Echo May 2019

BHAS Meets the Challenge to Protect West Rocky Prairie

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A month ago, BHAS learned that a Missouri company (NorthPoint) that designs and builds logistics centers and warehouses had applied to Thurston County for a rezone on the 745-acre parcel bordering the North and East boundaries of West Rocky Prairie.  The company asked to change the zoning from (timber and gravel activities) and 1/20-residential to industrial.  This property is 1/2 mile southeast of Millersylvania State Park.  BHAS attended a county briefing on April 3 and learned that up to 6 million square feet of warehousing might be built at the site.  In 2005 BHAS signed a Settlement Agreement on how gravel mining would be conducted on 284 acres of the 745 acres in exchange for the developer selling West Rocky Prairie, on the south and west border, to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  In the future, according to the Agreement, when mining was completed, 500 acres of the mine area would be reclaimed to trees, wetlands, lakes and transitional lands around these natural features.

BHAS has provided comments on this zoning request that allowing this development would break the Settlement Agreement and the conditions of the mine’s Special Use Permit.  In addition, this area’s high water table and an increase in impervious surface could alter normal surface water patterns and affect the sensitive critical areas on the 800-acre WDFW West Rocky Prairie Preserve.  The Federally Threatened Oregon Spotted Frog lives in wetlands adjacent to the proposed industrial site.  Our consulting hydrogeologist’s 7-year study suggests the water changes could threaten the Threatened frog.  Wetland birds and prairie butterflies could be negatively affected as well.

At a future meeting, County Commissioners will discuss this complicated issue and whether they will put this industrial zoning request on this year’s Comprehensive Plan amendment docket.  We have urged the Commissioners to reject NorthPoint’s ‘special’ industrial zoning request as it would likely bump many local citizens’ projects, that were selected in 2018 to be completed by the end of 2019, into 2020.  Please attend the Tuesday, May 7, 8 a.m. Commissioner meeting to show that this community wants to protect West Rocky Prairie from becoming an industrial area like that on I-5 near the Port of Tacoma.

Through the Seasons, Swiftly

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(by Rachel Hudson) April has come once again, and I am patiently waiting.

Any day now, masses of tiny dark birds will pass through my small town, and I am ready for them. They will never land on any tree or power line, and almost nobody in Chehalis will know of their presence aloft in our skies. But I know them. And so I wait… and listen… and watch.

Suddenly, as I stand upon my sunset-lit balcony overlooking all of Downtown, I hear them. My heart thrills at the unmistakable high-pitched chirruping of a small group of Vaux’s Swifts, zipping to and fro high overhead. My first migrants have finally arrived.

They have flown across an entire continent to reach me, and for most of them, their journey is not yet over. Vaux’s Swifts spend their winters in balmy Central America and Southern Mexico, and when spring arrives, they fly thousands of miles north to their summer range along the western portion of the United States and British Columbia. Many of the birds I see will continue their voyage north to breed, but usually half a dozen or so will remain in town with me through the summer.

For now, though, my task is to count the birds overhead, and follow them to find where they will spend the night.

Vaux’s Swifts cannot perch like most other birds, but they can use their tiny feet to cling vertically to rough surfaces… mainly the inside of old chimneys these days, where they roost communally each night throughout their migrations. The tiny birds lost most of their hollowed-out old-growth trees, in which they would historically stay. Watching the spectacle of thousands of birds spiraling into a single chimney as though the skies were made of water and the swifts were being rinsed down a funnel is stunning and breathtaking.

The small flock wheeling over town now is but a shadow of more action yet to come.

It is now the beginning of June. The whirlwind of tiny, barely 4.5-inch-long birds passing through Chehalis has come to a swift end, and my group of six summer residents are all that remain. I have sent the last of my nightly reports on the Swifts to Larry Schwitters, the man responsible for the Swifts’ conservation and well-being throughout their range. The website for Larry’s wee birds, www.vauxhappening.org, has everything anyone could ask for regarding the Swifts, including the report forms I fill out. Vast thousands of Vaux’s Swifts flooded the West Coast in a matter of weeks, and all have dispersed now to raise new families.

My small blue handheld clicker that I use to count the birds is placed reverently in my desk drawer. Larry generously mails the Swift Seekers these clickers, and I know that mine will see many more seasons of use… but not now. During the warm summer months, the Swifts build tiny nests with their mates; they do not roost en masse anymore. It’s too hot for that, anyway. In the meantime, each pair will hopefully raise up to six little ones to join them on their way back south in a few short months.

August has arrived. The smog from the forest fires of summer is nearly intolerable for me, yet I still race in flip-flops and a skirt through Downtown, a few blocks from my home. In one hand, I clutch my little blue clicker, and in the other hand, I have my phone to take notes. My hat keeps flying off, I am out of breath, and I’m sure many citizens of Chehalis are wondering why I am sprinting through the alleys alone.

The Swifts are on the move once more. Though the masses of little gray-brown birds often roost in one particular chimney in Chehalis, they seem to be changing their minds tonight. I rush to follow them on foot through town, my head tilted to the sky. The flock of a thousand Swifts is starting to split, and I try my best to keep tabs on multiple groups as they begin to make their first passes at several chimneys in Downtown. I frantically think: Where did that splinter group disappear to? Can I still see the main flock?

As I catch up to the splinter flock, I find yet another confirmed roost site for them in my beloved town; this chimney is tiny and would have been unnoticeable, were it not for the flock of several hundred little birds funneling down inside it. I angle myself so I can try to watch both flocks at once, but I’m not skilled at counting in this fashion. Perhaps I need another clicker.Or more Swift Seekers. Anyone, anywhere, can become a Swift Seeker; it’s enormously rewarding and exciting work.

Right now, across the West Coast, many other people are having a similar experience… though without quite as much sprinting. Larry’s Swift Seekers are working hard from now through October, counting the darling Swifts as they migrate south, and documenting other important data such as temperature and weather conditions. The Vaux’s Swift fall migration draws massive crowds of onlookers at several key roosts along their route. At Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, for example, thousands of spectators gather to watch many thousands of Swifts enter a single chimney each night during fall migration.

The Swifts are in no hurry for now… winter is in no hurry, either, and the sickle-winged birds have successfully raised their families. All they need to do now is make their way back to Central America well before their food supply of airborne insects vanishes. They take their time heading south, often staying for several nights at each chimney. The combination of perfect weather and thousands of clouding Swifts makes for an excellent night out with one’s friends and family.

All too soon, October is here. There are still many Vaux’s Swifts working their way to southern climes, but the ones that fly through Chehalis are long gone. I take my backpack and rifle through its contents, until my hand brushes against something extremely familiar: my little blue clicker. With a twinge of sadness, I carry it over to my desk drawer once again. This time, I will not use it until later next year… almost seven months from now. With a heavy heart, all I can do now is pray that my cherished Swifts will have a safe journey, and will find secure lodgings in their winter lands.

At first, I dread that these months will drag on for an eternity. But then I remember, there is much work for everyone to do in the meantime regarding the Swifts’ conservation. April will come again sooner than I think, and when it does, I will be on my balcony, patiently waiting for the Swifts’ grand return.

BHAS Board of Directors and Office Elections, May 9, 2019

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The BHAS Nominating Committee (Bruce Jacobs, Elizabeth Rodrick and Bob Wadsworth) announces the following nominees for the Board of Directors who will serve June 1st, 2019 through May 31st, 2020: President – Open; Vice-Preseident – Elizabeth Rodrick; Treasurer – Bruce Jacobs and Secretary – Kathleen Snyder.

Other nominees for Board Members At-Large are: Ken Brown, Hank Henry, Rachel Hudson, Sam Merrill, Sharon Moore, Charlotte Persons, Bob Wadsworth and Joe Zabransky.  Our bylaws allow up to 16 board members and the current slate is 11. Any further nominations should be submitted before the May meeting to Elizabeth Rodrick, vice-pres@nullblackhills-audubon.org. Please include a short paragraph on why you are interested in serving on the board.

BHAS has a “working board”, which means that we are all active on committees and usually have at least one special project. For those who engage and contribute their skills and experience, the rewards are meaningful and appreciated.

Chapter members will elect officers and at-large board members at the May 9th speaker meeting at 7:00 p.m. at the Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 8th Avenue SE, Olympia. Members must be present to vote.

BHAS Unveils Five-Year Strategic Plan

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by Elizabeth Rodrick, Vice President – At our August 2018 Board Retreat, we tackled the sometimes dreaded task of creating a strategic plan for our chapter. One of our members, Ed Adelson, had professionally facilitated strategic planning for groups and generously volunteered to do this for our Board. We are grateful to him for a pleasant and rewarding experience. Much of the following information is from Ed’s summary. We started by brainstorming answers to five broad topics:

Who are we now?
What is our context?
What are our goals?
What are measurable strategies to further these goals?
Where do we go from here?

Who are we now? We believe that our mission statement is still as relevant as ever. “Our mission is to promote environmental education and recreation and to maintain and protect our ecosystems for future generations.” We are mindful of important themes from the National Audubon Strategic Plan: conservation efforts, broad public reach and commitment along with commitment of member participation and networking with other organizations, climate action, focusing on flyways, diverse participation, and use of sound science. Our state annual report provides some mutual priorities as well: building bridges with industry, landowners, and other geographic stakeholders in our communities; collaborating and partnering with other organizations on behalf of birds and wildlife in our region, addressing climate action legislation, and stressing the importance of grass roots efforts. In addition, recognizing who we serve is paramount to this planning effort: our members, the general public, birds, and our natural world.

What is our context? This exercise identified our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Our strengths are conservation work, quality volunteers, flexibility and responsiveness. Weaknesses include lack of diversity, low number of active members, and reactive conservation. Opportunities for improvement are collaboration with other non-profits and outreach to the community. Possible threats to our organization are a shrinking membership, political changes, and technological changes.

What are our goals? Under four major themes we identified several goals to help fulfill our mission.
1. Environmental Education – develop new classes, collaborate with schools, and develop new adult learning opportunities.
2. Recreation and Enrichment – develop a cadre of field trip leaders, increase attendance at program meetings, broaden and increase field trip sites and participation.
3. Protect Ecosystems – reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking actions to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies, protect biological diversity and ecosystem services in our three county area, develop new member activists and expertise, and increase public awareness of political and environmental threats to local habitats.
4. Organizational Concerns – nurture leadership and consider new leadership models, increase outreach to the community and diversity of members, re-establish the Ways and Means Committee, devise a long-term fundraising and investment strategy, improve communications with members and the local community and reduce costs, create a new committee to solicit and coordinate participants for avian science and habitat conservation projects.

Next, the Board delivered these goals to our standing committees and asked them to develop strategies with metrics for success and a timeline that will advance the goals. This will allow us to evaluate our progress and report to the membership on an annual basis. You may view the strategies on our website, Strategic Plan. If you are interested in more information such as the metrics and the point persons responsible for each strategy, please contact Elizabeth Rodrick, vice-pres@nullblackhills-audubon.org.

2019 Annual Dinner Summary

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by Anne Kilgannon – The big room in the Community College Student’s Union building once again welcomed Black Hills Audubon members and guests to an evening of camaraderie, reflection and inspiration. The tables were aglow with new etched glass lighted vases, the drinks bar added a convivial gathering place, and, as always, there were raffle displays to tantalize hope. New this year, outdoor events and adventures were featured instead of silent auction items. The Annual Dinner Committee honored tradition while experimenting with ways to keep the evening’s offerings fresh and interesting.

Our speakers, Diane Yorgason-Quinn and Rachel Hudson, delighted the group with intrepid tales of observing and aiding the conservation of Swifts as they pass through our area on migration north and south. Their dedication was infectious; liberal invitations to get involved in the effort to document and save roosting chimneys were extended to all present.

Awarded this year for their work were Maria Ruth – Conservationist of the Year, Scott Mills – Environmental Educator of the Year and Margery Beeler – Volunteer of the Year. They have done so much for our chapter, expanding our knowledge of bird life, advocating for birds and ensuring the work of this chapter is done to a high standard always. We are very grateful to them for their dedication and extend our congratulations to each of them.

The dinner brought in $8400 to the chapter, $3000 of that earmarked for three particular areas of focus: a conservation fund for the costs of local advocacy work; the library partnership backpack project and emerging opportunities with our education committee such as camps and programs for youth around our region.

The crowd was smaller but enthusiastic; it is always a time to renew relationships with fellow birders, share stories and laughter while showing support for conservation efforts which support healthy environments for birds.

Armchair Birding: Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family’s Quest to Heal the Land, by Scott Freeman, with illustrations by Susan Leopold Freeman

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by Anne Kilgannon – During the recent snow event, despite our efforts, we lost the crowns from several maple trees and significant branches from other trees that graced our front garden. The damage is beyond repair. Which raises the question: what should we plant in the unwanted openings in our canopy to recreate the woodsy feel we—and our local birds—enjoyed? The adage of planting trees for future generations, not oneself, has been made more complicated by climate change. What future do we now take into consideration when choosing new trees? Admittedly, our maples are non-natives; was that a factor in their demise? Was this heavy dump of snow a harbinger or an aberration? How should we be thinking about our garden’s resiliency in the next years when the only certainty is uncertainty?

We have a small city lot. Scott Freeman writes about grappling with similar questions but scaled up to eighteen acres of mixed forest and a degraded salmon stream on the Olympic Peninsula that he and his family are working to restore. With a community of like-minded landowners, local tribal members, government agencies and land trusts, the Freemans joined the project coordinated by Peter Bahls of the Northwest Watershed Institute, to study and find ways to return the land to health. The goal is to recreate an environment fit for salmon to thrive and reproduce, as the key species necessary for that place to be whole once again.

Working from the question, what do salmon need, the family examined what had happened to the land over the years, what changes had debased the ecosystem. By searching for clues about missing pieces: the tree species logged from the site, the meandering streambed that had been channelized and scoured, the wealth of animal and plant life that had been discouraged, the Freemans set about bringing back what had been lost. What had been stripped and simplified was to be made complex and intricate, a living web again, niche by niche.

Very basically, salmon need cool, graveled, tree-shaded waters for survival and reproduction, so the stream bed was reconfigured and renovated to create protected spots for young salmon and locations for redds for spawning salmon. An extensive planting scheme was created, a many-year project that returned a variety of trees to the stream banks. When considering the recreation of the forest environment, the team also looked ahead to a future that will require different species tolerant of a changing climate and capable of sheltering birds and other species that may migrate into the area as conditions shift. This ability to learn from a lost past, work in the present, but always keep the unsettled future in mind is one of the great strengths of this book. Freeman and his coworkers demonstrate the ability to juggle many pieces of the restoration puzzle thoughtfully, learning as they go, but keeping a clear vision of a healthy place as their goal.

As high-minded as is that vision, Freeman also employs a humble humor and a patient sanity that keeps the work in perspective and makes room for delight in small moments. He and Susan and their sons take frequent walks to simply enjoy their patch of the world and note signs of progress. And there is irony, too: when one of the returning species is discovered to be beavers that relish the newly planted saplings, there is consternation about competing values, the new trees or celebration of the return of this denizen species from the lost past? The answer is to broaden the vision and find ways to include them as well as protect enough of the young trees to dapple the light reaching the water. It was a head-scratching moment, though!

Freeman ranges over concepts as large as climate change, mass extinction, the psychological toll as we contemplate the loss of home as we once knew it, our personal and collective responsibilities, and how to keep our commitment to life intact and open. He circles from looming catastrophe back to finding strength in family and community and shared values as the way forward. He finds poetry in salmon nosing their way into the restored stream and renewal in caring for the trees that hold the soil and stretch over the water, noting, “Thinning and pruning have spiritual benefits too, for there is no better way to learn a patch of land than to work on it.” He is as strongly rooting himself and family by Tarboo Creek as the forest he is encouraging.

And it is not happenstance that brought him to this place. While it may sometimes seem like every innovative conservation project has a Leopold involved, it may very well be true that every Leopold can be found doing something in the field, doggedly and with imagination and generations of experience to guide them. The lineage of this project is direct: Susan Leopold Freeman and her husband Scott named the area they are restoring “Carl’s Forest” in honor of Susan’s father who had dedicated his life to plant research as the founding director of the Tropical Forestry Initiative, the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Carl is, of course, a son of Aldo Leopold, who is, then, the great grandfather of Susan and Scott’s sons. That connection of generations, of shoulders to stand upon, adds depth and a sense of legacy and responsibility to uphold the family ethos of sustainable and conscious living. Whatever our own heritage, we can all gain from their example and accumulated wisdom and share in the task of loving the land upon which we live in this caring and visionary way.

Scott Mills – Environmental Educator of the Year 2019

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This year’s recipient of the Dave McNett Environmental Educator of the Year award, Scott Mills, received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at The Ohio State University. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona in 1979. For the 8 years he was in grad school, Scott was either a research or teaching assistant, included serving as Assistant Curator of Birds for several years at the University of Arizona. After graduation, Scott spent 3 years as a Zoologist for the Nature Conservancy in Tucson, followed by a career as an Environmental Consultant full time until 1998, part time after that. His work spanned a wide range of projects including many surveys and assessments of endangered species.

Scott was active in Tucson Audubon Society, serving on their Board of Directors, Chaired and Co-chaired committees, lead field trips, and taught bird classes. He was on the Arizona Birds Record Committee. Still infected by the teaching bug, Scott taught Ornithology at the University of Arizona as an Instructor for two semesters. Then, fortunately for us, he moved to Olympia in 1999.

Since 2000, shortly after his arrival in the Northwest, Scott has conducted seabird surveys from NOAA ships, and has worked with Westport Seabirds, as a “spotter” on their pelagic birding voyages. Scott has taught bird classes for Black Hills Audubon, Seattle Audubon and the Seattle Audubon Master Birding Class since 2008. Classes have included “Beginning Birding”, “Birding 101”, “Advanced Birding”, “Bird Anatomy and Physiology”, “Birding by Shape”, “Bird Flight”, “Shorebirds”, and “Birds of Washington.”

As a teacher, Scott has a deep grasp of his subject, a patient but enthusiastic teaching style, and a willingness to meet each student where they are, while encouraging and enabling them to learn more. After learning of his selection for the award, Scott’s humble nature and informal style prompted him to decline to attend the BHAS Annual Dinner. When presented with the plaque at the beginning of the class he is currently teaching (Shorebird Identification), Scott typically deflected praise and shared all the credit with BHAS.

Maria Ruth – Conservationist of the Year 2019

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For the past seven years, Maria Ruth has been involved with the Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet that is being developed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Maria is the author of the definitive book, Rare Bird, that brought to the general public the saga of solving the mystery of where murrelets nest; namely, on high branches of old growth trees often many miles from the ocean where they forage. Mountaineers Books reissued this book in paperback in 2013 as Rare Bird Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet. Maria has given presentations on murrelets to many Audubon chapters and other conservation groups across Washington and in Oregon and California and testified on behalf of this species at public hearings before the Board of Natural Resources and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. As she says, she was up to her ears in murrelets!

Not really looking for another murrelet-oriented task, in 2017 she nevertheless attended the open-house hosted by the company RES Americas that concerned its proposed development of the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project. This project planned 51 (now 38) wind turbines on a prominent ridge near the border of Lewis and Thurston Counties to produce power to be purchased by Puget Sound Energy. Black Hills Audubon, like National Audubon, supports wind energy — because it can help reduce fossil fuel use and thus address climate change and protect birds and other wildlife — that is, as long as there is adequate protection and/or mitigation for direct kills of birds.

The turbines will have high-tech sensors capable of detecting Bald and Golden Eagles and stopping blade rotating as these very large birds approach; however, these sensors cannot identify smaller birds. Marbled Murrelets are particularly at risk because of the immediate proximity of the proposed wind farm to occupied marbled murrelet nesting sites and because of the tenuous hold of this species on continued existence in Washington State.

In order to advance murrelet conservation, Maria plunged in, reading dozens of reports and studies; talked to murrelet biologists and wind-energy specialists; read several hundred pages of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement; and drafted comments on behalf of Black Hills to help reduce the harmful impacts of this wind-energy project not only on Marbled Murrelets but also on Bald and Golden Eagles, migratory song birds, and several species of bats.

Working with others in and outside of Audubon (including Willapa Hills Audubon and the Washington Forest Law Center), she led the BHAS effort to submit scoping comments on the Skookumchuck Project, as well as many pages of comments to Lewis County and the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the draft Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan.

Conservation projects seem never to be finished — and the Skookumchuck project is no exception — but time has been provided for RES-Americas to respond to our concerns and take bigger steps to make this a cleaner clean-energy project.

Margery Beeler – Volunteer of the Year 2019

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Thank you from Margery Beeler – I will never find the perfect words to express my gratitude for being chosen to receive BHAS’s first Volunteer of the Year Award.

I came to Olympia in 2002 from S.W. Florida, where I was deeply involved with one of Audubon’s most impressive custodial possessions: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. This was my second post-retirement relocation from my life in Schenectady, New York, and career in public libraries. My life in Olympia has been intertwined with BHAS from my arrival, and I have loved this organization, not just for its mission (the original drawing point) but more importantly for the community of people it attracts.

My involvement in the Annual Dinner and its auction was truly a labor of love from the beginning in 2003. We never made a huge amount of money with the auction, but I always liked to think we provided members with a chance to feel they were contributing to the organization through their donations or purchases, as well as a venue at the dinner for social interaction.

As membership chair, I have been happy to maintain our membership database. While this is not always an exciting effort, I have always believed in its importance and am glad I can continue to do it for BHAS. I have enjoyed participating in the various areas in which I felt I could contribute, and I plan to contribute as long as that contribution is acceptable. Having my contributions acknowledged as valuable is the veritable icing on the cake.

Thank you all. You’ve made me very happy.