Allen Gibbs, Chair, Conservation Committee
City of Everett Safe Harbor Agreement – A comment letter was submitted by the Western Forestry Law Center (WFLC) on behalf of Seattle Audubon, Pilchuck Audubon, Olympic Forest Coalition (OFCO), and the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC), on June 4, 2015, to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The letter concerned the City of Everett’s request for a Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) permit from the USFWS to cover the city’s proposed forest management in its Sultan River municipal watershed. This includes Lake Chaplain and Spada Lake.
On July 1, WFLC attorneys Wyatt Golding and Kara Whittaker, Marcy Golde of OFCO and Allen Gibbs of PAS, met with USFWS representatives in Lacey, WA, to seek modifications to the proposed SHA and subject the permit application to a more thorough environmental review. In particular, the June 4 letter requested USFWS to not apply a Categorical Exclusion to the review, and instead to require at minimum an Environmental Assessment. Also attending the meeting were representatives from the City of Everett’s forestry group, and WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. A decision by USFWS is still some time away, as it is still acquiring information from its own biologists, the city and WDFW, as well as considering public comments.
SHAs are managed by the USFWS, and are intended to encourage small forest landowners to develop habitat for T&E species over some period of time. About 20 years ago, around the time of adoption of the Clinton Forest Plan by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, some small landowners in WA, OR and northern CA, feared that if they managed their forest lands for maximum income, by growing trees into large size, but also achieving mature conditions favoring the owl and later the murrelet, they may not be allowed to harvest those stands, or at least not harvest without penalties and loss of income. Some landowners decided to harvest their trees before those conditions were attained, to avoid loss of income.
This was not a desired outcome under ESA for either small landowners or the birds. The SHA assumes that even a temporary period of time for owl and murrelet habitats is better than no habitat at all.
A SHA permit for 50 years, as sought by the City of Everett, would serve as “insurance” for the city whose forest stands have been surveyed and found to not now be occupied by either bird, but may be occupied in the future as the previously logged stands mature. It is also “insurance” against other species being added under ESA T&E listings during the 50-year period and applied to the city’s forest stands. If any new species is added, the city would not have to manage habitat nor populations of new species.
The City proposes to set aside from logging for 50 years some of its maturing forest stands. This could benefit Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelets which may eventually occupy the stands. In return, the city has opportunities to harvest its other forest stands without penalty or income loss.
After the Lacey meeting, and further consideration of the City of Everett proposal, our “conservation group” thinks there is a conservation benefit in this proposal. However, that proposal could be strengthened by the USFWS if it adopts some of our suggestions.
Keep in mind the city is not required to obtain the SHA permit for its forest management and logging under ESA. The application indicates the Washington State Forest Practices Act habitat conditions now required are met. However, it should be noted the state bar is not “high” to meet as applied by WA Department of Natural Resources. If no SHA permit, logging any of the city’s stands, second growth and mature is likely. There is more conservation benefit under a SHA permit, even if not for longer than 50 years. However, who knows what opportunities may come along for increased conservation benefits?
In an email from the WFLC to the conservation groups on July 7, accompanying a new draft letter to USFWS, WFLC attorneys write that the city’s proposal is “… a significant conservation gain, because absent the SHA, Everett would likely be able to (log any of its) forests after jumping through procedural hurdles.”
It is recommended by WFLC to send a letter of support to USFWS to issue the SHA permit to the city, and urge consideration of our previous suggestions. The USFWS and others at the Lacey meeting seemed amenable to some suggestions. The letter could be signed by WFLC, Seattle Audubon, Pilchuck Audubon, Olympic Forest Coalition, and the North Cascades Conservation Council, all of whom signed the June 4 letter.
It is recommended by Allen Gibbs who represented PAS at the USFWS meeting, and by Kathy Johnson who participated in a pre-meeting tel/con on June 30 and in preparing the June 4 letter, that the PAS Board approve signing the letter.
A copy of the July 7th draft letter, which contains a revision by OFCO pertaining to salvage logging, is attached to this report. The draft letter may be further revised before a final letter is completed by WFLC.
Carbon Tax v Cap and Trade Pollution Control Options – Terry Nightingale will make a presentation on this item at the July 7th board meeting.
Fir Island Farm Reserve Unit – Allen Gibbs represented PAS at the WDFW “golden shovel digging event” on June 30th near the construction site on this unit in the Skagit Wildlife Area. The restoration project is to reverse decline of tidal marsh habitat lost since settlement in the Skagit Delta beginning in the late 1800s. An existing dike will be replaced by a new 5,800-foot dike, set back from the current shoreline by approximately 5500 feet, producing 131 acres new acres of tidal marsh for migrating Chinook salmon. This project is to also prevent saltwater encroachment of nearby farmlands, and improve drainage. According to a WDFW news release, 100 acres of protected forage habitat will be preserved, and public access improved for viewing of snowgeese, shorebirds and other waterfowl. This project was first proposed and approved over six years ago. Federal and state funds are being used.
The existing public access has been closed since May due to construction work and heavy equipment using the public access road to build the new setback dike. The area will temporarily reopen this fall before the snowgeese arrive. Next spring, the area will again be closed; this time for removal of the current dike. It is expected the area will reopen to the public in October 2016 before snowgeese arrive.
Some Environmental Victories – An editorial in the Everett Herald of Monday, July 6, noted that while many environmental bills received no attention or did not pass to date in the Washington State Legislature, there have been some successes. I have cherry picked some of those victories from the editorial.
· -- $55 million was allocated for the WA Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) which is matched with private and other public funding, to establish and improve new local and state parks, and to protect wildlife habitat and preserve working farms. A local example of use is funding to purchase Hooven Bog by Snohomish County, and for planning its management.
· -- $35.5 million for Dept. of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design grant program. Editorial doesn’t indicate whether any grants will come to Snohomish County. Kristin Kelly can tell us more about this.
· -- $10 million to WA DNR for wildfire reduction. It will pay for forest fuels reduction on state trust lands, and fund local programs to encourage homeowners to thin their own properties and remove brush from around their structures. Also provide ideas how to landscape around their homes located in wildfire prone areas. This money while meager compared to need is the largest amount ever appropriated by the legislature.
Not mentioned in the Herald editorial is a victory gained in that the WWRP will continue using its own scoring system to rank grant projects. There had been bill language directing state legislators to decide which projects would be selected instead of the WWRP which consists of state and local recreation agencies. There was a concern that if left up to legislators, there could be some mischief in their selection making in ways not transparent to the public.
Passage of the Forage Fish authorization, a top priority of Washington Audubon, came from out of the blue. Almost no opposition! It is rare for new subject area bills to receive much attention. Yet, this one passed early in the session. For the first time, there will be reports by commercial sardine fishers (trawlers) as to the quantities and locations of their catches, and surveys of various forage fish populations and habitat in Washington State waters. Many thanks to the leadership of Dr. Trina Bayard of Audubon Washington, and her collaboration with effective partners new to working with Audubon in Olympia!
There were other victories and some matters will return to next year’s legislative session. There may still be some good news in the current special session. Certainly good news there was no state government shutdown.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Roundtable – A roundtable of mostly conservation and recreation groups will meet on August 18th from 11 am to 3:30 pm to discuss Outdoor Experiences (recreation) on the national forest. Details are to come as to agenda. In the past, Kathy Johnson and Allen Gibbs have represented PAS. Kathy will not be able to attend. Anyone else interested? Let Kathleen Snyder or Allen Gibbs know of one’s interest.