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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Notes, February 2020

The 3 numbered items immediately below were on the agenda for the Skagit Audubon board meeting February 4, 2020.

1. Update on the Four Environmental Priorities Coalition Lobby Day Issues
At this writing on February 9th, the 60-day Washington State legislative session has just over a month to go. Barring an extension, it will end March 12th. Some significant cut-off dates for passage of legislation have already passed. January 30th was Lobby Day for the Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC). Audubon joins over 20 other conservation groups in this annual effort to encourage passage of a limited number of priorities on which the groups have decided. Of this year’s over 400 participants, at least 50 were Audubon members, including several from Skagit Audubon. There were participants from all 3 legislative districts which include part of Skagit County: the 10th, 39th, and 40th. Each district has 2 elected Representatives and one Senator. The nine elected individuals representing parts of Skagit County range from prime sponsors of important environmental legislation to climate change deniers.

Here's a run-down of the current status of the 4 EPC priorities. Multiple organizations have staff who track legislation and will send you periodic updates on the progress of legislation. These include Audubon Washington (thank you, Adam Maxwell), RE Sources (thank you, Karlee Deatherage), Washington Conservation Voters (thank you, Clifford Traisman), and more. Or you can do your own tracking using the State Legislature’s very handy website (www.http://leg.wa.gov/).

The EPC priorities:
A. Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1110)
Transportation is the #1 source of climate pollution in Washington. This bill would establish a clean fuels program to limit greenhouse gas emissions per unit of transportation fuel sold in the state (something California, Oregon, and British Columbia have already done) and encourage transition from fossil fuels to using electrical vehicles. The House of Representatives has passed this bill, and it is now in the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology. Go to https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1110&Year=2019&Initiative=false if you would like to learn more about the bill. Click on “Comment on this bill” to send a message to your Senator as to how you would like her or him to vote.

B. Climate Pollution Limits: Updating Greenhouse Gas Targets (HB 2311)
In 2008 the Washington State Legislature established a timeline for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our state. Newer science shows this timeline is inadequate to meet the severe challenge posed by the climate crisis. Under the proposed legislation, GHG emissions in Washington would reach net zero by 2050. The bill would also establish a goal to promote farming and forestry practices that tap into the potential for carbon sequestration on agricultural lands and the state’s millions of forested acres. This latter goal is a particularly important emphasis area for Audubon Washington, which is supporting the “Sustainable Farms and Fields” bill (Senate Bill 5947) to create a grant program encouraging farmers to adopt practices that reduce the use of fossil fuels and enhance the retention of carbon in agricultural soils.
House Bill 2311 has passed out of the House Committee on Environment & Energy and is now in the House Committee on Appropriations. It has not yet passed in the House and has not been considered in Senate committees. You can read about and comment on House Bill 2311 at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2311&Initiative=false&Year=2019
Read about and comment on Senate Bill 5947 at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5947&Year=2019&Initiative=false . This bill has passed in the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

C. Reduce Plastic Pollution: Banning the use of certain single-use plastic bags at retail establishments (SB 5323)
The Reusable Bag Act would eliminate thin carry-home plastic bags at all retail establishments and help Washington address a growing recycling crisis. Local waterways, shorelines, and recycling systems are overloaded with plastic pollution. Thin plastic bags that are used for just a few minutes and then thrown away pose a particular problem: only 6% ever get recycled. Single-use bags end up in waterways and the ocean where they are ingested by wildlife and fish. They also clog recy-cling equipment and are very expensive to remove. This bill passed the Senate on a bi-partisan vote and with the supporter of the grocers’ association. It is now in the House Committee on Environment and Energy. For more information and to comment: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5323&Year=2019&Initiative=false .
D. Healthy Habitat Healthy Orcas: (HB 2550) (Title: “Establishing net ecological gain as a policy for application across identified land use, development, and environmental laws.”).
This bill would implement a recommendation of the Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which was charged with developing a long-term plan for recovering the orcas that spend part of the year in Puget Sound. Under Washington’s Growth Management Act, Shoreline Protection Act, and State Environmental Protection Act, the standard for mitigating the impacts of development has been “no net loss” of ecological function. This standard has failed to reverse the loss of habitat for salmon and other rare, threatened, and endangered species. Salmon are essential to the diet of the Southern Resident Orcas, whose population is now believed to be down to 72. This bill would change the standard for mitigation to “net ecological gain” to help reverse the loss of habitat important to salmon and, indirectly, to orca recovery. In an October 2019 comment letter to the Task Force the Skagit County Commissioners specifically objected to this change of standard, which would result in greater costs to developers and corporations as a trade-off for saving salmon and orcas. You can read their objection on page 2 of their letter posted on the Commissioner’s website: https://www.skagitcounty.net/CountyCommissioners/Documents/Skagit%20County%20-%20Southern%20Resident%20Orca%20Task%20Force.pdf . House Bill 2550 has passed the House Committee on Environment & Energy and is now in the House Committee on Appropriations. It has not yet gone to the Senate. Read more and comment at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2550&Initiative=false&Year=2019 .

2. WA Wild letter to Gov. Inslee re Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest
Some months ago, Skagit Audubon joined over 100 other groups in signing a letter to the U.S. Forest Service written by Washington Wild opposing the removal of the protection of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule from the Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska. About half the 18 million acres of this largest of all National Forests in the U.S. is protected from road construction and timber harvest under the Roadless Rule. The National Audubon website has information about the ecological importance of the Tongass: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/old-growth-trees-tongass-national-forest . Besides the importance of protecting this most extensive temperate rain forest there is a concern that removing Roadless Area protection from the Tongass will set a precedent for doing the same elsewhere in the U.S., as on the 2 million acres of National Forest land in Washington State that currently have this protection. The Forest Service 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule) was issued under the Clinton Administration to limit road construction and the resulting environmental impact on designated areas of public land. It applies to U.S. Forest Service areas termed “inventoried roadless areas”. At its February meeting, the board of Skagit Audubon voted unanimously to sign a letter written by Washington Wild to Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson thanking them for opposing removal of Roadless Rule protection from the Tongass on the basis that the Tongass is ecologically and economically important to Washington State.

3. Progress on protecting heronries in Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance
About 10 people spoke before the Skagit County Planning Commission on Jan. 21st in favor of Skagit Land Trust’s proposed change to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance to establish seasonal buffers around large heronries. Presenters included Skagit Land Trust Director Molly Doran, several Land Trust board members, Tom Glade, President of Evergreen Islands, a landowner within the proposed buffer of the Samish Heronry, and more. As conservation chair for Skagit Audubon I gave a short statement approved by the Skagit Audubon board in favor of the Land Trust proposal. At some point, probably in the near future, the Planning Commission will decide whether or not to recommend the Land Trust’s proposal to the Board of County Commissioners, the somewhat different proposal by the Planning Department staff, or no change to the Critical Areas Ordinance at all. The County Commissioners will decide. Watch for notice of an opportunity to appear before the County Commissioners if they schedule a meeting to take public testimony on the proposal. They need to know that a lot of county residents care about great blue herons and want to protect the communal nesting areas that they need.

Part of the very large March Point heronry is in Anacortes and for that reason Skagit Land Trust staff has also worked with the city’s planning staff to develop a proposed change to Anacortes’ Critical Areas Ordinance that would establish buffers around large heronries. The staff of both the county and the city have been helpful, and there seems to be a good chance the Anacortes City Council will accept the Land Trust’s proposed strengthening of the city’s Critical Area’s Ordinance.

As mentioned in last month’s conservation notes, Skagit Audubon is also closely tracking proposed changes to the protection of wetlands under the Anacortes Comprehensive Plan. Skagit Audubon would like to see the protection of such important wetlands as the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve strengthened rather than weakened and not impaired by the construction of a bicycle path through the reserve’s wetland buffer. Stay tuned for ways in which you can support better protection for this important wetland.

 

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Other issues on which action is needed:

More bills in Olympia which could use your support
a. Additional priorities for Audubon Washington
There are 2 additional priorities for Audubon Washington beyond those mentioned in the first part of these notes. An emailed comment to your legislators or a phone call would be helpful.

 Zero Emission Vehicles (SB 5811): Washingtonians don’t have as many options for zero emission vehicles as residents in states like California, Colorado or Vermont. This bill would enhance our state’s clean car standard, making more of these vehicles available. This bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Environment & Energy.

 Funding for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
Audubon Washington and many of the state’s 25 Audubon chapters support more adequate funding for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. With its present budget, WDFW will have to reduce its already bare bones operation. This department manages many acres of habitat important to birds (and birders) and other wildlife as well as being the lead for state research on and protection of rare, threatened, and endangered species. In this year’s short legislative session, only a supplemental budget will be passed (our state has a 2-year budget), but there is the possibility for an increase in WDFW funding if enough people reach out to their legislators. On the Legislature’s website (http://leg.wa.gov/) you can find emails and phone numbers for contacting your legislators.

b. Suction dredge mining reform legislation (SHB 1261)( “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state”).
Unlike our neighboring states, Washington does not regulate mining that uses motorized dredges to scoop up gravels from the beds of streams and rivers. This practice is extremely damaging to fish habitat. Under the present lack of regulations, even spawning grounds of endangered salmon are not protected. During the present and the previous legislative session, Skagit Audubon has joined many other conservation groups in signing a letter by Washington Wild in support of this legislation. It could be voted on the House this week. There has been no action yet in the Senate. You can learn more and comment to your legislators at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1261&Year=2019&Initiative=false .

 Clear Air Rule bill (HB 2892) (“Authorizing the Department of Ecology to regulate greenhouse gas emissions associated with persons who produce or distribute fossil fuel products that emit greenhouse gases in Washington”)
In 2016, using authority under the 1967 Clean Air Act, WA Department of Ecology (DOE) adopted the Clean Air Rule to address the major sources of greenhouse gases in Washington. The rule requires businesses responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to cap and reduce their carbon emissions on a certain schedule. In 2019 the State Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling found that DOE did not have the authority to apply this rule to importers and sellers of petroleum and natural gas, which account for about three-quarters of the emissions addressed under the rule. The Court indicated that legislation could give DOE the authority to apply the Clean Air Rule as originally intended. (Read more here: https://www.thestate.com/news/business/national-business/article239934068.html#storylink=cpy). House Bill 2892 would give DOE the authority to include these businesses in applying the Clean Air Rule, an important step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our state. The Clean Air Rule requires facilities to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 1.7% annually. These large emitters can also invest in projects that permanently reduce carbon pollution or buy credits from other companies or carbon markets. HB 2892 has passed the House Environment and Energy Committee and has moved on to the House Appropriations Committee. For more information and to submit a comment: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2892&Year=2019&Initiative=false

Migratory Bird Protection Act
For over a century the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has protected most bird species in the United States and could rightly be called the most important law protecting birds in our country (https://www.audubon.org/news/the-migratory-bird-treaty-act-explained). The present Administration in Washington, D.C., has chosen to change the long-held interpretation of that law to no longer hold individuals or companies responsible for injuring or killing birds unless the action is deliberate. This would mean, for example, that corporations responsible for oil spills would not be held accountable for resulting bird deaths because injuring the birds was not intentional. In January of this year, the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) was introduced in Congress (https://abcbirds.org/article/migratory-bird-protection-act-introduced). This act would make a long-held interpretation of the earlier act a matter of law, not simply legal interpretation. Let your Member of Congressman know that you would like her or him to support this important bill: https://www.audubon.org/news/audubon-congress-must-pass-new-bird-protection-bill .

 

A Plan to Kill Double-crested Cormorants
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is accepting comments through March 7th on a plan to issue a nationwide permit for killing Double-crested Cormorants. This plan is based on the poorly-supported notion that cormorants are unacceptably detrimental to fish farm operations and also to wild fish populations. Read about it on the National Audubon website:
https://www.audubon.org/news/without-solid-science-government-plans-expand-cormorant-killing-efforts . Also on the site you can read updated information about the situation at East Sand Island in the Columbia River, which hosts (hosted) the world’s largest breeding colony of Double-crested Cormorants. See https://www.audubon.org/news/did-oregons-cormorants-finally-snap-under-pressure-cull . You may recall that some years ago Portland Audubon Society, with support from many Audubon chapters, went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block a plan by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to kill thousands of Double-crested Cormorants on East Sand Island in the name of protecting salmon and steelhead smolts. Recently, what was left of the colony was abandoned, and the actual effect of cormorant foraging on these federally listed fish species is still not well understood. Restoring salmon requires serious action on protecting their habitat, better managing the timber industry’s harvest in salmon watersheds, seriously addressing the impacts of hydropower on salmonid survival, and making hard decisions about catch limits. It’s easier to just blame and kill cormorants.

Please note that the National Audubon website describes a number of other issues and provides an opportunity to comment to legislators on each: https://www.audubon.org/ At the drop-down menu from the conservation tab, click on “Advocacy.” The website for Audubon Washington also has lots of information on important conservation issues: https://wa.audubon.org/ Click on “conservation” and, in the drop-down list, “advocacy.”

Update on Additional Issues

1. Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (British Columbia)
The government of British Columbia has been trying to block this project that would triple the capacity of an existing pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast. From there it would be exported to Asia and elsewhere, greatly increasing tanker traffic on the Salish Sea with a corresponding increased risk of spills, adverse impacts on orcas, and prolonging of dependence on especially dirty fossil fuels. Of even greater relevance to where we live is the fact that the Cherry Point and March Point refineries connect to the Trans Mountain pipeline via another pipe. That connection would probably be expanded in capacity if the Trans Mountain expansion goes through. The result could be the use of March Point as a transshipment facility for exporting crude oil over and above the crude oil that comes to the refineries now for processing. The latest news is that the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a lower court’s decision quashing provincial legislation aimed at blocking the pipeline expansion, and Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal this month dismissed a challenge filed by four First Nations tribes, effectively giving the Trans Mountain expansion project the green light to move forward.

2. DNR’s Marbled Murrelet Management Plan and Sustainable Harvest Calculation
Scroll down to January’s Conservation Notes for information on this issue. Additional parties (counties and school districts) have joined the suit against DNR’s Harvest Calculation.

3. Fish Farming by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific
In November 2019 Skagit Audubon sent a letter commenting on Cooke Aquaculture’s application for a 5-year license from WA Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to raise
sterile all-female triploid Rainbow Trout/Steelhead at existing marine net pen sites in Puget Sound. Skagit Audubon opposed the granting of the license for a variety of reasons and joined many other organizations and individuals in doing so. Nonetheless, in January WDFW approved the permit. In 2017 the collapse of one of Cooke Aquaculture’s net-pens off Cypress Island allowed the escape of thousands of Atlantic Salmon. WA Department of Natural Resources cancelled the company’s aquatic lands leases for its net-pens at that location and at Port Angeles but not the one off the Swinomish Reservation near Hope Island. At that facility Cooke Aquaculture still has the aquatic lands lease from DNR, and it is where the company will now raise steelhead under its new WDFW license. Cooke Aquaculture still needs to complete an amendment of its water quality permit with the WA Department of Ecology, including a public comment period. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community was among those opposing granting of the WDFW license.

For information on more conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/).

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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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