The first three items below were on the agenda for the January 4, 2022, Skagit Audubon board meeting.
- Comment letter on Skagit County Shoreline Master Program update
As noted in the December Conservation Notes, Skagit County Planning & Development Services and the county’s Planning Commission have completed work on the comprehensive revision and periodic update of the county’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The draft SMP will be the subject of a Board of County Commissioners’ work session on January 11. When the board’s agenda for that week becomes available on January 7, it will be possible to see if the session will be available for viewing on TV21 or via Zoom. The agenda will be posted at https://www.skagitcounty.net/departments/CountyCommissioners/main.htm. Although the comment period is not yet scheduled, the County Commissioners will take public input on the draft SMP at some point. In anticipation of this and because Skagit Audubon’s earlier suggestions for improvements to the draft were not accepted, our chapter is sending a letter to the Commissioners reiterating those suggestions. These focus on the importance of the SMP addressing the coming effects of climate change as sea level rises, the weak provisions of the draft SMP as regards shoreline armoring, and the loosening of standards for shoreline forest buffers. When the county announces the opportunity for public comment, it would be helpful for as many Skagit County citizens as possible to comment. Following the BOCC review, the draft SMP will go to the Department of Ecology (DOE) for its approval (likely with another opportunity for public comment).
- City resolutions against allowing Fully Contained Communities
County-wide development policies currently do not allow so-called Fully Contained Communities (FCCs) in Skagit County. The threat that these very large residential developments, constructed at urban density in rural areas and dependent on the county to provide services ordinarily provided by municipal government, is described in earlier Conservation Notes. Skagit County and FCC proponent Skagit Partners appear to be attempting to circumvent long-standing agreements between the county and the incorporated towns and cities in order to open the door to FCCs. One potential way to prevent this end-run is by the town and city councils passing resolutions opposing allowing FCCs. The LaConner City Council has already done this. On January 12, following a Development Committee meeting earlier that day, the Mount Vernon City Council will consider and probably vote on a resolution opposing FCCs. If you live in Mount Vernon, please write to the two city council members representing your ward and/or to the whole city council and mayor before January 12. It will also be possible to comment in person at the City Council meeting on that day. This communication from Skagit Land Trust provides useful details and background: https://us2.campaign-archive.com/?e=__test_email__&u=221ddcd6908448ee384f95d90&id=80d199394a.
The Sedro-Woolley City Council will also be considering an anti-FCC resolution at some point soon. If you live in Sedro-Woolley, please let your council members and mayor know your opinion on this issue. Update on January 5: The day following the Skagit Audubon board meeting the Sedro-Woolley City Council held a work session to discuss a possible resolution against FCC’s. Finding that all members of the Council favored such a resolution, rather than holding the vote next week as planned, the Council members decided to vote then and there. The resolution opposing allowing FCCs in Skagit County passed unanimously.
More information about FCCs can be found at rightgrowthrightplace.org, website of the anti-FCC coalition of which Skagit Audubon is a supporting member. Mount Vernon City council member contacts and the ward map can be found at https://www.mountvernonwa.gov/98/City-Council. Sedro-Woolley City Council member contacts and ward map can be found at https://www.ci.sedro-woolley.wa.us/governing_bodies/city_council/members.php.
See the December 2021 Conservation Notes for information about next steps in the county’s consideration of allowing FCCs.
- Update on the Carbon Capture Foundation project
Twelve people responded to the Carbon Capture Foundation’s offer through Skagit Audubon of trees to plant to sequester carbon. The Foundation has placed orders with the Washington Association of Conservation Districts Plant Materials Center in Bow and with Fourth Corner Nurseries in Bellingham for the requested plants. I will be ordering tree protectors for purchase by those who requested the free trees. The pick-up location for the trees and protectors will probably be in Mount Vernon in late February or early March. We hope that this will be just the first of several opportunities to obtain and plant trees. If you have questions about this program, please contact me, Tim Manns, at email@example.com.
- Washington State Legislative Session 2022
The Washington State Legislature will begin its 60-day session on January 10th. The Environmental Priorities Coalition, comprised of over 20 groups including Audubon Washington, has announced the issues for which it will advocate this session. Go to https:// wecprotects.org/our-work/areas-of-work/environmental-priorities-coalition/ to read about these priorities. More details and bill numbers will be available later.
Scroll down on the above referenced website for information about the Bill Tracker which the coalition has set up for this session. Using this along with the legislature’s own very handy website (https://leg.wa.gov) will enable you to both see the progress of legislation and weigh in with committees and individual legislators.
The December Conservation Notes summarized Audubon Washington’s state legislative priorities, which in part overlap those of the Environmental Priorities Coalition. The following repeats the information in the December notes.
Audubon Washington’s top three priorities:
a. Ensuring Washington communities are prepared for a changing climate
This includes updating the Growth Management Act to require counties and cities to plan for climate change (including sea level rise, emissions reduction, and more). HB 1099, which would legislate these updates, made some progress in the 2021 legislative session but did not pass.
Also under this priority, Audubon calls for funding the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill passed in 2020 but without the money needed to provide the incentive grants to farmers to employ practices sequestering more carbon in agricultural soils and reducing emissions from farm equipment.
The third part of this priority is legislation to promote installation of solar energy equipment in developed areas (i.e. rooftops, parking lots, …), particularly community solar administered to enable less wealthy individuals to benefit from solar energy. This is as opposed to focusing most solar development in rural areas where siting can be problematic for farmland and native habitat.
b. Support Puget Sound recovery by enhancing shoreline protection and restoration
The first part of this priority addresses the importance of forage fish to marine birds and salmon and, ultimately, the Southern Resident orcas. It calls for improving the regulation and permitting of shoreline armoring by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, as it is the hard armoring of shorelines that has so extensively destroyed the beach conditions forage fish need to spawn.
The second part of this priority calls for raising the ceiling on the annual levy growth allowed for the Conservation Future’s Program. This is the program whereby we pay a small county tax annually to fund purchase of conservation easements. In Skagit County, this program takes the form of the Farmland Legacy Program, and all the revenue is used to purchase conservation easements on farmland (i.e. distinguishing development rights). It has been a very successful program in Skagit County, but unlike other counties, Skagit does not permit any of these funds to be used for conservation easements on wildlife habitat or land for parks. The current legislated cap on increasing this levy is 1% per year.
c. Protect Washington’s remaining shrub-steppe, home to iconic threatened and newly listed endangered bird species
Audubon Washington’s third priority focuses on issues around solar energy development east of the Cascades. There are proposals for 40 projects on over 54,000 acres. Audubon asks that WDFW be more adequately staffed to evaluate the potential environmental effects of these projects so adverse impacts can be minimized. Audubon also seeks to protect the funding for the least-conflict solar siting program which passed the legislature in 2021 but for which implementation funding will not be available until July 2022. The goal of this program is to identify the places where solar energy development can take place with the least conflict with wildlife and agriculture.
You can read more details about each of these priorities on the Audubon Washington website at: https://wa.audubon.org/sites/default/files/static_pages/attachments/audubon_2022_session_talking_points.pdf The advocacy section of Audubon Washington’s website has links to more information on some of these issues and a place to sign up to receive updates during the legislative session: https://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2022. Bills are being worked on related to each of these priorities. Bill numbers will be forthcoming soon.
Updates on other issues Skagit Audubon is following
- Cascade Big Bear Mine near Marblemount
In mid-December word came that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has changed its Determination of NonSignificance made last year to a Determination of Significance based on additional information related to the proposed mining activity at this site. Skagit Audubon has submitted a number of comment letters on this proposed mining near Marblemount several times in recent years. The peregrine nest site on the cliff face at the would-be mine is just one of the many wildlife-related concerns cited in the Audubon letters. There has not yet been information on whether the project proponent intends to continue to pursue their plan, in which case an Environmental Impact Statement will now be required. If the proponent does decide to proceed, the first step will be a public opportunity to submit scoping comments requesting topics to be addressed in the EIS. The Skagit River Alliance and other groups opposing the mining proposal argue that it is Skagit County rather than DNR which should be the lead agency in reviewing this proposal. DNR will consider only potential adverse impacts at the project site itself, while the County, it is believed, would also look at impacts along the transportation route for the quarried rock.
- Judge’s decision on the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion of the number of Growlers based at NAS Whidbey
Skagit Audubon has submitted several comment letters to the Navy in recent years about the potential adverse impacts of EA-18G Growlers on Marbled Murrelets and other species in the vicinity of NAS Whidbey, in the waters off Olympic National Park, and within the park. The Navy proposes to increase the number of Growlers based at Whidbey with a consequent increase in the take-offs and landings involved in training. A separate plan and EIS address the Navy’s electronic warfare training for Growlers over Olympic National park, Olympic National Forest, and the adjacent marine waters comprising Olympic Marine Sanctuary. The Washington press widely reported a federal magistrate’s December ruling that the Growler expansion EIS is inadequate in how it addresses greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on protected birds, and other issues. It is a safe assumption that the Navy will seek to correct these deficiencies in the EIS as quickly as possible.
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.