Legislative/Advocacy Action

Ongoing Conservation Projects at Black Hills Audubon

Sam Merrill

Preserving and enhancing wildlife habitats, especially habitats for birds, has long been a cardinal pillar of the Audubon mission at national, state, and chapter levels. Your Black Hills Audubon chapter continues to be very active in these efforts, ranging from protecting wildlife habitats to advocacy for climate-change solutions. Here are some of the actions that BHAS has taken through its Conservation Committee.

Along with National and State Audubon, we strongly support a carbon tax or fee to address climate change—a threat to our environment that is already making severe storms, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and sea-level rise more likely. A study by National Audubon scientists has determined that climate change is the greatest danger to avian wildlife, identifying 314 North American bird species that are expected to lose more than half of their habitat by 2080. On the state level, 189 Washington State species are similarly at risk, about half of the species found in the state. From the Audubon perspective, two major aspects of addressing climate disruption are (1) implementing measures to reduce the release of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and (2) preserving or managing habitat so more species of birds and other wildlife can adapt to an ever-changing environment. Using a grant from National Audubon, BHAS launched the “For the Birds” campaign in 2015, to help participants adopt more energy-saving life styles and keep track of their actions. BHAS and Audubon Washington actively supported the Carbon Tax Initiative I-732, as well as the proposals from the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy and the Governor that were under consideration during the 2017 legislative session. We continue to seek incentives to shift to renewable energy by advocating for fees on the use of carbon-based fuels that reflect their true cost to the environment.

To protect rare prairie habitat, BHAS manages the Maytown Conservation Fund, which permits monitoring the water level and status of species of concern on the West Rocky Prairie tract in southern Thurston County, currently owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW researchers, in their final report on Oregon Spotted Frogs funded by the Maytown Conservation Fund, recommend reforesting the uplands and supporting beavers in the lowlands to preserve these threatened frogs. In a letter to the Port of Tacoma, BHAS has urged them to accept WDFW’s offer to purchase an adjacent 745-acre tract owned by the Port, and we also urged the Port of Olympia to write a similar letter to the Port of Tacoma, which they have done.

The Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project, planned by the renewable-energy company RES-America, proposes 51 wind turbines on a site along the Thurston-Lewis County border. Because wind energy contributes to reducing fossil-fuel carbon emissions—thus reducing the threat of global warming to wildlife, including birds—we are willing to support wind energy projects as long as sufficient mitigation is provided for the protection of birds and other wildlife. The turbines will have high-tech sensors that can detect Bald and Golden Eagles and stop blade rotating when these very large birds are near. Smaller birds, however, would not be identified and risk suffering mortality from blade strikes. The site is on two prominent ridges near the Skookumchuck Reservoir and in immediate proximity to occupied Marbled Murrelet sites; as the project is expected to result in the loss of 2-3 Marbled Murrelets per year, we are seeking appropriate mitigation.

Continuing a competitive scholarship program for bird-banding training, offered by BHAS for the last three years, we awarded $400 scholarships this year to two of the eleven applicants: Michael Szetela and Erin Tudor. The training is arranged by the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM). Michael was in his fourth year at Evergreen, has done field studies in Argentina and avian travels in Peru. Erin has a B.S. in biology with focus on ecology, evolution, and conservation, was a field intern for Bird Populations, and is in AmeriCorps with CNLM.

Along with a statewide Marbled Murrelet coalition, BHAS advocated for the Conservation Alternative developed by that group, testifying at hearings of the Washington Board of Natural Resources. Many components of this alternative have been given serious consideration by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and have helped strengthen the murrelet protections of the existing alternatives under consideration by the DNR.

To help protect the Black River watershed in the vicinity of the Black River National Wildlife Refuge, we are working with a hydrogeologist and an attorney to ensure that environmental effects of mining are sufficiently taken into account before permits are issued. See Sue Danver’s article on the Black River on page 3 for more in-depth discussion of this work.

BHAS advocated for the purchase by the City of Olympia of the Trillium and Bentridge parcels of the LBA woods, which are now officially parkland. Bird walks along with work parties to remove invasive plant species such as Scot’s Broom and Himalayan berries have been arranged.

Black Hills participates in stakeholder meetings concerning the Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan, the Thurston County Mineral Lands Comprehensive Plan updates, the Olympia Critical Areas Ordinance, and restoring Sequalichew Creek near Dupont. Our chapter testified in support of the State Wildlife Action Plan.

Winter surveys of waterfowl were conducted under BHAS supervision in the vicinity of the proposed cell tower near Lake Lawrence in southern Thurston County, as hearings continue about the advisability of locating the tower in this area.

Additional discussions of BHAS conservation projects are available on the Conservation page of the BHAS website blackhills-audubon.org. (by Sam Merrill)

Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: The Bird Surveys

In March 2016, Black Hills Audubon Society supported an appeal of a proposed cell-phone tower due to its location next to waterfowl-concentration areas and a high potential for bird collisions with the tower. The Thurston County Hearings Examiner remanded the proposal back to the County for further review. The proponent, Verizon Wireless, then hired a contractor to study bird movements near the tower site. In January through April this year, BHAS partnered with several dedicated neighborhood volunteers, and—guided by a local wildlife researcher—did their own citizen-science study to assess bird populations and flyways near the tower site.

This effort got an overwhelming response, with 25 volunteers including BHAS members Anne Mills, Sue Danver, Bob Wadsworth, Al Hultengren, Sally Nole and Bill Yates. Several hundred hours of observation time produced thousands of bird counts, and many species were identified, including several on State and Audubon birds-of-concern lists. A large wetland mitigation project next to the tower site attracts significant numbers of waterfowl, even though restoration work has not been completed; results show daily waterfowl migration between Lake Lawrence and wetland areas in the Deschutes River floodplain next to the proposed tower site. Neighborhood volunteers were engaged and enthusiastic to learn about local birds from BHAS members. Many voiced a desire to continue this survey next winter and after the wetland restoration project is completed to see how that project will further enhance habitats in this beautiful area, rich in birds and other wildlife. (by Sue Danver)

WEST ROCKY PRAIRIE NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT!

As many of you know, BHAS is a long-time supporter of prairie-oak woodland conservation. We were a partner with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in acquiring the original 810 acres at West Rocky Prairie from Citifor in 2004. At that time, WDFW wanted to purchase the entire property but half was sold to the Port of Tacoma (POT). The POT has proposed different development options that have failed for a variety of reasons including public opposition, and that the Port of Olympia has not granted an interlocal agreement for the POT to operate in Thurston County. Consequently, the POT is marketing the property for sale. WDFW is in negotiations with the POT to purchase 745 acres. BHAS will send letters to both ports supporting this acquisition.

For background information on the 2016 Expanded Project Description, click on the links below.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife WWRP Urban Wildlife 16 –1350A Expanded Project Description

Map of Project Area

We think that letters from BHAS will have greater impact if individuals sign on. You can read the BHAS letter by clicking on the link below. If you support this conservation effort, please send an email with your first and last name and indicate whether you are a member or friend to Elizabeth Rodrick, vice-pres@nullblackhills-audubon.org.

Letter

 

Addressing Climate Change

Audubon, at the national, state, and Black Hills chapter level, strongly support a carbon tax or fee to address climate change — a threat to our environment that is already making more likely severe storms, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and sea level rise. National Audubon scientists have determined that climate change is the greatest danger to avian wildlife. The study identifies 314 North American species of birds that are expected to lose more than half of their habitat by 2080. On the state level 189 Washington State species are similarly at risk, about half of the species found in the state.

Two major aspects of addressing climate disruption are (1) implementing measures to reduce the release of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and (2) preserving or managing habitat so that more species of birds and other wildlife can adapt to a new and ever-changing environment.

BHAS and Audubon Washington actively supported the Carbon Tax Initiative I-732, as well as the proposals from the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy and the Governor that were under consideration during the 2017 legislative session, including active lobbying at the 2017 statewide Audubon Lobby Day in Olympia. Audubon is also organized to protect and preserve strongholds that are scientifically identified to be likely to remain relatively stable for endangered species.

LBA Woods Park

The City of Olympia has acquired the two wooded parcels behind LBA Park in SE Olympia (originally slated for housing), which together form the 150-acre LBA Woods. Previously, the BHAS Board had endorsed the effort by the LBA Woods Park Coalition to preserve both parcels as a natural park and endorsed the eventually successful effort to establish a Metropolitan Parks District, supported by a property tax, through a ballot measure in 2015. The Coalition has established a “Friends of LBA Woods” volunteer stewardship group and is partnering with the Olympia Parks Department to plan and host work parties to help with removal of invasive plant species and to organize a native-plant salvage on the five-acre parcel in the LBA Woods that will be partially cleared for installation of a water tower. The Coalition is also tracking the tranportation plans for east-west extension of Log Cabin Rd. from Boulevard to Wiggins Rd. BHAS is conducting work parties and field trips.

Updating Urban Critical Areas Ordinances

Black Hills Audubon is helping develoheron croppedp or update urban Critical Areas Ordinances that protect critical wildlife habitat.

We support changes in language in the City of Olympia’s Comprehensive Plan regarding species protection to benefit locally important wildlife species and habitats, such as that of the Great Blue Heron.

Updating Non-Urban Critical Areas Ordinances

The Thurston Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved an updated Critical Areas Ordinance on July 24, 2012.  Black Hills Audubon wa

Grebe_Pied-Billed copy

s supportive of updating this ordinance and participated by submitting Best Available Science reports, by submitting comments (including suggested improvements to the CAO drafts), and by encouraging its members to support updating the CAO.  Read more in the Olympian article (in Word) or (in PDF)

In 2010, BHAS had submitted three CAO-related reports to Thurston County on the Best Available Science for:

  • Important Marine Habitats (report prepared by Donna J. Nickerson)
  • Geology (report prepared by QWG Applied Geology)
  • Important Habitats and Species (report prepared by Sustainable Fisheries Foundation)

See Thurston County’s web site about the Critical Areas Ordinance update.