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Fish and Wildlife weigh in on Falls Crossing

SNOQUALMIE — Several months of letters, phone calls and

electronic messages from the Snoqualmie Planning Commission to the

Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife ("WDFW") requesting

information on wildlife and habitat concerns at the 182-acre proposed Falls

Crossing site have finally produced results.

On Monday, Ted Muller, WDFW Regional Habitat Program

manager, presented initial findings and defined the parameters within which

WDFW must operate. Although the agency has no authority to prevent or

authorize development, and by policy, they neither support nor oppose such

projects, the department is charged under the State Environmental Policy Act

with using its expertise to respond to issues impacting fish and wildlife.

Three state biologists have visited the site and found that the area is

suitable habitat for several endangered and threatened species including

spotted owls, pileated woodpeckers and marbled murelet, small seabirds

which fly as far as 50 miles inland to nest.

Although it is unknown whether the birds are using the property

for nesting this year, "listening posts"

— which send out audible signals to which the animals respond — will

be set up in April when nesting season begins.

Muller said it appears the woodpeckers have used the habitat to

nest in the past. If a nest were established, a 300-foot perimeter would be

required around the site. Because the woodpeckers don't nest in the

same cavity more than once, trees could be cut once the fledglings have

deserted the site.

Owls, however, return to the same area and require a

50-acre buffer around their nest under state

regulations. Though there has been no evidence of owls on the Falls

Crossing property, there is a known nest within a few miles. Fish & Wildlife

biologists have expressed concern over the owl's diminishing habitat due to

development.

Marbled murelet also return to the same nesting sites. If the birds

were detected in the upcoming study, WDFW would recommend there

be no development until they vacate the area as a nesting ground, which

could take several years. The survey will be done through the use of listening

posts and helicopter fly-overs. Fly-overs will allow visual observation of

the high nesting sites and potential cliff-dwellings of threatened species

such as the peregrine falcon.

Also of concern to the WDFW is stormwater runoff from

impervious surfaces such as buildings, roadways and parking lots. The impervious

surface runoff (at 10 percent), which could reach the Snoqualmie

River, would adversely affect fish and could impact the endangered

chinook salmon and other threatened species.

"Two-tenths of one part-per-million of heavy metals in the water

prevent fry [small fish] from getting to saltwater and surviving," Muller

said. "Over the years the stormwater system gets loaded. Runoff from

impervious surfaces would take significant vegetation to strip heavy metals

out, so the system needs to be not just the right size, but a properly

functional and maintained system."

Of primary concern are copper and cadmium runoff and regular

sampling would be required to maintain the permit. The Endangered Species Act

proposes an additional condition that an assessment be conducted prior to

development. The hydrology permits are issued by WDFW.

Once the habitat study is completed, the city could still

require changes to the project and additional permits. Puget Western would have

to agree to hold the city harmless for any liability for endangered species.

Although the law protects endangered or threatened animals, the

habitat itself becomes a separate issue.

"If it is deemed critical habitat necessary to central biological

functions of that species, then it is protected.

But if the habitat is not considered a central spot, then the habitat itself is

not protected," Muller said.

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