Conservation Issues

Staying Vigilant for Vancouver Lake

Vancouver Lake and its associated lowlands are a vital regional asset for migratory birds and other wildlife. It is a major wintering area for waterfowl, with as many as 200,000 birds recorded here at one time. The area hosts the largest number of Sandhill Cranes west of the Cascade Mountains at Cranes Landing. The National Audubon Society has recognized the Vancouver Lake Lowlands as one of 75 Important Bird Areas in Washington, with Vancouver Audubon Society assigned as the steward to monitor its conservation.

Vancouver Lake Degraded By Human Actions

Historically, Vancouver Lake was connected to the Columbia River and handled overflow during the “spring freshet” when melting snow in the headwaters would cause river levels to rise. The annual flooding would refresh the lake and flush out sediments down Lake River. Historical accounts from the late 19th century describe Vancouver Lake as clear, up to 20 feet deep and containing sturgeon. Lewis and Clark complained in their journals that they could not sleep at night due to the noise of the masses of birds when they camped nearby in 1805.

When Bonneville Dam was completed in 1938, it was the first of more than 60 dams in the Columbia River watershed in the United States and Canada that now regulate river levels. Without annual flooding, water quality in Vancouver Lake began to degrade, leading to turbidity, increasingly shallow depths and a lack of aquatic plants such as wapato, which have diminished the variety of fish and wildlife using the lake.

Suburbanization of the lake’s watershed area also led to an increase in water pollution. Burnt Bridge Creek carried increased sediment and nutrient loading that caused eutrophication. Algal blooms have become a regular summer problem for recreational use of the lake.

In 1983, the flushing channel was built on the lake’s west side to bring cooler, cleaner Columbia River water into the lake to mimic the annual flooding that used to happen. The project included dredging to deepen the lake, which resulted in a dredge spoil island (Turtle Island) in the north end of the lake. Nutrient concentrations in the lake declined, but high sediment loads are still a problem and the lake still experiences water-quality problems.

Friends of Vancouver Lake Formed To Address Problems

In 2017, people noticed expanding Eurasian watermilfoil in the lake. This invasive species forms thick mats in shallow areas of a lake, quickly growing and spreading to block sunlight, killing off native aquatic plants that fish and other underwater species rely on for food and shelter. It adversely affected rowing and sailing.

The Friends of Vancouver Lake formed to advocate for local and state agencies to assess the Eurasian watermilfoil infestation and obtain permits to treat the invasive species with herbicides. Vancouver Lake and the flushing channel were treated in 2020. Post-treatment surveys several weeks later showed no trace of Eurasian watermilfoil.

This year, the Friends of Vancouver Lake have hired contractors to remove carp from the lake. Carp, an introduced fish species from Asia, feed on the lake bottom, keeping the water turbid. The Friends hope removal of a large portion of the carp population at the lake will cut down on regular toxic algae blooms. The Friends plan to have the contractors return intermittently over the next three to five years to continue carp removal.

They also convinced the Legislature to appropriate funding in the state’s operating budget for a hydrology study to form the basis for a long-term plan to improve Vancouver Lake’s water quality.

These actions benefit birds and we support them.

Economic Development Plans Would Harm Bird Habitats

Unfortunately, the Friends have not stopped with improving Vancouver Lake’s water quality. They also commissioned studies of the current economic impacts of sailing, rowing, and paddling events at the lake.

The outcome is a “concept vision plan” with improvements to enhance the lake’s recreational appeal and economic development to turn Vancouver Lake into a major destination for competitive rowing and sailing in the Pacific Northwest.

“A broader vision for Vancouver Lake area development could involve not only enhancement of existing and new public recreation/sport opportunities, but also address the potential for other complementary private development – as with marina, dining, lodging, high wage tech-campus, service-retail, residential and mixed use development.” ~E. D. Hovee & Company, LLC

That economic development would include 300 acres of residential mixed-use single and multi-family residences and light commercial development on the southeast shore where LaFrambois Road currently accesses the lake. The development would include high end homes with lakeside views, marinas and viewing areas to watch competitive rowing and sailing events. An additional 85 acres would have high tech offices and commercial development such as restaurants and hotels. That area currently is covered with riparian forest, wetlands and farm lands.

The plan would widen the flushing channel to 1,000 feet across and line it with 65 acres of offices and commercial developments and a marina on the south bank.

The plan would convert habitat on the south shore of the lake into an arboretum of non-native plants, lawns and manicured gardens. The south shore also would have a hotel, recreation center, aquatic center and a campground.

Dredge spoils would create a peninsula in front of the Vancouver Lake Regional Park blocking the view of the lake and covered with trails. Turtle Island, which is used as a night roost by Sandhill Cranes, would be reduced in size by 50 percent and turned into a boat-in campground.  The plan also would create eight miles of additional beach on the lake shore and 30 miles of trails, including around and across wetlands and through riparian forests.

None of these developments would benefit birds. Indeed, all the development and human activity would drive birds away. If this plan was implemented, Vancouver Lake would no longer be an Important Bird Area.

Remaining Vigilant

As the Friends of Vancouver Lake seek local political support for their vision of economic development, we must remain vigilant to speak up and protect the wildlife values of Vancouver Lake.

By Susan Saul

BIRDS AT THE WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE

The first-ever remote legislative session has begun in Olympia. The virtual nature of this year’s legislative session presents an unparalleled opportunity for everyone to engage with our state lawmakers without traveling to Olympia.

Audubon Washington’s top two climate priorities for the 2021 legislative session are passing a Clean Fuel Standard and updating the state’s Growth Management Act to include climate change as an element of local comprehensive plans. They have been introduced in the Washington House of Representatives.

Birds are telling us that we must act now on climate. We are their last best hope for a stable future. Tell your representatives to support a Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1091) and updating the Growth Management Act (HB 1099) to ensure local communities are planning for a changing climate by including it as a planning element. Sign on here

Protecting birds and people from climate change is within reach, but we cannot afford to delay. With nearly half of Washington state’s carbon pollution coming from transportation, this means we must do everything we can to replace gas guzzlers with clean electric vehicles. A Clean Fuel Standard is a proven policy to help us do just that. By supporting this legislation we will improve public health, combat climate pollution, and support local economic development.

Planning for a changing climate is a key component of protecting birds and the places they need for generations to come. Audubon Washington is working with state and local partners to update the state’s Growth Management Act, requiring counties to plan for climate resilience. This means recognizing the value of natural solutions for climate change as well as the role natural infrastructure can play in making our communities more economically resilient.

You can also track bills with the most current information by signing up for Audubon Washington’s Weekly Legislative Updates and keep track of bills in its Legislative Tracker.

You also can sign up to lobby virtually in Olympia during this legislative session.

by Susan Saul

Washington Denies Kalama Fracked Gas-to-Methanol Refinery

The Washington Department of Ecology denied permits for a proposal to build the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery along the shores of the Columbia River in Kalama on January 19, 2021. Citing significant negative impacts on our climate and Washington’s shorelines, the Department of Ecology denied a key permit required to build and operate the $2.3 billion refinery. The proposed plant would have converted natural gas into methanol, producing about one million metric tons of emissions, making it one of Washington’s top 10 emitters.

You and thousands of other Washingtonians called on Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology to protect our climate, the Columbia River, our communities and our futures from the destructive, polluting Kalama methanol refinery. Many worked for this victory: Kalama residents, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and more than 30 conservation organizations—including Vancouver Audubon Society, Columbia Riverkeeper, the Power Past Fracked Gas coalition, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Washington Environmental Council.

Northwest Innovation Works, the project proponent, may appeal the decision. The Department of Ecology has excellent legal grounds for denying the methanol refinery, however, and our allies will help defend this victory in court if necessary.

by Susan Saul

AUDUBON VIRTUAL ADVOCACY DAY

DECEMBER 9TH

We want our legislators to the start the 2021 Legislative session with Audubon’s bird-friendly priorities in mind. Since we won’t be able to meet with our legislators in person, we will be meeting over Zoom.

If you live in the 49th Legislative District, join us for our Virtual Advocacy Day with Senator Annette Cleveland and Representative Sharon Wylie on December 9 by signing up at this link.

We will be discussing Audubon’s legislative priorities for the 2021 session:

1. Funding Conservation – Since state government is facing a budget shortfall due to COVID, the Legislature will be looking for places to cut spending. We will ask our legislators to protect conservation funding in the state’s operating budget, particularly for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We will ask for the Legislature to invest $140 million in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which funds outdoor projects all across the state, from urban parks to working farms to mountain trails.

2. Reducing Transportation Emissions – A Clean Fuels Standard failed to pass the Legislature last year, so we will be asking them to take it up again. A Clean Fuels Standard will require oil refineries and distributors to ensure that Washington’s fuel supply gets cleaner over time, reducing carbon pollution from gasoline and diesel by 10% over 10 years. Producing local, low-carbon fuels will create jobs in Washington, give consumers more choice at the pump and ensure healthier air now and for future generations. Washington is now the last West Coast jurisdiction without a clean fuels standard, and it’s time we catch up with California, Oregon and British Columbia.

3. Climate Resilience – We will support legislative action to update the Growth Management Act to address climate change, housing affordability and environmental justice. By making our urban areas affordable and accessible to all through affordable housing policy, preventing disproportionate impacts of local pollution on communities of color, and ensuring that cities and counties are planning for climate change, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of Washingtonians and the natural environment around us. Washington has a brief window to make big changes to the GMA before our cities and counties embark on their next comprehensive plan updates, which will lock in policy for the next decade.

by Susan Saul

GOLDENDALE PUMPED STORAGE PROJECT THREATENS WILDLIFE AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Rye Development wants to build a massive pumped storage hydroelectric project along the Columbia River in Klickitat County near the John Day Dam. The Goldendale Energy Storage Hydroelectric Project would be the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

Rye’s plan would excavate two reservoirs: the hilltop reservoir would span 60 acres and the lower reservoir would cover 63 acres. Pumped storage would generate hydroelectricity for peak periods of demand. When electricity on the grid is abundant, Rye would pump water from the lower reservoir into the higher one. Then, when there is demand for electricity, Rye would release water in the upper reservoir through turbines and back into the lower reservoir. The energy-generating capacity: 1200 megawatts. Rye claims the $2 billion project would be complete by 2028.

The Yakama Nation is opposed to this project. It would impact at least nine culturally significant sites including archaeological, ceremonial, burial petroglyph, monumental and ancestral use sites. The Yakama Nation explains that the Columbia River was dammed over the last century, impacting many of their rights, interests and resources, including fishing sites, villages and burial sites. This project is another example of energy development that comes at a cost to native people.

The proposed project would use a lot of water. Initial fill for the reservoirs would use 2.93 million gallons from the Columbia River. Rye would also use roughly 1.2 million gallons of water per year from the Columbia for “periodic makeup” to offset losses from evaporation and leakage. Rye also wants to be able to refill the reservoirs if they need to be emptied for repair. Rye calls the project “closed-loop,” a misleading description due to its plans to use Columbia River water to sustain the reservoirs.

The project also would have serious impacts on birds. The introduction of two large water surfaces would attract many more birds to the area, which is located near a large wind energy project. Wildlife biologists have raised concerns that the reservoirs would increase wind-turbine bird kills, particularly for Bald and Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons that nest in the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly noted that the history of mortalities shows a landscape already compromised by wind power infrastructure. Golden Eagles, in particular, appear to have difficulty navigating the wind currents affected by existing wind towers. The project would further alter the wind currents potentially resulting in higher bird mortalities. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has raised wildlife habitat concerns about the project.

Pumped storage requires significant upfront capital investment and lengthy permitting processes. Experts question the financial viability of this project. Rocky Mountain Econometrics (RME) developed a model of market forces and financial viability of the project. RME concluded:

“It is possible that the Goldendale Pump Storage Project is being proposed with full knowledge that it will fail. Further, bankruptcy may be an unstated but integral part of the Goldendale business plan as a means of shedding sufficient debt to survive in the current wholesale power market. These results, as detailed in the report’s Appendix Alternative Debt Structures, give us pause as to whether any adverse impacts to public values such as water quality, water quantity, flow regime, fish and wildlife, tribal and cultural resources, surrounding communities, and/or recreation are worth the risk of generated energy storage.” Bottom line: Rye Development would cause the loss of irreplaceable cultural resources and significant environmental damage for speculative benefits.

Rye already has secured water rights for the project from the Klickitat County Public Utility District. It needs a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a Clean Water Act 401 water quality certification from the Washington Department of Ecology.  The project will also undergo federal National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act reviews. Rye estimates FERC will release a draft Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement in summer 2021. After the FERC process, the developer will need to apply to the Bonneville Power Administration for transmission interconnect approval.

You can oppose this project by signing Columbia Riverkeeper’s petition asking Governor Inslee and Senators Murry and Cantwell to stand in solidarity with the Yakama Nation.

https://www.columbiariverkeeper.org/take-action-goldendale-pumped-srorageproject

by Susan Saul and Columbia Riverkeeper

Oppose the Massive Fracked Gas Refinery at Kalama

Comment Period extended to Oct 9

The fracked gas industry wants to build the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama. The proposed refinery would consume a staggering amount of fracked gas, more than all of Washington’s gas-fired power plants combined. The project would convert the fracked gas to methanol, which would be shipped overseas to be burned as fuel or used as feedstock to make plastics.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has released a new Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to address the climate impacts of the proposed plant. The SEIS explains that the refinery would cause a staggering 4.6 million tons of climate pollution every year for 40 years. It would contribute to a significant global increase in greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions would undercut Washington’s efforts to move towards a clean energy economy.

The SEIS reveals what the project’s backers have long denied: that the refinery would cause more methanol to be burned as fuel in China and result in significant methane pollution from fracking. The methanol refinery would quickly become Washington’s largest climate polluter by 2025. It would use more fracked gas than all of Washington’s gas-fired power plants combined. In addition, up to 6 tankers per month would transport methanol to China, adding to the total greenhouse gas emissions of this facility.

The Kalama project will drive fracking and methane pollution. Because of its enormous demand for fracked gas, the proposed refinery would be responsible for increased fracking and the methane pollution that fracking causes. Because methane escapes during the fracking process, this “upstream” pollution will exceed one million tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year, using even the most conservative estimates of methane leakage.

Combustion of methanol from the Kalama project will lead to a large “downstream” source of greenhouse gas pollution. Although the proponents tried for years to claim that no one would ever burn the methanol produced in Kalama, the SEIS shows that the Kalama methanol refinery would lead to more methanol being burned as fuel in China.

Unfortunately, the SEIS also relies on speculative mitigation and an unenforceable market analysis to prop up this dirty, climate-wrecking proposal. The SEIS does not offer any proof for its theory that the Kalama plant will displace worse sources of pollution in China.

You can weigh in against this fracked gas project! The comment period closes Oct. 2. You can use Ecology’s online comment form or sign a petition with Columbia Riverkeeper.

 By Susan Saul

Federal Judge Rules Administration’s Bird-Killing Policy is Illegal

After Victory, Our Work Is Not Yet Done

In a major victory for the National Audubon Society and other conservation groups, a federal judge has overturned the Trump administration’s unprecedented attack on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and restored its longstanding protections for birds. The court ruled that the MBTA does protect birds from industrial hazards, also known as “incidental take,” upholding the most effective bird protection law of our time.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni ruled on August 11, 2020, that the legal opinion which serves as the basis for the Trump administration rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not align with the intent and language of the 100-year-old law. In her ruling, Judge Caproni found that the policy “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA”.

But our work is not yet done.

Also, the administration is nearing the end of a regulatory process to make the legal opinion ruled on by Judge Caproni permanent in the form of regulation. If the administration can finalize a rule codifying its interpretation prior to the election or a change in administrations, it may have a greater and more lasting effect than the court’s decision in this case.

As definitive as the court’s opinion is, the practical effect in the short term may be minimal.  The question of how broadly the MBTA will be applied is far from resolved.  It remains highly unlikely that the Trump Administration, even if unsuccessful in reversing the decision on appeal, would commence enforcement of incidental take of migratory birds that occurred indirectly or even as a foreseeable result of legitimate business activity.

“While we are very encouraged by the unambiguous district court decision, which validates our argument that the administration’s policy is in clear violation of the MBTA, the government could still appeal the decision. If they do so, we will continue to strongly defend the MBTA in court. At the same time, they could still move forward with a proposed regulation that would essentially reinstate this unlawful and harmful policy,” said Sarah Greenberger, Interim Chief Conservation Officer for the National Audubon Society.

Congress must pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act (MBPA) which would reverse the rollback of the MBTA and reinstate bird protections. There is still time for the House to vote on the MBPA this year.

You can help.

· Complete this Audubon Action Alert to let Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler know you support the MBPA.

· Share the Audubon Action Alert with family and friends.

· Share on social media. Please use #ProtectTheBirds in any tweets or Instagram posts around the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or Migratory Bird Protection Act.

By Susan Saul

City of Vancouver puts six-month hold on new bulk fossil fuel facilities

The construction of any new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure businesses in the city of Vancouver has been halted, at least temporarily.

That decision was preceded by nearly two hours of public testimony, during which only one citizen spoke out in opposition to the temporary ban. Vancouver Audubon Society submitted written comments and verbal testimony in favor of the ban.

The moratorium was initially approved on June 8, by emergency ordinance, which required the council to hold a public hearing and a full vote within 60 days in order to uphold the ban.

That ordinance was introduced by Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, who said she wanted to give city staff time to craft a cohesive resilience plan without any new companies trying to obtain permits for a bulk fossil fuel business ahead of any changes.

“I want to do what we can to support a resiliency plan to promote safety and livability of our city,” said Lebowsky, “and focusing economic development on safe and renewable energy sources and green businesses.”

Under the moratorium, fossil fuels are defined as petroleum or petroleum-based products, as well as natural gases such as propane, methane, and butane. It would exempt byproducts such as fertilizer, paint, asphalt, plastics, and denatured ethanol.

A “large-scale” fossil fuel facility is defined as those engaged in the wholesale distribution, extraction, refinement or processing of fossil fuels, the bulk movement of fossil fuels, coal storage, coal power plants, natural gas processing facilities, storage and handling of natural gas, or bulk storage of more than two million gallons of any combination of fossil fuels.

Direct-to-consumer fossil fuel businesses, such as gas stations and propane refueling are exempt from the moratorium.

The city of Portland and the Port of Vancouver have already passed their own bans on new bulk fossil fuel terminals, and the city of Vancouver has taken a stance against increasing shipments of bulk crude on trains that run along the waterfront and through the west side of the city.

By Susan Saul

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