Skagit Audubon Conservation Notes
May 4, 2021
The following three items were on the agenda for the Skagit Audubon Board meeting of May 4, 2021.
- Outcome of Audubon Washington priorities in the state legislative session
The gloomy picture in the April Skagit Flyer’s Conservation Report fortunately requires some amending. On April 25th, the last day of the Washington State Legislature’s 2021 session, two particularly significant bills passed to address climate change at a moment when passage appeared highly unlikely.
- Clean Fuel Standard (House Bill 1091)
After years of effort, Washington has joined California, Oregon, and British Columbia in establishing a Clean Fuel Standard. This bill mandates reductions in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by promoting transition to electric vehicles and providing incentives to use biofuels. Because transportation accounts for 44% of Washington’s carbon emissions, reducing carbon emissions in this sector is essential to addressing the climate crisis.
- Climate Commitment Act (SB 5126, “Cap & Invest”) supported by Governor Inslee. Unfortunately, the path to implementing this greenhouse gas reduction measure is not yet clear as it is contingent on the legislature passing a transportation package before January 2023. The Governor may convene a special legislative session later this year to get this done. SB 5126 would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the largest single sources.
Other Audubon priorities had more straightforward paths to passage:
- Environmental Justice
Senate Bill 5141, the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL) was a priority for many environmental and other organizations as well as Audubon Washington. This bill codifies the definition of environmental justice across state agencies and requires consideration of environmental justice in their decision-making processes.
- Operating budget
The gloomy early projections of decreased revenues related to the pandemic’s economic impact turned out to be inaccurate. This enabled the legislature to provide the needed level of funding for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, another of Audubon’s priorities because of the department’s work restoring and managing wildlife habitat and studying and protecting rare species.
- Capital budget
There was also sufficient revenue to fund a long list of investments in the capital budget. Among those in our area was acquiring the approximately 80-acre Nyberg property for addition to Deception Pass State Park (#6 of 10 projects in the State Parks category of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program capital budget) and a grant from the Estuary & Salmon Restoration Program to provide part of the funding for Skagit Land Trust’s newly acquired Samish Island Entrance property (#6 of 40 projects on that program’s list). This land is the approximately 50 acres between Padilla and Alice/Samish Bays just as you reach Samish Island. Skagit Audubon supported both of these grant applications with letters to show community support.
An Audubon priority that failed but may have a chance next year:
- Incorporating climate change into growth plans
An attempt to add addressing climate change to the requirements under the Growth Management Act (HB 1099) did not succeed. However, funds were provided in the operating budget for the state to create guidance for counties and cities to reduce carbon pollution and adapt to the impacts of climate change by directing growth away from rising seas, wildfire risk, flooding, drought, and more. This will set the stage to pass HB 1099 next year.
You can read brief descriptions of how these bills and others fared in posts by Audubon Washington’s Adam Maxwell: Reigning in Carbon Emissions and Advancing Justice | Audubon Washington.
- Anacortes Critical Areas Ordinance update
The City of Anacortes’ review period for the third draft of its amended Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) ended April 23rd. (Note that Critical Areas Ordinances are part of a county or municipality’s Comprehensive Plan but are also folded into the Shoreline Master Program required by the Shoreline Management Act.) Because the CAO covers such issues as buffers required around wetlands and protection of special habitats and species, the specifics of the ordinance are relevant to Audubon’s mission. Skagit Audubon Board Member Neil O’Hara wrote a comment letter on behalf of the chapter particularly addressing protection of the very large March Point heronry and the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP) with its highly bio-diverse wetland and its own small but growing heronry. In the city’s third draft, both the March Point heronry and Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve are on the short list of locations identified as “Habitats of Local Importance.” The protection afforded to the March Point heronry does well at recognizing its regional significance. The protection for SHIP, however, was less satisfactory, and the Skagit Audubon letter expressed concerns in detail .You can read the city’s third draft at https://www.anacorteswa.gov/201/Critical-Areas-Regulations-Update.
- “Fully Contained Communities” proposed for Skagit County (your action needed!)
The Skagit County Commissioners have repeatedly rejected proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan which would allow misnamed “Fully Contained Communities” (FCC) to be built in the unincorporated areas of the county. FCC’s are large developments (multi-thousand homes) at urban density in otherwise rural areas outside incorporated communities. Among the threats this idea poses is significant loss of farmland and wildlife habitat. The present proposed docket of Comprehensive Plan amendments yet again includes a submitted item to create an avenue for permitting FCC’s, stated as follows:
“Amend the Comprehensive Plan, Development Regulations, and Countywide Planning Policies to establish a process for consideration and approval of a new fully contained community, consistent with RCW 36.70A.350. Skagit Partners, LLC (Sygitowicz).”
(see https:// www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/2021CPA.htm, item LR20-04).
This time it appears likely that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will pass the proposal. There is a lengthy path to approval or rejection of proposed changes to the county comprehensive plan. On May 3rd, the BOCC held a public hearing to take public comment on which proposed amendments should be “docketed.” The deadline for written comments on which proposed changes should be docketed is 4:30 on May 5th (see below for details). On May 11th, the BOCC will decide on the docket, and those proposed comprehensive plan amendments will then be further studied by the Planning and Development Services staff. The next step will be for the Planning Commission to consider the proposed comprehensive plan changes and hold a public hearing. The Planning Commission’s appointed members (2 of them developers and several consistently dismissive of the public, conservation, and the very notion of planning regulations) will then advise the County Commissioners, who will make the final decision on which amendments to adopt.
The deadline to comment on which proposed amendments should be docketed is May 5 at 4:30. Written comments can be dropped off at the county offices on Continental Place in Mount Vernon or sent via email to Planning & Development Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments must include (1) your full name, (2) your mailing address, and (3) the name of the proposal you are commenting on. If you wish to oppose docketing the FCC proposed amendment, here’s a suggested type of comment:
" Dear County Commissioners:
Please do not docket for adoption the comprehensive plan change that will allow major residential development in the Skagit countryside (LR20-4).
Skagit County should honor its commitment to send the majority of future population growth to the cities and towns.
Protect the rural character of Skagit County - do not let developers turn Skagit into a suburb. Vote "no" on allowing Fully Contained Communities in Skagit County. Vote "no" on docketing LR20-4.
More Action Items
- Agritourism survey
Skagit County Planning & Development Services is conducting a survey and study of agritourism in the county. There is information and a survey to fill out at
https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/planningandpermit/AgtourismMain.htm. The relevance for Audubon lies in the importance of agricultural areas of the county to Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, raptors, and other species and the impact as well as the opportunities which the associated tourism have for farmers and farming. Please contribute your ideas about how the needs of birds for habitat, the interests of birders, and the requirements of farming can be meshed in a mutually supportive way.
- Counting Vaux’s Swifts at migratory roost sites
For the tenth year, Skagit Audubon and other volunteers will be watching for and counting Vaux’s Swifts entering 3 migratory roost sites, all chimneys, in Sedro-Woolley. The sites include 2 in downtown Sedro-Woolley and one at the SWIFT Center, formerly Northern State Hospital. Brian Zinke, Executive Director of Pilchuck Audubon, lives in Sedro-Woolley and is helping recruit and schedule volunteers for this annual effort. If you would like to get involved with the project, contact either Tim Manns (email@example.com) or Brian Zinke (firstname.lastname@example.org).
updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following
- Skagit County Shoreline Master Program update
Skagit County Planning & Development Services (PDS) continues work on a periodic update of the county’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) required under the state’s Shoreline Management Act. The county is at the same time drafting the comprehensive update due years ago but not completed. The Shoreline Master Program is the collection of regulations pertaining to shoreline protection and development. The on-line open house is the best source for information and also the place to register for the monthly public update meetings: https://skagitcountysmp.squarespace.com. To find more detailed information about the current and also past Skagit County Shoreline Master Program planning efforts, go to https://skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/SMPmain.htm.
The public review period (now expanded to 60 days) for the draft Shoreline Master Program (SMP) will end June 22, 2021. The SMP is relevant to Skagit Audubon’s mission in that it affects habitat protection. In reviewing the draft, Audubon will consider, for example, whether the shoreline spawning areas of forage fish, principal food for many seabirds, are adequately protected. Also, the draft plan as currently available on the county website pays little attention to the coming impacts of sea level rise. After adoption by the County Commissioners, the program will go to the WA Department of Ecology for review and approval. Note that certain cities, such as Anacortes, are also required to have and update their own Shoreline Master Program. The county’s SMP applies only to the unincorporated parts of Skagit County.
- The Osprey nest on the MJB waterfront property in Anacortes
Skagit Audubon has been contacted by residents of Anacortes concerned about how forthcoming development will affect the Ospreys nesting atop one of the towers on the MJB waterfront property in Anacortes. An April 7th article on goSkagit.com/Anacortes (https://www.goskagit.com/anacortes/news/mjb-will-remove-100-foot-towers-after-ospreys-leave-nest/article_32b534ce-980d-11eb-9717-f75447dd92b1.html) indicates that the city is requiring MJB to wait until October to take down the tower and refers to consultation with “state wildlife officials.” At this writing Tim Manns has just received documents related to development of the MJB site from the city planning department. Preliminary information is that there are no requirements to avoid disturbing the Ospreys during site development work in the months ahead, but there is provision for constructing an osprey nest platform at a future stage of the project. Tim will look through the documents to confirm or refute this and, if necessary, contact Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife concerning the possibility of disturbance during the nesting period.
Other Skagit Audubon conservation issues and activities
For additional information about some of the above issues and others Skagit Audubon is following, go to Skagit Audubon’s website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/), click on the Conservation tab, then on Conservation Notes and scroll down to earlier editions.
Issues needing action:
A simple way for Audubon members to advocate for regional and national protection of birds and other wildlife and their habitat is to respond to action alerts from Washington Audubon and National Audubon. Sign up for Audubon Washington’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 national alerts. The National Audubon website (https://www.audubon.org) has abundant information on its numerous current conservation campaigns.