Maria Ruth – Conservationist of the Year 2019

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.