Ongoing Conservation Projects at Black Hills Audubon

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)