Conservation Notes - April 2021
- Last Updated: April 14, 2021
Skagit Audubon Board Meeting – April 6
During the April 6th Skagit Audubon board meeting there was a brief update on the status of some of Audubon’s priorities in the current state legislative session. The session is scheduled to finish April 25th, and the race is on to the finish. Today, April 11th, is the cutoff date by when bills must pass in the chamber opposite to the one in which they were introduced. With certain exceptions, bills failing to make this cutoff are dead for this year. Many Audubon and Environmental Priorities Coalition target bills are still, to varying degrees, in play, though passage is going to be close. Here are a few details current as of April 10th:
- The HEAL Act – SB 5141 (Healthy Environment For All), to implement the recommendations of the environmental justice task force, passed the Senate in March and passed the House April 10th. This bill defines environmental justice in state law and requires measures to be taken by key state agencies. It is one of Audubon’s and of the Environmental Priorities Coalition’s top goals.
- HB 1091, the Clean Fuels Standard, which would reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and support phasing out fossil fuels in the transportation sector (e.g. by electrification and switching to bio-fuels) passed the House in February and the Senate on April 8th. Differences between the House and Senate versions must be worked out in conference committee. After failing several previous sessions, this is the closest the Clean Fuels Standard has come to being enacted. Transportation accounts for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. Adopting a Clean Fuels Standard such as California, Oregon, and British Columbia have long had would help significantly reduce Washington’s emissions related to climate change.
- HB 1099 (climate change in comprehensive plans) requiring that climate change (i.e. emissions reductions and climate resilience) be addressed in updating city and county Comprehensive Plans under the Growth Management Act (GMA), passed the House but died in the Senate Committee on Transportation on April 2nd. An attempt is underway to incorporate its essence into another GMA bill (HB 1241) that is still alive as of April 10th. If that does not clear the Senate on April 11th, the measure is dead for this year. Counties such as ours that have been slow to acknowledge the necessity of planning for climate change need the push to do so.
- This being an alternate year longer session, the state’s 2-year budget is being written (actually 3 budgets: operating, capital, and transportation). All 3 have implications for Audubon’s mission and goals. It’s an immense relief that the gloomy forecasts of drastically lower state revenues because of the economic effects of the pandemic have not proven accurate. One of Audubon Washington’s priorities is to maintain adequate funding for the state agencies that protect species and their habitat, such as Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), and for grant programs in the capital budget to protect and restore habitat, add to state parks and other protected lands, etc. Word is that the proposed operating budget looks good for WDFW.
The House proposed capital budget has funding for the Nyberg 80-acre addition to Deception Pass State Park above the cut-line. Skagit Audubon supported this in a letter some months ago. On the Senate’s funding list, the position for this project is not as good but still above the cut line. Also in good position is funding for the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, which is vital for Skagit Land Trust’s purchase and clean-up of the approximately 50 acres on Samish Flats at the entrance to Samish Island. There are a number of other land acquisition and habitat restoration projects in Skagit and Snohomish Counties ranked high on the House capital budget.
- One of the other bills Audubon supports, HB 1117 (Promoting salmon recovery through revisions to the state's comprehensive planning framework) passed the House and needs to pass the Senate today, April 11th, to remain alive. Among its provisions, this bill would include salmon recovery in the areas to be addressed in county and city Comprehensive Plans and change the standard for mitigating impact of publicly funded projects from “no net ecological loss” to “net ecological gain.” Salmon recovery is flagging under the “no net loss” standard; hence the need to do more to support recovery of declining salmonid species. When this change was proposed in the 2020 legislative session, the Skagit County Commissioners wrote a letter in opposition.
- As Audubon Washington’s Adam Maxwell has written, “The Climate Commitment Act (SB 5126) is a key priority for Governor Inslee and a number of environmental leaders in the legislature. It is enmeshed in negotiations over a transportation spending package and other climate legislation, which means the fate of this bill may not be decided until the final days of session.” SB 5216 is a cap & trade bill to limit greenhouse gases from major emitters.
- Read about Audubon’s work in the legislature and get involved: https://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2020. Scroll to the bottom of the web page to find more details on Audubon priorities. For detailed information on any bill, search “Washington Legislature,” click on “Bill Information” at the upper left, and then enter the 4 digit bill number in the space provided.
- For conservation initiatives with which Audubon Washington is involved at the state and local levels, including related legislation, go to the Conservation tab on the Audubon Washington website.
The other conservation topic on the April 6th Skagit Audubon board agenda was the update of the Anacortes Critical Areas Ordinance. The City of Anacortes currently has out for review the third draft of its amended Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). (Note that Critical Areas Ordinances are part of a county or municipality’s Comprehensive Plan but are also folded into the Shoreline Master Program required by the Shoreline Management Act.) Because the CAO covers such issues as buffers required around wetlands and protection of special habitats and species, the specifics of the ordinance are relevant to Audubon’s mission. Skagit Audubon is taking a close look at the draft particularly to see how effectively it protects the very large March Point heronry within the city’s boundaries and the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve with its highly bio-diverse wetland and its own small but growing heronry. In the draft, both the March Point heronry and Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve are on the short list of locations identified as “Habitats of Local Importance.” On March 17, 2021, Draft 3 was released and the public comment period began. That period will end April 23rd. On April 19, 2021 City Council will discuss the draft and hold a public hearing. You can read the draft and see how to comment at https://www.anacorteswa.gov/201/Critical-Areas-Regulations-Update.
- Agritourism survey
Skagit County Planning & Development Services is conducting a survey and study of agritourism in the county. There is information and a survey to fill out at
https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/planningandpermit/AgtourismMain.htm. The relevance of Audubon lies in the importance of agricultural areas of the county to Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and other species and the impact as well as the opportunities with the associated tourism have for farmers and farming. If you have idea about how the needs of birds for habitat, the interests of birders, and the requirements of farming can be meshed in a mutually supportive way, please contribute your ideas.
- Bird-Safe Buildings Act (H.R. 1986/ S. 791)
Skagit Audubon has added its support to Seattle Audubon’s efforts to promote this re-introduced bi-partisan federal bill and encourage more Representatives and Senators to sign on as sponsors. Read about the bill at https://seattleaudubon.org/2021/04/06/support-the-bird-safe-buildings-act/. This bill is a step towards addressing the serious problem of bird-window collisions by requiring federal public buildings to employ bird-safe building design. Representative Suzan Delbene (WA-01) is a co-sponsor of the bill, but Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02) has not yet signed on. To urge him to become a co-sponsor, go to this address and enter your name and information: https://secure.everyaction.com/KKrCJg75XEiCM4jsj_-wLQ2
- “Fully Contained Communities” proposed for Skagit County
The Skagit County Commissioners have repeatedly rejected proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan which would allow misnamed “Fully Contained Communities” (FCC) to be built in the unincorporated areas of the county. Among the threats that this idea poses are significant loss of farmland and wildlife habitat. The present proposed docket of Comprehensive Plan amendments yet again includes a submitted item to create an avenue for permitting FCC’s: “Amend the Comprehensive Plan, Development Regulations, and Countywide Planning Policies to establish a process for consideration and approval of a new fully contained community, consistent with RCW 36.70A.350. Skagit Partners, LLC (Sygitowicz).” (see https:// www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/2021CPA.htm, item LR20-04). There is evidence that this time the Board of County Commissioners will pass the proposal, but first there will be a public hearing on which proposed amendments should be “docketed.” The Planning and Development Services staff will then study those which the County Commissioners accept for further consideration, the Planning Commission’s appointed members (2 of whom are developers and several of whom consistently show disdain for the public, for conservation, and for the very notion of planning regulations) will deliberate and give their advice to the County Commissioners, who will then make a final decision on which amendments to adopt. The Board of County Commissioners has not yet announced the date of the public hearing at which they will take public comment on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments. Stay tuned for more information about what permitting FCC’s could mean for Skagit County.
Updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following
- Navy SEAL training in state parks
On January 28, 2021, by a vote of 4-3 the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission approved the Navy’s request to conduct special operations (SEAL) training in “16 or 17” state parks. The particular parks from the Navy’s originally requested list of 28 were not specified. According to the state parks website, “State Parks does NOT have a list of which state parks will be permitted. Staff will begin the permitting process soon, and the process will be done incrementally on a park-by-park basis.” (For details: https://parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-training-proposal) The Commission-approved Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (i.e. the judgement that the Navy’s proposed activities will not have significant adverse effects given certain mitigations) as modified addressed some but not all the concerns which Skagit Audubon and other commenters expressed. One example is the unavoidable disturbance of Marbled Murrelets on the waters off Deception Pass State Park during night-time or day-time special operations training. The population of the Marbled Murrelet, listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, is in rapid decline in Washington.
The Not In Our Parks Coalition has formed to oppose and appeal the Commission’s decision and may pursue legislation to ban military exercises in state parks. See the Coalition’s website for more information: https://notinourparks.org.
- Skagit County Shoreline Master Program update
Skagit County Planning & Development Services (PDS) continues work on a periodic update of the county’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) required under the state’s Shoreline Management Act. The county is at the same time drafting the comprehensive update due years ago but never completed. The Shoreline Master Program is the collection of regulations pertaining to shoreline protection and development. The on-line open house is the best source for information and also the place to register for the monthly public update meetings: https://skagitcountysmp.squarespace.com. To find more detailed information about the current and also past Skagit County Shoreline Master Program planning efforts, go to https://skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/SMPmain.htm.
The public review period (probably 45 days) for the draft Shoreline Master Program (SMP) has not yet begun. The SMP is relevant to Skagit Audubon’s mission in that it affects habitat protection. In reviewing the draft, Audubon will consider, for example, whether the shoreline spawning areas of forage fish, principal food for many seabirds, are adequately protected. Also, the draft plan as currently available on the county website pays little attention to the coming impacts of sea level rise. The county’s deadline for completion of the Master Program update and adoption by the County Commissioners is June 2021, a timeline the planning staff indicate is optimistic. The program then goes to the WA Department of Ecology for review and approval. Note that certain cities, such as Anacortes, are also required to have and update their own Shoreline Master Program. The county’s SMP applies only to the unincorporated parts of Skagit County.
- Restoring the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act
On March 8th, the delayed Trump administration rule changing implementation of this 1918 act went into effect, watering down the application of the protection the act has provided most North American bird species for over a century. This change was in defiance of a federal court ruling. The Biden administration is starting rule-making to rescind the previous administration’s rule. Also, the lawsuit filed by National Audubon and other organizations against the Trump administration rule is continuing and could bring a quicker roll-back.
- The Osprey nest on the MJB waterfront property in Anacortes
Skagit Audubon has been contacted by residents of Anacortes concerned about how forthcoming development will affect the Ospreys nesting atop one of the towers on the MJB waterfront property in Anacortes. An April 7th article on goSkagit.com/Anacortes (https://www.goskagit.com/anacortes/news/mjb-will-remove-100-foot-towers-after-ospreys-leave-nest/article_32b534ce-980d-11eb-9717-f75447dd92b1.html) indicates that the city is requiring MJB to wait until October to take down the tower and refers to involvement by “state wildlife officials” in providing a permit. Given that there will be work going on at the site beginning in June and the absence in the article of any mention of mitigation (e.g. constructing one or more osprey nest platforms), Audubon will look into the details of MJB’s permit and suggest any advisable improvements.
Other Skagit Audubon conservation issues and activities
For additional information about some of the above issues and others, on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/) go to the Conservation tab, then to Conservation Notes and scroll down to earlier editions.
Issues needing action:
A simple way for Audubon members to advocate for the protection of birds and other wildlife and their habitat is to respond to action alerts from Washington Audubon and National Audubon. Sign up for Audubon Washington’s Action Network at https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/JGKjknsVTUKMSr4BoP2Nvw2. Recognizing that climate change poses the greatest of all threats to birds, Audubon Washington is especially focused on advancing policies and laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Find and participate in National Audubon’s current issue campaigns at https://www.audubon.org/takeaction. Sign up there to receive national alerts. The National Audubon website (https://www.audubon.org) has abundant information on its many current conservation campaigns.