Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes
January 8, 2019
Board Meeting Items - -
The 3 numbered items below were on the Skagit Audubon board meeting agenda for the January 2nd meeting.
- Audubon Lobby Day
January 29th, Audubon Washington along with other organizations comprising the Environmental Priorities Coalition, 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. Our legislators need to hear from us. Showing up at their door can make a real difference. To register: go to https://wecprotects.org/events/lobby-day/.
These Audubon Washington legislative priorities will be the focus of Lobby Day in addition to the Environmental Priorities Coalition issues mentioned further below:
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.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:
- 100% Clean Energy. The same as Audubon’s priority above.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
You can read more about these at https://wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition/.
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/), where you can also sign up to receive updates by email. You can contact your state legislators and track the progress of legislation directly via this official site: http://leg.wa.gov/ .
- Management Plan for San Juan Islands National Monument
Comments were accepted through January 3, 2019, on the resource management plan and environmental impact statement 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¤tPageId=63825.
- Extending the Guemes Channel Trail through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) in Anacortes
(Update by Board Member Katherine O’Hara)
Board members Katherine O’Hara and Jane Brandt attended the Anacortes City Council meeting on December 17, 2018, which included an update on the Guemes Channel Trail. The city attorney noted there had been recent communications with certain groups and outlined information and public participation plans through which the city is proposing to keep the public better informed about the trail project, including a website devoted to this project. These plans did not appear to include any time or resources for environmental review of the proposed paved path through the buffer for the S.H.I.P. wetland or an analysis of environmental impacts on the S.H.I.P. or Guemes Channel Trail beyond what has been done already. In addition, these plans as presented included little opportunity for public input or dialogue. Katherine O’Hara spoke before the Council on behalf of the Skagit Audubon board addressing these issues as did speakers representing themselves or other groups; other speakers, however, urged the Council not to delay further developing the Guemes Channel Trail through the S.H.I.P. wetland section. Evergreen Islands corrected the error in the city attorney's slides regarding the scope of the environmental review it is seeking, noting that at this time it is seeking an environmental review only of the proposed trail through the S.H.I.P. section. Several Council Members raised concerns about the process to date; several also indicated they would support a website as long as it is robust and interactive. Council Member Ryan Walters also said environmental review of the entire trail route would be appropriate, but only at a later date when a plan for the complete route had been developed, including those sections east of the existing Guemes Channel Trail not yet controlled by the City. Mayor Gere closed this section of the meeting, however, by responding to a trail development proponent that she too, is feeling the urgency and would like to get this trail built.
Additional Action Items - -
Baker Lake Road to Trail Conversion Draft EA letter
Skagit Audubon has the opportunity to sign on a Washington Wild letter supporting a U.S. Forest Service proposal to convert the end 1.1 miles of the Baker Lake Road from road to trail. This repeatedly flooded section of the road is in the floodplain of the Baker River and, along with the parking area at the end of the road, degrades the habitat quality of the river and adjacent wetlands and streams for supporting sockeye salmon and other fish species. Under the proposal, the old parking area would be removed and new trail out of the floodplain would replace the section of road while providing access to the trail into North Cascades National Park and to East Bank Baker Lake trail.
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.
Supporting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Let your Member of Congress know the importance of protecting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In its 101st year this act which National Audubon helped pass in 1918 faces its most severe threat ever. The 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 motivates 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
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
Actions by Skagit Audubon in the last month - -
Protecting the Skagit River from potential resource extraction in the Hole-in-the-Donut (Manning Provincial Park)
Skagit Audubon joined other conservation groups signing a letter sent by Washington Wild on December 21, 2018, opposing a proposed timber cut in the so-called “Hole-in-the-Donut”, a privately-owned mining claim inholding within British Columbia’s Manning Provincial Park. The area is just north the international border near Ross Lake and is within the Skagit River watershed. An extensive timber cut in itself could jeopardize the river’s water quality but, more significantly, it could be a precursor to developing a large mine. Such a development would pose a severe threat to the Skagit River, which is important habitat for several federally listed fish species (Chinook, Bull Trout, Steelhead), the most important salmon river feeding into the U.S. portion of the Salish Sea, and a vital source of water for people and farms.
Additional conservation issues - -
For information on additional conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months.