By Tim Manns
Puget Sound Seabird Survey: One of the great joys of living here is seeing and hearing the annual Fall return of seabirds, waterfowl, and raptors to winter on and around the Salish Sea. Since the 1970’s various surveys have been done to establish a baseline estimate of seabird populations here and to detect trends. Volunteers have long been key to gathering this information, and now those of us living in or near Skagit County have an opportunity to get involved. Look elsewhere in this newsletter for how you can participate in the Puget Sound Seabird Survey (www.seabirdsurvey.org), which is expanding north to the border. Act now and sign up for training scheduled for later in September. At ten sites along the shores of Skagit County volunteers will count seabirds in fall and winter beginning October 6th. There’s a role for everyone, no matter their level of birding expertise.
Protecting the Marbled Murrelet: The Puget Sound Seabird Survey, underway south of Skagit County for some years, has documented increases in certain seabird populations and decreases in others. One species in precipitous decline is the Marbled Murrelet, the only seabird in Washington listed as threatened on the federal list of endangered species. The murrelet connects the marine waters of the Salish Sea with the remaining ancient forests from the coast up to 50 miles inland. It lays its one egg in thick moss on a high branch of an old growth tree. Loss of nesting habitat is the single most important factor in the murrelet’s continued decline. Water quality and diminished populations of the small fish which murrelets eat are among its other problems.
Our state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages much of the best remaining nesting habitat for the Marbled Murrelet. DNR faces the challenge of protecting the murrelet while also meeting its obligation to produce public revenue by selling timber. For years DNR has been working on a required long-term management plan to properly balance these requirements. Last year, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz established a well-balanced committee of stakeholders to come up with positive solutions (https://www.dnr.wa.gov/SolutionsTable). Audubon is part of a coalition of conservation groups focused on ensuring that the outcome of DNR’s planning is a science-based solution that will stem the bird’s decline and also address the impact on timber-dependent communities. Skagit Audubon has participated in every public comment opportunity during the development of the long-term management plan and will do so again this fall. DNR received many comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the plan. The agency will release a revised draft for public comment on September 4th. While you’re thinking about possible comments, remind yourself what this is all about by visiting Green Point in Washington Park and watching the Marbled Murrelets often feeding offshore. Imagine their flight inland to a huge branch high in an ancient Douglas-fir to feed their lone waiting chick.
The Guemes Channel Trail and Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve: In an ever more developed Anacortes, Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) is a refuge for birds and other wildlife and for people too. The city’s plans to extend the Guemes Channel Trail, a wide, paved bicycle and walking path, right through the length of the preserve’s wetland buffer has the potential to significantly degrade the quality of this habitat. Careful planning sometimes finds a way to preserve the ecological functions which wetland buffers are meant to provide and still allow some development, but this should not be assumed. The notion that we can have it all - - in this instance, a richly diverse biological preserve and a non-motorized transportation corridor - - is too often wishful thinking. Rather than plunging ahead without adequate study, review, and planning, the city should proceed with care and professionalism and not assume the trail must go through the buffer come what may. Skagit Audubon is allied with other groups in calling for a more considered approach to the Guemes Channel Trail project at SHIP and along its entire route. Rather than being granted a Categorical Exclusion from environmental review, this project should go through an Environmental Assessment, including consideration of alternate routes for the path. If you live in Anacortes, please ask your city councilmember and mayor to support this careful approach.
For more issues, go to the conservation section of the Skagit Audubon website.