Bellingham Heron Colony Threatened by Development - Again

Bellingham’s Only Great Blue Heron colony Faces Human Threats - Again. Who Wants to Help?

Bellingham’s Only Great Blue Heron colony Faces Human Threats - Again. Who Wants to Help?

Update - Monday, April 15, 2019

As you can see from the notice, the Public Hearing to consider sub-dividing the Shorewood plat next to the heron colony was postponed until further notice. Meanwhile, we easily raised the $1,081 to file an appeal of the Critical Areas Permit awarded to the developer. The appeal was filed well before the deadline. Thank you so much to the dozens of you who contributed, offered to do so, and offered support of other kinds. Clearly, the heron colony is important to many of us here in Bellingham. The next step: a hearing before the Hearing Examiner on the appeal. Stay tuned for further “developments.” Jamie K. Donaldson

Below article posted Thursday, April 4, 2019

There will be a Public Hearing—at the request of heron advocates— on a subdivision application of the last undeveloped plat in Shorewood in Edgemoor, adjacent to the heronry at Post Point in Fairhaven. The subdivision, if granted, will create two building lots for development with a green space in between. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, April 10th 2019 at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 Lottie Street. Please show up to express your concern over how this subdivision and subsequent building will threaten Bellingham’s last remaining heronry. Here’s the background.

First, the good news

Nesting. Taken Friday, Mar 30, by Nancy Downing.
Nesting. Taken Friday, Mar 30, by Nancy Downing.

The Great Blue Heron colony at Post Point has had some exemplary champions within the City of Bellingham over the years. Now-retired operations supervisor at the Post Point water treatment plant, Larry Bateman, comes to mind. Larry went to bat for the herons when the city needed to expand the water treatment plant adjacent to the herons and now there is an expanded protective buffer, fencing, trails and informational signage about the gawky, pre-historic looking birds that we love. Former City Councilmember Louise Bjornson was also an effective advocate for the herons. Against all odds, including noisy trains and an off-leash dog park, the heronry is actually expanding. During the 2018 nesting season, there were 41 active nests, and the herons are back and at it again right now. What a wonder!

In 1999 the herons arrived at Post Point and had the good sense to nest in protected deciduous trees owned and maintained by COB as part of the initial buffer around the water treatment plant. They had been uprooted from their earlier colony on Chuckanut Drive when nesting trees were cleared to build the Blue Heron Estates.

Now, the bad news

There is one last large parcel of undeveloped land in the Shorewood portion of Edgemoor that is uphill and adjacent to the heronry. Since at least the early 2000s, there have been plans to build luxury homes on that plat. One such proposal included a hair-brained scheme to cut “view corridors” through the publicly-owned deciduous trees where the herons nest so Shorewood folks could get a view over the treatment plant to the bay. Thanks to the work of many advocates, we managed to put the kibosh on that public giveaway which had, incidentally, been approved by City Council under the innocuous title “Post Point Vegetation Management Plan.”

There was also a very regrettable lost opportunity in 2016 when the owner of the Shorewood plat agreed to sell it to the city for $550,000. The Greenways Committee recommended that the city purchase the land, thus guaranteeing protection for the city’s only remaining heronry on its exposed Edgemoor flank. Not sure why, but the Parks Board declined to pass along this recommendation to City Council for consideration. Opportunity knocked and was knocked out.

Proponent’s 2018 overlay of herron colony seems to short change the recommended buffer. See attached letter.
Proponent’s 2018 overlay of herron colony seems to short change the recommended buffer. See attached letter.

Now there is a proposal to subdivide the Shorewood plat to build two luxury homes with a sizeable green space and conservation easement between them. This plat is re-named, ironically, the “Heronwood Cluster.” Perhaps this is better than prior development proposals for this sensitive area, but it has several critical flaws: COB has already approved —with no public process— a Critical Area Permit which will allow the housing lot closest to the herons’ nesting trees to encroach deeply into the city’s own designated 197-foot buffer around the colony. The encroachment will be “offset” by adding a similar amount of buffer to the extreme end of the plat, furthest away from the heronry, where it is not so urgently needed. This sleight of hand “averaging” of the protective buffer might be allowable under current Critical Area permitting codes, but it undermines recommendations from both the wildlife biologist hired by the city to monitor the heronry, as well as management recommendations from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for protecting Great Blue Herons, a Washington priority species. We’re witnessing what could prove to be the tipping point for the heron colony: an encroachment approved by the city, as well as the planned removal of large conifer trees on the Shorewood (oops, I mean Heronwood) building sites that could expose the nests to south winds which the herons cannot tolerate. Why would the city allow ANY new potential risk to the heronry when we have invested citizens’ tax dollars for years of heron management and protection?

The city’s Planning Department exercised its prerogative to not invite public input into Critical Area permitting process for the Heronwood Cluster and this is where all the environmental concerns including “mitigations” were considered. One can choose which of the dueling wildlife biologists you want to believe about how much tolerance the herons have for these newest human threats: the biologist hired by the Heronwood Cluster’s proponents for its environmental report, or those of the biologist who’s been monitoring the heronry, at the city’s request, since 2003. You decide.

Yes, it’s time once again for Bellinghamsters to decide whether our remaining Great Blue Heron colony is something we value and want permanently protected. If outright purchase of the Heronwood Cluster is out of the question this time around (Is it?), we must at least appeal the Critical Area Permit that enables the encroachment upon the heronry for private gain. It costs $1,081 to file the appeal and I’m in for the first $100. Who will join with me to help file the appeal by making a monetary donation? Time is short (the appeal must be filed by April 12), so please contact me by email right away to join in this effort to save the Post Point heronry:

After all, wouldn’t it be a travesty if, once again, the Great Blue Herons of Bellingham were flushed out of a safe nesting site because of a luxury development project that bore their name?

Related Links

Attached Files

About Jamie K. Donaldson

Citizen Journalist • Member since Apr 03, 2019

Jamie K. Donaldson is a long-time activist for peace, social justice, and the environment. She was the founder of the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center in downtown Bellingham, and is retired [...]

Comments by Readers

Konrad Lau

Apr 05, 2019

Nicely written article!

“The great blue heron is the most widely distributed heron in North America. It is so plentiful that it is listed as a species of least concern by the International Union of Conservation and Nature.”

Of all the ecologically related topics to be concerned with in our area, the Great Blue Heron’s “plight” seems pretty far down the list.

The Great Blue Heron lives from Alaska and southern Canada, through virtually all of the contiguous United States (excluding the desert regions) and down into Mexico, Central America and South America. If they could hitch a ride, they would happily invade Europe, Asian and Africa too.

If Global Warming precipitates Global Flooding, the Great Blue Heron’s population will undoubtably increase.

Now, I know folks in our area like to be known for their politically, socially and ecologically “wokeness” but this, I believe, seems a stretch.

How about some intellectual honesty?

Why not just admit we are opposed to any growth at all.

We don’t want industry.

We don’t want a growing population.

We don’t want anything new other than perhaps a few more lawyers, dentists and coffee shops…Oh, and rich retirees who can pay their taxes without complaint.

See, that wasn’t too difficult, was it?


Larry Horowitz

Apr 05, 2019

Jamie, thanks for writing about this issue and bringing it to our attention.  As you know, and as noted on page 4 of the planning department’s critical areas permit, “The great blue heron is considered by the state as a ‘priority species’ and the heron colony is considered a priority habitat because it supports the priority species… Designation of the heron colony meets the definition of a habitat conservation area (HCA), in accordance with BMC 16.55.470 A(1)(c).  State priority species and the habitats with which they are associated require protective measures for their continued existence.”  These are the facts and the law.

The real question is whether buffer averaging, which allows for reduction of the buffer in certain locations to be offset by increases in other locations, will adequately protect the heron colony.  As you stated, that is a matter of opinion.

I’d also like to thank Konrad for expanding the conversation to include the question of growth.  Konrad would like for us to “just admit we are opposed to any growth at all.”  I’m not prepared to do that, but I believe most fiscally conservative members of the community would agree that we should not promote additional growth where the marginal costs exceed the marginal benefits.

The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) makes a strong argument that there is an underlying conflict between Economic Growth and (1) Environmental Protection; (2) Economic Sustainability; and (3) National Security & International Stability.

“The conflict between economic growth and environmental protection is becoming more apparent as the oversized economy bumps up against limits.  From depletion of ocean fisheries to loss of pollinators, from groundwater drawdown to deforestation, from climate change to increasing concentrations of toxic pollution, from massive urban slums to degraded rural lands, the consequences of too much economic growth are observable all around us…  We find ourselves in a global state of overshoot, accumulating ecological debt by depleting natural capital to keep the economy growing.”

Anyone who argues for infinite growth ignores the obvious.  Infinite growth within finite constraints is simply not possible.  The size of the economy cannot exceed the capacity of the environment.  At some point, we will stop growing.  The only question is the extent to which we overshoot these constraints and suffer the consequences.

Contrary to Konrad’s claim, it is not a matter of just admitting we are opposed to growth.  It is a matter of having a conversation about whether additional growth is beneficial or detrimental.  To date, the city has refused to have this conversation. 

Perhaps someone running for mayor will have the courage to deal with this issue before it’s too late.


Konrad Lau

Apr 07, 2019

Historically, there has always been tension between mankind’s desire for ever- increasing growth and the desire for allowing areas it to remain untouched (as in our National Forest lands); however, I believe we can all agree that not all land can be kept as National Forest or Refuge land. The concept of dedicating and maintaining those areas to non-development is laudable and necessary.

Land within incorporated city limits originally deemed suitable for development, being re-designated as “refuge” land seems questionable at best. Particularly when taken in light of the fact that the Heron (the supposed reason for this concern) is far, far, far from threatened status.

Just as all land can not realistically be held in “refuge” status, not every species can be included as a “priority species”. When we begin including every living thing as “priority”, we diminish the importance of concern regarding species that are truly in jeopardy.

It is OK to admit we as a society want no further business, industrial or residential development, as long as everyone has a say and the goals are clearly stated so that rational decisions may be made by that society…not by a select group of radicals bent on control of every natural resource or square inch of dirt on planet Earth.

Attempting to claim some form of moral status based on someone else’s desire for profit is a cowardly and deceptive argument. Profit is not, I repeat, not an evil concept. Providing goods and services to others for profit has been the greatest destroyer of poverty mankind has ever seen. Taking other’s natural civil right to dissent, the right to use one’s own property within social norms or the confiscation of one’s gain by hard work; however, is unquestionably evil.

Let’s just be honest about our goals and how we intend to achieve them.

Meanwhile, the Great Blue Heron is doing fine. It is one of the most adaptive and prolific species ever created.

As to folks claiming they want “conversation”: The above commentary shows exactly how much “conversation” some folks actually want. As soon as opposition to their agenda is seen, the opposing opinion must be castigated or otherwise impuned in order to nullify that opinion.


Jeffrey Bodé

Apr 22, 2019

I recall lawyering the same sort of proposal during the early 1990s.  Like damming the So. Fk. Snoqualmie, or copper mining the Cascades, some ideas just won’t go away.  Not surprised at Parks involvement.  When I lived at in the Klipsun neighborhood, my neighbor told me that the homeowners above her property between the Interurban and Chuckanut had cut her trees to improve the view from their property prior to sale.  Turned out to be the Parks director who okayed it on the premise that my neighbor’s land was subject to a surviving railroad easement, lol.


Gabe Rogel

May 03, 2019

Dear Jamie, 

I hope you are well and enjoying the gorgeous spring we’re having.

I thought I would reach out regarding your recent article here, seeing as I am the person subdividing the property adjacent to the Post Point heron rookery.

First, with the judgements passed in your piece, I believe it important you know just a little about me. I am not a developer. I’m a photographer and am not looking to turn a profit whatsoever from this property. Post divorce, I am simply looking to build a home for my 8-year old son and I (which would lie completely outside of the 197’ heron buffer and not be visible from the nests).

I can very much understand your and other’s concern over this sensitive property, as I share the same concerns. Given my nature-respecting upbringing, line of work and if you knew me, who I am at my core, I very much consider myself an environmentalist and wildlife advocate. Had you taken the time to give me a call or walked the property with me, I am hopeful your article would have had a different tone and a more well-rounded perspective. 

I want to make clear a few points pertaining to your public story and give you a little history here. 

You begin by stating the city approved a Critical Area Permit (CAP) without public process. To my knowledge, and I have been working very closely with the city to follow all due procedures, we have very closely followed the public process. I believe the first public notice about this, was posted in early September, 2018, followed by a neighborhood meeting in October, at which all of this was discussed. I wish you had joined us.

You then go on, stating the new homes will, “encroach deeply into the city’s own designated 197-foot buffer around the colony”. To be very clear, my homesite is completely outside of the 197’ buffer and the nests are not at all visible from the homesite. The building envelope on the other lot, at it’s “deepest” point, would encroach about 35’ into the buffer, then, moving east, tapers quickly to 0’. More importantly, there are thick conifer trees between this homesite and the rookery, almost completely blocking the nests, visually, from the homesite (165’ away at it’s closest point). Further, I will be required to plant even more coniferous trees in this area, to ensure complete screening. Visual disturbances from the nests are the biggest issue in protecting the herons. Neither my home nor the other home will be visible from the nests.

I would also like to point out, after the major cons

You seemed to take issue with the (very respectable) wildlife biologist I hired, so I feel the need to shed some light here. While trying to purchase the property, I had many meetings with the city regarding the best practices in protecting the herons, while “developing” this property as minimally as possible. One of the first calls I made, was to Ann Eissinger, the biologist who has studied this rookery for many years. We subsequently had a few very cordial and educational calls. I very much hoped to hire Ann, as she clearly has a long history with this heron rookery. However, after our calls, it was mutually clear, that due to Ann living in Oregon, it would not be efficient to hire Ann for the multiple site visits and meetings required. I then inquired locally and hired, Vikki Jackson, a local biologist, who is extremely knowledgeable, professional and I guarantee, has the heron’s best interest in mind. Vikki, her co-workers and I, have walked the property numerous times, always discussing how best to protect the herons. Per Vikki’s recommendations, which I would imagine Ann would be in agreement with, Kim Weil, the City’s Environmental Planner,  would issue a Critical Areas Permit (CAP) to create these two homesites with very stringent protection for the herons. Most importantly, I am required to enhance the 197’ heron buffer in ways which will provide MORE protection for the herons than they currently experience. This includes: installation of a 555’ split rail perimeter fence, closure of existing “pirate” trails used by humans and dogs (that passes very near to the nests), exterior construction of two homes limited to the 5 months while herons have migrated south, exterior lights on homes to face down, “Native Grown Protection Area” signage on fence, tree plantings, continued monitoring of rookery, etc.

Essentially, when the herons migrate south for the fall/early winter, they will come back to two homes they can’t see, a fence around their buffer (which has been put into a conservation easement) and the closure of human/dog trails that pass under them. 

You mentioned the removal of trees. I would like to point out, NO trees need to be removed within the 197’ buffer. Regarding the few trees that need to be removed on the two homesites, I have worked closely with both Vikki (heron biologist) and Kim Weil (City Environmental Planner) to very carefully select these trees. Both agree these removal of these few trees, will not affect the rookery. 

Regarding your comments of two “luxury homes” being built here, I don’t understand how the type of homes built here, is any of your concern or how it supports your argument. What constitutes an adequate residence, is all based on perspective. My son is adopted from Ethiopia, from where I am currently writing you. Three days ago, my ex-wife, son and I, shared coffee and popcorn with his birth family in their very rural home; a round 20’ diameter hut, made of sticks and mud, with a dirt floor and thatch roof. 5-10 people live in this house. I have plans to build a 2400 sf, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home as a primary (and only) residence for my son and I. I believe most Americans would consider the home I hope to build, an average-sized home in our country and not excessive. Regardless, this isn’t the issue at hand.

In my (and the city’s) opinion, if you look at the history of this property, the conservation easement property I am creating (half of the property) and look closely at the CAP requirements, the herons will actually be better-protected than they are today. I can assure you, I have been very, very diligent in planning this with my core beliefs in mind; conservation.

Ultimately, I prefer to have these conversations in person and would very much welcome a stroll around the property with you or anyone else interested. 

Thank you for your time, Jamie, and I hope to connect soon.


Gabe Rogel

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