Legislative/Advocacy Action

BLACK HILLS AUDUBON ALERT: West Rocky Prairie under threat of Industrial Complex

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BLACK HILLS AUDUBON ALERT: West Rocky Prairie under threat of Industrial Complex

Explanatory statement:

Please sign the petition by Monday, April 22, to be sent to the Thurston County Commissioners. Say no to RRI zoning request (industrial) for a 745-acre parcel of land between Millersylvania State Park and West Rocky Prairie Preserve.

The Port of Tacoma is working with a Missouri company, NorthPoint, to develop an extensive logistics center in South Thurston County with a projected six million square feet of warehousing most probably served by extensive Burlington Northern rail and truck traffic. The proposed site is located immediately north and west of the 800-acre West Rocky Prairie preserve owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This preserve includes federally threatened species, State Priority Species, Mima Mounds, and oak and prairie ecosystems. The site is slightly southeast of the nearby historic and popular Millersylvania State Park. It is no place for an industrial hub.

In 2007 and 2008, the Port of Tacoma attempted to establish a similar logistic center that, after much citizen protest, was withdrawn by the Port of Tacoma. Now the Port wants to rezone the entire parcel to industrial. On April 24, the Board of County Commissioners will discuss whether to put this rezoning amendment on their docket to decide this year.

This area has an extremely high water table. Impervious development and polluting truck/train traffic would threaten not only the endangered Oregon-spotted Frog and its sensitive wetlands but also compromise the local aquifer as well as the integrity of the WDFW preserve.

Petition Link

The Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: A Three Year Journey

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(by Sue Danver and Alex Foster) – As you may remember, Black Hills Chapter of the Audubon Society (BHAS) supported an appeal of the proposed Lake Lawrence cell phone tower at a hearing before the Thurston County Hearing Examiner on March 15, 2016. The reason was due to the tower’s location next to waterfowl concentration areas and newly restored wetlands on the Deschutes River floodplain at Smith Ranch resulting in high potential for bird collisions with the tower. County code requires a 1000-foot setback from these features; the proposed tower would be within 430 feet. In May of 2016, the Hearing Examiner agreed and remanded the proposal back to the County planning department for further review. The project applicant Verizon Wireless(VW) hired a contractor to study bird movements near the site. BHAS members assisted a local wildlife researcher and neighborhood volunteers to conduct a similar bird study. Both studies showed birds flying in close proximity to the tower. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated both studies and agreed with their results. VW then hired another contractor, an avian expert used by the telecom and wind turbine industries, to assess the tower’s risk for bird strikes. The appellant group also hired an avian expert to assess the risk. A second hearing was conducted September 2018, however, this time the Hearing Examiner agreed with the applicant, “While the proposed tower location is within 1,000 feet of two waterfowl concentration areas (163rd wetlands, Smith Ranch Mitigation Area) and this placement does put wildlife at more risk…however, I think the applicant has adequately analyzed that risk and I concur with the conclusion that the risk of bird strikes exists but is low due to the height and design of the tower.” The neighborhood group appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision in front of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Commissioners Hutchins and Blake decided, but Commissioner Edwards, who lives near Lake Lawrence, initially stated he had no prior communications with case parties but later recused (disqualified) himself from the decision. The remaining board members upheld the Hearing Examiner’s decision.

A new group has since filed an appeal in Superior Court. They cite several procedural errors made by the County including records excluded from the case file that should have been available for consideration in both the Hearing Examiner and the BOCC decisions…the odyssey continues.

Thurston County now revising Mineral Land Policy

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(by Sue Danver) – Thurston County government is planning a major revision of its policy on mineral resource lands that could drastically change local land use and the rural nature of the County. This summer the County Commissioners are expected to finalize a new Comprehensive Plan Policy, with significant changes affecting the mineral-lands portion of the Natural Resources Lands chapter.

In 2016, Thurston County mapped the locations of its aggregate (sand and gravel) and bedrock deposits. In March 2017, the Thurston County Planning Commission (PC) designated as Mineral Lands of Long-term Significance all mapped sand, gravel, and quarry deposits, an area of about 141,000 acres. The County Commissioners will confirm or reject this recommendation this summer. Since 2006, about 2,000 acres have had mineral designation.

How does mineral lands designation affect Thurston County citizens? It means that in a hearing for the approval of a mine application, designation as Mineral Lands gives the extraction of mineral resources preferential use of that land. A proposed mine must still meet county and state environmental standards, such as those dealing with noise, ambient light, decreased air quality, water pollution, lowering of the water table, and reduction of rural wildlife. However, citizens’ concerns may take a back seat to the potential of a county-valued mine. Also, it is unlikely that mineral-land status would be reversed in the future.

It is important to keep strong environmental standards in the Comprehensive Plan and, if not there, then in the County development code. Already, the PC has approved a 1,000-foot separation distance (because of incompatible activities) between lands with mineral designation and parks and preserves. We applaud this decision. In April, the PC will also review and recommend the future development code. Many changes have been made to the current code; BHAS is now reviewing the staff’s draft.

Initially:

  • We support the staff’s newly added water quality and quantity requirements, which must be met to obtain a mine permit. A hydrogeologist who has worked on gravel issues for BHAS before will review the new water code, and BHAS will submit his code suggestions before the April public comment period.
  • We oppose two code changes: (1) allowing the expansion of an existing mine onto neighboring non-designated parcels, including an additional option to ignore the 1,000’ separation distance between parks and mines. (2) Allowing a new mine to develop on an entire parcel when as little as 5% of that parcel is designated mineral land, with an option to ignore any 1,000’ separation distance if a natural area park/reserve is in that parcel. This could result in thousands of acres added to the overall 141,000 acres of designation outside the standard Comprehensive Plan amendment process.
  • We anticipate recommending additional code to incorporate the Best Available Science to protect wildlife and their habitat from industrial activities such as loud noise, lights, and particulate matter.
  • We will be supporting greater protection of Agricultural Lands of Long-term Commercial Significance and agricultural lands in general. South Sound Farmland Trust is now working on their position and code recommendations.

The expansion of potentially mineable lands in the County raises other concerns. No one involved with this issue can estimate how many mines there could be; the number will depend on how much aggregate will be exported from our County. How will the County and its citizens deal with the cumulative effects of increased mining? The County has marketable gravel of excellent quality (clean and the right size). With multiple mines, we could lose the balance of resource use that is the vision of our citizens.

We would appreciate hundreds of comments to the Planning Commission Public Hearing. Public input and high numbers are very important. We will be recommending comments in the April CHIRPS. Thank you.

Updating the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program

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by Sam Merrill – Black Hills Audubon is taking a lead role in a number of conservation efforts. One of these is the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program (SMP), which is under intensive review at this time. Audubon Conservation Committee member Anne Van Sweringen, representing Black Hills Audubon and four other local environmental organizations, participates on the Shoreline Master Program stakeholders group and has submitted extensive comments to the Board of County Commissioners on proposed revisions of the SMP.

BHAS is concerned about converting shoreline to other uses. The SMP guidelines (WAC 173-26-186(8)) provide for development standards and use regulations designed to assess impacts and achieve no net loss of shoreline ecological functions. Management of shoreline aquatic systems is critical for the health and safety of the public. Shoreline buffers protect habitat and water quality. BHAS is advocating that standard SMP buffer widths or setbacks not be modified or reduced; that compensatory mitigation be required in the same, or a related, habitat area; and that aquaculture’s use of shorelines be consistent with the regulations of the Shoreline Management Act, the shoreline master program, and Best Available Science. The 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.

The “redlined” version of the draft SMP Update with comments from the Thurston County Planning Commission and the public is expected to be available January 16. Attendance and/or testimony by BHAS members and others who support environmental objectives is needed at SMP meetings of the Thurston County Planning Commission (typically first and third Wednesdays, with a December 19 Open House) and the Board of County Commissioners. See our electronic newsletter Chirps or our website BlackHills-Audubon.org for timely updates.


Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project Needs More Protection for Birds

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by Maria Ruth – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a proposed wind-energy project to be sited in Lewis and Thurston Counties on 20,000 acres owned by Weyerhaeuser. The project will include 38 wind turbines, 16 miles of generator tie lines and support structures, meteorological towers, and operations and maintenance facility. It is expected to produce 137 megawatts of energy for the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) electrical system.

The project is expected to have a significant impact on protected bird species. The company planning the project, RES Americas, has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and a Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to offset the “take” (loss) of 75 Marbled Murrelets, 66 Bald Eagles, and 23 Golden Eagles from collision with the turbines over the 30-year expected lifespan of the project. The area lies within the Pacific flyway, and 68 species of birds as well as 10 species of bats were identified at the site, including several of “special status”—endangered, federal species of concern, state sensitive species, or candidate species.

Following the National Audubon Society’s statement on wind-energy projects, BHAS supports projects that are planned, properly-sited, and operated to minimize harm to birds and other wildlife. While the Skookumchuck project includes some significant proposed measures toward minimization and mitigation in their DEIS and Habitat Conservation Plan, we believe RES Americas has not yet met the Audubon standard. Black Hills Audubon has serious concerns about the high level of potential bird fatalities from this project:

  • There is no plan to minimize or mitigate collision with turbines and other structures during construction, which is likely to overlap months of high-activity periods for migratory birds, locally breeding birds, and bats.
  • The impact on Marbled Murrelets is not adequately minimized; 38 turbines could completely eliminate the vulnerable southwest Washington population of murrelets.
  • Studies of bird, bat, and murrelet activity at the site were not thorough, so the DEIS underestimates the collision risk during all phases of the project.
  • Additional murrelet activity studies should be conducted and combined with best-available research on the murrelet’s breeding biology to create a stronger mitigation plan.
  • Migratory birds are especially vulnerable, given the newly weakened Migratory Bird Treaty Act that no longer prohibits the take of migratory species.

Black Hills Audubon—and all Washingtonians—can help RES-Americas get their proposed wind-energy project right; it could be the model for other wind-energy turbines along the Pacific Northwest Coast where the imperiled Marbled Murrelet flies.

There is no denying that we need new sources of clean energy. Wind energy reduces fossil-fuel carbon emissions and thus reduces the threat of global warming to wildlife. This is our chance to clean up the DEIS to help ensure the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project deserves to be called “clean.”

Public comments are due to US Fish & Wildlife on January 14. Please visit the BHAS website for more information on this project and for talking points to consider for your public comments.

To review the DEIS or HCP, please visit https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/documents/SWEP/Final_SWEP_DEIS_20181109_508Compliant.pdf. To submit written comments: Online: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2018–0095. By U.S. mail or hand-delivery: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, c/o Tim Romanski, 510 Desmond Dr. SE, Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503.


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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)