Conservation Notes, June 2019
- Last Updated: July 1, 2019
The two numbered items immediately below were on the Skagit Audubon board meeting agenda for June 4, 2019. Updates on June 12th are in italics.
- Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Draft Supplemental EIS
Olympic Park Associates (OPA), formed in 1948 to protect Olympic National Park, has drafted a letter to elected state and federal officials objecting to the Navy’s plans for overflights of the park and adjacent protected areas. Audubon chapters are invited to sign this letter. The comment period on the EIS described below ends June 12th. The OPA website has information at https://olympicparkassociates.org/ and National Parks Conservation Association at https://www.npca.org/advocacy/50-save-the-wild-natural-sounds-of-the-olympic-peninsula. Update: At the June 4th board meeting, all present voted in favor of signing the OPA letter.
From the May Conservation Notes:
In the Navy’s words: “The Department of the Navy has prepared a draft supplement to the 2015 Northwest Training and Testing Final EIS/OEIS to reassess the potential environmental impacts associated with conducting proposed ongoing and future military readiness activities within the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area, … Military readiness activities include training and research, development, testing, and evaluation activities, … The supplement to the 2015 NWTT Final EIS/OEIS supports proposed ongoing and future activities conducted at sea and in associated airspace within the Study Area beyond 2020. Proposed activities are similar to those conducted in the Study Area for decades and analyzed in the 2015 document.” (www.NWTTEIS.com) The website has a Frequently Asked Questions section at https://www.nwtteis.com/FAQs.
The NWTT range is mostly ocean, but also includes airspace over the Olympic Peninsula, including large areas of Olympic National Park. In the national park or close by, the training and test range includes the coastal Wilderness, the Hoh Rain Forest, Lake Quinault, Kalaloch, La Push, Rialto Beach and Forks.
Relevance to the Audubon mission includes potential effects on marine birds and other wildlife and their habitats. Additional considerations are the effects on terrestrial birds, such as Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets, on the Olympic Peninsula from electronic warfare training related to the Whidbey NAS-based Growlers, whose numbers are slated to increase. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is suing the Navy in federal court over its incomplete responses to Freedom of Information Act requests concerning these increased flights and the potential effects on wildlife and on the otherwise profound natural quiet of Olympic National Park. Without the requested information, NPCA contends, a thorough response to the draft supplemental EIS is not possible.
The Navy’s operations over water and/or land involve use of active sonar and explosives “while employing marine species mitigation measures” as well as radar-jamming equipment.
The comment period for the Draft Supplemental EIS has been extended to end June 12. The 1,800 page document is available at www.NWTTEIS.com . Rob Smith, NW Regional Director of National Parks Conservation Association, provided these highlights:
“Three alternatives, and the first one doesn’t count (No Action) because it means no Navy training at all. So that leaves two real alternatives, and there’s not much difference between them. The preferred alternative is doing what they plan to do. The other alternative is doing even more if they ever want to.
- 5,000 “Growler” jet flights a year over the Olympics. See Appendix J, page 12
- Noise levels within the Olympic airspace range from over 80 dB to 100 dB at times (J-22), which they compare to hearing a garbage disposal to a handheld drill (J-5)
- Other locations for this training are dismissed in 7 lines (out of 1800 pages) as not offering the same proximity of ships and planes elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest (Section 2, page 2-21). But what about parts of the country?
- Growlers will be routed over Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent, Sequim and Port Townsend as they transit back and forth between their Whidbey Island base and the Olympic training areas over the Hoh Rain Forest and Forks (map on page 2-18)”
NPCA recommends the following actions. This issue is relevant to Audubon because of the potential adverse effects of the Navy’s planned operations on Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets, marine mammals, and many other species:
- “Ask Rep. Kilmer and Senators Murray and Cantwell to get the Navy to extend the comment period to at least 90 days so we have time to read these documents. (the Navy’s response was a several week extension)
- Get in comments – the loudest jets should not be over one of the quietest places, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park; there should be a Quiet Park Alternative to reduce noise, not increase it; the Navy should seriously look at other places where they could fly and train which don’t degrade a premier national park and surrounding communities.
If you would like to contribute data on your experience of Growler overflights and their impacts, use NPCA’s Growler Tracker: https://www.npca.org/resources/3293- growler-tracker.
Update: On June 12th, Skagit Audubon submitted a comment letter to the Navy expressing concern over potential adverse effects to Marbled Murrelets, Spotted Owls, and other species and calling attention to inadequacies in the EIS/OEIS analysis and proposed mitigation measures.
Skagit Audubon submitted a second comment letter to Skagit County Planning & Development Services, this one during the additional comment period granted following extensive public demand during the first comment period, which allowed only 15 days. According to John Cooper, hydrogeologist on the Skagit County Planning and Development Services (PDS) staff, on June 3rd, his agency will make a SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act) threshold determination within the next week or two. PDS could decide on a “mitigated determination of non-significance” finding that the project would be unlikely to have significant environmental impacts if certain specified things were done. Or PDS could require an environmental impact statement (EIS) examining potential impacts in depth and a range of alternatives. No matter what the determination, there will be a hearing before the county’s Hearing Examiner on the required Mining Special Use Permit. If the PDS threshold determination is appealed, that appeal would be heard before the Hearing Examiner at the same time. The date for the hearing has not yet been set but will probably be about a year from now. Why so far in the future? The special use permit requires studies of such things as what could leach from the quarry site and detailed PDS staff work and report writing. If an EIS is required, the preparation of that could take a year and a half, followed by a hearing, public comment opportunities, etc.
For additional information, see last month’s Conservation Notes. To read the submitted permit applications and submitted public comments, go to https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/MarblemountQuarry.htm.
The Skagit Upriver Neighbors website presents related articles and some of the submitted letters, including Skagit Audubon’s: http://skagitupriverneighbors.com/ Skagit Upriver Neighbors is accepting donations to help pay legal costs in opposing the quarry plan.
Update: On June 11th, Skagit County Planning and Development Services (PDS) announced its Determination of Significance requiring a full Environmental Impact Statement for the quarry project. This is what many commenters, including Skagit Audubon, had been requesting. PDS staff were to meet with Kiewit Infrastructure personnel on June 12th to lay out the process. The cost of the EIS would be at Kiewit’s expense. Preparing the EIS could take several years.
Additional issue needing action
2. Proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska
In the June Skagit Flyer newsletter, editor and Skagit Audubon board member Mary Sinker points out that the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the mine’s Army Corps of Engineers permit has been extended to June 29, 2019. What Mary wrote bears repeating here:
“This open-pit mine, proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, is an environmental, cultural and economic catastrophe waiting to happen. Four migratory flyways overlap here with birds coming from Africa, Asia, the Central Pacific and the Americas. Bristol Bay is home to 27 globally significant Important Bird Areas and on of the world’s greatest concentrations of seabird colonies. Bristol Bay holds the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery with 40% of the US catch coming from Bristol Bay. The fishery generates $1.5 Billion in annual revenue and tens of thousands of jobs depend upon this pristine wilderness and pure clean water. The proposed mine would destroy critical Sockeye spawning and Coho rearing habitat in one of Alaska’s most active earthquake zones.”
To learn more and to take action, go to www.savebristolbay.org or ak.audubon.org/take-action. Bristol Bay is important in its own right, but remember too that so many of the birds that winter in Skagit County migrate to Alaska and the Canadian Arctic to breed. What happens in Alaska is very much connected to the birdlife we value here.
Updates on additional issues
Potential mining near the headwaters of the Skagit River
Nine of Washington State’s federal legislators, all Democrats, signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposing the plan to search the Silverdaisy Area (the “Donut Hole”) in British Columbia for gold and copper. The nine include both U.S. Senators plus Members of Congress Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, who represent the area covered by Skagit Audubon.
Last month Skagit Audubon joined other Audubon chapters and conservation groups in signing a comment letter drafted by Washington Wild to British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy Mines & Petroleum Resources during the designated public comment period.
Earlier, Skagit Audubon joined in a letter to the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC), a binational group established under the U.S./Canada High Ross Treaty focused on protecting the upper Skagit watershed. The letter drafted by Washington Wild urged the commission to apply itself as strongly as possible to prevent development of mining in the Donut Hole. For interesting background information go to SEEC’s website: https://skagiteec.org/blog-post/silverdaisy-mountain-in-the-donut-hole/ . This blog site posted the joint letter signed by Skagit Audubon.
Background from earlier Conservation Notes:
In Fall 2018, Skagit Audubon joined other conservation groups in signing a letter by Washington Wild opposing logging in the “Hole in the Donut” preparatory to mining exploration. The “Hole” is a private inholding in Manning Provincial Park just north of the international border and in the Skagit River Watershed. The very headwaters of the Skagit are in Manning. In March 2019, a Canadian company, Imperial Metals, applied for an exploratory gold and copper mining permit. The Seattle Times reported, “The company is well known in Canada because of an environmental disaster at its Mount Polley mine, when a dam there failed and allowed billions of gallons of gold- and copper-mining waste to flood into local waterways.” Seattle Mayor Durkan was quoted in the Times article: “"The City of Seattle is very concerned about the proposed actions to allow mining in the Silverdaisy area in the Upper Skagit Watershed. As with potential logging, mining in this area would threaten the environment, undermine our investments in salmon and bull trout recovery, and harm the integrity of a watershed that is critical to millions of people in Seattle and our region." Contaminated water from mining operations would flow to the Skagit River on which many people (e.g. Mount Vernon and Anacortes residents among others) and listed species such as Chinook and Bull Trout, depend. Seattle City Light, a publicly owned utility, operates 3 dams on the Skagit River and has invested heavily in measures to enhance and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat as mitigation for the effects of the dams. Top of Form
Suction Mine Dredging
During this year’s state legislative session Skagit Audubon signed a group letter supporting a bill instituting a permit for suction mine dredging in Washington’s streams and rivers. As stated in a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) June 3rd news release: “Suction dredge mining is a type of recreational gold mining that uses a motorized or non-motorized vacuum to suck up the bottom of rivers and streams to look for gold. This type of mining can kill young fish and eggs and disturb spawning gravel for salmon.” Oregon requires a permit for this activity, where it is allowed at all. For many activities taking place in streams or that could affect streams in Washington, a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) issued by WDFW is required. The legislation to regulate this activity did not pass in this legislative session, but now the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees WDFW, has approved a requirement that mineral prospectors hoping to do suction dredging will have to have an HPA,providing at least some level of protection for the environment. Skagit Audubon joined other Audubon chapters and conservation groups in signing a letter to the Commission written by Washington Wild urging this decision.
Tufted Puffin Recovery Plan and Periodic Status Review
In May, Skagit Audubon submitted a letter to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife supporting continued listing of the Tufted Puffin as an endangered species under state law and supporting Audubon Washington Audubon’s letter urging certain revisions to the recovery plan and conveying a sense of urgency. The population decline of this species in Washington in recent decades is believed to be about 90%.
Vaux’s Swift Migratory Roost Sites in Sedro-Woolley
During the last month, Skagit Audubon members made several visits to the Northern State site and also to the two sites in downtown Sedro-Woolley. There were no swifts using the roost at Northern State when it was checked, and the security staff at the Job Corps program there did not notice any large numbers of birds near the smokestack. A late May visit to Vic’s 66 and the Post Office in Sedro-Woolley found a few Vaux’s Swifts with just one entering the Vic’s chimney. Cumulative numbers of swifts at the other roost sites from California to B.C. suggest the bird’s numbers are not greatly different from other years. The mystery remains as to why swifts are using the Skagit County sites in very low numbers with apparently none at all at Northern State, formerly one of the busiest roost sites.
For information on more conservation issues of concern to Skagit Audubon, scroll down to Conservation Notes from previous months on the Skagit Audubon website.