April 11, 2016 Wendy Harris ACTION
To Comment On Habitat Conservation Areas: #1
If you want to send a comment to the Planning Commission on the issue of Habitat Conservation Areas, or provide comment to the PC, I have a number of talking points. Habitat Conservation Areas are one type or critical area that must be protected against a net loss in function. It protects certain species and habitat. The main threat is fragmentation and loss of habitat through development, including agriculture.
The most important one is that you can not protect what you have not inventoried and reviewed. The county has a great map of our fish species and our fish stream, but when you look at the “other wildlife”, i.e, all terrestrial wildlife and birds, which are on a different map, it is almost empty except for a few large categories, like “shorebirds” or “waterfowl” or “eagle”. And it is not that better information is not available. There are a number of databases available now to obtain more detailed information.Those maps could be completed with much greater accuracy.
The county proposes to just reference what is listed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, but this is not adequate. We need to send a field biologist to tell us what is actually on the ground and the size of the species population, and their migration routes, etc. Until we have information to establish baseline standards, we have no way of knowing if we are protecting against a net loss in ecological function.
The county knows this. It is not hard to figure out. This is a deliberate tactic so that we can accommodate growth with a minimum of cost and hassle. What they obviously do not get is the importance of functional ecosystems and how they keep us healthy and safe.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas: #2
Adequately sized buffers are crucial to protecting wildlife. Buffers provide separation between animals and habitat and human actions and land use activities. The higher the intensity of use surrounding a habitat area, the more dense the land use activities, the larger the buffer needs to be. The WDFW [Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife] provides recommended standard buffer sizes, which we already know through updated science are inadequate, even though the state has not made any changes to buffer sizes commensurate with new science.
But that is not the real problem in Whatcom County. The real problem in Whatcom County is that we only provide buffer widths for streams and marine waters. We do nothing for terrestrial wildlife. We have no established buffers for land animals. Instead, it is a case by case determination under the complete discretion of the staff planner, and there is no process for public review or input.
This is completely unacceptable for several reasons, most important of which is that is fails to protect terrestrial wildlife from a net loss. It also fails to ensure that all applicants are treated equally and fairly, or that all cases are being handled in similar manners. Finally, it provides too much discretion to the staff. The Growth Management Hearing Board has held that staff may exercise discretion, but only subject to standards and guidelines that have been through the public process. They are not entitled to unrestricted discretion.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas :#3
Habitat Corridors. Yeah, those. The ones that Cliff Strong conveniently could not define. It is a specific statutory requirement of the GMA to identify habitat corridors between UGAs to ensure connectivity of critical areas and to provide wildlife habitat. The county just never got around to it. And does not intend to do so this time either. Sure, it created Rud’s little Wildlife Advisory Group that is moving as slow as mud. The last meeting I attended, the chairmen was talking about there being no rush, whatever we do not get to this time, we can get to the next go around.. you know, in 8 or 10 years.
The purpose of identifying the habitat corridors is to prevent development in inappropriate areas, and we have been developing the heck out of the county without any thought to habitat corridors. The longer we wait, the more impossible it will be to ever protect or create habitat corridors.
Because we have so fragmented the landscape and destroyed habitat, we need to create vegetated corridors for animals to travel between habitat patches. But the opportunity for these kinds of vegetated corridors disappear with each offsite regional habitat mitigation project created. Staff will tell you that these large mitigation areas have greater conservation value .So will the state. That is not true. Protecting riparian areas and all wetlands, even the small, disconnected wetlands are the best way to protect both habitat and habitat corridors.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas: #4
The county, like any other jurisdictions, provides an exemption from critical area rules for “low impact” activities. The full extent of these activities is left to staff discretion, but the examples listed included hunting, hiking, wildlife watching.
Here is the problem. Not a one of those activities is low impact. In fact, no activity where humans are present is low impact as the mere presence of people has impact. And critical areas must be protected based on Best Available Science. So this exemption is not science based since numerous studies indicate that outdoor activities have some of the highest impacts.
But Whatcom County then goes one step further. And no one believes this is true until I provide a citation, but once you are qualified as a low impact activity, the county code allows for alteration of a critical area and buffer to accommodate the exempt activity. Wow. That is bad. It is really, really bad. That undermines the entire purpose of the GMA and the critical area ordinance. This is one change I fully expect to be see made during this comp.plan update, or the county council is not doing their job.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas:#5
Citizen Science. We need it. Rud Browne would not let the county have it. The property rights citizen advisory committee to the CAO that Jack Louws appointed would not let the county have it. But it is already being used by the Public Works Department for water quality testing. It is the standard now in conservation work. It is something that everyone else is doing and there is no excuse for Whatcom County to try to prevent the type of field review and quantification and measurements needed to establish and evaluate changes in baseline standards.
Oh, it was the one thing the new Wildlife Advisory Committee did agree should be adopted. Right away,not great need for discussion. It is simply the standard of the field. Grow up, Whatcom County.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas: #6
Species of Local Importance. We need them. Cliff Strong through them out and lied about the reasons. Under the GMA, we protect species through federal law and state law, but we should also list species of local importance that need to be protected because they are iconic, of cultural or economic significance, suffering from dwindling populations, etc. And it is OK if they are already listed as federal or state species because those lists change all the time and we may want to require different standards for local species. Oh, and by species, I also mean plants, and habitat.
Previously, we had only a few listed species, which include salish sucker, Nooksack dart, turkey vultures, osprey, elk.. I sent written letters asking to include the Lake Whatcom Koksnee, old growth forest, and the Semiahmoo and Drayton Harbor, the county’s only important bird areas. Per usual procedure, my comments were completely ignored, even after receiving a reply of agreement from Wendy Steffensen.
Then Cliff removed the existing species and said no one could understand the reason they were listed. Ummhh, Cliff.. they are set out in the 2005 BAS Report. the one you gave to all of us committee members and the one that is listed on the Planning Commission website for review.
That same report tells us that the fish were listed because they were found only in Fishtrap and Betrand Creeks and that the birds were listed because they were rare. And there were other species suggested in that report as well, including the Lake Whatcom Kokanee, Semiahoo and Drayton Harbor, brants, cliffs, caves, and a host of other habitat.
That also allows us the chance to protect biodiversity, which is based on an abundance of common species, that might not otherwise make the federal and state protection lists. I would like to see the Cherry Point Herring listed.
I think it could likely be a compliance issue to remove all local species, especially when the basis for removal is factually incorrect and based on ignoring your own reference materials and comments from committee members.
Anyhow, you are free to recommend any species you like for inclusion right now as part of the update process. But be warned, the provisions for adding species afterwards are extremely strenuous and require a level of proof that almost no one could meet. So much so that when similar standard were adopted in Island County, the Hearing Board said that these standards were overly burdensome and held that they were not compliant with the GMA. So add this to the list of things that needs to be revised in the Habitat Conservation Area section.
To Comment on Habitat Conservation Areas: #7
The purpose of the Critical Area Ordinance is to protect the functions and values of critical area. In many cases, a determination of whether a development will result in proper protection of the critical area requires review that extends beyond the development site. However, the county absolutely refuses to do this. It limits all critical area review to the development site. I spent a great deal of time arguing about this as part of the EIS scoping, to no avail.
This puts the county is noncompliance with the GMA. WAC 365-196-830(6) states that “Functions and values must be evaluated at a scale appropriate to the function being evaluated. Functions are the conditions and processes that support the ecosystem. Conditions and processes operate on varying geographic scales ranging from site-specific to watershed and even regional scales. Some critical areas, such as wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, may constitute ecosystems or parts of ecosystems that transcend the boundaries of individual parcels and jurisdictions, so that protection of their function, and values should be considered on a larger scale.”
See that word, “must”? Means it is not optional. The county’s willful refusal to comply with the law could become another unnecessary public expense unless the planning commission or the county council are going to require the county administration to follow the law. You are really letting us all down here, Jack.
From the Whatcom County Planning Website: “The public is encouraged to participate in this process, either by submitting written comments to PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us or by attending the meetings and testifying orally. Meetings will be held at 6:30 PM at the Planning and Development Services office, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham, WA 98226″