Recent Articles

We Have Failed to Adequately Protect Bellingham’s Great Blue Herons

Byy On

As an avid amateur bird watcher and conservationist, I was deeply alarmed, saddened and shamed by an article in the September 19, 2019 issue of Science magazine reporting that since 1970, three billion North American birds have vanished from the skies. That’s a loss of nearly 30% of the total bird population of the continent within my lifetime, mostly attributable to habitat loss. At that rate of loss, there will be no birds at all in 100+ years.

So how are we doing protecting the habitat of Bellingham’s Great Blue Herons (GBH), a Washington state-designated priority species? The iconic GBH—almost a symbol of our city—shows up everywhere: business logos, lawn sculpture, artwork, and especially in photographs enticing visitors to our city. As a priority species, it requires protective measures for its continued existence according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The department makes recommendations to municipalities on how to manage threatened, sensitive, and priority species and these are enacted through, most notably, the Growth Management Act and the City of Bellingham’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

Bellingham designated the colony a habitat conservation area in accordance with 16.55.470 A (1) (c) of the municipal code after the birds landed in trees that buffer the Post Point sewage treatment plant in Fairhaven in 1999. Employees at Public Works have taken important measures to protect the birds. These include establishing a 197-foot buffer around the colony core, restoring the lagoon for foraging, moving a public trail, and hiring a wildlife biologist, Ann Eissinger, to monitor the colony on an annual basis as well as develop a heron colony management plan. One of the most important recommendations in the initial 2003 management plan was:

Designate the area delineated in Figure 7 [see below], as a permanent heron/wildlife reserve, including roost area, wind break, area for nest material recruitment, further screening, area for colony expansion. This area is recommended for permanent protection as a publicly owned wildlife/natural area in perpetuity …Because this area contains private land, it is recommended that the City purchase the property.

From the Post Point Heron Management Plan 2003 by Ann Essinger, Nahkeeta Northwest Wildlife Services
From the Post Point Heron Management Plan 2003 by Ann Essinger, Nahkeeta Northwest Wildlife Services

Importantly, Ann Essinger recommended the establishment of a protected, publicly-owned heron reserve that includes not just the nesting trees, but adjacent trees and habitat for future growth, wind protection, visual screening, and staging and roosting areas—much of which lies outside the recognized 197-foot minimum buffer. Almost 17 years later, we have failed to take a holistic approach to heron conservation and protection by establishing a reserve. To the contrary, our approach has been piecemeal. For almost two decades, advocates of the GBH and other conservationists have played “whack-a-mole” with land use proposals before the city planning department which have sprung up over the years to develop houses on private property within, or immediately outside the buffer, thus threatening the entire colony.

To justify the approval of land use applications and permits on Shorewood Drive next to the birds, the city planning department has cherry-picked from the WDFW’s recommendations for the protection and management of urban GBH colonies, while ignoring others that may be critically important. For example, city planners have correctly emphasized maintaining a minimum 197-foot buffer around the core colony, a recommendation of WDFW. But they have allowed for schemes to average the buffer around the nesting trees, and building proposals that lie just outside the 197-foot buffer as if this number were as a magic shield to protect the birds from human disturbance.

On the other hand, WDFW uses the best available science to warn against new projects that will increase the level of disturbance from historical levels and asks that municipalities “Give coastal colonies with at least 20 nests close to coastal and estuarine habitat… high priority” (Azerrad p.11). The Post Point colony has twice that number of nests and lies in immediate proximity to Bellingham Bay, a lagoon, and a small wetlands. Yet there is another new land use proposal before the planning department right now to sub-divide the last large undeveloped property on Shorewood Drive and build two houses just outside the 197-buffer (as identified in 2018 but NOT as measured in 2019— buffers move as the birds’ nests do). Certainly this constitutes an increase in human disturbance over historic levels, not only the two new buildings themselves, but the ongoing human disturbance of leaf-blowers, barbeques, fireworks, barking dogs— all within direct line of sight of the herons’ nests. That’s a big no-no according to WDFW. Can we honestly say that we have made protection of the Post Point GBH colony a high priority if the city planning department continues to consider and/or approve land use projects that threaten its very survival?

Readers of NWCitizen and others following the saga of the Post Point herons will know that earlier this year we fought back the awarding of a Critical Areas Permit to build near the colony. And after an extensive citizens’ pressure campaign, the Bellingham City Council agreed unanimously to instruct the mayor to enter into negotiations to purchase all of the undeveloped private property in question. Mayor Linville unequivocally agreed to do so. Unfortunately, the initial offer to one landowner was insufficient, was rejected, and no further negotiations were undertaken. The Linville Administration washed its hand of the herons, leaving this as its legacy.

But we have new mayor, Seth Fleetwood, taking office this month who made greater protection of the GBH colony part of his campaign. His record of environmental leadership and stewardship is unmatched, and we can expect action to permanently protect the GBH according to the recommendations of both Ann Eissinger’s updated heron colony management report, as well as the WDFW. Let’s all support Seth to get the job done. No more half-measures, whack-a-mole, or cherry-picking. After nearly 20 years, it’s well past time to create the publicly-owned Post Point Great Blue Heron Reserve that includes procurement of the remaining undeveloped private property, all under the watchful eye of Public Works. Protecting GBH habitat, including its sustaining ecosystem, is the least we can do to help ensure that these iconic birds, a natural treasure right here in our midst, have a chance at survival in these threatening times.

Related Links

Attached Files

We Have Failed to Adequately Protect Bellingham’s Great Blue Herons

By Jamie K. DonaldsonOn Jan 02, 2020

As an avid amateur bird watcher and conservationist, I was deeply alarmed, saddened and shamed by an article in the September 19, 2019 issue of Science magazine reporting that since 1970, three billion [...]

Unity Village Tiny Home Community Requests Permit Extension

By Lisa E. PappOn Dec 30, 2019

The search for a permanent location for Unity Village, Bellingham’s first tiny home community for our homeless neighbors, is ongoing. Leased or owned land, a minimum of 1/4 acre (1/2 acre [...]

Senator Bob Hasegawa to Speak to City Council on Public Banking - 16 December

By Dick ConoboyOn Dec 09, 2019

Update - Dec 18: Video of Sen. Hasegawa’s presentation to the Bellingham City Council on Monday, Dec 16. Bob speaks for 15 minutes and then answers questions from council members for another 20 [...]

4 comments, most recent 7 months ago

HomesNOW Thrives Despite Setback

By Lisa E. PappOn Nov 25, 2019

I never imagined I would be writing the following type of article, period. I never imagined I’d be writing this article as a result of actions by James Lee ([...]

8 comments, most recent 8 months ago

Yet Another Shiny Thing - Motorized Scooters

By Dick ConoboyOn Nov 23, 2019

Bellingham just loves shiny new things. The Infill Tool Kit to solve our housing woes. Detached Accessory Dwelling Units to provide affordable housing. The green painted bike lanes to assist [...]

3 comments, most recent 8 months ago

Dinner, Anyone?

By Guest WriterOn Nov 06, 2019

[Our Guest Writers today: A native of Alaska, Laurel Cook is a 38 year resident of Bellingham where she and her husband, Cactus, raised their 4 children. They enjoy gathering with family [...]

Dick’s Picks For November 2019 Election

By Dick ConoboyOn Oct 27, 2019

Here are my choices for some of the races within Whatcom County. Bellingham Mayor: Seth Fleetwood is by far the superior candidate. Alan Rhodes got it right recently in the [...]

The Jail - Pentagon Hammers and Brick Walls

By Tip JohnsonOn Oct 25, 2019

There is so much more voters should know about the County’s continuing quest for a new jail. But ballots are out and life is too short to chase through [...]

1 comment, most recent 9 months ago

Chanan Suarez’s Local Base Is Grassroots—We’re Just Too Poor To Buy Elections

By Guest WriterOn Oct 24, 2019

Sage Jones, co-chair of the Whatcom DSA, submitted this article as a counter to Dick Conoboy’s article of Oct 14. - - - - When I asked Chanan Suarez to [...]

1 comment, most recent 9 months ago

Sink, Swim, or Divorce – Options Narrow for our Relationship with Harcourt

By Alex McLeanOn Oct 23, 2019

First, we’ll want to peer inside the Granary Building and ponder the spectacle of the world’s loneliest yoga studio ensconced within the world’s emptiest building. Then we’[...]

18 comments, most recent 9 months ago

Seth Fleetwood for Mayor

By Tip JohnsonOn Oct 15, 2019

I’m a little baffled by the claim that single family zoning is exclusionary and therefore racist. Zoning is a government police power and was always intended to be exclusionary. [...]

8 comments, most recent 9 months ago

Chanan Suarez – Grass Roots Candidate?

By Dick ConoboyOn Oct 14, 2019

Hardly grass roots. Chanan Suarez does not have broad local support in the race for Ward 5. He has raised an equal amount of campaign funds as his opponent, Lisa Anderson, [...]

DEROS + 50 Years

By Dick ConoboyOn Oct 12, 2019

Date of Expected Return from OverSeas. DEROS is a military acronym. If, as a soldier, you had one or more hostile-fire tours overseas, those dates are seared into your brain. [...]

4 comments, most recent 9 months ago

California Adopts Public Banking

By Dick ConoboyOn Oct 03, 2019

Hooray for California! Hooray for public banking! North Dakota did its ground-breaking work by establishing a public bank 100 years ago. California, usually leading the pack in progressive pursuits, comes in [...]

Whatcom County Council Briefed On Public Banking By State Senator Bob Hasegawa

By Dick ConoboyOn Oct 02, 2019

Senator Bob Hasegawa of Seattle, presented his thoughts on public banking before the Whatcom County Council’s Finance Committee (all council members were present however) on September 24th. You can [...]

3 comments, most recent 10 months ago

Whatcom Justice Reform: The Big Fib

By Tip JohnsonOn Sep 30, 2019

A LITTLE BACKGROUND A proposed tax for a new jail has failed twice at the polls, the second failing by a ten times greater margin than the first. Yet the [...]

2 comments, most recent 10 months ago

Mayoral Candidate Barker Has Some Explaining To Do

By Dick ConoboyOn Sep 23, 2019

What does candidate April Barker have in common with the following other far-right candidates from Whatcom County? Ben Elenbaas - County Council Kathy Kershner - County Council Tony Larson - [...]

1 comment, most recent 10 months ago

Senator Hasegawa To Speak On Public Banking Before the County Council - 24 September

By Dick ConoboyOn Sep 19, 2019

Washington State Senator Bob Hasegawa from Seattle will again speak on the issue of public banking, this time before the Finance and Administrative Services Committee of the Whatcom County Council [...]

What’s Going on with the Herons, Council?

By Jamie K. DonaldsonOn Aug 31, 2019

We need to press Bellingham City Council members to step up their game to protect the Great Blue Heron colony at Post Point—once and for all. Heron advocates have [...]

1 comment, most recent 10 months ago

Public Banking And Washington state - 100 Years Behind The Times

By Dick ConoboyOn Aug 24, 2019

Update Thur, Sep 5 - Senator Hasegawa’s speaking to the Bellingham City Council on Mon, Sep 9, has been cancelled. We expect this to be rescheduled for Nov or Dec. We [...]

1 comment, most recent 11 months ago