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Conservation Program Overview
Our conservation work is informed by our mission statement which is “to enhance, protect and restore healthy natural ecosystems and native biodiversity using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation to promote the welfare of birds in North Central Washington”. Over the last few years we’ve developed a broad, results-based Conservation Program we hope is reflective of, and effectively implements, this mission.

How our mission statement informs the chapter’s conservation program:
To protect birds in our region, our work must encompass the protection, enhancement, and/or restoration of what they need to survive and thrive. As a group, birds occupy and utilize the entirety of our lands and waters. They also depend upon a stable climate, or at least one that changes slowly enough to allow them and the habitats they are adapted to adequate time to adjust. Given this, the scope of our conservation work takes an expansive view.

Considerations driving NCWAS decisions to address a specific issue or project:
Would it negatively or positively affect the occurrence of healthy, functional, natural habitats or ecosystems of importance to birds? Would it directly or indirectly affect landscape scale ecological continuity, integrity, and native biodiversity? For an issue or project that is quite local in nature, might it bring great benefit or harm to birds? Birds depend upon complex ecosystems that often straddle county, state, and/or national borders. In recognition of this, even though the issue or project may not lie entirely within our chapter’s territory, does its impact overlap our chapter’s boundaries?

Issues we’re currently involved with:
The following are issues we are currently engaged on. Also included are links to relevant NCWAS documents regarding them. Questions or comments regarding any of these issues, or our conservation work in general – Please contact Please contact Mark Johnston.

Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project The Wenatchee Ranger District is in the early stages of developing a long-term plan for habitat restoration on approximately 60,000 acres surrounding Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake in southern Chelan County. The project has the potential to significantly improve habitat conditions within the area, thereby benefiting birds, fish, and other wildlife. To view project details, click here. The project is currently in an early scoping phase, to which we submitted a letter (click here to read it) expressing general support for it, and providing initial thoughts on aspects we feel are important for the many species that utilize the area. We will remain involved as the project progresses.

Photo of Lake Wenatchee by Tim Gallagher

WDFW Proposed Conservation Projects

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFD) is currently considering 9 possible conservation projects across the state. 4 of them fall within the borders of NCWAS. We reviewed the details of each and submitted a letter (click here to read it) in support of 3, including Scotch Creek, Mid-Columbia/Central Ferry Canyon, and McLoughlin Falls West proposals. All 3 would add important shrub-steppe acreage to existing WDFD protected units, and thereby benefit species specifically tied to this habitat such as Sharp-tailed and Sage Grouse, Brewer’s Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, etc. Details for each project can be found here.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Photo by Bruce McCammon

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Coastal Plain

Presentation Summary

by Mary and Tim Gallagher

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Quote by President Lyndon B. Johnson, when he signed the Wilderness Act into law in 1964.
Four members of the North Central Washington Audubon Society:  Susan Ballinger, Mark Oswood, and Tim and Mary Gallagher recently conducted three presentations in Central Washington titled: “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Coastal Plain--A Visual Conversation”. 
The presentations included stories and photographs of caribou, musk ox, grizzly bears, birds, and plants from Susan, Tim and Mary’s adventures to the remote reaches of the Coastal Plain (1002 area) and Beaufort Sea of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Mark Oswood shared his work studying the ecology of Alaskan fresh waters in two of the locations. 

Additionally, the presentations focused on the current status of the Environmental Impact Statement being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management to lease 1.6 million acres of the coastal plain for oil and gas development. The speakers emphasized that participants should do their own research and develop conclusions about the best use of this area belonging to all citizens of the United States of America. The presentations ended with specific actions individuals could take to help protect the Coastal Plain (1002 area) of the Refuge.  Attendance ranged from 40 to over 70 each night.   Over 80 people signed the Alaska Wilderness League petition to Bureau of Land Management in support of the No Action Alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  Those in attendance gathered numerous handout, fact sheets, and other provided materials.  A popular item was the award winning book, donated by Braided Rivers Publishing, We Are The Arctic with over 100 copies given away.

The presentations were made possible by North Central Audubon Society, Wenatchee River Institute, Methow Conservancy, Wenatchee Valley Museum, Braided Rivers, and the Alaska Wilderness League. This was an amazing collaborative effort.

For more information on the presentations or the oil and gas leasing process, contact: Mary Gallagher by email or at (206) 650-7511.

The public comment period ends March 13th. Please add your voice.

Watch the slide shows here AND here.

Click here to see what YOU can do to help protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Horan Natural Area - A Unique Resource in the Wenatchee Valley

Click here to see the main talking points for composing your letter in support of the Horan Natural Area!

The North Central Washington Audubon Society is shining a light on the Horan Natural Area (HNA) in Wenatchee to encourage improvements in the ecological sustainability and awareness of the area. The Horan Natural Area occupies about 100 acres at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers. Most of the land is owned by the Chelan PUD. Management of the area is shared with Washington State Parks. The HNA has a 1-mile long dirt trail system that is open to pedestrian traffic only. The trail is accessible from both the Confluence State Park area to the north and the Walla Walla Point Park area to the south.

The Horan Natural Area is a birding hotspot in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird database and is a stop on the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The bird checklist for the Confluence State Park/Horan area contains 250 species. The area is used by a moderate number of people.

Historic Use of the Horan Natural Area

Historically, the Horan area was home to P'squosa/Wenatchi/Wenatchapum Native Peoples. It was a well-known regional council grounds since time immemorial and was a gathering place for bands and Tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In 1886 European settlers established a trading post at the site. In contemporary times, the Horan supported a pear orchard and a golf driving range.

Water in the Horan

The Horan Natural Area occupies the alluvial fan created by the Wenatchee River. Historically, surface water flows within the Horan included seasonal flow in Number One Canyon Creek, storm water drainage from the City of Wenatchee and Pioneer Ditch excess. Storm drain water and Pioneer Ditch flows no longer provide surface water. Seasonal flows in Number One Canyon Creek continue to provide water to the HNA today. During extreme events, the Columbia River overflows onto the Horan.

The PUD constructed a series of connected, steep-sided ponds and wetlands about 1990. Today, one pond has transformed into a cattail marsh that stores water only during high flow periods. The other ponds rise and fall with groundwater levels and provide stagnant water that is used by small numbers of a variety of waterfowl.

Envisioning the Future in the Horan

Two planning activities that could affect the future conditions in the HNA are just beginning. The City of Wenatchee is beginning to assess a new road and bridge that would alleviate North Wenatchee Avenue traffic congestion. The Chelan PUD will soon begin assessments as part of the required FERC relicensing of Rock Island Dam. Both entities are committed to improving conditions in the Horan Natural Area and to design and implement the needed improvements. NCW Audubon has provided a short list of desired future conditions in the Horan. The list includes:

• an introduction of water to create wetlands and connected ponds which are designed to support shorebirds and waterfowl;
• reduction or elimination of weeds, establishment of native shrubs, grasses, forbs and trees;
• a presence and interpretation of Native American culture;
• increased educational opportunities centered around an environmental learning center;

The Role of NCW Audubon

We expect to be advisors, consultants, supporters and cheerleaders in the planning processes for both the PUD and the City of Wenatchee. Our goals are long-term - spanning 50 years (Click here to read our vision for the Horan). Our efforts, along with the PUD and City, have the potential to create a legacy that will benefit the citizens of the Wenatchee valley and the increasing number of visitors to our area. CLICK HERE to read our vision paper.

We would love to hear your thoughts about the Horan Natural Area. Please send your comments and suggestions to ncwa.horan@gmail.com.

Upper Wenatchee Community Lands Plan (UWCLP)

A few years ago, it became known that Weyerhaeuser was potentially open to selling some of approximately 30,000 acres of forest lands it owns in the upper Wenatchee Valley. A coalition of interest groups, including Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT), Nature Conservancy, Chelan County, and The Trust for Public Lands, subsequently established a process to assess these lands for possible purchase for a variety of activities including recreation, fish and wildlife, birding, etc.

In November 2015, North Central Washington Audubon Society (NCWAS) established a task force to prioritize these lands from the perspective of landscape connectivity and native biodiversity, with a focus on birds. We subsequently identified several high priority parcels and in June 2016 submitted our recommendations to Chelan Douglas Land Trust for inclusion in the overall process.

Recently, an agreement was reached with Weyerhaeuser for the purchase 3,714 acres adjacent to Lake Wenatchee State Park. For an overview of this acquisition, CLICK HERE. This permanently protects several parcels along Nason and Kahler Creeks that we recommended as high priorities for acquisition. CLICK HERE for map of Nason Ridge.

We believe opportunities remain for purchase of additional tracts we identified as high priorities, so more progress is possible.

Icicle Creek Water Management Strategy

Icicle Creek, a tributary to the Wenatchee River near Leavenworth, faces the consequences of past over-allocation of water rights to a variety of users. This, and the threats posed by climate change, mean the creek is, and will increasingly be, unable to maintain adequate summer instream flows while supplying current and future human demands on its water.

To address this, the Icicle Creek Water Management Strategy (IWMS) was devised over the last several years by the Chelan County Department of Natural Resources in coordination with various stakeholders. The goal is to better manage use of Icicle drainage waters to meet long-term agricultural and community demands, while assuring adequate instream flows for the benefit of fish and other wildlife.

NCWAS supports many of the Strategy’s suggested actions including improving domestic conservation and irrigation efficiencies, creation of a voluntary Icicle water market to increase agricultural reliability, enhancing water quality and conservation at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, and habitat protection and improvement. We’re concerned, however, about a major component of the IWMS that relies too heavily on water drawn from seven lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. In our opinion, the conservation measures currently called for by the IWMS are seriously inadequate. Rather than seeking to further harness these lakes, and thereby the Icicle drainage’s waters, we suggest recognizing its natural limits and adjusting human activities to them. This would be better for the natural landscapes and habitats that support our area’s wildlife and associated recreational opportunities. We also believe this approach will better sustain our region’s livability and economy over the long-term.

In May 2016, along with 39 other environmental and recreational organizations, NCWAS cosigned an Icicle SEPA Scoping Comments letter detailing several environmental concerns. They include protection of lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, pursuit of relinquishment of expired water rights, and stronger water conservation measures. The letter was submitted to the Chelan Department of Natural Resources during the official comment period. Subsequently, we co-signed 2 more letters addressing additional aspects of the plan.

In May 2018, Chelan County released its Draft Programmatic EIS for the project. On reviewing it, we concluded that, while it would improve Icicle Creek instream flows, it also represents an effort to extensively further harness lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as reservoirs to augment water withdrawals for municipal and agricultural uses over the next 50 years. In response, we submitted a letter (CLICK HERE TO READ IT) addressing our concerns. We continue to follow this process closely and await further developments.

Chelan County Shoreline Management Plan Update Process

Chelan County is in the final stages of updating its Shoreline Management Plan. Their proposed new plan, which has been submitted to the Department of Ecology (DOE) for approval, would substantially roll-back protections the current plan provides.

Most significantly, it would change the criteria applying to specific designations, change the designations applying to certain areas, reduce the mandated widths of buffers along lakes and streams, and provide numerous “tools” that would allow property owners to encroach even further than would otherwise be allowed by even the proposed buffer reductions.

We submitted comments to DOE (CLICK HERE TO READ THEM) opposing these proposed changes and arguing for stronger protections in all cases. Chelan County has since referred to DOE their responses to all submitted comments (ours and others). DOE is now reviewing them as part of their oversight process. We expect to learn of their decision soon.

Rock Island Ponds

Rock Island Ponds is situated within the City of Rock Island, which lies a few miles south of East Wenatchee. The area, formerly a large natural gravel deposit along the Columbia River, has been mined for several decades; continuing to this day as a large gravel mine operated by Central Washington Concrete (CWC). These activities have resulted in creation of a series of lakes and ponds offering fish and wildlife habitats and, going forward, the potential for development of various compatible recreational activities.

CWC will be completing its mining operations on the site over the next several years to a decade and consideration is now being given to the ponds’ future. In anticipation of this, in 2016 NCWAS assisted with creation of a long-term vision (CLICK HERE to read it) centered on developing a plan for the ponds as a destination fishing and birding area. In early 2017, the City Council passed a resolution adopting the proposal’s central recommendations. These recommendations were subsequently folded into the city’s Parks Plan which is incorporated into its 2018 Comprehensive Plan update, due to be adopted in November 2018.

Unfortunately, the ponds are far from healthy. Water quality and fish populations studies conducted years ago revealed a variety of issues ranging from high phosphorus levels and high summer water temperatures to dense aquatic plant growth and occasional outbreaks of algae blooms. The problems, varying from pond to pond, will need to be resolved if their envisioned potential to host important fishing, birding, and other compatible recreational activities is to be realized.

The city is now considering funding efforts to support development of a site plan and new studies to firmly identify environmental issues related to the ponds and requiring resolution. Although some improvements may be ripe for moving forward as process and funding allows, others need to be more fully understood before plans can be made to address them.

Once this process is further along, we hope to initiate a long-term bird survey to monitor bird species and populations using the ponds. Its intent would be to inform management of the ponds as a destination birding site.

Stemlit-Squilchuck Area

The Stemilt-Squilchuck area is situated in the foothills of the Cascades southwest of Wenatchee. Several years ago, there was a proposal to sell approximately 2,500 acres there for development of a resort. To head this off, a coalition of entities, including The Trust for Public Land, Chelan County, and the Stemilt Partnership (composed of a mix of interests such as local agriculture, wildlife, recreation, and conservation) stepped up to devise a plan that would protect the area for the wide range of natural values it offers.

The main goal of this process has essentially been achieved – consensus was reached on a long-range plan which is now being implemented. NCWAS was fully engaged in the first phase of this process, the purpose of which was to generate a plan (and philosophy) of land use in the Stemilt region, which includes Wenatchee Heights and Squilchuck. The main agreement calls for development (houses, etc.) to be concentrated in the lowest portions of the basins, allowing cost-effective connections to utilities while preventing the blossoming of ranchettes in the upper basins.

Meanwhile, the upper portions of the basins are largely to be reserved for mixed agriculture and recreation plus maintenance of migration corridors for wildlife (especially elk). NCWAS attends all Stemilt Process meetings and remains fully engaged.

Global Warming

National Audubon Society has identified global warming and associated climate change as the primary threat to birds. Given this, Audubon Washington and NCWAS are actively working to address Washington State’s contributions to the problem. Most recently, both organizations endorsed I-1631, which appeared on the ballot in November 2018. Among other things, it would have implemented a carbon tax in Washington and directed substantial revenues. If the measure had passed, it would have been the first of its kind in the country. Unfortunately, it failed at the ballot box, so the battle continues. We remain engaged on this issue.