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March 2007 Issue (vol 38, number 3)
      (Previous Issue February 2007) - (Next Issue April 2007)



MARCH General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, March 27, 7:30 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Birds - From Key West to Kauai

This months program will showcase more than one hundred species of birds on a journey that begins on a boat trip to the Dry Tortugas, crisscrosses the country and the Pacific Ocean, and ends on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Joe Meche has collected a few photographs along the way and will share some of them with us this evening. Joe currently serves the chapter as Vice President, Avalanche Editor, and Birding Programs Coordinator. He has been photographing birds and landscapes for over 40 years.

Join us for what promises to be a fun, anecdote-filled evening. As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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Audubon View

John Flicker
NAS President

Clean water is essential to all life. Since the Clean Water Act became law in 1972, it has been our first line of defense against water pollution and wetlands development. Some of us are old enough to remember what our lakes and rivers were like before then. Lake Erie was declared dead. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that in 1969 it caught fire. Sixty percent of all lakes and rivers were not fishable or swimmable.

The Clean Water Act set a course to change that, making it illegal to dredge, fill, or pollute the waters and wetlands of the United States. Since then we have made steady progress toward safer and cleaner water. As a result, Lake Erie has recovered. The Cuyahoga River is now so attractive that it is part of the National Park System. Most of our lakes and rivers are now fishable and swimmable, even though much more needs to be done to raise all U.S. waters to that standard.

Unfortunately, instead of strengthening clean water protections, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued two rulings that reversed course and stopped more than three decades of progress. First, the so-called SWANCC decision declared that isolated, non-navigable, intrastate wetlands are no longer protected under the act. These wetlands do not have direct surface flows into a navigable stream, but they serve important wetlands functions and they deserve protection under federal law.

This extreme interpretation of the law hampers wetlands protection for the benefit of developers. Many wetlands in the arid West are isolated, including more than half of all the wetlands in California. The same is true for the prairie potholes and playa lakes in the central United States that are so important for waterbirds. In parts of the Upper Midwest, drainage ditch contractors are now soliciting business door-to-door by telling landowners how to increase the value of their land by draining isolated wetlands.

Then the Court issued the so-called Rapanos and Carabell decision, which could further gut clean water protections and has created massive confusion about which tributaries and wetlands are covered by the act.

Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) has now introduced legislation to undo these damaging rulings and end the confusion. The legislation is called the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act (HR 1356). A companion bill (S. 912) has been introduced in the Senate by Russell Feingold (D-WI). This legislation is intended to reinstate clean water protections that had been in place since 1972, up until the time of these Court rulings.

In the November election, voters sent a message to their representatives that some important policies were heading in the wrong direction and needed to get back on track. We believe that clean water is one of those policies. We urge your elected representatives to support HR 1356 and S. 912, and full protection for our nations waters and wetlands. For additional information on how you can help, go to www.audubon.org, go to Issues & Action, and click on Clean Water.

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The Endangered List

Bob Grant

The Endangered Species Act is no stranger to controversy. Still, since Congress passed the act in 1973, species designations have been almost as common as presidential proclamations. At least until George W. Bush took office. Under the current White House, they have plummeted, and fewer than 10 species a year are being listed, a rate lower than that of any previous administration. By contrast, President Bushs father made more than five times as many designations, almost 58 per year. In the mid-1980s, under another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, the Wood Stork and the Piping Plover joined the list. Before Reagan, the Carter administration made almost 29 listings a year and provided crucial protection for such sensitive species as green and loggerhead sea turtles. The listings peaked under Bill Clinton, to almost 65 species a year, including the Canada lynx and hundreds of plants. The Bush Administration has been a true laggard on the listing of endangered species, says John Koystack, the national Wildlife Federations director of wildlife conservation campaigns. These days the key decisions are being made by people who were recent lobbyists for regulated industries and who are hostile to the act.

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A Few Words On the English Sparrow

In Utah, as everywhere, the English sparrows are sharp-witted rogues, and they have discovered and taken possession of the most comfortable place for bird quarters to be found. For protection from the terrible heat of summer, and the wind and snow of winter; it is between the roof and stone or adobe walls of the houses. Wherever the inequalities of the stones and the shrinkage of the wood has left an opening, and made penetration possible, there an English sparrow has established a permanent abode.

Oliver Thorne Miller
A Bird Lover in the West
1900

The kingdom of ornithology is divided into two departmentsbirds and English sparrows. English sparrows are not real birds, they are little beasts.

Henry van Dyke
American Ornithology for the Home and School
Volume 1, 1905

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Olympic BirdFest 2007

Sequim, WA March 30-April 1

The BirdFest with the most spectacular setting! Visit the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula to discover the birds of the coastal Pacific NorthwestMarbled Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklets, Harlequin Ducks, Dippers, Black Oystercatchers, Long-tailed Ducks, and more. Guided field trips, a boat cruise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a banquet with our partner, the Jamestown SKlallam Tribe.

Banquet keynote speaker will be Dr. James Karr, Professor Emeritus, Fisheries and Biology, University of Washington, discussing Amazing Birds, Amazing People: How Can We Sustain Both?

For more info, visit http://www.olympicbirdfest.org.

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Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival

Saturday, March 31

Join fellow bird and outdoor enthusiasts for the 5th Annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival in downtown Blaine and at Blaines Marine Park on March 31.

This year the festival will feature a variety of activities and events for all ages, including arts and crafts and optics displays; round trips from Blaine Harbor to Semiahmoo on the historic Plover ferry, and bird watching trips to Birch Bay, Lake Terrell, and Tennant Lake.

The North Cascades Audubon Society will once again provide experienced birders to assist visitors at as many as five viewing stations ranging from Marine Park to Semiahmoo and down to Birch Bay State Park.

For a complete list of activities and events, go to the Blaine Chamber website at http://www.blainechamber.com/wow. For more information on the festivals poster bird, the Pacific Black Brant, visit http://www.washingtonbrant.org.

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Landscapes and Wildlife of the World

David Drummond

Lee Mann, renowned northwest photographer, will present an insightful program at the REI Flagship Store in Seattle on Wednesday, March 21, at 7 PM. This is Lees first cameo talk at REI and he is sure to share some stunning images and delightful insights from around the planet, and the importance of preserving those special places. The program will benefit the Merlin Falcon Foundation to aid research, education, and stewardship programs on behalf of our Northwest Merlin.

The Merlin Falcon Foundation (MFF) is in its fourth year of promoting the investigation of the Northwest Merlin and educating people about this raptor by involving them in conservation stewardship.

Join us for this unique program and to learn about a sleek, fast falcon neighbor in Seattle, western Washington, and British Columbia. Advance tickets are recommended and may be purchased at the Seattle REI for $12 per person. For more information about the program, visit http://www.rei.com/seattle.

Visit http://www.leemannphotography.com for additional information about one of the Northwests preeminent photographers.

Visit http://www.merlinfalconfoundation.org for more information about the MFF. The Merlin Falcon Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.

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Migration

Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten ....... you could hear........ the rush of mighty wings, but oftener a velvety rustle, long drawn out...... occasionally from high in the air came the notes of the plover.

Walt Whitman
Specimen Days

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The Rarest Mammal

Dan Oko

Like ghosts, the last of Americas woodland caribou haunt the snowy mountains along the Canadian border with Idaho and northern Washington state. The herd that spends much of its time in British Columbia totals just 1,900 and is declining largely due to logging of its forest habitat. In the United States, the caribou numbers just 41, making it the rarest mammal in the Lower 48. In recent winters as few as two or three individuals have visited the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, leading scientists to consider the woodland caribou the most endangered large mammal in the United States.

Since 1984, these elk-like ungulates have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, but national and local conservation groups complain that the federal government still lacks an adequate recovery plan. In 2006, for the second year in a row, a coalition of environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, sued the U.S. Forest Service to keep snowmobiles off 300,000 acres of federal land identified as crucial habitat for woodland caribou. In September Robert Whaley, a US District Court judge, issued a 31-page ruling that declared snowmobiling within the caribou recovery area presents a definitive threat to the future harm of caribou. Then, two months later, after closing the entire area, Whaley modified his ruling and approved a U.S. Forest Service plan that allows snowmobiles access to critical portions of the recovery zone.

Motorized vehicles force caribou to move around, causing them to burn calories they very much need in the deep of winter. Snowmobiles can also displace the animals from the most productive habitat and block migratory pathways.

Caribou, which are closely related to European reindeer, can weigh up to 500 pounds and stand more than four feet tall at the shoulder. Unfortunately, they are also among the least prolific breeders of the ungulate order, and it can take up to four years for them to reach sexual maturity.

Attorney Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West, who represents the conservation groups that filed the suit, says she was surprised by Judge Whaleys about-face. This is a definite setback from the earlier ruling, says Rule. Considering that there are not many caribou left, we would have hoped that the government would do everything it can to protect the animals and the habitat.

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Imagine the Future With $100M for Wildlife, Birds, and People!

Nina Carter
Executive Director
Audubon Washington

Remember when the local Audubon members and their land conservancy partners saved the wetlands near SpokaneReardon Pondsfrom development? You and your chapter met the challenge and raised part of the money to buy the property. Audubon Washington contributed its lobbying expertise to get more money into the state budget for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) to complete the Reardon Ponds transaction. We all celebrated the day when the property became a permanent birding site near Spokane! It is a great tourism draw and the locals love the added tax revenue.

Imagine what we can accomplish with $100 million for habitat for birds and other wildlife! Every month I get calls from Audubon members asking how they can save a small wetland, forest, or farm in their neighborhood. Those places are home to their favorite Ruby-crowned Kinglet or Cedar Waxwing flocks. Id like to tell them that $100 million is available so they can save those special places.

Now, you have a chance to save birds and their habitat by asking for more funding in the WWRP. Governor Gregoires budget allocated $70 million for the WWRP. But there are over $100 million in projects waiting to be funded. We think the state legislature should approve $100 million for WWRP to save farms, forests, wetlands, and other special places, like Reardon Ponds. Call your legislators today and ask for $100 million in WWRP.

For more information and to see what projects are being funded in your area, go to http://www.wildliferecreation.org.

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Drilling Into Deep Trouble

Laura Wright

On September 5, a year after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron announced to great fanfare, the successful testing of a new oil well located 175 miles off the coast from New Orleans, at a water depth of more than 7,000 feet. Wall Street analysts declared the find the best thing to happen to domestic oil since the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Chevrons test well, dubbed Jack 2, is one of a dozen new drill sites that dip into an ultradeep geologic formation known as the Lower Tertiary Trend. It covers a 300 mile-wide swath of the Gulf and contains anywhere from 3 billion to 15 billion barrels of oil. (Total US reserves are now estimated to be less than 30 billion barrels; we consume more than 7.3 billion barrels in a year.)

Now, here are the problems:

First, all that fancy new gear will face an increasing threat of crippling hurricanes, spurred by rising ocean temperatures. Katrina and Rita shut down all oil production in the Gulf twice within four weeks. About 3,000 of the 4,000 platforms were in the direct path of the storms, as were 22,000 of the 33,000 miles of pipeline that snake along the seafloor. Despite the fact that such infrastructure is engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds and currents, 113 platforms were demolished; industry losses topped $15 billion. As deep water fields are developed, potential economic losses skyrocket. Whereas the cost of setting up the infrastructure necessary to develop a single shallow-water field is about $100 million, developing a lone deepwater field costs more than $1 billion.

With more powerful storms comes a brand-new hazard: earthquakes. Earthquakes are exceptionally rare in the Gulf; there are no tectonic plates grinding together down there. Yet in the six months after Katrina and Rita ran ashore, there were two earthquakes off the Louisiana coast with a magnitude of 5.2 and 4.8. Meredith Nettles, a seismologist at Columbia Universitys Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, believes that Katrina and Rita redistributed seafloor sediments, piling up too much mass in some places, thereby triggering sudden underwater landslides large enough to generate seismic waves. Earthquakes and oil infrastructure are a bad combination. Before we venture too far offshore, we might consider the risks this will entailrisks that will only increase with every barrel we burn.

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Update on Some Conservation Issues

Tom Pratum
Conservation Committee

Last month I mentioned a few development proposals that are of local concern. Here is a brief update on those, along with some information on the Blanchard Strategies Group agreement:

Balfour Village: As mentioned last month, this proposal was originally given a SEPA MSDNS on 12/27/2006, which was later rescinded on 1/10/2007. No further SEPA determination has been made, and it appears that it will be well into March before another one is issued.

Please see the information put out by the local community group Foothills Friends (http://www.foothillsfriends.com) for more information on the potential impacts of this proposal.

Trillium Galbraith and Trillium - Alden Reach. These comprehensive plan amendments were submitted for the 2007 docket. Our board has voted unanimously to oppose both proposals, and we have submitted comments to both the City of Bellingham regarding the Galbraith proposal, and Whatcom County regarding both of them.

The Galbraith Mountain proposal to add 2400 acres of forest land to the City of Bellinghams UGA was discussed in last months issue.

Prior to last months publication, we didnt have details of the Alden Reach proposal. Now that we have looked at it, we realize how detrimental this proposed addition of over 800 acres to Birch Bays UGA would be to the sensitive shoreline between Cherry Point and Point Whitehorn (the balance of the over 1000-acre proposal would be light industrial). We note that this proposal is contrary in several respects to the Birch Bay Community Plan adopted in 2004.

You can find links for maps showing the locations of all of these two proposals on our website:

http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/php/index.php?chapter,conservation#developer.

Blanchard Strategies Group agreement: With some fanfare it was announced recently that an agreement had been reached between the DNR, and several recreation, timber, and environmental groups regarding the management of Blanchard Mountain. We were not involved in this agreement; however, we have often supported preservation efforts, and many of our members make frequent use of the area. I, along with board members Steve and Helene Irving, attended the February 12 open house in Burlington, and I have spoken with quite a few folks about the proposal.

The BSG agreement, in short, strikes a deal involving ecological management of a 1,600 acre core area in exchange for the parties involved pledging to support efforts to replace the lost timber harvest in a variety of ways including purchase of adjoining properties, and increasing timber harvest on private land in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The agreement has a timeline of five years, after which its goals and their achievement will be reconsidered.

While we dont have an official position on this, and while I do feel that there are some good folks at the DNR who want to help preserve Blanchard Mountain, I list the following concerns:

The agreed-to core area is much smaller than that which has been fought for over the past 20 years. Those who have fought so hard for this area in the past are nearly uniformly opposed to this agreement.

The proposed core area is quite fragmented (see our website http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org for appropriate maps), and new roads will be allowed in areas that are currently road-free. Two areas of Marbled Murrelet habitat (both occupied and unoccupied) will become even more fragmented if this proposal is adopted.

This proposal allows intensive management of some areas that I feel the DNR would not dream of currently going into. The fear is that those areas will be harvested well within the 5 year period, thus losing forever our ability to save them for the future.

And, finally, the agreement refers to an advisory committee (the Blanchard Forest Advisory Committee) that will assist the DNR by making recommendations for the management of Blanchard Forest. The membership of this committee is entirely up to the DNR, and I need only look at the composition of the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan Inter-jurisdictional Committee (IJC) to see what is likely to happen. In that case, the IJC is stacked with forestry interests and has become a compliant rubber-stamp for all proposed forest practices in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

Comments on the proposal were due on February 28, and that date will likely have passed by the time you read this. We will be interested to see how the adoption of this agreement plays out, but I suspect the battle to preserve Blanchard Mountain is far from over.

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