Skagit Audubon
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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Conservation Notes - October 2021

  1. Audubon Virtual Advocacy Day

For the second year, Audubon Washington will hold a virtual advocacy day. This December 7th, Audubon members from around the state will meet virtually with their state senators and representatives to discuss Audubon’s priorities for the 2022 legislative session. The session begins January 10th. There will be training before advocacy day. To participate, register at Audubon in Washington Advocacy Day 2021 | Audubon Washington  (https://act.audubon.org/a/advocacy2021?emci=49f51c2e-ff1b-ec11-981f-0050f271a1a2&emdi=5b7c5fca-ff1b-ec11-981f-0050f271a1a2&ceid=154334). You will meet with each legislator as a group with fellow constituents from your legislative district.

  1. Annual Meeting of WSACC (Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee)

This year’s WSACC meeting took place via Zoom on Friday, September 24, 202, with several Skagit Audubon board members participating. There were no resolutions submitted by any of the 25 chapters for a vote this year. Adam Maxwell, Audubon Washington’s lead for government policy, gave an overview of the considerable legislative achievements of the 2021 session, including finally passing a Clean Fuels Standard, the Climate Commitment Act, which for the first time places a price on carbon in Washington State, and other significant climate legislation.

 

The Clean Fuels Standard establishes a timeline for reducing the carbon content of transportation fuels in Washington and advancing the transition to electric vehicles. Washington State has hereby joined California, Oregon, and British Columbia in setting such goals. Efforts to obtain state funding to plan for least conflict solar; that is, the locating of large scale solar installations to minimize impacts on birds, agriculture, etc. was initiated by Audubon Washington and passed in 2020. The funding was pulled as the pandemic set in and brought concern about a potentially large state deficit. That deficit did not materialize, and funding is back in place to begin implementing the program in 2022. The Director of Washington State University’s energy program spoke more about this during the Audubon Council of Washington meeting on September 25, crediting Audubon for taking the initiative.

 

Adam also described elements of the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed the Senate and, as of this writing, has not yet come up for a vote in the House. As written the bill would provide $17 million for Puget Sound recovery (via the EPA), $50 million for sagebrush ecosystem restoration (through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) important to Audubon because of the loss of habitat for declining bird and mammal species from recent wildfires, climate-related measures such as electrical grid upgrades, charging stations for electric vehicles, funds to clean up mines and cap wells leaking methane, and more. The larger “reconciliation” package, being intensely negotiated at the moment, has more financial support for the electric vehicle charging network and other climate-related measures, including setting a national clean energy standard. Adam also mentioned other pending federal legislation (e.g. the Migratory Bird Protection Act, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act) which you can read about in past Conservation Notes and on the National Audubon and Audubon Washington websites.

 

In Washington State’s 2021 legislative session, important updates to the Growth Management Act did not pass but will be introduced again in the 2022 session. These include, for example, requiring that city and county Comprehensive Plans address climate change. There will be a significant emphasis on salmon recovery, a big priority for Governor Inslee as well as many conservation organizations: protecting and restoring salmon habitat, removing fish passage barriers, and more. Audubon Washington is involved here too, through, for example, its growing focus on restoration of estuarine habitat important to both fish and birds. The next issues of Conservation Notes will have more information on Audubon Washington’s legislative priorities and those of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, of which Audubon is a member.

 

During the WSACC meeting, Audubon Washington’s contract lobbyist Brynn Brady also gave an overview of the upcoming state legislative session. It will be an alternate year short (60 day) session, whereas 2021 was a 105-day session during the state budget was written and (mostly) passed, the Transportation budget being as yet up in the air. Redistricting is taking place following the 2020 census. (Decisions have not yet been made, but both Democratic and Republican proposed maps show some significant changes for both the state and federal districts overlapping Skagit County.) Brady predicted that the political balance of parties in Olympia will probably remain the same for now.

Updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following

  1. Plan to develop the Big Bear Mine near Marblemount

See last month’s Conservation Notes for details on this issue. Late this September, the Skagit Audubon Board joined numerous other conservation groups signing on a letter by the Skagit River Alliance to Skagit County Planning and Development Services and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arguing that a new environmental analysis (SEPA) should be required for the proposed mining of jetty stone and that Skagit County should take the lead on this. The concern is that the county will certify the mining plan as being covered under a mining permit granted in 1976, when conditions were very different and none of the many nearby houses were in place, and no further environmental analysis would be done. DNR is charged with issuing mining reclamation permits but would not examine the potential adverse impacts during the mining or anywhere but at the mine site and not between there and the port of Bellingham to which the rock would be trucked. The rock at the mine site, Shuksan greenschist, contains actinolite, an asbestos mineral. In documents obtained through a public records request, DNR acknowledged this and the need for mitigating the hazard asbestos presents during mining and transport of the rock.

  1. Potential for allowing Fully Contained Communities in Skagit County

The last two monthly issues of Conservation Notes include information about this very significant threat to Skagit County and its ability to support the variety and quantity of birdlife which it does now. Please go to the Right Growth Right Place website (https://rightgrowthrightplace.org) to learn how you can help. Even if a decision by the county commissioners to allow FCCs were successfully appealed before the Growth Management Hearing Board, a loophole in the Growth Management Act could allow huge housing developments to go in anyway. Articles by Futurewise explain this “vesting” loophole: www.futurewise.org/home.

  1. Navy Issues Record of Decision on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Operations in the Northwest Training and Testing Range.  

Skagit Audubon submitted a comment letter on this SEIS in June 2019. We maintained that EA-18G Growlers taking off from Whidbey Naval Air Station and flying over Olympic National Park create noise incompatible with the purposes of that park, which previously was recognized as one of the quietest places in the U.S.  We also pointed out there was insufficient information about the noise effects on listed species such as the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet to accurately evaluate the proposed use of the test range, which runs from northern California all the way up the U.S. coast and includes the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and 27% of Olympic National Park.

Despite a very large number of public comments and concerted effort to get a more careful environmental analysis, the Navy appears to have changed nothing in its plan except offering to avoid Olympic National Park when flying between NAS Whidbey and the Pacific, instead flying above the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where there are also, of course, Marbled Murrelets. Note that this SEIS is separate from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance for the expansion of the number of Growlers based at NAS Whidbey and the related training activities over Whidbey Island and vicinity.

  1. Restoring the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s Implementation

On September 29th, the Administration announced it was moving to restore the way the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) had been implemented since its passage in 1918 except during the last Administration. As the New York Times reported:

“Deb Haaland, the secretary of the Department of Interior, said the agency will formally revoke a rule enacted in the waning days of the Trump presidency that shielded businesses, landowners and others from legal consequences if their activities unintentionally killed birds. … She said reinstating federal protections is a critical step because while some industries have taken voluntary measures to protect birds, populations are still declining. … In 2017 the Trump administration reinterpreted the law, protecting companies from liability unless they knowingly and intentionally sought to kill birds. A final regulation was issued just days before Mr. Trump left office despite a blistering ruling from a federal judge, who struck down the policy in response to a legal challenge from eight state attorneys general and a coalition of environmental groups.

“The revocation of Mr. Trump’s rule will go into effect in 60 days from October 4th. In addition, the Interior Department said it will take comments on a possible new  permitting system so that some companies are not penalized if birds are killed or injured despite reasonable precautions in the course of doing business.”

A related priority for Audubon is passage of the Migratory Bird Protection Act which would embody the long-time interpretation of the MBTA into law rather than only administrative policy.

 

Community Science – Bird Monitoring Projects

Last month’s list of bird monitoring projects with opportunities for volunteers to participate inadvertently omitted several:

  1. Purple Martin Nest Boxes

Under the leadership of Skagit Audubon board member Don Jonasson, our chapter maintains Purple Martin nest boxes at several locations and monitors their use.

  1. Great Blue Heron Monitoring

A local group has for years now monitored Great Blue Heron nesting and foraging areas in Skagit County, gathering information that has repeatedly proven useful in protecting those areas. Contact Tim Manns (conservation@skagitaudubon.org) if you would like to get in touch with this group.

  1. East Cascades Audubon Society’s Winter Raptor Survey Project

For the past 17 years this multi-state survey has recorded raptor species and numbers along 452 routes. This Fall it is expanding into northwest Washington, and volunteers are needed. See the Skagit Audubon Flyer for more information.

  1. Christmas Bird Counts (CBC)

For many years, Skagit Audubon has organized the Padilla Bay Christmas Bird Count, which next will take place on December 26 (contact conservation@skagitaudubon.org). Other Christmas Counts in the region are frequently happy to have more volunteers. The National Audubon CBC, now in its 122nd year, is the longest running avian community science project in the U.S.

Issues needing action:   

One 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. The National Audubon website (https://www.audubon.org) has abundant information on Audubon’s numerous current conservation campaigns. Sign up there to receive national alerts. Also see the Audubon Washington blog for information about a variety of interesting and important issues: https://wa.audubon.org/landing/audublog.

For other issues Skagit Audubon tracked during the past year, some of which are ongoing, see earlier issues of Conservation Notes on the Skagit Audubon website: www. Skagitaudubon.org under the Conservation tab at the top of the page.

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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.