On March 12 the President signed the Natural Resources Management Act (re-named the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act), which earlier passed the Senate and House by veto-proof majorities of 92-8 and 363-62. Of key importance in this amalgam of 100 bills is permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). See last month’s Skagit Flyer for more information. The bill does not include any requirement that money (from offshore oil and gas leases; not general taxes) be put into the fund each year. The day before the bill signing, the President’s budget was released with zero funding for the LWCF. Since 1965, this program has conserved millions of acres of wild lands and funded park facilities in every part of the U.S.
At this writing in mid-March, the Washington Legislature is half way through its session scheduled to finish April 28th. With the deadline passed for bills to be voted out of their House of origin or die, most of the Audubon and Environmental Priorities Coalition target bills are still alive. A measure that would have Washington join California and Hawaii in setting deadlines for ending use of coal-generated electricity, and then moving entirely away from fossil-fuel electricity generation by 2045, has passed both Houses. Other active bills include multiple measures supporting the Southern Resident Killer Whales by accelerating recovery of their principal food, chinook salmon, reducing the chance of oil spills and the problem of toxic waste in Puget Sound, and lessening noise and other disturbance from ships and boats. A partial ban on single-use plastic bags is still moving forward. Last month’s Flyer describes how to track and comment on bills. Audubon Washington’s weekly updates by Adam Maxwell are especially useful.
On March 13 at the Burlington Public Library, Dr. Bill Gaines presented “Ghost Bears – Searching for Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades,” arranged by the National Parks Conservation Association. The association, Skagit Audubon, many other organizations, businesses, and individuals are members of the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly, supporting restoration of this keystone species to the North Cascades in accordance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The North Cascades was designated a recovery zone for the federal and state-listed grizzly in 1997, but progress has been extremely slow. See the Friends website for an update: https://www.northcascadesgrizzly.org/update-north-cascades-grizzly-feb-2019/. Dr. Gaines described the biology and life history of the grizzly with comparisons to the black bear. Gaines and his Washington Conservation Science Institute over the last ten years have put out about 650 scented “hair snares” across the 6 million acres of the North Cascades Ecosystem. The snares use barbed wire to snag small amounts of hair for DNA analysis to determine species, individual identity, and more. This effort yielded hair from 641 black bears but none from grizzlies. Cameras captured images at many of the sites. Despite the scale of this effort, Gaines said it still can’t be concluded there are no longer grizzlies in the U.S. North Cascades. The 650 snares sampled only 26% of the vast and rugged area of mostly U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service land, and every year there are photographs that can’t be definitely identified as black rather than grizzly bear. It is possible there will be yet another public comment opportunity on the Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. This would be another opportunity to show that we mean it when we say Audubon’s mission is, “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.” Stay tuned.
By Tim Mann