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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Notes

Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes March 4, 2020

(The 2 numbered items immediately below were on the agenda for the Skagit Audubon board meeting March 3, 2020. The information has been updated as of March 4.)

  • Progress on the Four Environmental Priorities Coalition Lobby Day Issues

At this writing on March 4th, the 60-day Washington State legislative session has just over a week to go. Barring an extension, it will end March 12th. On the Environmental Priorities Coalition Lobby Day January 30th, Auduboners and other EPC members met with legislators to advocate for 4 shared legislative priorities.

Here's information on the current status of the 4 priorities.  Various conservation organizations have staff who track legislation and will send you periodic updates during the session. These include Audubon Washington (Adam Maxwell), RE Sources (Karlee Deatherage), Washington Conservation Voters (Clifford Traisman), and more. You can do your own tracking using the State Legislature’s handy website (www.http://leg.wa.gov/).

  • Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1110)

Transportation is the #1 source of climate pollution in Washington, accounting for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions. This bill would establish a clean fuels program to limit these emissions per unit of transportation fuel sold in the state (something California, Oregon, and British Columbia have already done) and encourage transition from fossil fuels to using electrical vehicles. The House of Representatives passed this bill, and it passed the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology on February 25th. The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation, where it had a public hearing on March 2nd. Concerns of some involved in timber harvest or agriculture were previously addressed to some degree a while ago by inclusion of special provisions exempting fuels used in most aspects of that work. Read information from Climate Solutions (an EPC member organization) about this opposition and the public support for a clean fuel standard: https://www.climatesolutions.org/news/news-releases/we-can-no-longer-kick-can-down-road-clean-fuels and this March 3rd article in the Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/gov-jay-inslees-low-carbon-fuel-standard-faces-tough-road-ahead-in-washington-state/. The Senate Committee on Transportation is where this bill died in last year’s legislative session. Go to https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1110&Year=2019&Initiative=false to learn more about the bill. Click on “Comment on this bill” to send a message to your Senator as to how you would like her or him to vote if Senator Hobbs, Chair of the Transportation Committee, allows the bill to come out of his committee and go to a floor vote.

  • Climate Pollution Limits: Updating Greenhouse Gas Targets (HB 2311)
    In 2008 the Washington State Legislature established a timeline for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our state. Newer science shows this timeline is inadequate to meet the challenge posed by the climate crisis. Under the proposed legislation, GHG emissions in Washington would reach net zero by 2050. The bill would also establish a goal to promote farming and forestry practices that tap into the potential for carbon sequestration on agricultural lands and the state’s millions of forested acres. This latter goal is a particularly important emphasis area for Audubon Washington, which is supporting the “Sustainable Farms and Fields” bill (Senate Bill 5947) to create a grant program encouraging farmers to adopt practices that reduce the use of fossil fuels and enhance the retention of carbon in agricultural soils.

House Bill 2311 passed the House on February 16th, the Senate committee on Environment, Energy & Technology on February 25th and the Senate Ways and Means Committee on March 2nd. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee before going to a floor vote. You can read about and comment on House Bill 2311 at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2311&Initiative=false&Year=2019 .

(SB6272 is the companion Senate bill.)

Read about and comment on Senate Bill 5947 (“Establishing the sustainable farms and fields grant program”) at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5947&Year=2019&Initiative=false . This bill has passed the Senate, passed the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources (Feb. 22nd), on March 2nd passed the House Capital Budget Committee, and passed on the House floor on March 4th.

  • Reduce Plastic Pollution: Banning the use of certain single-use plastic bags at retail establishments (SB 5323)
    The Reusable Bag Act would eliminate thin carry-home plastic bags at retail stores and help Washington address a growing recycling crisis. Local waterways, shorelines, and recycling systems are loaded with plastic pollution. Thin plastic bags that are used for just a few minutes and then thrown away pose a particular problem: only 6% ever get recycled. Single-use bags end up in waterways and the ocean where they are ingested by wildlife and fish. The bags clog recy­cling equipment and are very expensive to remove. In January this bill passed the Senate on a bi-partisan vote and with the support of the grocers’ association. It passed the House Committee on Environment and Energy on February 27th and the House Finance Committee on March 4th. For more information and to comment: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5323&Year=2019&Initiative=false .
  • Healthy Habitat Healthy Orcas: (HB 2550) (Title: “Establishing net ecological gain as a policy for application across identified land use, development, and environmental laws.”).

Unfortunately, this bill missed the February 10th legislative deadline to pass out of the House Committee on Appropriations and will receive no further consideration this session. The bill would have implemented a recommendation of the Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which developed a long-term plan for recovering the orcas that spend part of the year in Puget Sound. Under Washington’s Growth Management Act, Shoreline Protection Act, and State Environmental Protection Act, the standard for mitigating the impacts of development is been “no net loss” of ecological function. This standard has failed to reverse the loss of habitat for salmon and other rare, threatened, and endangered species. Salmon are essential to the diet of the Southern Resident Orcas, whose population is now believed to be down to 72. The proposed bill would have changed the standard for mitigation to “net ecological gain” to help reverse the loss of habitat important to salmon and, indirectly, to orca recovery. In an October 2019 comment letter to the Task Force the Skagit County Commissioners specifically objected to this change of standard, which would result in greater costs to developers and corporations as a trade-off for saving salmon and orcas. You can read their objection on page 2 of their letter posted on the Commissioner’s website: https://www.skagitcounty.net/CountyCommissioners/Documents/Skagit%20County%20-%20Southern%20Resident%20Orca%20Task%20Force.pdf . Read the bill and related reports at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2550&Initiative=false&Year=2019 .

 

  • Improving the protection of heronries in Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance

For more than a year, Skagit Land Trust staff and volunteers have been meeting with Planning Commission staff in Anacortes and Skagit County to craft an update to the city’s and the county’s respective Critical Areas Ordinances (CAO). The city’s ordinance and the county’s both list heronries, the communal nesting areas of Great Blue Herons, as special habitats to be protected. The very large March Point heronry with about 700 nests is partly in Anacortes, partly outside city limits in the county. The Planning staff and the Planning Commission in Anacortes have been supportive, and there’s optimism that the City Council will support the Land Trust proposal for protecting buffers around large heronries (over 20 nests). The Land Trust’s proposal follows the recommendations of the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife (WDFW) for Priority Species, of which the Great Blue Heron is one. In both the city and the county, the respective Planning Commissions are advisory: to the Council in Anacortes and to the Board of County Commissioners in the County.

On January 21st, about 10 people spoke before the Skagit County Planning Commission, all in favor of Skagit Land Trust’s proposed change to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance to establish seasonal buffers around large heronries. Skagit Audubon was represented among the speakers. As far as we know, there were also no written comments in opposition.  On February 25th the county’s Planning Commission met to deliberate on changes to the county’s CAO, including the heronry proposal. It should be noted that the CAO as currently written calls for protecting heronries by following WDFW’s guidelines. Skagit Land Trust’s proposal as well as the slightly different Planning Department staff proposal, simply clarify and elaborate on this existing requirement. Nonetheless, in their deliberations, rather than applying the best available science the Planning Commissioners substituted their own anecdotal observations and notions about herons and causes for the abandonment of heronries and voted against the proposed clarification of the CAO. The Planning Commissioners appeared to be unaware of what the present code means and declared their lack of support for measures protecting a species that is as common here as the Great Blue Heron. The Chair, whose background is in the timber industry, saw fit to share his apparent belief that the decline of the spotted owl, a species unrelated to the Land Trust proposal, was due to the arrival of barred owls rather than the prior huge reduction in their nesting habitat. Another commissioner spoke of her love for the “heron cranes.” The meeting was a revealing demonstration of how Skagit County’s Planning Commission operates, who it listens to, and how it appears to view its role. The members of the Commission, three from each district, are appointed by the three County Commissioners.

Sometime in the next month or so, the Board of County Commissioners will take up the Planning Commission’s recommendation and decide whether to accept it or to adopt the Planning staff recommendation or that of Skagit Land Trust. Either of the latter two options would improve the clarity and effectiveness of the present CAO wording and would represent the clearly expressed wishes of the public.

Letters, emails, or calls to the County Commissioners are needed to make clear the strong public support for better protecting heronries. The 2017 sudden abandonment of the Samish Island heronry’s over 300 nests during the breeding season prompted the Land Trust’s work on this issue and is a vivid example of what can happen when heronries are inadequately protected. You can find background information on the Land Trust’s website at http://www.skagitlandtrust.org/pages/takeaction.aspx or contact conservation@skagitaudubon.org. More information will be available in the near future. Please note that emails to the County Commissioners are best sent to their individual email addresses rather than to the general email address for the Board of Commissioners: Ken Dahlstedt:  KenD@co.skagit.wa.us; Ron Wesen: RonW@co.skagit.wa.us; Lisa Janicki: ljanicki@co.skagit.wa.us.

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Other issues needing action:

  • More bills in Olympia which could use your support
  • Additional priorities for Audubon Washington

There are 2 additional priorities for Audubon Washington beyond those mentioned in the first part of these notes (the EPC priorities). An emailed comment to your legislators or a phone call would be helpful.

  • Zero Emission Vehicles (SB 5811): Washingtonians don’t have as many options for zero emission vehicles as residents in states like California, Colorado or Vermont. This bill would enhance our state’s clean car standard, making more of these vehicles available. This bill has passed the Senate, the House Committee on Environment & Energy, and the House Committee on Appropriations (March 2nd), and is now in the Rules Committee. Read about it and comment at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5811&Year=2019&Initiative=false .
  • Funding for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Audubon Washington and many of the state’s 25 Audubon chapters support more adequate funding for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. In January, Skagit Audubon joined other conservation groups in a joint letter on this topic to legislators. With its present budget, WDFW will have to reduce its already bare bones operation. This department manages many acres of habitat important to birds (and birders) and other wildlife as well as being the lead for state research on and protection of rare, threatened, and endangered species. In this year’s short legislative session, only a supplemental budget will be passed (our state has a 2-year budget), but there is the possibility for an increase in WDFW funding if enough people reach out to their legislators. On the Legislature’s website (http://leg.wa.gov/) you can find emails and phone numbers for contacting your legislators. In late February both the House and Senate operating budget bills included ample increases for WDFW ($24M and $21M respectively). A key difference between the House proposal and the Senate’s is that the House increase in WDFW’s budget would be on-going, but the Senate’s would be only for the present 2-year budget period. A final figure and approach will be determined in conference committee.

  • Suction dredge mining reform legislation (SHB 1261)( “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state”).

Unlike our neighboring states, Washington does not regulate mining that uses motorized dredges to scoop up gravels from the beds of streams and rivers. This practice is extremely damaging to fish habitat. Under the present lack of regulations, even spawning grounds of endangered salmon are not protected. During the present and the previous legislative session, Skagit Audubon has joined many other conservation groups in signing a letter by Washington Wild in support of this legislation. The bill passed the House and the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology and, as of March 2nd, is in the Rules Committee. You can learn more and comment to your legislators at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1261&Year=2019&Initiative=false .

  • Clear Air Rule bill (HB 2892) (“Authorizing the Department of Ecology to regulate greenhouse gas emissions associated with persons who produce or distribute fossil fuel products that emit greenhouse gases in Washington”)

In 2016, using authority under the 1967 Clean Air Act, WA Department of Ecology (DOE) adopted the Clean Air Rule to address the major sources of greenhouse gases in Washington. The rule requires businesses responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to cap and reduce their carbon emissions on a certain schedule. In 2019 the State Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling found that DOE did not have the authority to apply this rule to importers and sellers of petroleum and natural gas, which account for about three-quarters of the emissions addressed under the rule. The Court indicated that legislation could give DOE the authority to apply the Clean Air Rule as originally intended. (Read more here: https://www.thestate.com/news/business/national-business/article239934068.html#storylink=cpy). House Bill 2892 would give DOE the authority to include these businesses in applying the Clean Air Rule, an important step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our state. The Clean Air Rule requires facilities to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 1.7% annually. These large emitters can also invest in projects that permanently reduce carbon pollution or buy credits from other companies or carbon markets. HB 2892 has passed the House Environment and Energy Committee and has moved on to the House Appropriations Committee.  For more information and to submit a comment: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2892&Year=2019&Initiative=false

The equivalent bill in the Senate is SB 6628 (“Concerning emissions of greenhouse gases”) This bill has passed  the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology and moved to the Rules Committee. https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=6628&Year=2019&Initiative=false, click on “Comment on this bill” to urge your state senator to vote to pass this important bill. Alternatively, in the left-had menu, click on “Senate” to find the email address and phone number for your Senator.

 

  • A Plan to Kill Double-crested Cormorants

(repeated from February’s Conservation Notes)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is accepting comments through March 7th on a plan to issue a nationwide permit for killing Double-crested Cormorants. This plan is based on the poorly-supported notion that cormorants are unacceptably detrimental to fish farm operations and also to wild fish populations. Read about it on the National Audubon website:

https://www.audubon.org/news/without-solid-science-government-plans-expand-cormorant-killing-efforts . Also on the site you can read updated information about the situation at East Sand Island in the Columbia River, which hosts (hosted) the world’s largest breeding colony of Double-crested Cormorants. See https://www.audubon.org/news/did-oregons-cormorants-finally-snap-under-pressure-cull . You may recall that some years ago Portland Audubon Society, with support from many Audubon chapters, went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block a plan by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to kill thousands of Double-crested Cormorants on East Sand Island in the name of protecting salmon and steelhead smolts. Recently, what was left of the colony was abandoned. The effect of cormorant foraging on these federally listed fish species is still not well understood. Restoring salmon requires serious action on protecting their habitat, better managing the timber industry’s harvest in salmon watersheds to avoid eroding sediment into streams and causing warming of water beyond what salmon can bear, seriously addressing the impacts of hydropower on salmonid survival, and making hard decisions about catch limits. It’s easier to just blame cormorants.

Please note that the National Audubon website describes a number of other issues and provides an opportunity to comment to legislators on each: https://www.audubon.org/ At the drop-down menu from the conservation tab, click on “Advocacy.” The website for Audubon Washington also has lots of information on important conservation issues: https://wa.audubon.org/ Click on “conservation” and, in the drop-down list, “advocacy.”

  • S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Legacy Roads and Trails Program

In mid-February Skagit Audubon joined over 50 other conservation and recreation groups in signing a letter to our state’s federal delegation written by Washington Wild. This letter urges support for funding the Legacy Roads and Trails Program. The National Forests have many more miles of roads than the agency can maintain. Most of these were constructed to access timber harvests or mines. Without funding to maintain culverts, etc., these roads can become detrimental to the environment; for example, causing erosion into streams and damaging salmon habitat. If funded again, as it has been in some past years, this program would help close and rehabilitate roads no longer needed as well as maintain those that still serve a purpose, including access to trailheads.

Our federal legislators need to hear from as many people as possible in support of this program in the next two weeks. You can do this at the following link (substituting your contact information for mine):

https://wawild.salsalabs.org/supportfundingforlegacyroadsandtrailsprogram/index.html

or you can use the text to write your own email to your representative and senators.

Update on Additional Issues

 

  • DNR’s Marbled Murrelet Management Plan and Sustainable Harvest Calculation

Late last year the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issues a 10-year projection of likely revenue to trust fund beneficiaries from timber harvest on trust lands managed by DNR. There is a relationship between this and DNR’s recently completed long-term management strategy for marbled murrelet nesting habitat on state trust lands in that the strategy takes some land out of the rotation for harvest. Skagit County was the first of a number of counties and school districts to sue DNR over the Sustainable Harvest Calculation, claiming that it is unjustifiably low and will harm the county and other trust fund beneficiaries such as certain school and hospital districts by an unexpected steep drop in revenue. Scroll down to January’s Conservation Notes for information on this issue.

Subsequently, a number of conservation groups in turn sued DNR. This blog text from Seattle Audubon’s website states their case succinctly:

“In early January 2020, Washington Environmental Council, Conservation Northwest, Olympic Forest Coalition, and other individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources, Board of Natural Resources, and Commissioner of Public Lands regarding the state’s management of public forestlands in Washington.

“The suit calls on the courts to:

  1. Affirm that the state constitution requires that these public lands be managed to maximize benefit for all the people of the state.
  2. Clarify that the State can manage forests to not only produce revenue from timber harvest, but also to promote the broader public interest.
  3. Underscores the need for trust beneficiaries who receive revenue from logging of state forestlands, including rural counties and school districts, to have a more reliable source of funding instead of being tied to unstable revenue flows and often unsustainable logging practices on public forests that frequently comes at the expense of other public benefits.

“This complaint has been filed in response to lawsuits by the timber industry and some counties calling for more logging of state forestlands, which came after the Board of Natural Resources’ decisions on the decadal harvest level and Marbled Murrelet long-term conservation strategy in early December 2019.

“A press release with more information can be found on the Washington Environmental Council website: https://wecprotects.org/conservationists-respond-to-lawsuits-by-timber-industry-with-suit-calling-for-management-of-washingtons-state-forests-to-benefit-all-the-people/ .

“While Seattle Audubon is not party to this legal action, we remain active with the Marbled Murrelet Coalition and will assist with communications, activating the Audubon network, and moreWe'll keep you updated as details emerge.”

You can read Skagit County’s complaint, filed in Skagit County Superior Court, at https://www.skagitcounty.net/CountyCommissioners/Documents/DNR%20COMPLAINT%20123019.pdf .

  • Fish Farming by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific

In November 2019 Skagit Audubon sent a letter commenting on Cooke Aquaculture’s application for a 5-year license from WA Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to raise

 sterile all-female triploid Rainbow Trout/Steelhead at existing marine net pen sites in Puget Sound. Skagit Audubon opposed the granting of the license for a variety of reasons and joined many other organizations and individuals in so doing. Despite this opposition, in January WDFW approved the permit. In 2017 the collapse of one of Cooke Aquaculture’s net-pens off Cypress Island allowed the escape of thousands of Atlantic Salmon. WA Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cancelled the company’s aquatic lands leases for its net-pens at that location and at Port Angeles but not the one off the Swinomish Reservation near Hope Island. At that facility Cooke Aquaculture still has the required aquatic lands lease from DNR, and it is where the company will now raise steelhead under its new WDFW license. Cooke Aquaculture still needs to complete an amendment of its water quality permit with the WA Department of Ecology, which will involve a public comment period. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community was among those opposing granting of the WDFW license. In February four conservation groups, including the Wild Fish Conservancy, filed suit against WDFW’s decision. They contend that WDFW did not evaluate the scientific evidence that these fish farms would harm species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act including steelhead, certain salmon, and Southern Resident killer whales, that the farms would degrade water quality, and that they would harm the overall health of Puget Sound. For more information: http://wildfishconservancy.org/salmon-advocates-challenge-approval-of-washington-net-pen-aquaculture .

  • Department of Natural Resource’s Climate Resilience Plan

The Department of Natural Resource has issued a plan for climate reliance. The plan overview states: “The Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ Plan for Climate Resilience details the threats climate change poses for the agency and the state and provides recommendations for mitigating them.” Read an introduction and find links to the summary and the complete plan at https://www.dnr.wa.gov/climate-change. Among other things the plan discusses how to ensure Washington’s public lands are managed with climate change in mind. Some aspects of the plan are relevant to the suits over DNR’s Sustainable Harvest Calculation mentioned above. Can managing forested state trust lands for carbon sequestration produce revenue for the trust fund beneficiaries and how would that best be done?

For information on more conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/).

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Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center(Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.

The board of directors meets at the same location at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, except for the months of July and August.