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County cuts down proposed plant list

"The Island County commissioners reassured property owners Monday that there won't be a lot of new development laws protecting more than 30 possibly rare local plants. But in so doing, they ticked off environmentalists - to say the least.They have given no consideration to future generations. They have spat on our descendents and on these species' existence on Whidbey Island, said Steve Erickson, spokesman for the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. It was the most embarrassing thing I have seen in over 16 years of going to meetings of the Board of Island County Commissioners.Erickson was reacting to the commissioners' decision to narrow a list of 33 species WEAN believes should be protected or watched down to just one during a public hearing Monday afternoon. Working under the state's Growth Management Act, WEAN nominated the plants as potential species of local importance. If approved, the county would have take measures to insure that such plants would not be harmed by development or misuse.The county has been slow taking action on the nominations - so much so that the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board told them to do so in June of 1999. By October of this year, after action had still not taken place, the growth board told the commissioners to do it by the end of January or risk possible economic sanctions by the state.In its order the board told the commissioners to make a reasoned analysis using best available science in their decision making process, but Erickson said that after reviewing the evidence before them the commissioner's decided not to.It was neither science nor common sense, he said. We'll be back in front of the hearing board as fast as we can.But Island County Commissioner Bill Thorn said that when the list of plants was held up to the established criteria for determining if they are rare, only one, the blue flag iris, rose to the top. The iris is only known to grow in Central Whidbey on Grasser's Hill overlooking Penn Cove.Thorn also noted that six of the remaining listed plants were on land now owned by the Au Sable Institute, an organization pledged to the protection of native plants.(Those plants) are going to have significant protection, he said.As to the others, Thorn said there just isn't enough information available on the plants' existence, range and trends for the commissioners to start making new laws.But Erickson said that if the commissioners applied the same decision-making criteria to a Whidbey plant such as Golden Paintbrush, which is already on a national list of endangered species, they would not have designated it as rare either.The way they are interpreting this ... that species would not make the cut, said Erickson. He criticized the commissioners for using a lack of information as a defense while not having any plan in place for collecting information. Thorn admitted that there is no defined plan in the county for collecting data on local plants and there is no current plan to start one. But he said he has already begun talks with the Washington State University Master Gardener program about the possibility of using volunteers to gather information.Thorn also said that the decision-making process is not done. The commissioners will hold another public hearing on the subject Jan. 22, at which time WEAN and other members of the public will get a chance to express their positions again. Regardless, Thorn said, he is reluctant to force property owners to protect plants through new laws.My first approach is to enlist the cooperation of the property owner, he said. I am not opposed to using the law if we have to, but it wouldn't be my first choice. "

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