Legislative/Advocacy Action

Call for comments on the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program (SMP)

Dear Auduboners willing to help protect our shorelines,

Can you comment on the proposed revisions in the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program (SMP)?  We want to strengthen, not loosen, protections for our shorelines.

Here are examples of a short template letter and a long template letter to the Thurston County Board of County Commissioners that you can modify, especially if you can add personal information. Use any part of these templates to form your own short letter(s) (officials read short letters more often than long).

Send to: smp@nullco.thurston.wa.us:

Audubon Conservation member Anne Van Sweringen, representing Black Hills Audubon and four other local environmental organizations, has submitted extensive comments to the BoCC on this proposal revision.  We need supporting letters from our members and others.

The proposed revisions will be presented at a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners (Sept. 12, 3:30 – 4:00 p.m., Thurston Ct. Courthouse, Bldg. 1, Rm 28.)  See further details.

Can you attend?  We want a show of support for strengthening, not loosening, protections of our shorelines.

Thank you!
Black Hills Audubon Conservation Committee

 

Sample of short letter:

 The Honorable John Hutchings, Gary Edwards, Bud Blake

Commissioner Districts 1, 2, 3 respectively

Thurston County Board of County Commissioners

Dear Commissioner Hutchings, Edwards, and Blake:

My name is [first, last], and I am a Thurston County citizen and member of Black Hills Audubon Society. I am writing to urge you to consider these comments for the Thurston County Draft Shoreline Master Program 7.2018 Update (SMP).

I am concerned about the county’s trend of converting shoreline to other uses.

The SMP guidelines (WAC 173-26-186(8)) provide for development standards and use regulations designed to achieve no net loss of shoreline ecological functions, which is necessary to sustain a shoreline’s environment; management of shoreline aquatic systems is critical for the health and safety of the public. Shoreline buffers provide many benefits for water bodies, including protecting habitat and water quality.

I specifically request you consider and support the following:

  • Buffers – Do not allow standard SMP buffer widths or setbacks to be modified or reduced; not for Shoreline Environmental Designations, vegetation conservation, or other areas.
  • Mitigation – Encourage long-term net gains in both programmatic (planning-level decisions) and project (site-specific design detail) bases, particularly when conducting mitigation sequencing (avoiding, then minimizing, finally compensating for impacts). Require compensatory mitigation to occur in the same, or a related, habitat area for gain in the same ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes.
  • Aquaculture – Aquaculture’s use of shorelines must be consistent with the regulations of the Shoreline Management Act, the shoreline master program, and Best Available Science. A water-dependent use, aquaculture is polluting western coastlines, sounds, and estuaries with plasThe use of plastic by the aquaculture industry is pervasive, and will increase with industry expansion. Geoduck aquaculture mitigation practices, when based on Best Available Science, are known to reduce risks to birds and other wildlife. Use mitigation practices to reduce these and other risks.

I urge you to take the necessary steps to protect the county’s natural resources and habitats, so the marine and freshwater shorelines and shorelands of our county will flourish into the future.

 

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Sample of long letter:

The Honorable John Hutchings, Gary Edwards, Bud Blake

Commissioner Districts 1, 2, 3 respectively

Thurston County Board of County Commissioners

Dear Commissioner Hutchings, Edwards, and Blake:

My name is [first, last], and I am a Thurston County citizen and member of Black Hills Audubon Society. I am writing to urge you to consider these comments for the Thurston County Draft Shoreline Master Program 7.2018 Update (SMP).

Thurston County’s shoreline master program is conducting an update process pursuant to the requirements of Washington’s Shoreline Management Act of 1971 (SMA). The main tenet of the SMA includes “protecting against adverse effects to the public health, the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the waters of the state and their aquatic life.” I am concerned about the county’s trend of converting shoreline, including marine, estuarine, freshwater and shoreland ecosystems and functions, to other uses.

As the SMA states, the SMP must not allow expansion, redevelopment, or replacement of existing structures, or development or new land alterations, that result in a net loss of shoreline ecological functions. Both protection and restoration are needed to achieve no net loss. Mitigation is critical to offset ecological impacts from development.

The SMP guidelines (WAC 173-26-186(8)) provide for development standards and use regulations designed to achieve no net loss of shoreline ecological functions. No net loss is necessary to sustain a shoreline’s overall marine, estuarine, and freshwater aquatic environments. Environmental management of shoreline aquatic systems is critical for the health and safety of the public. The intention of the SMP is to protect the functions shoreline vegetation provides. Shoreline buffers provide many benefits for water bodies, including protecting habitat and water quality.

I advocate for sustainable densities and methods in shoreline uses that ensure no net loss of marine or freshwater ecological functions. I specifically request you consider and support the following:

  • Buffers – Do not allow standard SMP buffer widths or setbacks to be modified or reduced; not for Shoreline Environmental Designations, vegetation conservation, or other areas. Adequate buffer widths are the most straight-forward protection method available; buffer widths should be maximized to account for unforeseen effects.
  • Mitigation – Encourage long-term net gains in both programmatic (planning-level decisions) and project (site-specific design detail) bases, particularly when conducting mitigation sequencing (avoiding, then minimizing, finally compensating for impacts).

Mitigation conducted when buffer widths are reduced in size must result in a no net loss of environmental functions. Mitigation for development projects alone will not minimize adverse cumulative impacts to the shoreline environment, so restoration with a net gain in environmental functions is also required. Require compensatory mitigation to occur in the same, or a related, habitat area for gain in the same ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes.

  • Aquaculture – Aquaculture’s use of shorelines must be consistent with the regulations of the Shoreline Management Act, the shoreline master program, and Best Available Science. A water-dependent use, aquaculture is polluting western coastlines, sounds, and estuaries with plasThe use of plastic by the aquaculture industry is pervasive, and will increase with industry expansion. Geoduck aquaculture mitigation practices, when based on Best Available Science, are known to reduce risks to birds and other wildlife. Use mitigation practices to reduce these and other risks:
  1. Change methods geoduck aquaculture uses during site preparation and harvesting that eliminate, or at least reduce, damage to benthic communities;
  2. Avoid plastics; encourage the use of non-toxic plastics;
  3. Limit changes (little or no scraping, dredging) in the benthic (ocean floor) community during geoduck site preparation and planting;
  4. Limit the use of predator control area netting to reduce the risk of birds being trapped;
  5. Prohibit the use of plastics in aquaculture. At a minimum, Non-toxic plastics; keep birds, fish, and wildlife from ingesting micro-plastics which, when ingested, cause starvation;
  6. Monitoring that includes a habitat assessment or biological baseline surveys to learn about potential and cumulative impacts of seed planting, bed maintenance and tube removal, harvesting and processing;
  7. Encourage the development of upland facilities for all types of aquaculture.
  • Mining – Thurston County should provide adequate access to mineral resources while limiting land use conflicts where mining could lead to environmental degradation, including diminished water quality and quantity.

The county should pass stringent mine reclamation and other rules that lower mining impacts. Protecting our aquifers should be the highest priority.

The county must provide adequate protection to ecological functions, processes, and shorelines against sediment and silt production when mining operations remove rock, sand, gravel, or minerals from shoreline and shoreland areas. Mining must not preclude public recreation of the public shoreline.

You are empowered with the authority and capacity to make a difference. I urge you to take the necessary steps to protect the county’s natural resources and habitats, so the marine and freshwater shorelines and shorelands of our county will flourish into the future.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Black Hills Audubon Supports I-1631

Black Hills Audubon Supports I-1631

Reduce Burning of Fossil Fuels and Increase Renewable Energy in Washington State

The frequent wildfires throughout Washington State have become impossible to overlook, while we breathe and smell the pervasive smoke, and view our iconic mountains if at all through dense haze.  Climate change is rapidly occurring — too rapid for birds and other wildlife to adapt, not to mention, us.

Black Hills Audubon, as well as Audubon Washington, have endorsed Initiative I-1631.  This measure would place an ever-increasing fee on greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by the largest emitters in the state.  These funds would be used to develop renewable energy, like wind and solar; protect forests, clean water, and clean air; while protecting communities at risk.  Our air would become cleaner both as emissions into the atmosphere decrease and as clean energy helps address the effects of global warming, eventually reversing the trend toward wildfires, droughts, severe storms, and a disruptive climate where we are now headed.  Development of renewable energy would provide many new jobs in Washington state, while establishing our state as a leader for the nation in addressing global warming.

Climate change is with us; we need action now. We have before us an opportunity to do our part in addressing a clear and present danger.  Washington state can be a bellwether for the nation.  We recommend support for I-1631.

BHAS Endorses Tumwater’s Ballot Measure on Parks and Recreation

Black Hills Audubon has endorsed Tumwater’s proposed MPD (Metropolitan Parks District), which would provide funds for parks and recreation facilities by levying a higher property tax.  The principle of this tax is similar to that of the recent Olympia Parks measure that was instrumental in the preservation of LBA Woods and which was also endorsed by BHAS.  The Tumwater proposal will be on the ballot this November in that city.

In addition to developing neighborhood parks and general park maintenance, these funds would be used to complete part of the Deschutes Valley Trail, connecting Tumwater Historical Park with Pioneer Park, and to help purchase additional park land and environmentally sensitive areas, as opportunities arise.  Having such funds available as properties become available is essential as housing and commercial development  proceed in Tumwater and our area in general.

Quality Rock Products (QRP)/Eucon Corporation

Settlement Agreement: A Settlement Agreement was completed with Quality Rock Products in March of 2018.  Under this agreement, the Eucon Corporation signed a Covenant on their mining property near the Black River National Wildlife Refuge that ensures that neither a concrete plant nor an asphalt plant can be built on that property.  This covenant applies in perpetuity and runs with the land.

In return BHAS withdrew its SEPA appeal of the Special Use Permit (SUP) and five-year review permit concerning QRP gravel mining and its right to object to further reviews of the same project or help others do these things.  The settlement agreement, however, will prevent two major forms of industrial development that would disrupt water flow, enhance noise levels, and increase toxic chemicals in the Black River watershed and its productive habitats for wildlife.

Background: In 2008 after a seven year legal ordeal, the State Appeals Court denied QRP the expansion of its mine adjacent to what is now the Black River N.W.R.  In 2009, QRP reapplied to expand its mine from 151 to about 250 acres, and to grandfather in a concrete plant.  After solid comment letters by BHAS, in 2015, QRP dropped its pursuit of the concrete plant.  In 2016, GeoEngineers in a hydrogeologic study confirmed BHAS concerns regarding the impact of the mine on Ashley Creek (a Black River tributary) and on the summer flow of the Black River, recommending further studies to determine the consequences of the mine on the surrounding sensitive conservation area that includes Coho salmon and the Oregon Spotted Frog.  In 2016-17, the intention to build a concrete plant was reopened.  BHAS had its own hydrogeology studies done and submitted the results to Thurston County.

Maytown Conservation Fund

Land Preservation: The Maytown Conservation Fund Group contributed funds to help Capitol Land Trust purchase 60 acres of land on the Holm ranch on 113th Ave., north of Littlerock in the Black River watershed. This flooded woodland including Bloom’s Ditch — a salmon-bearing channelized stream — can be managed for conservation of Oregon Spotted Frogs, a species of concern of the Maytown Conservation Fund, and provide opportunities for bird surveys and field trips for BHAS.  The settlement agreement authorizing the Maytown Conservation Fund permits using monies from the Fund for acquisition of lands within the Black River watershed.

Background: To protect rare prairie habitat, BHAS manages the Maytown Conservation Fund, which permits monitoring the water level and status of species of concern (as well as acquisition of land within the Black River watershed), on the 810-acre West Rocky Prairie tract in southern Thurston County, currently owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). BHAS is working with WDFW, Northwest Land & Water, Center for Natural Lands Management, and Capitol Land Trust (CLT), on monitoring efforts.  BHAS is the Fund Manager; CLT is the Fund Administrator. 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 the Port 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 did.  Significant funds have been obtained for WDFW to make the purchase, but the Port of Tacoma has not agreed to a sale. (Photo credit: Virginia Schanbel, ThurstonTalk.com) 

Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project Update

The Proposal: 38 wind turbines and associated infrastructure are planned by RES-Americas for a site on both sides of the border between Thurston and Lewis counties (the turbines themselves would be within Lewis County).  The turbines would be on a prominent ridge in the vicinity of the Skookumchuck Reservoir and in immediate proximity to occupied marbled murrelet sites, expected to result in the loss of at least 2-3 Marbled Murrelets per year.  The turbines will have high-tech sensors capable of detecting Bald and Golden Eagles and stopping blade rotating when these very large birds are near; during the first two years, however, cesation of blade rotation would be activated only if the take limit (set by USFWS) is approached.  Smaller birds, in any event, would not be detected and risk suffering mortality from blade strikes.

Comments Submitted:  Scoping comments for draft Environmental Impact Statements (dEIS’s) have been submitted by BHAS to Lewis County in May, 2018, and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in early June, 2018.  Thanks to all who also submitted Comments to Lewis County or USFWS or both!

Anticipated Dates for USFWS EIS:

Draft EIS available 9/17/2018
Public Comments on draft EIS due: 11/1/2018
Final EIS available 3/4/2019
Release of Record of Decision: 5/2/2019

BHAS Position: Because wind energy contributes to reducing fossil-fuel carbon emissions—thus reducing the threat of global warming to wildlife, including birds—BHAS is willing to support wind energy projects as long as sufficient mitigation is provided for the protection of birds and other wildlife.  BHAS is advocating for protection of Marbled Murrelets, which are known to fly through this area in route to nesting sites.

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)

Industry Continues to Threaten Black River Watershed

After six years of hearings and litigation, the Washington State Court of Appeals denied a Hearing Examiner’s approval of a Special Use Permit (SUP) for Quality Rock Products (QRP) for an expanded gravel mine, asphalt plant, and concrete plant adjacent to the Black River National Wildlife Refuge a few miles south of Black Hills High School. Since 2001, BHAS has been arguing that it is inappropriate to have an industrial operation on the border of a unique riparian ecosystem that is home to rare wetland plants, spawning coho, and the Oregon Spotted Frog (now a threatened species under Federal law). In 2007, the Appeals Court agreed with appellants Thurston County and BHAS. The Court focused its conclusion on the need for more water studies, saying “Missing from this analysis, however, is any assessment of this withdrawal’s effect on the Black River’s flow volume, particularly during the peak production, dry summer months.”

Alas, in 2009, QRP reapplied—this time for mine expansion and a concrete plant. In September 2017, QRP submitted final technical groundwater and mitigation reports, the last requirement to complete its application. Jim Mathieu, the hydrologist for BHAS, quickly submitted BHAS’s response. Water is our key environmental argument. BHAS has recommended several reasonable ways to greatly improve QRP’s analysis of mine impacts. These recommended analyses (additional model scenarios) would better inform the monitoring and mitigation necessary to protect the nearby aquatic habitat. To date, QRP has not directly acknowledged BHAS’ recommendations or comments.

BHAS’s two requests are (1) that QRP run computer models now for conditions where the mine excavation pit lakebed is less effective than QRP assumes, and (2) use the model results to equip select monitoring wells and creek stage gages with computer sensors both on and near the mine site. QRP has already installed monitoring wells, but they only take water-level samples at each site every three months and have no plans for continuous data collection. Computer sensors in wells and at creek stage gages provide much more reliable data by registering water levels continuously. With respect to point 1, BHAS is also concerned that disturbing the lakebed sides and bottom layer during on-going future excavation over the life of the mine would damage any protective lakebed silt layer. QRP suggests this protective silt layer would mitigate the altered water-seepage pattern from wetlands, streams and groundwater caused by the artificial lake. BHAS also questions the assumptions upon which the stated rate of lakebed silt-layer development is based.

Geoengineers, a consultant group retained by Thurston County, will examine the QRP groundwater memo and mitigation. If they agree with QRP, the State Environmental review (SEPA) and SUP land use hearing may take place in late fall or early winter. (by Sue Danver, photo Capitol Land Trust – Jodie Dubois)

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