Monday, September 3, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #32 - Critical Buffers

I know I said during the last post that I would discuss economic valuation, but I need to interject a polemic about buffers first, especially now that we are armed with the knowledge of Ecosystem Services. Valuation will be in the next post. For now, I'd like you to consider the following question:

How are "buffer functions" related to "critical areas functions and values?"

If you have no idea, that makes two of us. I think we have lots of company too. There is nothing about it in BAS. No one has ever connected the dots describing how "buffer function" affects "critical area function and values." I suppose that almost goes without saying, given that no one involved in our CAO has even listed the critical areas functions and values that need protecting.

The whole buffer/critical area function topic is a mind-boggling Escher-painting-like tangle. For example, Shireene Hale sized our water quality buffers for pollutant-removal functionality, and then placed a heap of restrictions on buffer use to protect that (and other) buffer functions. But what does any of that have to do with wetland functions? What about the following statement by Dr. Adamus which was also included in the posting for Flaw #27:
For wetlands categorized as Moderate or High Importance, require monitoring of amphibian dispersal movements by a professional herpetologist (amphibian expert) to determine site-specifically which upland areas are being used most of the year, prior to final determination of buffer width and permit issuance. This would be an expensive endeavor.
Adamus is suggesting that buffers may have critical habitat function because of "amphibian dispersal movements." But if a buffer has a critical habitat function, shouldn't it be part of the habitat critical area, not a buffer? And if "amphibian dispersal movements" aren't critical, why is Adamus saying what he's saying? Buffer functionality has gotten completely mish-mashed with critical area functionality, and yet, at the same time, there is no clearly postulated linkage.

Our County has talked a lot about buffer function whereas the legal requirement is to focus on critical areas function (and values), and we don't even have a theory relating one to the other? Haven't we got this turned on its head? Weren't we supposed to identify the functions and values that critical areas provide to us, rather than obsess over the functions that buffers provide to critical areas? By definition, buffers are not critical areas themselves, so their functions and values do not warrant any protection under the GMA, which begs the question of why our proposed buffers are laden with a surfeit of restrictions?

We are not required to protect buffer habitat function. We are not required to protect buffer water purification function. Assuming buffers function at all, we are not required to protect any regulatory, provisioning, supporting, or cultural functions of buffers or their derivative use/nonuse values.

From the Trojan Heron's perspective, the entire topic of "buffer functionality" seems to be a strategy of confusion for the purpose of extending notions of critical areas protections to non-critical areas. The County has been playing fast and loose when engaging in "function" discussions for non-critical areas, like buffers.

Being a buffer skeptic, I've modified the Epicurean Paradox to express my disbelief in god-like buffers.
Are buffers unable to function as claimed?
Then buffers are not omnipotent

Can buffers function unexpectedly, such as increasing nitrogen "pollutants?"
Then buffers may be malevolent

Are buffers really as functional as claimed?
Then whence cometh environmental degradation?

Are buffers neither as functional nor as valuable as claimed?
Then why call them buffers?


  1. Buffers, for what?

    We don't have them now and things look to be pretty much OK, excellent in fact!

  2. We have set-backs now, which goes to the point that if "buffers" don't really do anything, set-backs should be just fine to continue with. No one has been able to demonstrate that "no-touch buffers" do much of anything. The only thing buffers/set-backs seem to do is provide physical separation between structures and a critical area, which may be desirable from a policy perspective ... not a scientific one.

  3. Soooo .... a buffer is a set-back that you can't touch?

    Or, henceforth, all set-backs shall now be known as buffers?

    If all buffers are critical (they must be otherwise why have them) then all critical areas are buffers?

    Who makes this stuff up please? The Department of Ideology?

  4. Shouldn't we have buffers to protect the functioning of the buffers? Because if the buffer is impaired, then it isn't properly protecting the functions and values of the critical area.

    Perhaps we could simply require all new development to occur in Skagit County.

  5. Infinite Recursion!
    A buffer for a critical area is in itself a critical area, which then requires a buffer...

    "There was a flea upon a flea, which had a flea which bit 'em...
    And on that flea another flea...
    An so Ad Infinitum!"

    For I=1 to N
    Next I

    And soon, all of San Juan County will be empty!

  6. There is more intelligence in the above posts than in six months worth of County Council "discussion."