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Heron Colony Still Vulnerable to Development

Despite willing property sellers, and Fleetwood’s campaign promises, and the unanimous Greenways Committee vote …. sigh.

Despite willing property sellers, and Fleetwood’s campaign promises, and the unanimous Greenways Committee vote …. sigh.

• Topics: Bellingham, Environment,

For months we have heard from city hall sources that the mayor is working to provide additional protection to Fairhaven's Post Point heron colony, the only Great Blue Heron colony in or near Bellingham. The city's own consultant, heron expert Ann Eissinger, has recommended in reports and management plans over the years, that additional land near and vital to the heron colony's existence be acquired by the city. The owners of the two parcels available have long been willing to sell to the city - but the city has remained quiet. 

We know Mayor Seth Fleetwood is working with staff on a plan for increased protection of the colony, but what those plans are is a tightly kept secret. Both property owners continue to tell me that city hall has told them nothing and they are as much in the dark as I am. My concerns are that the plan will not be in alignment with Eissinger's recommended management plan, and that the mayor wants this to be a fait accompli when he announces it - preventing any input by the proponents of creating a protected heron reserve.

Why is there this super secrecy by Seth about what is being planned with his Planning and Public Works departments? Jamie K. Donaldson, the prime proponent for seeing Ann Eissinger's recommendations followed by the city is also in the dark. 

A specific concern is that the mayor and city hall may have no intention of purchasing the properties, but are planning an overlay or restrictive covenant that will prevent development – until the herons leave. Of course, such a plan can be gamed to financial advantage: trees can suddenly die for unknown reasons, or any construction on either of the two properties could easily spook the herons into leaving and rebuilding their nesting colony miles away - leaving us with no more herons gracefully flying along our waterfront or poised fishing in our wetlands and streams. These beautiful birds will be gone from Bellingham, maybe never to return.  

Fledglings and parents in their nests.  Photo courtesy of Linda Wright Photography. Click to enlarge.

About herons and their nesting: Unlike most birds, Great Blue Herons nest in a colony, not in individual nests around an area. The colony is typically a hundred feet - more or less - in dimension. Here, they rebuild - renovate - their nests each January, lay their eggs in February or March, and raise their young until July or August when they make the leap out of the nest and fly. Eagles prey on the young fledglings while still in the nest and the herons use a terrible but effective defense against eagle raids: they build their colony next to an eagle nest. The resident eagle will snatch one or a few fledgling herons during the summer, but eagles are very territorial and it will drive away other eagles that come looking for baby herons in the colony nests. There was an eagle nest when the herons moved here 20 years ago but it has been abandoned, although the nearby tall fir trees are still used as roosting places by eagles. Those trees also need protection - and that is an additional reason the properties must be purchased. Like all things in nature, it is complex, interrelated, and astounding.  

An obvious question is - what happens if we purchase the properties to fully protect the herons and then for some unknown reason they leave one of these years. The process will be to wait a few years to see if the herons return and, if not, the city can sell these properties for housing development.    

If we as a community value the beautiful herons we see all around Bellingham, we should bear the price of protecting them. These two land owners should not have to absorb the cost so the rest of us can enjoy the herons. We should buy the properties for fair value and provide more complete protection to our only heron colony. We need to nudge our mayor to do the right thing and fulfill not only his campaign promise but the promise of Greenways, of all three Greenways levies we voted for over the years. One of the levy's stated uses is to protect wildlife habitat. Let's do it. We are sooo close.  If the mayor hears from Bellingham residents, he is more likely to act.

Comments by Readers

Liz Marshall

May 23, 2021

I shared your suggestion on Instagram

Thank you, John, for your scrupulous attention to this important issue, and for your hefty work through many years. 

(I am the Liz Marshall in 98225; I should change my user name to lizardmarsh for ease of reference.) 



Jamie K. Donaldson

May 23, 2021

Maybe those of us who have been advocating for a protected heron reserve need a new strategy: monetize and advertise.  We’ll create the “Post Point Great Blue Heron Theme Park and Reserve.” Time-regulated tickets (to minimize impact on the birds) would include access to state-of-the-art birding scopes and local heron experts. A gift shop would be stocked with all things heron:  jewelry, sculpture, ceramics, garden ornaments, weather vanes, and paintings like we see everywhere.  People do love the Great Blue Herons.

Bird watching is good for the economy. Rep. Rick Larsen echoed this fact at the January 25 meeting of the Bellingham City Council following a short birding tour with officers of the North Cascades Audubon Society.  And according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, bird watching trips and equipment purchases generated $95 billion for the economy that year. 782,000 jobs were created and $16 billion went into local, state and federal tax coffers.

Le’s get our share of that revenue with the Post Point Great Blue Heron Theme Park and Reserve!  Until the park is up and running and listed on the Great Washington State Birding Trail brochure and app, we wish to extend our sincere thanks the Public Works Department for its careful stewardship of the colony over the past twenty years.

Fish and Wildlife Report 2016

Great Washington State Birding Trail


Nicholas Sotak

Jun 02, 2021

I went to see the rookery for the first time several days ago.  Prior to this I’d read articles here about the herons’ plight, the threat of another displacement, and the City’s inaction.  I’ve grown up seeing herons and think they’re cool and generally believe in wildlife preservation, but it wasn’t until I visited the site that I really *felt* like it’s a special place that is worth making an effort to save.

If anyone else is like I was, they probably think it’s a good idea just like a lot of things are good ideas.  To those people, consider going to the rookery and watching the birds.  If it’s true the mayor could direct city funds to help protect this space, maybe he should do a site visit.  If he’s hesitant, tell him they’re “dinosaur birds”.  It worked on my 4 year old, and it worked on me.


Jamie K. Donaldson

Jun 03, 2021

Thanks, Nicholas, for a reminder to go by the heron colony to experience the beauty and wonder of wildlife right in our midst.  It truly is a special place worth protecting to our full capacity.

Coincidentally, the WECU calendar photo for June is a splendid photo of a local Great Blue Heron by photographer Linda Wright.  Check it out!


Tip Johnson

Jun 21, 2021

It never fails to amaze me how many people take pictures of Bellingham featuring the GBH. Those darn dinosaur birds are a bona fide tourist attraction.  If the City takes its usual ” too little too late” approach, we could lose a valuable attraction.  Maybe the tourism bureau could pony up the funds?


Drue Robinson

Jul 01, 2021

Let the Stebner debacle on Padden Creek be a huge wake up call to Seth and City - Buy it. Protect it. Or it is gone! I’m incredibly disgusted by this administration and its lack of follow-through, planning for the future of the environment, and navigation of private property that encroaches on the environment we all say we love. Shame on COB and shame on Seth. Ugh!


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