Skagit Audubon
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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Notes, May 2019

  1. Audubon Washington priorities for the 2019 WA legislative session

Here’s a brief rundown of how Audubon priorities fared in the state legislative session which finished April 28th. For more detail, participate in the on-line Zoom session scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on May 13th. Adam Maxwell, Government Relations Director for Audubon Washington, will host an overview and discussion of the legislative session and what comes next. Contact Tim Manns (conservation@skagitaudubon.org) for details on how to participate.

Audubon Washington’s legislative priorities:

  • 100% clean energy standard

      Governor Inslee has signed the bill by which Washington joins several other states in setting a date (2045 for Washington) by when all electricity used here must come from renewable sources. A large portion of Washington’s electricity already comes from hydropower, making the goal more readily achievable here than in many other parts of   the U.S.

  • Clean fuel standard

            This measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels failed to pass   but may be in a good position to advance in the 2020 legislative session.

  • Enhanced building efficiency standards

            The Governor signed a bill to improve the energy efficiency of newly constructed buildings and also one mandating greater energy efficiency in appliances.

  • Fully funding the Department of Fish and Wildlife's budget request

      Audubon Washington supported WDFW’s 2019-2021 budget request as essential for supporting recovery of listed species and protecting wildlife diversity. Some additional revenues were to come from increased license fees and a tax on certain outdoor equipment. These revenue sources were not approved. WDFW did receive an increase, though considerably less than needed to avoid cuts in programs and services and to restore former levels.

      Loss of sagebrush habitat to wildland fire has severe implications for a variety of   declining bird and mammal species. Establishing fire protection associations is an   approach to helping address this problem. The relevant bill did not clear the legislative hurdles. (For information on this issue: https://wa.audubon.org/sites/g/files/amh546/f/static_pages/attachments/audubon_wa_rfpa _one-pager_final.pdf)

As a member of the Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), Audubon Washington also supported the following priorities. The 100% clean energy standard on the EPC list is the same as the similarly named item on Audubon’s list above. The other items on the EPC list include:

  • Orca Protection

            The bills in this package all passed, though in modified form. They relate to increasing the number of chinook to support the diet of the South Resident Killer Whales, reducing toxic pollution in the Salish Sea, and reducing vessel noise.

  • Plastic Bags Ban

            The proposed partial ban on single-use plastic bags made good progress but failed to pass before the close of the session.

  • Oil Spill Prevention

​A bill passed requiring tug escorts for the crude oil barges bound for March Point and other refineries. This requirement has existed for tankers for some years.

  1. Marblemount Rock Quarry proposal

The first comment period on the permits for this proposed large rock quarry, which would operate over the next 100 years, allowed 15 days for public input. Skagit Audubon submitted a letter pointing out the weaknesses related to birds and other wildlife in the SEPA checklist submitted by Kiewit Infrastructure. There were approximately 400 comment letters from local residents, organizations, and agencies, such as Seattle City Light (which owns wildlife habitat lands in the area), the Skagit Watershed Council (responsible for salmon restoration), the National Park Service (North Cascades National Park is nearby), and more. The vigorous public reaction led to Skagit County’s opening a new comment period, which ends May 13th. From the presence of the only westside wolf pack (the Diobsud Pack) to adverse effects on salmon in the Skagit, to impacts on the daily lives and property values of nearby residents, to traffic safety on the South Skagit Highway and Highway 20, there are many issues that should be examined related to this proposed industrial-scale, very long term project. The common theme of many comments, including those of Skagit Audubon, is that the county should require an environmental impact statement fully and carefully considering all the implications of Kiewit’s plans for this quarry.

To read the submitted permit applications, go to  https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/MarblemountQuarry.htm. Skagit County Planning and Development Services has not updated this page to reflect the new comment period and deadline. Information on the new deadline of May 13th and how to address comments is at https://www.skagitcounty.net/PlanningAndPermit/Documents/notices2019/April/kiewit.johnc.04.12.19.pdf .

The Skagit Upriver Neighbors website presents related articles and some of the submitted letters, including Skagit Audubon’s: http://skagitupriverneighbors.com/ .  There will be a public opportunity to present oral testimony to the county’s Hearing Examiner at some future date.

  1. Tufted Puffin Recovery Plan and Periodic Status Review

            The Tufted Puffin was listed as endangered under the state’s endangered species act by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in April 2015. Since then the species continues its precipitous decline in Washington, Oregon, and California. State listed species are periodically reviewed and their recovery plans updated. This is underway right now for the Tufted Puffin. The nearest population of Tufted Puffins to Skagit County currently is at Smith Island, five miles off the western shore of Whidbey Island, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge and surrounded by the semi-protected waters of the state’s Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve (DNR-managed). WDFW’s latest count of the Smith Island population, done by boat in 2016, found 28 Tufted Puffins. The population decline in Washington in recent decades is believed to be about 90%. As is stated in the species recovery plan and status review (https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02051):  “Formerly common in Washington along the outer coast and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands, puffins have suffered the reduction and disappearance of many breeding colonies in the state, accompanied by a dramatic population decline Monitoring data since publication of the status report in 2015 indicate populations remain well below thresholds recommended for long-term viability, justifying classification of  the species as endangered.”  If you would like to write WDFW urging that the Tufted Puffin continue to be listed as   Endangered and that the department act posthaste to stem its decline, submit your comment letter by May 17 to TandEpubliccom@dfw.wa.gov or by mail to Hannah Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA  98504-3200.

 

  1. Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Draft Supplemental EIS

In the Navy’s words: “The Department of the Navy has prepared a draft supplement to the 2015 Northwest Training and Testing Final EIS/OEIS to reassess the potential environmental impacts associated with conducting proposed ongoing and future military readiness activities within the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area, Military readiness activities include training and research, development, testing, and evaluation activities, The supplement to the 2015 NWTT Final EIS/OEIS supports proposed ongoing and future activities conducted at sea and in associated airspace within the Study Area beyond 2020. Proposed activities are similar to those conducted in the Study Area for decades and analyzed in the 2015 document.” (www.NWTTEIS.com)

The website has a Frequently Asked Questions section at https://www.nwtteis.com/FAQs.

The NWTT range is mostly ocean, but also includes airspace over the Olympic Peninsula, including large areas of Olympic National Park. In the national park or close by, the training and test range includes the coastal Wilderness, the Hoh Rain Forest, Lake Quinault, Kalaloch, La Push, Rialto Beach and Forks.

Relevance to the Audubon mission includes potential effects on marine birds and other wildlife and their habitats. Additional considerations are the effects on terrestrial birds, such as Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets, on the Olympic Peninsula from electronic warfare training related to the Whidbey NAS-based Growlers, whose numbers are slated to increase. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is suing the Navy in federal court over its incomplete responses to Freedom of Information Act requests concerning these increased flights and the potential effects on wildlife and on the otherwise profound natural quiet of Olympic National Park. Without the requested information, NPCA contends, a thorough response to the draft supplemental EIS is not possible.

The Navy’s operations over water and/or land involve use of active sonar and explosives “while employing marine species mitigation measures” as well as radar-jamming equipment.

The comment period for the Draft Supplemental EIS has been extended to end June 12. The 1,800 page document is available at www.NWTTEIS.com . Rob Smith, NW Regional Director of National Parks Conservation Association, provided these highlights:

            “Three alternatives, and the first one doesn’t count (No Action) because it means no Navy training at all.  So that leaves two real alternatives, and there’s not much difference between them.  The preferred alternative is doing what they plan to do.  The other alternative is doing even more if they ever want to.

    • 5,000 “Growler” jet flights a year over the Olympics.  See Appendix J, page 12
    • Noise levels within the Olympic airspace range from over 80 dB to 100 dB at times (J-22), which they compare to hearing a garbage disposal to a handheld drill (J-5)
    • Other locations for this training are dismissed in 7 lines (out of 1800 pages) as not offering the same proximity of ships and planes elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest (Section 2, page 2-21).  But what about parts of the country?
    • Growlers will be routed over Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent, Sequim and Port Townsend as they transit back and forth between their Whidbey Island base and the Olympic training areas over the Hoh Rain Forest and Forks (map on page 2-18)”

NPCA recommends the following actions. This issue is relevant to Audubon because of the potential adverse effects of the Navy’s planned operations on Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets, marine mammals, and many other species:

  • “Ask Rep. Kilmer and Senators Murray and Cantwell to get the Navy to extend the comment period to at least 90 days so we have time to read these documents. (the Navy’s response was a several week extension)
  • Get in comments – the loudest jets should not be over one of the quietest places, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park; there should be a Quiet Park Alternative to reduce noise, not increase it; the Navy should seriously look at other places where they could fly and train which don’t degrade a premier national park and surrounding communities.

            If you would like to contribute data on your experience of Growler overflights and  their impacts, use NPCA’s Growler Tracker: https://www.npca.org/resources/3293-growler-tracker.

Additional issues with action needed now - -

 

Potential mining near the headwaters of the Skagit River

Municipalities, agencies, tribes, and organizations continue to be concerned about this potential threat to water quality in the Skagit River. The British Columbia government is accepting comments through May 14 (?). Address them to:

                        Herman Henning

                        Chief Inspector of Mines

                        Ministry of Energy Mines & Petroleum Resources

                        c/o Mining Division - Southwest Region

                        PO Box 9395 Stn Prov Govt

                        Victoria BC, V8W 9M9

                                     Or submit electronically: SouthwestMinesDivision@gov.bc.ca

            Include:  “RE: Imperial Metals’ application for an amended mine plan and reclamation      program for the Giant Copper Property in the Silverdaisy Area and Skagit Headwaters” 

Other than this, there is no clear avenue for public comment to the Canadian national or provincial government by U.S. citizens. Letters or emails of concern to U.S. federal and state elected officials could be helpful in urging their discussions with our northern neighbors.

For some interesting background information on the website of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC): https://skagiteec.org/blog-post/silverdaisy-mountain-in-the-donut-hole/ . This blog site also posted the joint letter to SEEC signed by Skagit Audubon Society. SEEC is charged under the High Ross Treaty with advocating for the protection of the upper Skagit Watershed.

Background from last month’s Conservation Notes:

In Fall 2018, Skagit Audubon joined other conservation groups in signing a letter by Washington Wild opposing logging in the “Hole in the Donut” preparatory to mining exploration. The “Hole” is a private inholding in Manning Provincial Park just north of the international border and in the Skagit River Watershed. The very headwaters of the Skagit are in Manning. In March 2019, a Canadian company, Imperial Metals, applied for an exploratory gold and copper mining permit. The Seattle Times reported, “The company is well known in Canada because of an environmental disaster at its Mount Polley mine, when a dam there failed and allowed billions of gallons of gold- and copper-mining waste to flood into local waterways.” Seattle Mayor Durkan was quoted in the Times article, “"The City of Seattle is very concerned about the proposed actions to allow mining in the Silverdaisy area in the Upper Skagit Watershed. As with potential logging, mining in this area would threaten the environment, undermine our investments in salmon and bull trout recovery, and harm the integrity of a watershed that is critical to millions of people in Seattle and our region." Contaminated water from mining operations would flow to the Skagit River on which many people (e.g. Mount Vernon and Anacortes residents among others) and listed species such as Chinook and Bull Trout, depend. City-owned Seattle City Light owns and manages 3 dams on the Skagit River and has invested heavily in measures to enhance and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat as mitigation for the effects of the dams. Top of Form

 

Additional conservation issues - -

 

Guemes Channel Trail: Extending it through Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) in Anacortes

            No additional information since last report.

 

Heronies: Strengthening their Protection in Skagit County

            The Skagit County Board of Commissioners docketed Skagit Land Trust’s proposal for strengthening the very limited protection of heronries presently in the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance (part of the Comprehensive Plan).  This means only that Planning & Development Services will work on the proposal, leading up to consideration by the Planning Commission and a public hearing, followed by a recommendation by the Planning Commission to the 3 County Commissioners. Turn-over in key planning office staff has delayed further work on the proposal, but it should soon pick up. That the County Commissioners docketed the proposal does not indicate how they will vote on the idea in its final form. It will be important for Skagit Audubon to comment in writing or orally to the Planning Commission at the relevant public meetings.

 

Vaux’s Swift Migratory Roost Site counts in Sedro-Woolley

Within recent years, Vaux’s Swifts have used several chimneys in Sedro-Woolley as migratory roost sites in Spring and Fall. The tall stack at the former Northern State Hospital, (now SWIFT, Sedro-Woolley Innovation for Tomorrow Center) until a few years ago hosted up to 15,000 or more birds per night during Fall migration and 5,000 + during Spring migration. Along with 3 other large Vaux’s Swift roost sites in Washington, this stack has been officially recognized as an Important Bird Area. Vic’s 66, an antique store in downtown Sedro-Woolley, and the Post Office a few blocks away have hosted smaller numbers of swifts. So far this Spring, Skagit Audubon members have surveyed the SWIFT Center stack twice with very few swifts appearing and none entering the stack. During the first week of May, on some evenings up to several hundred swifts entered the stack at Vic’s 66. Skagit Audubon member and Sedro-Woolley resident Paul Ingalls has been doing surveys at Vic’s 66; Tim Manns and Sedro-Woolley resident Jim Johnson have checked the SWIFT Center and have arranged to be called by the Job Corps security staff if they observe large numbers of swifts. Please note that the Job Corps campus at the SWIFT Center is closed to entry except with permission, which Skagit Audubon has for doing Vaux’s Swift surveys. Checking in with security is mandatory. Contact Tim Manns for details.

Numbers at other migratory roost sites up and down the West Coast remain fairly similar to recent years and suggest that the swift’s population is not in decline. There is speculation that some unidentified stack has replaced the role formerly played by the one at the Swift Center.

 

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

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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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