What’s Going on with the Herons, Council?

Jamie Donaldson urges us to contact the Bellingham City Council again as it appears there is foot dragging on acquiring the buffer woods by the heron colony nests.

Jamie Donaldson urges us to contact the Bellingham City Council again as it appears there is foot dragging on acquiring the buffer woods by the heron colony nests.

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 been pressing hard for the city to acquire ALL the remaining undeveloped land on Shorewood Drive to create a permanent, protected heron reserve.

The topic of land acquisition was on the agenda for the daytime Executive Session on August 19th but no details were provided to the public at the evening regular council meeting. It would seem that the topic was on the agenda again for the Executive Session on August 26th, but was subsequently removed. What’s going on?

We want to know. Send another email to all council members asking them to take definitive action NOW to protect the Post Point heron colony. Urge them to acquire both undeveloped plats adjacent to the nesting trees to create a permanent heron reserve for all of Bellingham to enjoy.

Even if you contacted council members already this summer, please do so again at ccmail@cob.org Send your email before their upcoming Monday morning meetings on September 9.

Heron flyer you can print and distribute. See below.
Heron flyer you can print and distribute. See below.

Meanwhile, we’re keeping an eye on the city planning department in case the owner of the larger undeveloped plat on Shorewood or a developer submits another application to sub-divide the property in preparation for sale and building. Much of the remaining undeveloped land constitutes a critical area and must undergo careful environmental scrutiny. But we’ve already seen how this process is severely flawed. However, and importantly, even proposed projects adjacent to a critical area require a critical area report according to BMC 16.55.090. If a short plat application shows up, we’ll be prepared to challenge it on the same basis as our prior successful appeal of a critical area permit: any additional human disturbance to an urban Great Blue Heron colony that is already under pressure risks provoking the abandonment of the entire colony for ever.

Let’s just get this done.

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

Michael Lilliquist

Oct 01, 2019

Why the silence from the Bellingham City Council?

At the time this column was published, the City Council had already requested and initiated a possible purchase of the property next to the heron colony. In fact, preservation through acquisition had been on the table for many months, long before this column appeared in print.  However, due to confidentiality shields under state law, City Councils are allowed and encouraged to keep certain matters private—and this includes discussion of legal settlements and negotiations for real estate purchases.  Both of those “executive session” situations applied at various times, which is why the City Council did not respond in any public way or with public statements over the last year or so.


But the situation has changed.  A legal challenge to the short-plat permit has been dropped, when the applicant decided to withdraw rather than keep going. And the City’s fair-market purchase offer has now been publicly rejected by the property owner.  And, so I am free to speak in ways that were not possible before.

Here are some of my thoughts.

With regard to the Shorewood Drive property, most of the lot cannot be built upon because it is inside the 197’ protective buffer (ignoring buffer averaging for the moment).   That means most of the property is already protected, and doesn’t need any further protection. But what about just outside the protective buffer? There is enough space outside of the 197’ buffer to build at least one house; if they stay outside the buffer, they are allowed to build.  This would be perfectly legal, but would it be OK?  I don’t think it would be OK.
Governments are required to base regulations on sound information and best available science. In other words, something like a buffer width cannot be arbitrary; it must be justified.   As a result, regulations tend to be conservative and on the “safe side”—usually set minimums and maximums, rather than optimal values.  That’s a key shortcoming of regulations - they work to avoid the worst outcome, but they are not suited to achieve the best outcomes.

The best available science at the time the City’s environmental regulations were written said that houses should be built no closer than 197’ from a heron nest.  That’s a minimum.  The truth is, 200’ or 250’ would be better, but individual rights or property rights pushes back against any “takings” that cannot be justified.
Scientific knowledge has increased since that time. For example, line-of-sight issues may be far more important for herons than was recognized. The same regulations written today would be different. This fall, a new Bellingham heron colony report will be released, and the science may support a different number than 197’.  Whatever the new number is, it may be rolled into revised environmental rules. At our last city council meeting, I made sure to indicate that I expect revised heron colony rules, if the report suggests the old 197’ rule is not enough. At the same time, we can remove the “buffer averaging” option, since it was probably never appropriate to begin with.

Another short-coming of the current rules is that the colony boundary changes form year to year, as nests come and go.  This leads to an inevitable shrinking of the colony.  Normally, a tree that is abandoned one year may be re-occupied in the next year or two, as part of natural fluctuation.  But if a house in built while the buffer edge moved back, the heron won’t return in the next year or two.  Shouldn’t we write rules that take this into account? For example, the heron colony’s borders could be based on nests any time in the last three or four years. I think we need to ask wildlife experts about what number would be good, and then re-write the regulations accordingly.


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