to ask that they ensure a rigorous environmental review of any such plan with consideration of alternatives and ample opportunity for public comment.
Additional conservation issues: For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, see the Conservation Notes posted on the chapter website: http://skagitaudubon.org/ at the conservation tab.
In closing, I want to express Skagit Audubon’s gratitude to Jennifer Syrowitz for her excellent work as Audubon Washington’s very able Chapter Conservation Manager. After five years of hard and effective work in that position, Jen is moving on to become the Washington Wildlife Federation’s first executive director. All the chapters and state office staff will miss Jen, but we hope the future will bring many opportunities to collaborate on conservation work in her new position.