Swinomish Tribe and others sue Army Corp over lack of eelgrass protections

Somehow this lawsuit slipped my review. It came out in late April and adds to the growing group of lawsuits seeking to protect yet another of Puget Sound’s key habitat, eelgrass.  As the suit states: “Native eelgrass beds serve as nurseries, cover,and feeding grounds for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Dungeness crabs, and other aquatic species.”

You may have seen the “No anchor zones” in Port Townsend Bay that are there to help boaters avoid damaging these fragile underwater forests.

The Swinomish Tribe, along with Earth Justice and others, challenges the Army Corp of Engineers and it’s  Nationwide Permit 48,( NWP 48) which came out last year. NWP48 authorizes large-scale commercial shellfish aquaculture without mandatory avoidance or minimization measures to protect eelgrass.

From the lawsuit filing: The Corps’ first nationwide permit covering shellfish aquaculture issued in 2007 applied only to active commercial shellfish operations which had a state or local permit. As reissued in 2017, NWP 48 reaches beyond active commercial shellfish operations to cover any area that was used for commercial shellfish aquaculture at any time within the last 100 years. This definition extends into “continuing fallow” areas, which are areas that previously had shellfish operations at some time, but not since 2007 when the first NWP 48 was issued. NWP 48 contains measures requiring avoidance of eelgrass beds in “new” operations that have never been cultivated, but makes those mandatory avoidance measures inapplicable to eelgrass beds in continuing fallow areas. In North Puget Sound, thousands of acres of so-called continuing fallow areas have mature eelgrass beds, yet NWP 48’s mandatory avoidance measures are not applicable to these fallow areas.

Throughout the development of NWP 48, the Tribe urged the Corps to adopt
avoidance and minimization measures to protect eelgrass. The Corps considered various avoidance and minimization measures, such as extending the same protection afforded for new shellfish operations to eelgrass in continuing fallow areas or limiting the shellfish aquaculture methods that may be used on eelgrass beds to those that minimize damage to the eelgrass. In the end, however, the Corps adopted NWP 48 without any avoidance and minimization measures to protect eelgrass. It left the development of such protective measures to the discretion of the
Corps’ district engineer when reviewing specific projects to verify whether they comply with NWP 48.

This case challenges the application and implementation of NWP 48 in North
Puget Sound in areas with eelgrass beds for violating three laws and their implementing regulations.

Follow this link to the Corps complaint. It’s 31 pages long.

Swinomish lawsuit against Corps 3522 1 Complaint

Thousands more trees planted on Tarboo Creek during Plant-A-Thon – PDN

In one day, 180 volunteers planted 4,300 native trees and shrubs along Tarboo Creek. The Northwest Watershed Institute’s Plant-A-Thon, an annual event since 2005, was held this year on Feb. 4. Volunteers from area schools worked to restore salmon and wildlife habitat, as well as reduce climate change impacts, by planting 2,300 native trees, and installing 2,000 live stakes of willow and other native shrubs along Tarboo Creek, said Jude Rubin, director of stewardship and public involvement for Northwest Watershed Institute (NWI). The Plant-A-Thon has become the largest environmental service project in East Jefferson County, Rubin said. (Peninsula Daily News)


Report from the Front: Dan Tonnes on Rockfish Recovery & Critical Habitat in Puget Sound

From the 2013 NW Straits Annual Meeting. Dan Tonnes has worked for NOAA as a biologist since 1999, where he has focused on diverse issues, ranging from long-term watershed habitat conservation plans to fisheries management and research on nearshore estuary environments. Dan has a US Coast Guard Inalnd Master 100 Gross Tons Merchant Marine License and has worked as a boat captain on sport fishing boats in the Puget Sound and Alaska, as well as on passenger ferries and oil spill response vessels. He received his bachelor of Science in Environmental Planning from Seattle Pacific University and a master’s in Marine Affairs from the University of Washington. He is a Kinship Conservation Fellow.

Dan covered the spectrum of issues related to rockfish protection.

Treaty Tribes release the State of Our Watersheds Report – NW Indian Fisheries Commission

If you are into protecting the environment, here’s a good read. In some ways, a good compliment to the Puget Sound Partnership’s “State of the Sound” report

Ongoing damage and destruction of salmon habitat is resulting in the steady decline of salmon populations across western Washington, leading to the failure of salmon recovery and threatening tribal treaty rights, according to a report released today by the treaty Indian tribes.


How Logging and Agriculture Affect Water Quality – Earthfix Podcast

Podcast: The Next Act II – How Logging And Agriculture Affect Water Quality –

Good podcast on the issues related to the problems (all fixable) of logging and agriculture. This is an ongoing tug of war with those engaged in the both, vs. what needs to be done to allow the activities to continue with minimal if any harm to streams that provide us with salmon.


Public input needed on DNR plans for Olympic Experimental State Forest

A brief comment period to the proposed forest land management plan for the Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF) has begun and will end July 15.
Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is evaluating management alternatives that will determine the future of this important area, home to five species of salmon and steelhead, bull trout, endangered Marbled Murrelets and Northern Spotted Owls, and hundreds of other species that have evolved in this complex and wet environment.
Two alternatives are included in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): the No Action Alternative (the status quo) and the Landscape Alternative. The conservation community has drafted a better alternative with fewer environmental impacts.

Background: The best remaining older forest and aquatic habitats on land managed by DNR are found in the Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF). Streams and rivers flowing through forest lands in this region sustain the strongest populations of salmon and bull trout in Washington. Unfortunately, this area—with its steep and unstable slopes—has been left badly damaged by overharvest of ancient forests, roads (and the enormous sediment inputs they cause), and inadequate buffer protection for streams and wetlands The original mission of the OESF was to evaluate current conditions and apply conservation or restoration strategies to bring back healthy salmon and endangered bird habitat, while continuing to permit logging operations. Instead, DNR now proposes to double the level of harvest without funding for research, especially in riparian zones. But DNR has not conducted the research or monitoring to show that this will work over time.
OFCO is conducting an environmental and legal review of the Draft EIS, and we ask that you please support our comments.

Why This Is Important: Your comments will show widespread public support for a conservatively managed Olympic Experimental State Forest.

What You Can Do: OFCO is requesting your support in commenting to DNR by July 15. Points to make in your comments:
Support the OFCO comments with its own conservation alternative which has articles and support from across the environmental community.
Support the Conservation Alternative, which reduces the impacts from DNR’s commercial harvest and closely follows DNR’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Reject the Landscape Alternative.
The No Action Alternative must reflect current management, not the modeled harvest level 30% greater than that currently allowed. It must be redone.
Timber harvest is not a riparian conservation or aquatic ecosystem restoration strategy! The HCP requires DNR to implement both: “All conservation, research, and management strategies were designed in concert to achieve an integrated management approach.” (HCP, IV.106)
DNR needs to either complete the stalled Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy BEFORE completing the OESF Landscape Plan or defer harvest in all those areas identified as potential habitat for this threatened species.
“Current conditions” and “minimum thresholds” are not appropriate points from which to assess healthy riparian function that is intended to provide habitats for fish and wildlife and to restore and protect water quality. The Draft EIS alternatives should use reference conditions from unharvested, healthy riparian habitats.
Landscape planning is a good concept, but requires good baseline data to inform future management. DNR needs to update its site-specific landscape-level analysis program to identify the current condition of watersheds and forest stands, and to tailor future harvest plans and road construction to restore impacted habitats to good condition.
Please send your comments to sepacenter@dnr.wa.gov
with Subject: OESF comments.

For further information:
DNR Site
Settlement Agreement

Remember, the deadline for comments is July 15.

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