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October 2007 Issue (vol 38, number 7)
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OCTOBER General Membership Meeting

Tuesday, October 23, 7:00 PM
Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room
PROGRAM: Energy, Climate Change, and Music

Sharon Abreu, Executive Director of Irthlingz Arts-based Environmental Education and a member of the Energy Caucus of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, will speak about energy and climate change and the role of music in environmental education and social change.

Sharon will perform some songs from her climate change musical, Penguins on Thin Ice, which was performed by high school students at the UN in May of this year.

As always, meetings of the North Cascades Audubon Society are FREE and open to the public.

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From the President

Cindy and I traveled north into British Columbia (BC) on our annual fall getaway this year. After poring over maps for several weeks, we decided to go to a place that we had never been and had only heard about in passing. The name alone was intriguing enough and the more we read about the place, the more excited we were with our decision to go to...Bella Coola.

It was a fantastic 10 day-trip with superb scenery and great wildlife sightings, including a few of the grizzlies that make the area around the Bella Coola Valley the Grizzly Bear Capital of British Columbia. The R&R was accompanied by good food and dark, starry nights in a wonderful campsite right on the swift Bella Coola River. We even managed to safely negotiate the infamous Hill that drops 5,000’ from the Interior Plateau and the Coast Range down to sea level. This stretch of road was bulldozed by locals when the BC government decided not to take on the task. The reputation comes from the fact that the road is unpaved, with numerous switchbacks, avalanches, and some narrow stretches with an 18% grade. And with no guardrails, it’s not really a road for the squeamish. Locals refer to this stretch as the Freedom Highway, since it opened the valley to the rest of the world.

As great as the trip was, it was also a bit of an eye-opener to the phenomenon we are now experiencing in the form of global warming. If you hear from various pundits that there’s nothing to global warming, I invite you to take this drive north into BC. Drive through Hope to Williams Lake and then head west across the great Interior Plateau of central BC. What you will see is mile after square mile of a once-green landscape turned rusty brown by the mountain pine beetle—a 5 millimeter-long beetle that has affected as much as 21 million acres of pine forests in BC.

The mountain pine beetle has successfully extended its range due to warmer than normal winters in the BC interior. Experts predict that if there is no return of consistently colder weather in this part of Canada, as much as 80% of the pine forests in BC could be lost. There is also the sobering consensus that the beetle will likely head east toward the Canadian Rockies and the area around Banff and Jasper, Alberta.

It’s an inconvenient truth, folks, but global warming is real and nature is providing ample opportunities for us to view this phenomenon and do what is necessary to at least attempt to slow the process. Keep in mind that the majority of nations worldwide have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One nation in particular has not. What that means is that it’s imperative to contact all of our lawmakers and insist that they pressure this administration to do something NOW. The environment is on the ropes and will continue to suffer if we the people don’t speak out in its defense.

Wishing you happy trails, wherever they might lead.

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From Audubon Washington

Global Climate Change and Wind Power

Is there any good news about global warming? Yes and no. Finally, our national and state politicians agree that global warming is occurring and something must be done. The bad news is that our nation does not yet have an overall strategy to control this destabilization of our environment. Washington state is fortunate, in that our state and local leaders are beginning to take action. Governor Christine Gregoire has issued an executive order requiring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and our state legislators have passed new laws increasing high performance green buildings, retrofitting polluting diesel engines in school buses and pursuing water conservation in eastern Washington.

Audubon Washington, too, has a strategy to reduce our footprint on the planet. Our office aggressively promoted “Yes on Initiative 937” and was a coalition member of the campaign. The initiative requires large utilities to obtain 15% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, and to promote energy conservation. Audubon Washington was proud to be featured in the statewide Voters Pamphlet encouraging all voters to support this initiative. In the final count, over 50% of Washington’s voters said “Yes!” to renewable energy.

Passing the bill wasn’t the end of this strategy. To protect birds and wildlife, Audubon Washington negotiated a requirement in Initiative 937 that all renewable energy generators, such as wind turbines, must be “appropriately sited,” as a step to avoid mistakes made 100 years ago when dams were improperly sited, destroying salmon habitat and populations. This time, Audubon Washington will enlist our members’ “on the ground” knowledge of birds and wildlife to recommend where wind power companies should or should not site wind power projects.

We’re training our advocates to speak out in favor of energy conservation—both at home and in the political arena. Although the news may be dire at the national level, we are cautiously optimistic that our political leaders have finally gotten the word about global warming. We must now help them understand where to properly site wind projects and other sources of renewable energy, for the sake of wildlife, birds, and people.

Rethink Your Yard and Create a Bird Oasis

Many of us enjoy our backyards as birds, bees, and butterflies flutter around in the spring. But did you know that a healthy backyard is a key factor in making sure that your yard is a destination for migrating birds?

Here are a few things to do for a healthy, bird-friendly backyard.

1. Bird feeders.
Seed or juice feeders will attract birds in search of food. Feeders are especially important in winter when natural food supplies are scarce.

2. Native plants.
Provide food at different times of year to birds in the form of seeds, fruit, or as invertebrate host sites.

3. Water features.
Provide fresh water for drinking and bathing.

4. Nesting sites.
Native trees and shrubs provide good nesting areas for many species. Where safety permits, allow snags—dead trees—to remain standing. Woodpeckers and others excavate the rotting wood looking for insects and the resulting holes are used by cavity-nesting birds.

5. Rethink your lawn.
Replacing just ONE square yard (nine square feet) of lawn with alternative plantings would:

A. Stop 60,000 tons of grass clippings from finding their way to landfills.

B. Provide more than 10,000 acres of better habitat for wildlife.

C. Eliminate 1.2 million hours of mowing.

For more about creating bird-friendly yards, visit Seattle Audubon’s homepage at http://www.seattleaudubon.org to download a free copy of Audubon at Home in Seattle: Gardening for Life.

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Bellingham Christmas Bird Count

December 16, 2007

Since 1900, numerous die-hard birders have sallied forth on cold and often wet December mornings to count birds in the world’s oldest citizen science effort—the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). In Bellingham, we’ve been doing it since 1967. And we’re going to keep doing it this year on Sunday, December 16.

We of the CBC Committee make every effort to involve as many people as are interested in participating. Are you interested? Contact Joe Meche at joemeche@aol.com.

The Loon

The loon is a very remarkable bird, from the formation of its feet; but having no anatomical knowledge, I cannot describe it technically. They are so made, that it can scarcely walk; it is therefore seldom seen on land. In calm weather it rises from the water with great difficulty, and flies as if impelled by the wind, on which it seems to depend. In Chippeway language it is called a maunk, which agrees with the French word manquer, to fail; it being, from its shyness, very difficult to kill.

John Long
J. Long’s Voyages and Travels
1791

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NCAS Fall Field Trips

Paul Woodcock
Field Trip Chair

Fall is here! To many of us, this time of year provides the best in Northwest birding. Winter migrants provide some of our area’s best and most thrilling observations, especially on our marine and estuarine habitats. But let us not ignore our wintering songbirds. Flocks of sparrows and finches, in the fields or at the feeder are always a joy. And what can compare to the sound of a Winter Wren singing among the sword ferns under dripping Douglas firs. If you wish to expand your birding horizons or to share some camaraderie in field or forest, please join us this season. All NCAS field trips are free and open to the public. Advance registration is required for most trips.

If you have suggestions for future trips, questions, feedback on past experiences, or would like to share your expertise as a leader, please contact me by phone at 380-3356 or e-mail me at vp@northcascadesaudubon.org.

Saturday, October 27. Scudder Pond and Whatcom Falls Park

Join us on an easy, half-day outing designed for families with young children or those who appreciate a slower-paced birding experience. We will take time to study the environment of our chapter’s own urban wildlife refuge and the adjacent city park. This habitat should not be underestimated—25-30 species can easily be found right here in our urban center!

8:30 AM. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Saturday, November 3. Semiahmoo Spit.

Enjoy a half-day beach walk at one of Whatcom County’s most geographically-stunning and biologically-rich sites. The spit separates Drayton Harbor from Semiahmoo Bay, critical habitat for large numbers of seabirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl, as well as raptors and songbirds. 9 AM. No registration required. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock. This trip is sponsored by Whatcom County Parks with NCAS leadership.

Sunday, November 11. George Reifel Sanctuary, British Columbia.

This is a full-day tour (half-day option) of one of our area’s most spectacular wildlife refuges, located on Westham Island, west of Ladner, BC. For the first two hours, our group will join the refuge naturalist for a guided tour featuring highlight species. We will then continue on our own to observe waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, and much more. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537. Passport or birth certificate and picture ID are required.

Saturday, November 24. Samish Flats.

This will be a full day outing (half-day option) to a nationally-recognized habitat on the delta fields of Skagit County. Eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls are the focus but waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds are also an attraction—for us as well as for the raptors. Scores of raptors are guaranteed and there are usually a few surprises. 8 AM. Trip limit: 12. Trip leader: Paul Woodcock, 380-3356.

Saturday, December 1. Semiahmoo Spit.

This trip is a repeat of the November 3 trip. Please see above for details.

Sunday, December 2. Boundary Bay, British Columbia.

We will take a full-day tour (half-day option) that will explore the diversity and spectacle of one of our region’s premier birding locations. We will cover critical, continentally-significant winter habitat for seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors just across the Canadian border from Whatcom County. 8 AM. Trip limit: 10. Trip leader: Dave Schmalz, 671-1537. Passport or birth certificate with picture ID are required.

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2007 NSEA Fall Work Parties

Join the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) for their fall work party season to help restore streamside habitat for salmon. All work parties are on Saturdays from 9 AM to 12 noon. Refreshments are provided, along with gloves and tools. All you need do is wear sturdy shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. Bring your enthusiasm and we’ll see you at the creek.

The following is a list of parties for October and November:

October 27. Make a difference Day at Terrell Creek.

November 3. Connelly Creek.

November 10. Scott Ditch.

November 17. Whatcom Creek.

For full details of all of these work parties and NSEA, visit their website at http://www.n-sea.org. If you wish, you can call NSEA at 715-0283, or email volunteers@n-sea.org.

On the Long-Crested or Steller’s Jay

All jays make their share of noise in the world; they fret and scold about trifles, quarrel about anything, and keep everything in a ferment when they are about. The particular kind we are now talking about is nowise behind his fellows in these respects—a stranger to modesty and forebearance, and the many gentle qualities that charm us in some little birds and endear them to us; he is a regular filibuster, ready for any sort of adventure that promises sport or spoil, even if spiced with danger. Sometimes he prowls about alone, but oftener has a band of choice spirits with him, who keep each other in countenance (for our jay is a coward at heart, like other bullies) and share the plunder on the usual terms in such cases, of each one taking all he can get.

Once I had a chance of seeing a band of these guerillas on a raid; they went at it in good style...a vagabond troop made a descent upon a bush clump, where, probably, they expected to find eggs to suck, or at any rate a chance for mischief and amusement. To their intense joy, they surprised a little owl quietly digesting his grasshoppers with both eyes shut. Here was a lark, and a chance to wipe out a large part of the score that jays keep against owls for injuries received time out of mind. In the tumult that ensued, the little bird scurried off, the woodpeckers overhead stopped tapping to look on, and a snake that was basking in a sunny spot concluded to crawl into his hole. The jays lunged furiously at their enemy, who sat helpless, bewildered by the sudden onslaught, trying to look as big as possible, with his wings set for bucklers and his bill snapping; meanwhile twisting his head till I thought he would wring it off, trying to look all ways at once. The jays, emboldened by partial success, grew more impudent, till their victim made a break through their ranks and flapped into the heart of a neighboring juniper, hoping to be protected by its tough, thick foliage. The jays went trooping after.

Elliot Coues
Birds of the Northwest: A Handbook of the Ornithology of the Region Drained by the Missouri River and its Tributaries, 1874

Beloved of children, bards and spring,
O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your songs, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for the heart’s delight;
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof;
Here weave your chamber weather-proof.
Forgive our harms and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage and probity and grace!

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Birds
1867

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Reconveyance of Forest Board Land: An Update

Tom Pratum, Conservation Committee

The Lake Whatcom watershed comprises over 32,000 acres. Of those, approximately 15,000 acres are managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for timber production — this is about 83% of the commercial forestry zoned land in the watershed. This land is divided into management blocks whose timber harvest proceeds are used to benefit various state and local entities such as public schools, public hospitals, state universities and capitol buildings. Over the period from 2001 to 2004, a landscape plan was developed for this area by the DNR. While this plan is far from perfect, it requires that timber cutting be done on the DNR land in a far more protective manner than is allowed on private land.

Over one year ago, I let the membership know, via this newsletter, that Whatcom County was considering asking for the reconveyance, or transfer, of the Forest Board trust land (one of the management blocks mentioned above) in the Lake Whatcom watershed to the county for parks purposes. This transfer is made possible by RCW 79.22.300. There was finally an announcement that this is indeed being considered on September 20 (see the Septermber 21 Bellingham Herald).

In my original note regarding this issue, I indicated a number of concerns. It sounds great to have a large (approximately 8500 acre) park created in Whatcom County, and, inasmuch as that is the purpose of this action, I agree this is an idea worth discussing. The issue I have with the idea is that it is being promoted as a means of watershed protection, and I don’t believe it will serve that purpose.

First, the statute allows reconveyance to occur ONLY for parks purposes that are in accord with the state outdoor recreation program. There are Forest Board lands that are very suitable for that purpose; Blanchard Mountain is the best example. There, we already have a developed trail system that is currently used by a large number of people. Unfortunately, Skagit County is unwilling to take the area over as a park.

The Lake Whatcom watershed is an entirely different story. There are some trails in the DNR managed part of the watershed, but they are infrequently used by a relatively small number of people. Development of a more extensive trail system would undoubtedly result in water quality degradation, and human incursion further into the forested areas of the watershed will result in greatly increased fire danger. Anyone who is familiar with the North Lake Whatcom trail will also realize that the ability of Whatcom County to manage watershed parks in a watershed friendly way is very questionable.

Secondly, reconveyance doesn’t necessarily mean no timber will be harvested. Timber harvest on reconveyed land is clearly envisioned as possible in the statutes covering this. While proponents point to the highly unlikely possibility that this land could be traded to a private interest by the DNR in the future, and therefore not be covered by the current landscape plan, it is just as likely — if not more likely — that some future incarnation of county government will decide that timber harvest is needed in order to support their “park”.

Thirdly, there are fiscal issues with the proposal. Those few who are promoting this present it as a low cost way to preserve forestland in the watershed. However, it is anything but. The Forest Board land in the watershed currently benefits a number of junior taxing districts. These include the Bellingham School District, the Mt Baker School District, the Port of Bellingham, the Whatcom County Road Fund, and the Whatcom County Library System. The total funding generated by timber harvest on this land is estimated to exceed $400,000 yearly for the next 20 years (Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan DEIS, September 2003). Even if some of those beneficiaries forgo payment when the land is reconveyed, the ensuing reduction in their budgets is a real cost that must be accounted for. When this fact is considered, and added into the likely cost of management of this large acreage, it is probable that reconveyance will come only at a cost that exceeds $600,000 per year.

So, is it a good idea to create a 8500 acre park at a yearly cost that exceeds $600,000? Or, is it possible that, if water quality improvement is the real goal, we could spend that money more wisely? It is well known that current water quality problems in Lake Whatcom come not from the forested land, but from the land in the developed sub-basins. What if we floated a large watershed acquisition bond, and paid the interest with some or all of that $600,000 that it will cost for our reconveyed park? Assuming an interest rate of 5%, we could fund a $12 million bond — this would go a long way toward purchasing at-risk properties such as those on Squalicum Mountain, and putting them into more protective public ownership.

So, we wait for details of the proposal to come to light. I have more information posted on this website ( http://www.northcascadesaudubon.org/php/index.php?chapter,reconveyance ). Stay tuned, as this is one of the most important land use decisions of the decade.

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