By Tim Mann
Happily, there’s something positive to report this month: the February 12th passage of the Natural Resources Management Act in the U.S. Senate. At 662 pages, S. 47, co-introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell, combines over 100 smaller bills. It’s old-fashioned, across-the-aisle law making with something for many parts of the country and much for conservation-minded Audubon people to like (along with a few unwelcome things). The bill passed the Senate 92 to 8 and should do well in the House.
A top issue for National Audubon has been reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Over the past half-century the LWCF has used dollars from off-shore oil and gas leasing to buy federal, state, and local conservation lands. S. 47 permanently authorizes this important program. The bill doesn’t require a specific level of annual expenditure, but it’s a very good step in the right direction, and we have Senator Cantwell to thank.
Of local interest, S. 47 permanently withdraws from mining over 340,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest around the Methow River headwaters near North Cascades National Park and the Pasayten Wilderness. In 2013 a Canadian mining company announced its intention to drill exploratory holes there for copper. Bi-partisan opposition arose, organized, and thwarted this multi-faceted threat to the environment. Passage of S. 47 reflects the tremendous, bi-partisan support for public ownership and protection of public lands, far exceeding such opposition as seen dramatically in the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a few years ago and occasionally and more subtly glimpsed in our local elected officials.
In Olympia, Washington, the State Legislature is in the midst of its fast-paced 105-day session, slated to finish in early April. The legislature’s composition now offers real opportunity for passage of significant environmental laws. Audubon Washington provides regular legislative updates on pertinent bills at http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2019 with suggestions on how you can weigh in. Our legislators want to hear from us. A very strong focus of Audubon and many other conservation groups is House Bill 1211/Senate Bill 5116 to have Washington join California and Hawaii in setting a date (2045) by when the electricity we use will be entirely from renewable sources. The Environmental Priorities Coalition, including Audubon, also posts weekly legislative updates at https://wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition/. Scroll down to “Bills to Watch.” Delve more deeply into the progress of bills on the State Legislature’s site: http://leg.wa.gov/. You can read about individual bills, see who sits on what committees, etc. Scroll down to “Let Your Voice Be Heard” and comment on introduced legislation.
Finally, there’s an easy way you can help protect the few Great Blue Heron nesting colonies in Skagit County. Attend the Skagit County Commissioners’ hearing March 11 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. about proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan. Skagit Land Trust, which protects several heronries, has submitted an amendment, and your presence is needed to show public support. There’s a lot going on nationally, regionally, locally, and we can be part of it!