The four numbered items immediately below were on the Skagit Audubon board meeting agenda for September 3, 2019. Items 2 and 4 were updated following the board discussion.
- Washington Environmental Community Action Network
Over the last few years Skagit Audubon has signed onto a number of comment letters drafted by Washington Wild on issues of mutual concern. These letters allow us to benefit from the technical expertise of the Washington Wild staff on matters related to upholding the Wilderness Act, the Northwest Forest Plan, the 2001 Roadless Rule, and more; all of them important to protecting wildlife habitat. We, in turn, can offer Audubon’s expertise on birds and their habitat requirements as well as lending the strength of our grassroots, locally-based membership. Last month Washington Wild established a system which will allow organizations such as ours to engage our membership in individually weighing in on environmental issues related to Audubon’s mission. We can create our own action alerts or adopt those produced by other participating organizations and route them to our members without needing to label the alert with another organization’s name. This could be a useful addition to the capability we already have through Audubon’s state and national action alerts. Here’s how Washington Wild describes this new mechanism for activating local support:
“The Washington Environmental Community Action Network is a statewide network of environmental, recreation, and community organizations focused on protecting Washington's public lands, clean water and wild places. The network is coordinated by Washington Wild with the intent of increasing grassroots activism around mounting threats to wild lands and water in Washington state and the need to protect our natural heritage for future generations.”
- Update on proposed Marblemount quarry project
Information about what Kiewit Infrastructure proposed for a large-scale quarrying operation near Marblemount is on the Skagit County Planning & Development Services web site at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/MarblemountQuarry.htm . The initial project for which Kiewit wanted the very dense rock from this site was the repair of the South Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. José Vila, President of the Skagit River Alliance, a local group of Marblemount area and other Skagit residents organized to oppose Kiewit’s plan, contacted Skagit Audubon on August 30th to inform us that the Army Corps of Engineers had that day awarded the contract for the jetty stone to Kiewit’s competitor, J.E. McAmis, Inc., the one other bidder. The Alliance believes this probably means the end of Kiewit’s interest in pursuing the zoning change and permits needed for their proposed quarry operation near the Skagit River. Skagit Audubon submitted two letters to Skagit County Planning & Development Services during the public comment opportunity on this project focusing on the inadequacy of the environmental review (SEPA), particularly those sections related to wildlife and habitat.
- New public comment period on grizzly restoration in the North Cascades
In 2017 there was a lengthy public comment period on the plan and environmental impact statement for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, one of 6 recovery zones for this federal and state-listed species. Local elected officials in jurisdictions neighboring the wild North Cascades, most of which is either national park or national forest and, much of that, Congressionally-designated Wilderness, varied from supportive to vehemently opposed. The Skagit County Commissioners fall into the latter category; the Whatcom County Council into the former. For reasons which appear to have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with restoration biology and ecology or any real knowledge of grizzly bears, a new public comment period has been opened. It runs through October 24, 2019. Skagit Audubon, in accordance with Audubon’s mission, has favored restoration and is a member of the Friends of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear, a coalition of conservation groups. For more information on Skagit Audubon’s stance and how to comment during the open period, see the Conservation Report on page 6 of the September Skagit Flyer newsletter.
- Proposed bike skills site in the Anacortes City Forest Lands
The Anacortes Parks Department in cooperation with a local mountain biking group (Fidalgo Trail Riders) proposes to build a biking skills facility on a presently closed and capped landfill within the Anacortes City Forest Lands. There is active opposition based on environmental and other concerns, including impacts on birds and other wildlife. The Friends of the Forest, a non-profit group which supports protection and management of the Anacortes City Forest Lands, in a very measured way has expressed concerns and is calling for a careful and deliberative approach with ample opportunity for public input (https://www.friendsoftheacfl.org/blog-feed/2019/8/19/our-comments-on-the-bike-skills-course-proposal). Parks Director Jonn Lunsford states the rationale for the facility in a blog post at https://www.friendsoftheacfl.org/blog-feed/2019/7/17/proposed-bike-skills-course and on page 8 of the summer 2019 edition of the Friends of the Forest newsletter (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58fa547bb3db2b3d2a7d78c3/t/5d4b06dfa12c5f00017ba610/1565198053906/working+file-2.pdf). According to the article, Director Lunsford wants to hear from the public about the proposal. The concerns of some members of the public can be seen at https://www.helpfulstuff.info/bikepark-at-dump.html. The next Anacortes City Council meeting with the bike park on the agenda is Monday, September 16th. The Skagit Audubon board discussed the project proposal at its September 3rd board meeting. Concerns expressed included the potential effects on nearby wetlands of toxic run-off from the former landfill if it were to be disturbed by construction and the proposed use and the fact that the periodic water testing called for a decade ago has not taken place. Several board members will attend the Anacortes City Council’s September 16th meeting. The Skagit Audubon board will further consider contributing formal comments on this issue depending on the next steps by the parks department and the Council.
Additional issues needing action
- Land and Water Conservation Act Full Funding Bill
Senate Bill 1081, introduced earlier this year, would provide full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Act each year. Senator Maria Cantwell is a co-sponsor, as are some senators on the other side of the aisle, but Senator Patty Murray has not yet added her support. She did support the great step forward last year when a bill passed to permanently authorize this 55-year old program that formerly had to be periodically re-authorized. Using funds generated from sale of oil and gas leases on federal land rather than tax funds, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has purchased millions of acres of land for habitat protection and park recreation development at the local, state, and federal levels. Write Senator Murray urging her to become a co-sponsor of S.1081. The LWCF has rarely been funded at its full authorized level, the available monies being siphoned off to other purposes. Permanent reauthorization was a great step forward for conservation but does little good without assured funding.
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
With Congressional Members DelBene and Larsen among the co-sponsors, Congress has reintroduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), House Resolution 4647, to substantially increase funding to states to reverse the decline of wildlife. This bill, using non-tax funds in an approach similar to that of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, would grant money to implement each state’s Wildlife Action Plan. These plans aim to correct wildlife-related issues which, unaddressed, could cause species to decline to the point of being listed as threatened or endangered, ultimately incurring much higher costs for recovery. Read about the legislation at the websites for Conservation Northwest (https://www.conservationnw.org/our-work/wildlife/recovering-americas-wildlife-act/heritage) and the National Wildlife Federation (https://www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Wildlife-Conservation/Policy/Recovering-Americas-Wildlife-Act). Write your Member of Congress to let them know you support passage of this bill, which is very relevant to the Audubon mission of protecting and restoring wildlife. At this point there is not yet a Senate version.
Bird Surveys – Volunteers Needed
- Puget Sound Seabird Survey
The Puget Sound Seabird Survey, which began in 2007 around some parts of the Salish Sea, extended to Skagit and Whatcom Counties just last year. There is need for more volunteers to help cover this first-Saturday-of-the-month survey from October through April. The survey is organized and managed by the science staff of Seattle Audubon. Go to http://seattleaudubon.org/seabirdsurvey/default.aspx for more information or contact Tim Manns (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Vaux’s Swift Migratory Roost Sites in Sedro-Woolley
An August 31st attempt to count migrating Vaux’s Swifts at the 2 known roost sites in downtown Sedro-Woolley (Vic’s 66 and the U.S. Post Office) yielded a total of zero. Migration of this species is well underway, with counts of over 14,000 at the stack on the Fort Lewis-McChord military base and elsewhere. In contrast with many consecutive past years, swifts seem to be avoiding the chimney at Wagner School in Monroe, WA, where counts of over 20,000 were common in the past and the “Swift Night Out” public event organized by 3 Audubon chapters in early September draws a large crowd. Swift expert Larry Schwitters theorizes that the presence of merlins, which prey on swifts, is the reason. He believes this has been a, or the, reason that swifts stopped using the Northern State Hospital stack a few years ago. No observers have checked Northern State yet this season, though it’s still early in the migration period.
For information on more conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months on the Skagit Audubon website.