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Conservation Notes - September 2020

The first 3 items below were briefly discussed at the September 1st Skagit Audubon board meeting.

  • Revising Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance to better protect heronries

On July 19th, Skagit Audubon’s board-approved letter went to each of the 3 Skagit County Commissioners urging them to adopt the revision to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance concerning heronries proposed by the Planning and Development Services (PDS) staff or the version proposed by Skagit Land Trust. The 2 versions are essentially equivalent, the main difference being that the Land Trust includes detail which the PDS staff includes by reference to a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife guidance document. When the Board of Commissioners met last week to consider the 2019 docket of changes to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, including the Critical Areas Ordinance, one or more of the Commissioners requested more information on some of the proposed revisions, including the heronry item, and the vote was deferred to an unspecified later date. Supporters of the improved heronry protection (which does not impose new restrictions but simply clarifies the existing protections in order to facilitate implementation, something the Planning Commission, and possibly the County Commissioners, do not seem to understand) issued a last minute call for emails to the County Commissioners just before their meeting last week. At least seven Skagit Audubon members were quick to send emails, which is very much appreciated. Protecting heronries such as that at March Point, believed to be the largest on the U.S. West Coast, is at the heart of the Audubon mission to preserve wildlife habitat. Stay tuned for possible additional calls for contacting the County Commissioners. The Planning Commission, which is advisory to the 3 County Commissioners, is recommending no change to the present inadequate section about heronries in the Critical Areas Ordinance. It will take just 2 County Commissioners to decide whether to accept this recommendation or do as the Planning Staff is urging.

  • Comment on the S. Navy’s request to use state parks for training

The Skagit Audubon board has reviewed a draft comment letter to the State Parks Commission urging that they not approve the Navy’s request. The letter will be edited to incorporate the board’s comments. Scroll down to find details on this issue in the May Conservation Notes on the Skagit Audubon website. Because of the controversial nature of the Navy’s request, it will not be considered at the September 17th meeting of the State Parks Commission. The Commission plans to hold a public meeting focused on this request when large public gatherings are possible. According to the State Parks website, the Commission will decide late in 2020 or early in 2021. It appears to be acceptable to send the Parks Commission comments any time before then:  https://parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-training-proposal. The Navy’s position on its request and its response to actual or anticipated criticism are in a letter and presentation by Rear Admiral C.S. Gray, Commander, Navy Region Northwest at https://parks.state.wa.us/DocumentCenter/View/15170/Navy-Special-Operations---WA-State-Parks-Commission-letter-3-12-20.  The 29 parks where the Navy would like to conduct training include Cama Beach, Camano Island, Deception Pass, Fort Casey, Fort Ebey, Joseph Whidbey, South Whidbey, etc. The map on page 9 of the Environmental Assessment the Navy prepared in 2019 for its training program shows the locations (state parks, naval bases, etc.) where it proposes to conduct special operations training (Environmental Assessment for Naval Special Operations Training in Western Washington State https://parks.state.wa.us/DocumentCenter/View/15033/Navy-Environmental-Assessment-FONSI). In the Navy’s estimation, there would be no significant environmental impact from the proposed activities. The draft Skagit Audubon letter mentions concern for potential adverse impacts to a variety of seabirds and marine mammals, terrestrial species, and rare plants, particularly in and near Deception Pass State Park, as well as effects on the public use and enjoyment for which the parks were established.

  • Comment on EPA & NOAA’s proposed approval of Washington State’s Nonpoint Pollution Plan

On August 17th, Skagit Audubon’s board-approved comment letter went to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opposing approval of Washington State’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. The letter cites local examples illustrating that Washington’s program is not adequately protecting water quality and the environment generally and therefore should not be approved as sufficient. Anyone who would like to read Skagit Audubon’s letter can do so by sending a request to conservation@skagitaudubon.org.

 

Other issues Skagit Audubon is following

(For additional information about some of the following issues and others, on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org) go to the Conservation tab, then to Conservation Notes and scroll down to earlier editions. There are also more issues addressed in the Conservation Report in the September 2020 issue of the Skagit Flyer: (https://www.skagitaudubon.org).

  • Skagit Wildlife Area Island Unit alternatives analysis

Formerly known as Deepwater Island, these 268 acres of Skagit Wildlife Area across from the boat launch at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) headquarters unit on Fir Island (“Wylie Slough” to birders) is the subject of a study of alternatives for estuarine habitat restoration. Skagit Audubon’s Chapter President, Jeff Osmundson, represents Skagit Audubon on WDFW’s stakeholder advisory group for the project. The Island Unit is located on two diked islands in a tidally-influenced reach of the South Fork Skagit River. WDFW has owned and managed the Island Unit since the 1950s to create winter forage for over-wintering ducks and geese. The site is sometimes referred to as the "farmed island" for the crops planted to attract waterfowl, and it has long been a favorite spot for waterfowl hunters. As the agency website explains, “WDFW is assessing land management of the Island Unit to best respond to aging dikes on the site, anticipated sea level rise, and changing habitat needs. The Island Unit is a priority area to restore habitat for salmon because it was historically a tidally-influenced estuary that provided critical rearing habitat for juvenile chinook salmon.” Read more at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/habitat-recovery/nearshore/conservation/projects/island. The advisory group website is https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/iuagundefined. Later this year there will be an opportunity for public comment on alternatives for restoring estuarine habitat on the Island Unit.

  • Department of Natural Resources’ Marbled Murrelet Long-term Management Plan and Sustainable Harvest Calculation - and related lawsuits.

The development of this plan has been an important issue for Skagit Audubon since the process began in 2012. The Washington Board of Natural Resources, overseeing DNR, in 2019 chose an alternative which led to lawsuits by both the beneficiaries of timber revenues from state trust lands (with Skagit County leading off) and conservation groups in the Marbled Murrelet Coalition who see the chosen alternative as insufficient to protect the murrelet from extinction in Washington. At the time of this writing, there is no available update on this issue. DNR’s website for related information is https://www.dnr.wa.gov/mmltcs. For the perspective of conservation groups, go to the Conservation Northwest webpage, particularly the January 2020 press release: https://www.conservationnw.org/our-work/wildlife/murrelet.

 

  • City of Anacortes Planning
  • Revision of the Critical Areas Ordinance of the City of Anacortes in relation to protecting wetlands

The City Council of Anacortes will soon approve or reject proposed revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Critical Areas Ordinance. There are 2 items of particular interest to Skagit Audubon:

  • Possible changes to wetland buffer requirements that would affect the city’s proposed routing of the Guemes Channel Trail through the buffer of the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve, which Skagit Audubon opposes.
  • Adoption of Skagit Land Trust’s proposed revision to better protect large heronries, which Skagit Audubon supports.
  • Periodic update (every 8 years) of the Shoreline Master Program as required by the Shoreline Management Act.

In November or December, there will be a joint Department of Ecology/City of Anacortes public hearing & comment period.

Issues needing action:   

Some of the best ways for Audubon members to be advocates for the protection of birds and other wildlife and their habitat are to receive and act on action alerts from Washington Audubon and National Audubon. Sign up for Washington Audubon’s Action Network at https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/JGKjknsVTUKMSr4BoP2Nvw2. Recognizing that climate change poses the greatest of all threats to birds, Audubon Washington is especially focused on advancing policies and laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Find and participate in National Audubon’s current issue campaigns at https://www.audubon.org/takeaction. Sign up there to receive alerts.

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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.

The board of directors meets at the same location at 7:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, except for the months of July and August.