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Conservation Volunteers: Studying Up, Speaking Out

During 2013, volunteers on the Eastside Audubon Conservation Committee have been the eyes, ears, and voice for birds and birders on a range of local and regional issues.

By Pete Marshall, Conservation Committee Chair

Leslie Waters, by Mick ThompsonCommittee members spend hours doing research, attending study sessions and hearings, reading innumerable articles and blogs, and sometimes adding EAS commentary to the blizzard of verbiage.

Although this work isn’t always as visible as some of the chapter’s public activities, it lays the foundation for the committee’s advocacy work on issues that are important for birds, their habitat, and our communities.

Some of this effort may take months or years to manifest tangible outcomes.

Take Coal, For Example

Recently the committee represented EAS at a Seattle hearing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider more stringent limitations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants.

Limitations are likely to be bitterly fought by coal mining interests, and may be serious for Puget Sound Energy. PSE still draws 30 percent of its power from an aging coal plant in Colstrip, Montana, and our committee is building up to a more emphatic statement about our opposition to that situation.

The committee sent a letter on behalf of EAS to the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Corps of Engineers expressing serious reservations about the coal transport proposals those agencies are considering, including specifically the Millennium Terminal proposal in Longview. (Read the letter)

Our letter also outlined some specific bird habitat-related concerns that the agencies should emphasize in their forthcoming draft Environmental Impact Statement (due about two years hence!). When the draft EIS is published, we'll undoubtedly join with a great throng of protesters to criticize the agencies’ work and attempt to obstruct any further consideration of the coal transport scheme through west coast ports.

In a related vein, we recently represented EAS at a meeting to learn as much as possible about the possibly of even more imminent exports of crude oil from North Dakota and maybe even from the boreal forest. Oil by rail is the likely alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline to Gulf Coast ports. One port that has already solicited a terminal for that is Vancouver, Washington.

Allies for a Healthy Climate

One advantage of participating in these environmental events is the chance to express solidarity with other organizations, e.g., the Sierra Club and Climate Solutions.  We see leverage in having EAS listed as an organization "active" on the issues to which those big players draw attention.

Jim McRoberts also helps EAS stay connected with regional environmental groups, amplifying our influence through supporting them.

With an eye toward enabling EAS members to participate in advocacy on the critical issues, Andy McCormick has drafted a statement for a chapter agenda addressing the National Audubon strategy for Healthy Climate and Clean Energy Future. Other Conservation Committee members are contributing to the plan.

Volunteering for Local Action

Close to home, we continued participation in King County's Willowmoor Floodplain Restoration Project, a planning effort for the transition zone between Lake Sammamish and the Sammamish River.

On behalf of EAS we submitted some suggestions for objectives for the county's study, trying to be sure the flood plain management plan will give consideration to preserving or even enhancing habitat for birds and other wildlife in this area immediately west of the BirdLoop. Pete Marshall serves on the steering committee for the project and Linda Sue is an alternate delegate.

Maureen Sunn represents EAS on the King County Eastside Rail Committee. That committee has been reviewing and commenting on proposals to convert former railroad property, from Renton on up to the northern county line, to public trails and linear open space that may have some habitat value. Kirkland seems to be furthest ahead on this effort.

Leslie Waters acts as liaison between the Conservation Committee and the Marymoor BirdLoop working group, on which she is a stalwart. (See Weeders Are Winning on the BirdLoop at Marymoor)

Leslie, Andy, and I were the data compilers for our annual Rufous Hummingbird survey, which goes into its third year in 2014.


Photo: Conservation Committee member Leslie Waters at an Audubon BirdLoop work party, by Mick Thompson

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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.