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Conservation Notes

Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes - December 2018

Board Meeting Items - -

The 5 numbered items below are those listed on the Skagit Audubon board meeting agenda for the December 4th meeting.

  1. Marbled Murrelet management plan comments

Five o’clock p.m. on December 6th is the deadline for comments on the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Long-term Management Plan for Marbled Murrelet Habitat on State Trust Lands. A coalition of conservation groups, including the Audubon Society (represented by Seattle Audubon), has been following the process closely and keeping the chapters informed to help us comment. The coalition has prepared talking points and a suggested comment letter (https://wecprotects.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Marbled-Murrelet-Coalition_Sample-Comment-Letter-Talking-Points.pdf). You can read background on this issue in previous Conservation Reports on this website. A good source of information, including an easy way to comment via the web, is on the website of the Washington Environmental Coalition (WEC): https://wecprotects.org/marbled-murrelet/. To review the RDEIS and additional information, including on how to submit comments on this proposal, visit DNR’s website at: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/long-term-conservation-strategy-marbled-murrelet. DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (responsible for protecting federally-listed species) have prepared a story map that provides a good overview and excellent photos of murrelets and their nest sites: http://wadnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=f9b0c468cad84168a292708ebc7012b9.

  1. Audubon Lobby Day

Please mark your calendars: on January 29th, Audubon Washington will have a lobby day in Olympia. Members of chapters from around the state will visit their legislators and urge them to support Audubon’s priorities. This is always a worthwhile and educational event. Watch for the registration details on the Audubon Washington website and plan to participate! We can make a difference.

These Audubon Washington legislative priorities will be the focus of Lobby Day on January 29th:

  • 100% clean energy standard. This bill would commit Washington State to generating all its electricity from renewable sources by 2045 and using no electricity generated by burning coal after 2025. This bill almost passed in the 2018 session and probably would have passed had time not run out during the 60-day session.
  • Rangeland Fire Protection Associations. Audubon is concerned about the effects of wildland fire in the sagebrush expanses of central and eastern Washington. The sagebrush ecosystem hosts a unique array of birds. Non-native cheatgrass changes the fire regime in this system, leading to elimination of the native plants on which birds such as sage grouse depend. The formation of Fire Protection Associations would allow private land owners to play a role in fire management, improving response to fires and providing protection for areas now unprotected.
  • Support for putting Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW)’s budget on a sounder basis. Historically, WDFW has depended on hunting and fishing license revenues as its main source of funding. License sales are declining, and the department has severely reduced staff in response. For WDFW to meets its mission of conserving all Washington species and their habitats, a mission paralleling Audubon’s, the agency needs adequate funding and staff. Audubon supports a substantial increase in WDFW’s budget for the next biennium (WA has a two-year budget cycle) and the identification of a permanent long-term funding source to replace funds lost as license sales decline. The 2018 Legislature directed WDFW to study possibilities for long-term funding, and now it’s time to act. At the October 12th meeting of the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee, comprised of the chapters’ conservation chairs, Tahoma Audubon presented a resolution to the same effect as the above. The resolution was approved. Tahoma Audubon has laid out a strategy and talking points for contacting legislators to support fixing the problem with WDFW’s budget. If you would like to have these, write conservation@skagitaudubon.org .

 

Environmental Priorities Coalition – 2019 Priorities

Each legislative session, Audubon joins over 20 other conservation organizations in pursuing an agreed short list of environmental priorities. Some of these issues will be included in what we discuss with our legislators on January 29th. This year the list includes:

  1. 100% Clean Energy. The same as Audubon’s priority above.
  2. Oil spill legislation. This would enact the final pieces of a package of bills introduced during the last several sessions to prevent oil spills and improve readiness to respond to spills in the Salish Sea and along the Columbia River. The focus in the 2019 session will be requiring escort tugs for oil barges such as those supplying the March Point refineries (already required for tankers) and basing a rescue tug in the San Juan Islands for tankers or other vessels that lose power and risk running aground.
  3. Response to decline in Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The Governor’s Task Force on this issue will have draft legislation probably addressing vessel noise reduction, increasing food for these particular orcas (i.e. chinook salmon), and possibly addressing contamination in Puget Sound waters.
  4. Statewide ban on plastic bags. There will be an attempt at legislation banning plastic bags statewide as already in some of Washington’s cities and towns.

The 105-day legislative session begins January 14th . This is an alternate year “long” session during which the next 2-year budget will be written (alternate year short sessions are 60 days). There will be regular updates on the progress of legislation on the websites of Audubon Washington (http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/advocacy) and the Environmental Priorities Coalition (https://wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition/). You can contact your state legislators and track the progress of legislation directly via this official site: http://leg.wa.gov/ .

  1. Extending the Guemes Channel Trail through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) in Anacortes

Please see previous issues of Conservation Notes for background information. On November 14th I represented Skagit Audubon at a meeting convened by Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere concerning this project. Mayor Gere requested the meeting with the conservation group Evergreen Islands to address concerns communicated by that organization’s attorney. At the request of Evergreen Islands President Tom Glade, both Skagit Audubon and the Mt. Baker Chapter of the Sierra Club (Martha Hall) also attended. City staff present in addition to the Mayor were the city attorney, the parks director, the director of planning, the city engineer, and others. In addition to Tom Glade, Evergreen Islands board members Wim Houppermans and Marlene Finley also participated. Evergreen Islands, Skagit Audubon, and the Sierra Club representatives expressed our organizations’ concerns with the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed trail route near SHIP as well as in other areas, the lack of consideration of alternative routes and of an overall plan, and the inadequate consideration of environmental impacts. The city representatives outlined a public involvement process they are proposing, which appears to fall short of what would be required in doing a full Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement under SEPA and NEPA. The conservation groups would like to see the city follow this formal review process considering alternate routes, carefully examining the potential impacts of each, and providing well-defined and advertised opportunities for public comment.  Residents of Anacortes are urged to contact the Mayor and members of the City Council to express support for protecting the SHIP buffer and thereby preventing degradation of the preserve, which is important habitat for a diversity of birds.

  1. Supporting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

It’s not too late to let our Members of Congress know the importance of protecting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In this 100th anniversary year of the act, which National Audubon helped pass in 1918, the law faces its most severe threat ever. This law has long been interpreted as requiring power and oil companies and others to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable, inadvertent injury to birds. It is the legal basis for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) being required to equip power lines in Skagit County with devices increasing their visibility to swans. Collision with powerlines is one of the two top causes of accidental deaths of swans (poisoning from ingesting lead shot in lake and marsh sediments being the other). The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the law that causes PSE to modify power poles to prevent electrocution of eagles and hawks. When an oil spill results in birds dying, this is the law whose stiff fines give companies an incentive to be more careful. The Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in one million bird deaths and a $100 million fine for that part of the spill’s impact. In December 2017, the Solicitor’s Office of the Department of the Interior released a reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act exempting all accidental bird deaths, thereby removing the incentive for companies to avoiding killing birds. Multiple environmental groups, including Audubon, and eight state attorneys general are suing the Administration to reverse this action. There are several things we need to do:

  • Write Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking him to add our state to the suit brought by eight other states. (https://www.atg.wa.gov/contact-us)
  • Write Congressman Rick Larsen if you live in the 2nd District, or Congresswoman Suzan DelBene if you’re in the 1st District, and ask them to oppose legislation that would codify the Administration’s weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Such a bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Liz Cheney (Wyoming). With so many issues before Congress, this important one will not get enough attention if we don’t communicate its significance.
  • Please also go to National Audubon’s website and send your federal legislators an email on this topic: https://www.audubon.org/news/migratory-bird-treaty-act
  1. Restoration of Fishers to the North Cascades

On December 5th, state, federal, and partner biologists from non-profit conservation groups will release approximately 8 fishers in the Skagit River watershed of Ross Lake National Recreation Area, a unit of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, as part of an effort to restore the species to Washington State. In late 2015 and early 2016, 23 fishers were released in Washington’s southern Cascades in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In late 2016 and early 2017, 46 fishers were released in nearby areas of that forest and in Mount Rainier National Park. Since then, monitoring efforts show released animals have successfully established themselves throughout the Olympic Peninsula, where earlier releases took place, and the southern Cascades, and have begun to reproduce.    
  
From the National Park Service news release: “Fishers are related to wolverines and otters and are native to the forests of Washington, including the Cascade mountain range. This elusive carnivore preys on various small mammals – mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares – and is one of the few predators of porcupines. The state recovery and implementation plans for fisher reintroduction in the Cascades can be found at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/reintroduction_cascades.html.”

Support and funding for the fisher reintroduction comes from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, Conservation Northwest, Calgary Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Washington’s National Park Fund, Northwest Trek, Pittman-Robertson Funds and State Wildlife Grants, and State Personalized License Plates, among others. During the environmental review for the fisher restoration project, Skagit Audubon submitted comments favoring the restoration of this animal that was extirpated from its historical range by trapping for its fur.

Additional Action Items - -

Management Plan for San Juan Islands National Monument

Comments will be accepted through January 3, 2019, on the management plan which the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has written for San Juan Islands National Monument. The monument was created in 2013 to recognize the beauty of the region’s chain of islands. It includes about 1,000 acres of BLM lands at 76 locations throughout the San Juan Islands. See the BLM website for detailed information: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=63825.

Methane Plant proposed for Kalama on the Columbia River near Longview, WA

The Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County have released the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS) for Northwest Innovation Works, LLC’s proposed natural gas to methanol production plant and storage facility. Comments are being accepted through December 28, 2018 (https://kalamamfgfacilitysepa.com/). This project would cause a very large increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Read this Sightline Institute article: https://www.sightline.org/2018/04/19/three-reasons-why-the-kalama-methanol-project-would-be-a-climate-disaster/

National Audubon Action Center:

National Audubon works on national issues pertinent to the Audubon mission which all chapters share. Here are three of the most important ones on which National Audubon is focused. Please add your name in support.

Protecting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in its centennial year

See #4 above under the Board agenda items.

Renewing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

This is another major priority for National Audubon affecting every part of the U.S. WA Senator Maria Cantwell has taken the lead in working to both renew this 54-year old program that has protected millions of acres and put it on more of a permanent basis. Cantwell is the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and we hope will remain in that role in the new Congress. See the Conservation Report on page 6 of the March 2018 Skagit Flyer newsletter for why this is important and what you can do: http://skagitaudubon.org/documents/SASFlyerMar2018Color.pdf Also, contact Senator Cantwell to thank her for her work on this important issue. Unusually bi-partisan legislation is in the works to permanently renew the LWCF.

Protect the Endangered Species Act

In every Congress there are attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Under the present circumstances, there is the most serious possibility yet that this law so important to protecting birds and other wildlife will be severely undercut. https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/hnXMGmJ_JkG3ND-3V83VZQ2?ms=policy-adv-web-website_nas-card-201702xx_esa

Issues without action needed currently by Skagit Audubon members - -

 

Clear-cut Near Lake Cavanaugh

An ad-hoc group of residents of the Lake Cavanaugh area in southern Skagit County contacted Skagit Audubon in late October about a planned clear-cut on private property near an occupied marbled murrelet nest site. Timber harvest in such situations must follow requirements under Washington’s Forest Practice Rules including buffers and timing restrictions related to murrelet nesting activity. In some of the required buffer area, selective logging is permitted. West Side Logging, LLC (owner of the property) and Nielsen Brothers Logging (who appear to have completed the Forest Practices Application and the accompanying Marbled Murrelet Form) have approval from the Department of Natural Resources, which rules on these applications. I sent suggestions to the ad-hoc group on questions they might ask DNR concerning the adequacy of the information provided on the applicant’s marbled murrelet form and the plan for logging in the buffer. The group is also looking into aspects of the harvest plan related to the very steep slopes and numerous streams in the harvest area. The Lake Cavanaugh group has retained an attorney and is contacting a marbled murrelet biologist for assistance in their appeal of DNR’s decision. Nielsen Brothers is the company that in 2015 clear cut the Hidden Lakes property in Mount Vernon adjacent to Little Mountain Park after refusing appraised value offers on some of the property from the City of Mount Vernon and Skagit Land Trust.

 

Leque Island – Restoration of Wetlands

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is moving towards the second phase of its work to restore tidal wetlands at the mouth of the Stillaquamish River on Leque Island outside Stanwood along the reach called South Pass. The first phase of the project was completed in October 2017. The next phase will include removing the dikes. WDFW anticipates the work will happen in summer 2019. The comment period for the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review of phase 2 ends on December 5th. (http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/sepa/sepa_comment_docs.html) The word from Pilchuck Audubon is that the work described is consistent with the plan we saw and commented on some time ago. From the proposal description: “The Project would restore tidal inundation to 250-acres on Leque Island. This is the final proposed phase of restoration at this time.” The type of habitat being restored will, among other benefits, provide important estuarine rearing habitat for chinook salmon, which is cited by fisheries biologists as the single most important limiting factor in recovering this federally listed species. For public access, there will be a new (replacement) parking area along State Route 532. WDFW will work with stakeholder groups for improving access for such activities as birding, boating, hunting.

 

Additional conservation issues

For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months.

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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.

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