By Tim Manns
At this writing near mid-November, certain election results remain up in the air, but we can reasonably see some things on the horizon for environmental issues. In their transition planning, the incoming Biden administration has a strong focus on getting the federal government on track addressing climate change in a comprehensive way. National Audubon has called for concerted action since at least 2014 when its research showed that more than half of North American bird species could lose half their current ranges by 2080 due to warming temperatures. In Washington State, with Governor Inslee at the helm and his party the majority in both houses, we’ll see continued emphasis on climate legislation even with pandemic-related budget challenges.
In our state, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Audubon’s priorities for environmental legislation will again focus on passing a Clean Fuel Standard as in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This would support electrification of transportation and require lowering greenhouse gas emissions per unit of transportation fuel. With other conservation groups, Audubon will advocate updating the Growth Management Act. When passed in 1990, the act didn’t mention climate change. Including planning for climate resilience in the comprehensive plans of municipalities and counties is one proposed change. During the 1900’s, Puget Sound lost almost 80% of its tidal wetlands to agricultural conversion to the detriment of salmon, shorebirds, and more. Protection and restoration of these wetlands is a focus of Audubon’s new Puget Sound Conservation Strategy and supports multi-benefit natural solutions to climate resilience.
Here in Skagit County, in late 2020 and in 2021, we’ll continue to add our voice in support of wildlife habitat. Many government and non-governmental groups are engaged in restoring salmon habitat along Skagit’s rivers, streams, and in estuaries. Audubon weighs in on these projects because of their relevance to our mission. The planned restoration of estuarine wetlands on the “Farmed Island” portion of Skagit Wildlife Area is a current example. We’ll continue to speak too for the protection of the wetlands at Anacortes’ Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve with its very high avian diversity.
There are many other continuing issues which Skagit Audubon will track in 2021, expressing our chapter’s support for protecting habitat for birds and other wildlife. We’ll watch for the next development in the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) plan to manage Marbled Murrelet habitat on state trust lands. Conservation groups have brought suit against DNR, arguing for updating the age-old interpretation of its mandate to produce benefits for the trust beneficiaries (i.e. various public institutions) in managing these public lands. We’ll see what DNR does in reaction to recent concerted criticism of the very inadequate environmental review of the latest proposal for the Cascade Big Bear Mine near Marblemount and the proposals to mine gravel on Fidalgo Island and near the Samish River. We’ll see whether the Navy modifies plans for training Growler crews flying from Whidbey Naval Air Station over Olympic National Park’s Marbled Murrelet and Spotted Owl habitat, and whether the State Parks & Recreation Commission allows Navy special operations training in 29 state parks. At some point the Skagit County Commissioners will decide whether to improve protection for large heronries against concerted opposition from most Planning Commission members - - and if our optimism for a better outcome in the City of Anacortes is warranted. We’ll see if our three County Commissioners, one newly elected, continue to stretch their portfolio to include a role in wildlife management in regards to elk in the Skagit Valley, the potential re-start of grizzly bear restoration planning under a new federal administration, and whatever other such matters arise.
A new year will bring new issues and the continuation of many old ones. What will remain unchanged is Audubon members’ connection to this place, its birds and other wild inhabitants, and our readiness to spend time and talent in defense of the place and its wildlife. We’ll do this recognizing that people have valued this place for thousands of years, the traditional home of the Salish People, our neighbors and friends. We’ll work on environmental issues and pursue all Skagit Audubon’s activities realizing that opportunities have not been equal for all and that environmental impacts have often fallen disproportionately on people of color and members of other less represented groups.
In addressing environmental issues, Skagit Audubon benefits from the wide range of experience and expertise in its membership. If there are Audubon issues with which you’d like to get involved, contact Tim Manns at email@example.com. For more about issues, go to “Conservation” on the Skagit Audubon website: www.skagitaudubon.org.