Monday, April 22, 2019

Our role in helping protect our species

By Ann Briggs and Mike Allende

Today, April 22, is Earth Day and the theme this year is "Protect Our Species." The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the accelerating rate of loss in plant and wildlife populations due to habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, pesticides and other human-related activities.
Restoring native vegetation – like this along SR 542 Anderson Creek in Whatcom County – is a key part
in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in construction areas.

The transportation sector is responsible for more than 42 percent of the state's carbon emissions - a concern for all of us as we see, experience and plan for the effects of climate change. Here in Washington state, we are often reminded of the need to protect our resident orca whales, salmon, pollinators and other wildlife as well as the habitats they depend on for their continued existence.
Building wildlife connections helps keep animals and people safe by limiting the possibility for vehicle/wildlife collisions.

Being good stewards of the environment is vitally important to our agency. But how are we doing that? Here's just a few examples of how we help preserve and enhance habitats to protect our species:
  • We use native plants to restore areas disturbed during construction to establish healthy plant communities that out-compete undesirable plants and provide pollinator habitat. Just east of Snoqualmie Pass, we teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to collect native seeds and cuttings to grow at local nurseries. Once the plants matured, we planted them along the Snoqualmie Pass East project to restore the habitat we affected during the first phases of the project.
  • In fall 2018, we began testing a variety of seed mixes and soil preparation methods at the Scatter Creek Rest Area along I-5 north of Centralia. We're monitoring the site for successful establishment of flowering plants and increased pollinator activity. The results will help us develop restoration and maintenance practices that provide future habitat for pollinators along roadsides.
  • We're working with Washington State University on a study of SR 20 North Cascades Highway Wildlife to gather information about the patterns of deer crossings along SR 20 between Twisp and Early Winters Campground. The goal of the study is to gain understanding of the environmental factors that affect deer-vehicle collisions and to provide recommendations that could reduce the number of collision each year.
Improving fish passages – we've corrected more than 300 so far – has improved
fish migration and the environment in those areas.
  • Since 2018, we've been exploring strategies to quiet our ferries to help protect orca whales, including ambient sound levels from ferries by slowing down in Haro Strait when whales are present.
  • To improve air quality and reduce emissions, our ferries use B5 biodiesel - a blend of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent ultra-low sulfur diesel. This year we will increase use of B10 biodiesel. We are also working with the Governor and Legislature to move forward with converting vessels to hybrid-electric propulsion, which would reduce carbon emissions from our current fleet by 25 percent.
  • We've already corrected more than 300 barriers to fish passage, improving access to 1,000 miles of stream habitat. We're continuing our work to correct an additional 415 barriers, restoring access to 90 percent of blocked habitat in the northwest part of the state by 2030.
Encouraging active transportation by improving facilities – like the SR 520 trail across Lake Washington – helps
provide safe options for everyone, regardless of mode of transportation.
  • Promoting active transportation such as walking and bicycling by investing in connected infrastructure to give people more - and safer - options for getting around. For example, the SR 520 trail across the new SR 520 bridge saw more than 328,000 trips in its first year, giving bicycle riders, runners and walkers a safe alternative for crossing Lake Washington.
  • We continue to work to replace petroleum-fueled agency vehicles with hybrid and electric vehicles. As of late 2018, we had 45 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, 20 all-electric vehicles and 100 hybrids. Last year we also became the first state agency in Washington to begin using a hybrid work truck.
  • We're removing and replacing highway lighting with more energy-efficient LED lights. A project in 2017 converted 1,974 high pressure sodium lights with LED technology, resulting in energy savings of more than 68 percent.
We became the first state agency in Washington to begin using a hybrid work truck,
helping to cut down on our carbon footprint.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the many ways we support a sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation system. We're proud of the work we do as an agency and will continue to look for ways we can make a difference, on Earth Day and every day.