By Tim Manns
Protecting the Skagit River’s Headwaters: Skagit Audubon recently signed letters to Governor Inslee and British Columbia Premier Horgan from a coalition of U.S. and Canadian conservation and governmental groups urging permanent protection for the “Donut Hole”. This is an area surrounded by B.C.’s Manning and Skagit Valley Provincial Parks where Imperial Metals Corporation owns rights to an allegedly large copper deposit. The company’s request to begin mineral exploration has raised alarm among environmental groups in British Columbia and Washington State and among other entities with downstream interests, from the Swinomish, Upper Skagit, and Sauk-Suiattle Tribes to municipalities such as Mount Vernon and Anacortes which draw water from the river. There is a significant chance that toxic runoff from mining the Donut Hole would drain to the Skagit with dire effects on salmon, people, and any others dependent on the river. A coalition of groups in the U.S. and Canada is meeting biweekly to pursue permanent protection for the Donut Hole and, thereby, the Skagit River.
Washington State Legislature: The state legislative session will run from January 11th to April 25th. Audubon Washington staff and chapters statewide will pursue 3 priorities:
1. Protect conservation funding in the state operating and capital budgets
2.Pass a Clean Fuel Standard
3.Update the Growth Management Act to include climate change and environmental justice as planning elements
You may have heard Governor Inslee discussing the Clean Fuel Standard, which has gone before the legislature several times and may succeed in 2021. With transportation the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, this bill would be a significant step in addressing climate change, a crisis for both birds and people. Read about Audubon’s work in the legislature and get involved: https://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2020. Audubon is also part of the Environmental Priorities Coalition. Learn about the coalition’s priority issues at www.wecprotects.org.
Protecting Heronries – A Disappointing Reversal: In late November, Skagit County’s Board of Commissioners deliberated on the 2019 docket of proposed changes to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). This ordinance has long included attention to protecting great blue heronries, but vagueness makes the protection largely ineffective. The County Planning Commission, which lacks background in wildlife science and shows little sympathy for habitat protection, voted against staff recommended improvements to the ordinance that emphasized following Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife guidance. The Planning Commission even censured the one Commission member who voted differently and distributed a minority, pro-heronry protection opinion. Thank you to the many Skagit Audubon members and others who wrote the Board of County Commissioners urging them to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation and instead follow science and common sense and adopt what the planning staff advised. And thank you to Skagit Land Trust for initiating this project. Unfortunately, Commissioner Ron Wesen switched his vote between November and the final vote on December 21st, joining Commission Dahlstedt in rejecting the staff recommendation. Just before the vote, Commissioner Lisa Janicki said, “I would argue that ignoring the plight of the Great Blue Heron is not something I want to be remembered for.”
In early December, Skagit Land Trust did the annual nest count in the March Point heronry, believed the first or second largest in the western U.S. The total: 706 nests. The fragility of such mega-colonies was brought home in 2017 when the adult herons suddenly abandoned their over 300 nests during the breeding season. If the March Point heronry suffers a similar fate, we’ll remember December 21st, 2020, when Commissioners Dahlstedt and Wesen voted to do nothing.
For more about issues Skagit Audubon is tracking, go to “Conservation” on the Skagit Audubon website (www.skagitaudubon.org) and click on “Conservation Notes”.