By Tim Manns
Here’s an update on some issues important to Audubon. In early April, the coalition of environmental groups which appealed the Skagit County Hearing Examiner’s approval of the Shoreline Conditional Use Permit for Andeavor’s (Tesoro) Clean Products Upgrade Project filed a further appeal. The Skagit County Commissioners had upheld the Hearing Examiner’s decision, and the new appeal is to the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board. The coalition contends that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project inadequately addresses potential impacts on the federally-listed Southern Resident Killer Whales, among other inadequacies, and that a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit should be required. This type of permit receives greater scrutiny and involves the Department of Ecology as opposed to leaving the issuance decision up to Skagit County alone. Skagit Audubon submitted comments on various phases of the Andeavor project calling for this more rigorous permit and requesting that the inadequacies of the EIS in addressing potential impacts to birds and other aspects of the marine environment be fixed. The Shorelines Hearing Board will issue a decision on this March Point project within 120 days.
Federal Omnibus Budget Bill Update: National Audubon reports that the federal omnibus budget bill passed in late March fortunately ignored the many deep cuts to bird-related and other conservation programs requested by the Administration. See http://www.audubon.org/news/birds-come-out-top-during-omnibus-spending-negotiations. One example is that rather than zeroing out the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there is a slight increase. This half-century old program has facilitated the purchase of local, state, and federal public lands all across America. Public lands provide much of the most important habitat for birds and other wildlife. We need to be mindful of the fact that while this increase is very welcome, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act is due to expire this fall. Our representatives need to hear from us about the importance of making this fund permanent (go to http://www.audubon.org/news/victories-birds-budget-bill?ms=policy-adv-email-ea-x-20180405_advisory and scroll down).
Another positive aspect of the omnibus bill is that it does not include a weakening of the Roadless Rule in Alaska for which some particularly powerful figures were pushing very hard. This federal rule has long protected large areas of national forests from needless and expensive-to-maintain roads that degrade wildlife habitat. We can thank Senator Maria Cantwell for this outcome. Unfortunately, the State of Alaska is now appealing to the Administration to get around this habitat protection in another way, particularly to open the last remaining large old-growth forest in the U.S. to timber cutting: the Tongass National Forest. Putting aside the Roadless Rule in Alaska would set a dangerous precedent for everywhere it applies in our country. Skagit Audubon has added its name to letters to the Administration opposing such a backward step.
Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Another of Audubon’s priorities, upholding the applicability of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to incidental, avoidable deaths from industrial hazards still needs our attention. Ten Senators recently wrote Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging that the long-held interpretation of this century-old act continue in force (https://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/final_mbta_letter_to_secretary_zinke.pdf). As just one example, electrocutions and collisions with powerlines kill an estimated 64 million birds per year. Without the present understanding of the act, power companies such as Puget Sound Energy would not be required to provide pole-top raptor roosts that prevent hawks, falcons, and eagles from electrocution, nor would they have to improve the visibility of overhead lines to help swans avoid them.
Climate Change and National Parks: National Audubon’s recently released study of the potential effects of climate change on birds in national parks further illustrates the importance of public lands to wildlife species. Using data from scientific surveys in the parks plus eBird and other data sets, Audubon used climate models to project how conditions may shift in national parks and what that could mean for birds dependent on these public lands. The study concluded that “… on average, one-quarter of the bird species found in a given national park could be different by 2050.” For our nearest national park, North Cascades, the possible changes are fewer than at Mt. Rainier or Olympic but still notable. Conditions that now support most of the park’s flycatchers are likely to decline, while those important to swallows may improve. Chipping Sparrows, now breeding in the park, are likely to disappear, while the park may provide a new home for species not present now but unable to survive on their traditional home ranges. Read more at http://www.audubon.org/news/audubon-and-national-park-service-predict-major-changes-birds-warming-world. The report builds on a nationwide study Audubon released in 2014.
More info: see the Conservation Notes posted on the chapter website: http://skagitaudubon.org/ at the conservation tab.