Conservation News: Legislative Roundup from Olympia and Beyond
The following is a summary of an article by Pam Borso that’s available in its entirety on the NCAS website. Pam drew on information from various Audubon and Sierra Club sources, and from the Washington Post for the information on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
- Whatcom Council rejects DNR’s proposed plan for motorized trails in commercial forests: East County residents and environmentalists turned out in force to the Whatcom County Council meeting on February 27 to oppose the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’(DNR’s) motorized trail system proposal. The Council unanimously voted to remove the proposal from their 2018 work docket. The DNR was requesting a zoning change on their lands to allow for the development of motorized trails on DNR’s Commercial Forest-zoned lands in Whatcom County, in particular on Sumas and Red Mountains. This proposal would directly affect habitat set aside by DNR for marbled murrelets. This is an ongoing process and for now has been stopped, but all members are encouraged to monitor the progress. See the DNR’s Baker to Bellingham Recreation Plan on their website for more details.
- Whatcom County Council extends moratorium on certain fossil fuel projects at Cherry Point:The Council extended an interim moratorium on new permits for shipment of unrefined fossil fuels at Cherry Point for another six months. The extension will give the Council time to study their options outlined in a report which was presented by the Cascadia Law Group at the February 27 Council meeting. The Council will contract with Cascadia to help them draft County code changes in the next few months.
Washington State News
- In this year’s short session we did get some good things accomplished. After much hard work, the Legislature passed HB 2957 which phases out all non-native fish net pen farming in our State by 2025. It passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor.
- Oil transport spill prevention was improved by passage of SB 6269, which extends the oil tax per barrel to include oil in pipelines. This helps fund spill prevention work at the Department of Ecology.
- Despite great efforts no progress was made on addressing climate change even after the introduction of two separate bills. The oil industry and utility lobbies were working in full force. We may have a chance to revisit this later if I-1631 is placed on the ballot for voter approval.
- The Washington Department of Ecology has issued a tentative determinationto deny the permit for use of the insecticide imidacloprid in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. This is a tremendous victory for our coastal estuaries and the birds and fish that rely on them. Oyster growers have been using pesticides to control native ghost and mud shrimp since the early 1960’s. Audubon Washington has been working to oppose pesticide use and advocate for a stronger consideration of potential impacts to the broader ecosystem since 2014, when the permit process for use of imidacloprid (the grower’s preferred replacement for carbaryl) was first underway.
- Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) Reinterpreted. From the Washington Post: In an opinion issued Wednesday April 11, 2018 to federal wildlife police who enforce the rule, the Interior Department said “the take [killing] of birds resulting from an activity is not prohibited by the Migratory Bird Treaty Actwhen the underlying purpose of that activity is not to take birds.” For example, the guidance said, a person who destroys a structure such as a barn knowing that it is full of baby owls in nests is not liable for killing them. “All that is relevant is that the landowner undertook an action that did not have the killing of barn owls as its purpose,” the opinion said.
The MBTA will no longer apply even after a catastrophic event such as the Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez oil spill that destroyed or injured up to a million birds. After an oil spill, Interior would pursue penalties under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program that is not specific to birds. In the past, “the department has pursued MBTA claims against companies responsible for oil spills that incidentally killed or injured migratory birds. That avenue is no longer available.” This law was enacted in 1918 after several species of common birds became extinct; the Audubon Society and other organizations named 2018 the Year of the Bird in honor of the MBTA’s centennial. The new interpretation reverses decades of action by Republican and Democratic administrations to protect the animals as they migrate to and from their nesting grounds.
Ultimately, this means that the 950 species of birds not covered under the ESA or Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act would be left with fewer or no protections, from backyard birds like the Baltimore oriole, to raptors like American kestrels and red-tailed hawks, waterbirds like the great blue heron and great egret, waterfowl like blue-winged teal and wood ducks, along with the great horned owl, sandhill crane, wood thrush, and hundreds more. Conserving these species proactively due to MBTA protections reduces the likelihood for ESA listings. While important progress has been made in rescuing birds from the brink, now is not the time to roll back vital protections. The MBTA is needed now as much as ever, and Audubon urges opposition to any effort that undermines America’s cornerstone bird conservation law.
We urge you to contact your Representatives and Senators to strongly oppose the administration’s position and any legislative effort that would weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)in danger: The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has protected birds and the places they need in every state and nearly every county for over 50 years. LWCF conserves our natural heritage, local parks, areas of cultural and historical significance, and provides recreational opportunities across the country.
Every state in the country has benefited from LWCF. For every dollar invested in federal land acquisition through LWCF, there is a return of $4 in economic value. Since 1964, the fund has helped conserve more than 5 million acres of public lands throughout the United States like national parks, national forests, and national recreation areas. October 2018 marks the potential expiration of one of the country’s oldest and most important conservation programs.
To defend America’s conservation legacy, we urge members of Congress to support permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by cosponsoring H.R.502/S.569. With your support, LWCF can remain a critical piece for the protection of natural landscapes and outdoor spaces that serve as habitat for birds and opportunities for recreation across the country.
Please contact your Representatives and Senators, and urge your family and friends from other states to contact theirs as well, about the MBTA and LWCF.