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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
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.