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.
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.