Category Archive: Federal Lands

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OFCO, WCAA and Seattle Mayor Comment on Navy Draft DEIS/OEIS for Increased Training in the Olympic Peninsula and Marine Waters

The Navy’s plans for increasing Northwest Training and Testing in the Olympic Military Operations Areas will impact endangered species—marine mammals including orcas, and terrestrial habitats of Marbled Murrelets and Northern Spotted Owls. The Navy’s comment period for their Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS (Overseas Environmental Impact Statement) closed June 12.

Growler jet - Google free imageOFCO commented,as well as the West Coast Action Alliance (WCAA), as did Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. The Navy must seek a permit for its activities every five years, disclosing environmental impacts and mitigating them. The Navy’s 1,800-page Draft SEIS/OEIS has new information from its Final EIS in 2015, but still is inadequate.

OFCO asks that the Navy revise the EIS with adequate attention to analysis of impacts, mitigation and reasonable alternatives. OFCO allies Olympic Park Associates and National Parks Conservation Association also commented.

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Results Released of Two-year Growler Sound Study
on the Olympic Peninsula

Locations of the 3 monitoring sites and proximity to the Olympic MOA. The Third Beach and River Trail sites (red symbols) are within the Park. The Hoh Watershed site is adjacent to, but not within, the Park boundary. Click on map for larger image.

The study was conducted by Lauren Kuehne, MSc Research Scientist at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Ms. Kuehne has undertaken one of the only scientific studies of the soundscape on the Olympic Peninsula. Ms. Kuehne “sought to answer two questions: 1) What are the current noise levels and contributions of different aircraft on the Olympic Peninsula soundscape? and 2) How might these levels change with proposed increases in military training and operations?”

The study captured sound data from three areas within the Olympic National Park and adjacent to the Military Operations Area (MOA) for the Navy training activities that fly out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI). The three study locations on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula were: “Third Beach (elevation 64 m), River Trail (199 m), and Hoh Watershed (28 m).” The study recorded and distinguished commercial aircraft, military aircraft and helicopters. The study included capturing data from the Navy Boeing EA-18G (“Growler”) aircraft in 2017 and 2018, before the current increase of 36 added aircraft (2019).

As the Olympic Peninsula shoulders the burden for the country of training pilots on the new aircraft, Ms. Kuehne’s study shows that ground monitoring of noise is feasible and can produce reliable data that shows impacts, and can and should be used to drive mitigation strategies for endangered species like the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet, as well as rural residents’ health. With the decision to increase the Navy fleet from 82 to 118 jets (Record of Decision for Growler Environmental Impact Statement – 2019), monitoring the increase in noise and related impacts becomes more imperative. Read Ms. Kuehne’s report.

Excerpts of results of Ms. Kuehne’s study:

  • “The data were compared with the Whidbey Island airfield public notice of flights, 83% of which are the Growler aircraft.
  • Of the 4,644 flight events identified, of these, 85% were classified as military, 8% commercial, 6% propeller and <1% were helicopters.
  • On the busiest days, we recorded an average of up to 70–85 flight events per location.
  • The maximum number of flight events recorded on a single day at locations was 73 (Hoh Watershed), 104 (River Trail) and 81 (Third Beach).
  • The duration of time in each day and hour that military aircraft were audible was highly correlated across the three locations, indicating flight activities impacted a large geographic area at any given time.
  • Military aircraft are a dominant contributor to the soundscape of the Olympic Peninsula, representing 85% of the total time aircraft are audible.
  • Percent time audible was substantial during daytime hours, particularly at the coastal sites, which averaged 12% audible during daytime hours across all 40 recording days. However, to achieve this average level meant that on some individual days the percent time audible during these hours was far greater (e.g., 49–52% of the time). Individual locations can experience in the range of up to 80–100 events in a single day.”
  • Data showed that areas outside of the MOA are clearly impacted, with the Hoh River location averaging 9–12% audible during daytime hours (with a maximum of 52% recorded on one sampling day-hour).
  • The River Trail location, positioned 1.8 km outside the MOA, receives consistent noise from military aircraft, indicating that the noise footprint extends well beyond the MOA.
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Senator Murray and Congressman Kilmer Introduce Wild Olympics Bill

OFCO President Connie Gallant (L) and Senator Murray

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06) reintroduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries, a total of 464 river miles, as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water and salmon streams as well as to enhance outdoor recreation, the legislation would set aside the first new wilderness on Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. OFCO President Connie Gallant, Campaign Manager for Wild Olympics joined Senator Murray for the press event on May 9. OFCO is a part of the Wild Olympics coalition; follow the Wild Olympics Campaign here.

“I’m proud today to stand with Representative Kilmer and more advocates, elected officials, community leaders, tribes, and businesses than ever before to introduce this important legislation that will protect our priceless wild spaces for generations to come,” said Senator Murray, who first introduced the legislation in 2012.

“As someone who grew up in Port Angeles, I’ve always said that we don’t have to choose between economic growth and protecting our environment. We can and should do both,” said Representative Kilmer. “I’m proud to support this practical, balanced strategy, that will protect the wildest and most pristine places on the Peninsula while ensuring we can keep and grow jobs in our natural resource industries and other sectors. I’m grateful for the partnership of Senator Murray and community leaders from across the region, including small business owners, landowners, environmental advocates, and tribes, who have been dedicated to finding a strategy that works for folks across the entire region.”

See the full press release and testimonials here. Follow S.1382 and companion bill H.R. 2642.

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Latest Science on the Marbled Murrelet: In the Forest and Out on the Water

~ Nick Hatch

OFCO Board Member Fayette Krause posed this question to the Marbled Murrelet Coalition: Why are Washington’s Marbled Murrelets declining much more rapidly than California, Oregon or Alaska? The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station released a study on Washington’s Marbled Murrelets in part to answer the question.

The Marbled Murrelet nests in old-growth condition trees, with large nest “platforms” padded with a thick layer of moss, and protected from open forest edges that would allow corvids to predate on the single egg and then the hatchling chick. Using telemetry and tracking devices on 157 birds over five years between 2004 and 2008, the research showed only 20 pairs attempted nesting, and only four fledged successfully.

The research hoped to connect both the key habitats—forest and marine—to learn about the decline of the population and to inform conservation efforts. The study concluded that decreasing nesting habitat and marine feeding habitat in greater distance from nesting habitat contributed to population decline. In Washington, the range of nesting habitat was found to be an order of magnitude larger than areas in Alaska, where the birds are not a threatened species. The report: “Inside Their Hidden World: Tracking the Elusive Marbled Murrelet.”

OFCO Board Member Karen Sullivan, a marine biologist, is conducting an extensive literature gap survey on the marine habitat for the murrelet to be published in 2020–21. Naval operations in the Salish Sea area are of concern in the decline for prey fish and impacts on murrelets. Salish Sea Wild’s video on the Marbled Murrelet is one to watch to understand the marine habitat for the murrelet. The segment is “The Risky Business of Saving Seabirds.” Intrepid scientists are out on the water in inclement weather searching for and tagging Marbled Murrelets and collecting samples to determine what is happening with the murrelet diet.

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On the Banks of the River of Hope – The Elwha’s Lost Mile

Olympic Hot Springs Access Road Project – Elwha River
credit: P. Jones

The Elwha River Restoration Program is one of the few restoration programs that serves both as a visionary, successful effort to restore a watershed from the headwaters to the estuary—and as a model for what may be accomplished by dam removal. Essayist and poet Tim McNulty, Vice President of the Olympic Park Associates writes of this incredible process in his “Letter to America.”

Thus far the hopes for the river to come back have been realized. Unexpected is the very dynamic changes in the river. As the Elwha finds its natural course it traverses the valley floor, and impacted a mile of the access road and campgrounds. OFCO supports the goal of full restoration of the Elwha watershed, including access for recreation and research purposes, and is asking the Olympic National Park (see Project page here) to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement to better ensure that the new bypass road is designed and constructed to minimize impacts to the river, its fisheries, threatened and endangered species, historic sites and cultural resources, and to the mature and old-growth forest in the Project area. See OFCO’s comments here.

Rob Smith (NPCA – L) and Tim McNulty (OPA – Center) speak to Olympic National Park and Federal Highways staff about access road to Olympic Hot Springs in the Elwha River Restoration area. credit: P Jones