Category Archive: Posts

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Dept. of Natural Resources Releases Final Environmental Impact Study on Marbled Murrelets – Not Enough Conservation

Washington’s DNR released the FEIS of their preferred alternative for the state’s Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet. The Strategy, overdue by decades, is in its final stages and DNR has submitted its application for a proposed amendment to the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). OFCO works with the Washington Forest Law Center (WFLC), Washington Environmental Council, Conservation Northwest and Seattle Audubon in the Marbled Murrelet Coalition to advocate for more conservation for the Marbled Murrelet. That means protecting more of the old-growth condition forests where they nest.

~ Al Clark

The Marbled Murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but lays its single egg in moss-covered large branches. DNR’s preferred alternative (Alt H) will not conserve enough forest to save the bird from extirpation in Washington.

The FEIS is the final step in the application process to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service and DNR have, for the past three years, conducted a joint NEPA/SEPA process. DNR has been responsive to all stakeholders and generous with their time and efforts to assist the public in its important role in setting environmental policy. However, a final and most important step was constrained by the joint process and a potential SEPA error occurred, resulting in a limitation on the public’s rights to engage in the decision-making process. We feel that the limitation on the SEPA process must be addressed. Click here to read the WFLC letter to the state Board of Natural Resources.

Most importantly, the Marbled Murrelet Coalition and conservation groups have two fundamental disagreements with DNR: the standard the agency must meet, and whether the fiduciary duty to the trusts that earn revenue from timber harvest takes precedence over the Endangered Species Act. Click here to read the WFLC article in the King County Bar Bulletin.

DNR believes that the trust fiduciary duty means that it can only mitigate the “take” of Marbled Murrelets, while maximizing the revenue for the beneficiaries to the trust. Conservation scientists and groups believe that the take=mitigation approach in Alt H will ensure that the Marbled Murrelet will be extirpated in Washington. In our view, DNR must live up to the HCP standard, which is that DNR must adopt a plan that “substantially contributes to the recovery” of the threatened seabird.

The Marbled Murrelet Coalition proposed a “Conservation Alternative” that was not analyzed by DNR. The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Environmental Protection Agency commented on an earlier version of Alt H, which led to an alternative that would protect thousands more acres of habitat (Alt F). Alt F is based on a 2008 Science Report conducted by DNR and WDFW.

The Board of Natural Resources, DNR’s oversight body, will take up all of these issues in their meetings in October, November and December of this year. U.S. Fish and Wildlife will consider the application and release its Biological Opinion of Alt H very soon. Alt H is not enough conservation for the Marbled Murrelet–not enough by far.

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House Appropriations Subcommittee Visits Olympic Forest Collaborative

Rep. Derek Kilmer hosted a delegation of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to an Olympic Forest Collaborative Stewardship Project during the August recess. Committee Chair Betty McCollum and Ranking Member Rep. David Joyce joined Rep. Kilmer and the Collaborative at the H to Z sale and learned about Collaborative efforts to restore forests and generate economic gains for local communities. The Collaborative also held public meetings on its progress in Forks, Aberdeen and Port Angeles.

OFCO is working with Collaborative members and partners on a monitoring and evaluation project that will document the restoration results of the Collaborative, funded in part by Washington legislative appropriations to the Department of Natural Resources. The grant helps to fund permanent monitoring plots and drone photography of how the forest is responding to treatment. OFCO Board Member Jill Silver (Exec. Director, 10,000 Years Institute) leads the monitoring and evaluation team.

(L to R) Rep. Derek Kilmer, Matt Comisky (American Forest Resources Council and Collaborative Co-chair), Chair Betty McCollum, Ranking Member David Joyce, OFCO Board Chair Connie Gallant, Jon Owen (PEW Charitable Trusts and Collaborative Co-chair)

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Washington’s Attorney General Ferguson Files Suit Against Navy for Growler Expansion Over the Olympic Peninsula and Marine Waters

AG Bob Ferguson filed suit against the Navy for not complying with federal law and fully evaluating Growler expansion impacts on the environment and human health. AG Ferguson said, “The Navy has an important job, and it’s critical that their pilots and crews have the opportunity to train. That does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to follow the law and avoid unnecessary harm to our health and natural resources.”

Click here to read the press release, with documents from the AG’s office.

The campaign to require the Navy to live up to the law that applies to all armed services, and the law the Navy is sworn to uphold and protect, has taken an important step forward.

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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.