KITTITAS AUDUBON CONSERVATION CONCERNS
NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL (NSO)
The Spotted Owl is a shy and very specialized bird, which nests in old growth forest and has a diet mainly of flying squirrels. The population has declined over 80% since 1992, and the Teanaway area near Cle Elum in Kittitas County is an area where the decrease is most severe. Therefore, Kittitas Audubon continues to seek further protections for the Spotted Owl at the federal level and at the Washington State level.
Causes are most likely the lingering effects of timber harvest and habitat loss to fire, and the effects of predation and range expansion by the Barred Owl. The U. S. Forest Service is conducting a multi-year program of Barred Owl removal, now in its 3rd year. One year remains on the original study plan, but the principal investigators may agree to continue the study longer in the Cle Elum area. It may be that the population is so low that it has reduced ability to respond to a reduction of the Barred Owl threat.
The Barred Owl study includes surveys each summer targeting these owls specifically, with lethal removal on a portion of the study area (the Treatment), and no removal on the remainder (Control portion) during fall/winter/early spring, when the Barred Owls are not tending young.
In preparation for the Barred Owl removal study, stakeholder groups and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service made, to their credit, an in-depth examination of the ethics behind killing one species to save another. Concern about this issue and procedure is felt by many Audubon members, but for the present all stakeholders can wait to see whether removing the Barred Owls has a positive effect on the Spotteds and go from there in terms of whether or not this should be applied range wide. Populations of Spotted Owls are declining on virtually all study areas to one degree or another, so the range-wide population is pretty much following a similar trend to the Cle Elum area. (Thanks to Stan Sovern, Senior Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University, and Forest Service Contractor, for this 2018 update.)
WDFW CITIZEN’S ADVISORY GROUP PARTICIPATION
Kittitas Audubon is providing input to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on two citizen’s advisory groups, the Wenas Target Shooting Citizen’s Advisory Group (South Central Region WDFW) and the Hydraulic Code Implementation Citizen’s Advisory Group (state-wide). The Wenas Target Shooting CAG intends to improve safety of all users of the Wenas Game Area by improving safety (backstops and side berms) and install fire-prevention measures to reduce habitat damage from wildfires throughout the game area between Ellensburg and Yakima. The Hydraulic Code Implementation CAG advises the Department of Fish and Wildlife on potential changes to rules regulating work in, over or adjacent to the water (e.g., docks, culverts, bridges, dikes, shore armoring, etc.) to assure protection of fish and fish habitat. This CAG is currently discussing potential changes to rules relating to “hobby mining” mechanized suction dredging directed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at the urging of conservation groups, and potential issuance of “after the fact” permits to compliant but unpermitted construction with the goal of enhancing aquatic life conservation.
WINDFARMS IN KITTITAS COUNTY
Three windfarms have been constructed in Kittitas County. One project, planned in a migratory flyway north of Ellensburg along Hwy 97, was rejected by the County Planning Commission and the County Commissioners, mainly because of its proximity to many homes, but was approved at the state level. Two more were approved and have been constructed in shrub-steppe habitat in northeast Kittitas County.
Kittitas Audubon has historically opposed all three projects because of the possible damage and injuries to birds, bats, and habitat. No research has been done on migration of songbirds, impacts to Sage Grouse, raptors or bats. No studies were done at night. Limited point counts were performed for less than a year and migrations in spring and fall coincide with wind patterns in this area.
Kittitas Audubon supports renewable resources, but placement of groups of several dozen wind towers with blades reaching up to 360 feet (36 story buildings!) into the air is the paramount issue. This is the height at which songbirds migrate.
KAS continues to be involved in monitoring environmental impacts of the Wild Horse Wind Farm through participation in a citizen’s advisory group required by the facility license.
I-90 WILDLFE BRIDGES
Kittitas Audubon members support ongoing plans by the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) to construct wildlife corridors to minimize barriers to wildlife migration and decrease fatalities in the I-90 corridor. In past years Kittitas Audubon and other groups in the I-90 Wildlife Coalition worked with WSDOT to plan and construct animal crossings during the current major relocation and upgrade which will widen and improve the safety of the highway. The coalition, originally the Cascade Conservation Partnership, purchased land to create large areas of wildlife habitat, and is committed to building special “bridges” where wildlife can safely cross over or under the highway allowing gene connectivity for species and preventing collisions between wild animals and motorists. For details of I-90 wildlife crossings go to I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition. Research results of a study of wildlife movement continuity related to the I-90 project can be found at I-90 Snoqualmie Pass Wildlife Habitat Linkage Assessment.