The Greenways Advisory Committee voted unanimously in early May to provide partial funding from their available free funds to purchase the platted but unbuilt house sites bordering the Great Blue Heron colony in south Bellingham. Herons nest together and there are 28 nests this spring. But according to Ann Eissinger, the biologist who has studied and monitored them for 16 years, they do not have enough buffer space between their nests and the potential houses on Shorewood Drive. The property owner has offered to sell the land to the city so it can remain forested and provide a good buffer.
The Great Blue Herons grace our city. We see them along our shorelines, and as we walk our Greenways trails we see them by streams and wetlands. But they are sensitive and if their home - their colony of nests - is seemingly threatened then the entire colony might move miles away to a new location. There is no other heron colony near Bellingham.
Ann Eissinger is a biologist and renowned heron expert. For the past 16 years she has been on contract to the city of Bellingham to study and monitor the heron colony in Fairhaven. The herons moved to this location in 2000 from Chuckanut Bay when a housing development there scared them. Ann recommended the new colony of nests be protected by a good buffer of forest. In 2003 she recommended the city enact a legal protection area around the colony. The city seemed ready to do just that, but somehow the project fell through the cracks. The city just plain failed to act 13 years ago. No one remembers why.
Yet, every person I have asked about the herons has assured me the city protected them in 2003. In truth, the only protection was the property owner leaving his property undeveloped.
Now the property owner with the developable lots on Shorewood Drive has offered to sell the land to the city. They are offering all the property within 200 feet of the colony to the city for $550,000. The Greenways Advisory Committee was told about this and proposed: "Shall the Greenways Advisory Committee encourage use of levy funds to assist in preserving and protecting the buffer adjacent to the historic Post Point heron colony?" They voted unamiously "yes". The committee acts to advise the city council, and this proposal does that. It is the Bellingham City Council that decides on the spending of Greenways funds. I spoke to the council on May 16 and informed them of the committee vote.
If we as a community value our Great Blue Heron colony then we should assume the cost.
It is a simple concept of fairness. If we do not buy the property then we cannot be upset if it gets developed.
This is a limited time chance for us as a community to buy this land and permanently protect the heron colony as best we can. Ann Eissinger, while she recommends even greater protection, stil endorses this land acquisition to extend the protection to 200 feet. Ann's full letter on this issue is attached as a PDF file. Here is the important 3rd last paragraph.
"However, in the event that a conservation plan could be brokered, permanently protecting most of the privately owned buffer area above the heron colony, I would support a modified buffer. For my support of this plan, the conservation area for the heron colony would need to include Lots 2, 3, and 4 of the Shorewood Tract A Short Plat, while allowing residential development on Lot 1 with timing restrictions on the construction window to limit disturbance to the herons."
The purchase of these lots will create a buffer out to 200 feet from the colony nests. Not as much as Ann, the recognized heron expert in Western Washington, advises, but it is as much as is practical and may well secure the colony for the future.
This can be done. The Grenways committee noted they have over $400,000 in free funds now. With the cancelled over-water walkway, we have an additional $4 million in available Greenways funds. All that is needed is for our city council to vote to purchase this property. They can vote at their next meeting on June 6 - or on June 20 - to direct city staff to make this purchase with Greenways funds. Simple as that. Really.
For this to happen, we citizens and residents of Bellingham need to petition - appeal to - our city council representatives to buy this forested land. Now. This window of opportunity is open now but it will close sometime in July.
Two key points. Great Blue Herons are skittish. There is no guarantee they will stay if we give them this 200 foot buffer. We do know the chances are much better they will stay with the buffer as they have lived there for 16 years now with that buffer. The second point is this. If they move, we have no other heron colony in or even near Bellingham. We will not see them along our shorelines and creeks and wetlands anymore.
Action plan: Contact your city council representative and urge buying the property now. Speak during the comment time to the full council. Write the full council at: firstname.lastname@example.org This goes immediately to each of the seven council members.
In this brief article, I have avoided going into details. I've avoided all the 'inside baseball' stuff in order to present a clear view of our opportunity. What is above is all solidly true. Some will say the Greenways money is allocated for development or cleanup of the old GP industrial site if it is not used for the cancelled walkway. That is not true. Such is obfuscating. I have devoted countless hours and days researching this over the past 10 months and have met personally with the important parties, including city officials. I am ready to write about the details if needed. But let us hope that those many residents who recognize the importance of our heron colony wlll make the effort to help our city council find the will to vote funds to purchase this property. I will answer or respond to any detailed questions or concerns in the comments.
Again, read Ann's letter for a fuller perspective on the needed protection.