State releases plan for protecting the marbled murrelet

The highly contentious ongoing story of the State’s attempt to protect the endangered marbled murrelet continues. Whether this attempt will be successfull, it’s the first real movement since interim plan of 1997. As the article points out, there is a timber revenue stream at stake, and the enviromentalists following this point out that it’s likely not enough to save the bird long term.  I must say, having been over in Skagit valley in the last year, the arguement that they need more timber to harvest seems absurd, in that their mills are seemingly being buried under mounds of raw logs waiting to be milled. I saw a stack of logs about 4 stories high when I drove by, the largest I had seen in decades. So I would question their acting like they were being starved for logs. Of course, there is a revenue stream if you simply cut everything, but that isn’t the answer to saving the bird.  The question is constantly asked, “What is the value of wildlife?” Is an answer to that, “That’s the wrong question.” Maybe we should be asking, “Why must everything have a value assigned to it?”

After two decades of studying a small bird called the marbled murrelet that is found in coastal habitats of Washington including in Skagit County, the state has released a new management plan for the species. The management plan was drafted by and applies to lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. It is the outcome of a multiyear environmental impact statement, or EIS, process that weighed options for protecting the bird and supporting the state’s timber industry. The marbled murrelet is federally listed as threatened due to the loss of coastal forest habitat where it nests and raises its young. The once-abundant species is now estimated to be down to about 6,000 in the state, according to a news release. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

State releases plan for protecting the marbled murrelet

17 States Sue Feds Over Endangered Species Act Rules – AP

Perhaps we should consider the cost benefit analysis of saving humans.I don’t think we would be allowed to be saved if all species on this planet would be able to cast a vote for or against us.

Seventeen states sued the Trump administration Wednesday to block rules weakening the Endangered Species Act, saying the changes would make it tougher to protect wildlife even in the midst of a global extinction crisis. The lawsuit, in federal court in San Francisco, follows a similar challenge filed last month by several environmental groups, including the Humane Society and the Sierra Club. The new rules begin taking effect Thursday. They for the first time allow officials to consider how much it would cost to save a species. They also remove blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and make it easier for creatures to be removed from the protected list…The states challenging Trump’s rules are California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia and New York City were also named as plaintiffs. Gene Johnson report. (Associated Press)

17 States Sue Feds Over Endangered Species Act Rules

Fish and Wildlife Commission lists pinto abalone as endangered;

WDFW advances plans to save valuable and splendid sea snail. The Washington State Dept of Fish and Wildlife have decided, with urging from a number of stakeholders including the Skagit and Jefferson Marine Resource Committees, to list the Pinto  as endangered.

Here’s the Press Release:

Date
Contact

Henry Carson, (360) 888-8494; Jason Wettstein (360) 902-2254

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working with federal and state

Juvenile abalone
Pinto abaloneJosh Bouma/Puget Sound Restoration Fund

partners to protect and conserve a species of large sea snail with a shell, a taste, and lifestyle that led to its wide-scale destruction.

The pinto abalone — the only abalone species native to Washington — has experienced a drastic reduction in population in recent decades. From 1992-2017, the population fell by an estimated 97 percent, putting the species at risk of local extinction.

Historically prized as food and for its contrasting red and green shell with an iridescent interior, pinto abalone is a species too popular for its own good.

Overfishing over decades starting in the 1960s led to population declines. While the agency and partners acted to protect the snails, including closing the fishery in 1994, significant levels of poaching and the abalone’s distinctive reproductive cycle meant a cycle of continuing declines despite action.

“Males and females spawn directly into the water, and without sufficient population density, fertilization does not occur, and the animals fail to reproduce,” said Hank Carson, WDFW research scientist.

Now partners are expanding the pinto abalone recovery effort at conservation hatchery facilities at the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration (https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/news/features/hatchery) in Kitsap County.

“Our abalone captive-breeding and reintroduction program is a promising recovery strategy, but much work remains to achieve self-sustaining populations in the state,” said Carson.

With the listing determination in hand after the commission decision today, the agency is set to conduct this work with long-time partners such as NOAA and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Next steps include writing a formal recovery plan to reduce threats and build the species population, establishing additional satellite growing facilities to increase production, a conservation genetics and disease-risk assessment, and expansion of field work to determine the best places to out-plant these rare and distinctive creatures.

The 2019 legislature has supported funding to recover pinto abalone, including $900,000 for work through June 2021.

“When it comes to recovery of the Puget Sound ecosystem, everything is connected and attention to detail is important,” said Senator Christine Rolfes from Washington’s 23rd district. “Recovery of lesser-known species like the nearly depleted pinto abalone is critical for a healthy and more resilient Puget Sound and the salmon and orca whales we all love. I’m glad the legislature agreed to support this effort,” she added.

Carson said he is grateful for the partners and people who support pinto abalone work. “This species is far too interesting and valuable to disappear from Washington’s waters,” he said.

For more information about the pinto abalone in Washington, see WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/haliotis-kamtschatkana.

 

Also from the Skagit Valley News:
The marine snails that have been the focus of restoration efforts in Skagit County and surrounding areas for years are officially endangered. The state Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission made the decision Friday to officially list the pinto abalone as a state endangered species. Fish & Wildlife Research scientist Hank Carson said during the commission meeting that the listing has support from Skagit, Jefferson, Island and San Juan county officials as well as area conservation organizations. The state-level determination means illegally harvesting the species — prized for its meat and shiny shell — will be a gross misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald) See also: Skagit County at center of restoration effort for marine snail  Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

Marine snail gains state endangered species listing

Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

Skagit River Chum Numbers Continue to Decline – Skagit Valley Herald

Reports from the Department of Fish and Wildlife show a continued dramatic drop in Skagit River chum. As stated in the article, these are new lows since monitoring began on the river in the 1960s.

The debate has been raised for the last number of years as to whether the hatchery runs are worth doing. Research comparing the Skagit with Oregon’s similar river, the Rogue, which runs about the same amount of distance and has a similar ecosystem shows that the major difference in why the Rogue runs are so much higher than the Skagit’s are the implantation of hatchery fish. The Rogue has not had hatchery fish implanted in it, and the argument goes, that the fish are better adapted to changing conditions. Needless to say, that has not gone over well with hatchery supporters, including Tribes and sports fishermen. Whether the hatchery program is the problem or the solution will never be tried here because at hearings the Tribes and sports fishermen went to great lengths to denounce the idea without offering any scientific support for their position. And now, the Governor is going to go full speed ahead on funding hatcheries. Meanwhile, the fish keep vanishing. The numbers in the article show the fishery is in complete collapse. And no recreational fishing has been allowed since 2008. I guess we are going to keep doing what doesn’t work until the fish are gone. Isn’t that the definition of madness?

https://www.goskagit.com/news/local_news/skagit-river-chum-returns-continue-to-decline/article_b94adf5b-aeee-5beb-b5ef-60f9a410ab03.html

Washington court: Fish and Wildlife can regulate land to protect fish – Capital Press

An extremely important ruling has come down at the Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday. The  unanimous ruling affirmed the right of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to regulate construction on dry land above the normal tide lines in order to protect fish. This enormously expands the scope of the Hydraulic Permit Code and will likely have great consequences for Governor Inslee’s hand in making policy decisions for protecting additional salmon habitat for Orca recovery. I’m sure that the plaintiffs might wish they had never brought this before the Supreme Court. But there’s also caution for environmental organizations that may celebrate the ruling.

From the case itself. It offers a good basic understanding of what these Hydraulic Permit Applications are and when they are required.

This case asks us to determine the geographic scope of permitting authority delegated to the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife  (Department) over hydraulic projects. A “hydraulic project” is defined as “the  construction or performance of work that will use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of any of the salt or fresh waters of the state.” RC_W 77.55.011(11).
Entities seeking to undertake hydraulic projects must apply for and obtain permits from the  Department before commencing work. RCW 77.55.021. In this case, a coalition of  Washington State counties (Counties) challenge the Department’s statutory authority to regulate the construction or performance of work that will occur exclusively above the ordinary high-water line.
The Hydraulic Code requires anyone planning to undertake a hydraulic project to obtain a preconstruction approval permit from the Department to ensure “the adequacy of the means proposed for the protection of fish life.” RCW 77.55.021(1).
The Department can deny or condition a permit only for the purpose of protecting fish life. RCW 77.55.021(7)(a). The Department’s regulatory authority encompasses hydraulic projects, which are defined based on their effects on waters of the state rather than their location relative to those waters. See RCW 77.55.011(11).
An HPA [hydraulic project approval] is required for all construction or repair/replacement of any structure that crosses a stream, river, or other water body regardless of the location of the proposed work relative to the [ ordinary high-water level] of state waters.
An HPA is also required for bridge painting and other maintenance where there is potential for paint, sandblasting material, sediments, or bridge parts to fall into the water.
ISSUE
Did the legislature intend to limit the Department’s permitting and regulatory authority to cover only projects that take place at least partially at or below the ordinary high-water line?
CONCLUSION
We hold that under the plain language of RCW 77.55.021, the Department’s jurisdictional grant of permitting authority includes upland projects that meet the effects test set forth in RCW 77.55.011(11). We further hold that the effects test requires reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty. Finally, we defer to the expertise of the Department to determine which upland activities meet the effects test. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s order.
The findings are that WDFW has authority to require HPAs for upland projects that fit the scope of the legal codes. That the requirements can be done by reasonable certainty and not a strict legal finding of certainty,  which gives much greater leeway for WDFW to issue requirements for an HPA. Lastly, the Supreme Court defers to the expertise of the Department  to determine which activities meet the requirements.
This last finding may be a double edge sword. What if the Department is wrong in a finding, siding with a developer who has huge resources and proposes enormous or highly unusual trade offs for the idea of “no net loss”?  What if they don’t decide to force an HPA (or agree with a developer intent on massive environmental change) and an environmental organization challenges that? The ruling here seems to give much greater leeway to excesses of the Department in both directions. That may not be as positive a win for environmental organizations as it appears. It requires close oversight to make sure that the law is narrowly applied to appropriate projects, while also ensuring that bureaucrats are not simply rubber stamping inappropriate and possibly habitat destructive projects.
Here’s a link to the ruling:

Read the Capital Press story here:

https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/water/washington-court-fish-and-wildlife-can-regulate-land-to-protect/article_ea1e014c-f97a-11e8-859d-7f550b7b3843.html

 

 

 

Zangle Cove Lawsuit Issues Bombshell Findings Against Aquaculture

The case moving through the courts at the present time to challenge the lack of Hydraulic Code Permits for the destruction of shorelines by aquaculture got a surprise boost yesterday.

Findings that contradict the testimony of the Army Corp of Engineers and Taylor Shellfish show that in 2017 the Army Corps had to create a Cumulative Impact Analysis that showed conclusively that there would be significant impacts from adoption of a Nation Wide Aquaculture Permit. The 117 page draft concluded that their would be significant impacts if adopted. The Corps has categorically denied such impacts.

The Corps admits that the aquaculture is likely to “adversely affect designated critical habitat for several species listed under the ESA including Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Hood Canal summer chum salmon and Puget Sound Steelhead…Given the magnitude of the the impacts in acreage the importance of eelgrass to the marine ecosystem and the scale of the aquaculture impacts relative to other stressors, the impacts are considered significant.”

The letter goes on: The proposed action is inconsistent with State requirements under the SMA to protect forage fish spawning habitat.”

The debate has been that the Army Corps of Engineers nor the State have ever considered the cumulative impact of aquaculture permitting on the overall shoreline and ecosystem of Puget Sound, focusing only on individual parcels. Now we know that they did consider the impact, and found it lacking.

The next steps on this lawsuit should be very interesting, judges don’t usually go against findings of fact such as this, and the Governor’s Orca Recovery Task force is currently about to publish it’s findings for saving habitat for the Orca and it’s food sources.

The full text of the findings are here:

http://users.neo.registeredsite.com/3/7/5/12218573/assets/2017_NWP48_Draft_Cumulative_Imapct_Analysis.pdf

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