Sunday, October 12, 2014

Great Blue Heron Rookery Saved From Development

Above: Volunteers Meghan Hopkins and her four year old daughter, Clare, clear ivy from land at the end of Dickinson Avenue NW, recently purchased by Alicia Elliott.

By Janine Unsoeld

The Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation announced this weekend that a Great Blue Heron rookery on Olympia’s westside has been saved.
In an open letter to the community this weekend, Daniel Einstein, founder of the Coalition, said that Olympian Alicia Elliott bought the property, thus preventing it from being developed into townhomes.

The group formed after it was announced that the city had received an application for a short plat and townhome development. The developer, Glenn Wells, proposed the construction of three, two-unit townhomes,Wells Townhomes, and a six bay detached garage.

The letter from the Coalition states that Elliott was moved by the threat facing the rookery.
…That began a journey which has led Alicia to purchase the 1.84-acre parcel that holds most, but not all, of the nesting trees. She is now under contract to purchase the adjacent 2.73-acre parcel to the north. This provides a critical buffer for the herons as they return for the winter breeding season. At the same time, we are in positive negotiations with the developer, who has been very receptive to the unique habitat profile of his property….”

Alicia Elliott is also known for purchasing vacant property on the corner of Division and Harrison, and creating the space into a vibrant community area now called West Central Park. Most recently, Elliott also bought the property of the former DeGarmo’s Pharmacy next to the park. That space is scheduled to be converted into a café in the Spring of 2015.
Rookery's First Seasonal Work Party

At the Coalition's first seasonal work party held this afternoon at the rookery site located at the end of Dickinson Avenue NW, many volunteers came to thank Elliott and work to clear the site of ivy and other debris.
Einstein took time to briefly describe the property’s purchase and history of the area.

“The developer was in a reciprocal easement agreement with another property owner through this driveway to access utilities, sewer, electric, gas. Any future subdivision could buy into his utility. Buying this parcel takes that out of the picture because these properties will never be subdivided,” said Einstein.

“In 2009, the developer logged the property, going right through the heron's nesting trees, and created a 450 foot driveway. After it was logged, the blue heron population plummeted.”

Asked if he has found any dead herons, Einstein said yes.

“We did find dead chicks and eggshells. We can’t prove it was directly linked to the logging because herons are preyed upon by eagles, but part of that is, the clearing of the trees left the nests wide open for the eagles to get in. They are also very sensitive to noise and this was a huge disruption,” said Einstein.
Einstein said there are 14 nests on the property. “That means 28 adults, and each nest usually contains four eggs, so there are about 50 to 60 herons here at the height of breeding season.”

Einstein says their breeding season is in August and September.
“The herons are gone now to other places, but they’ll be coming back in January or February, so this is our window of opportunity to do work. We want to create a viable ecosystem, so there’s going to be some restoration.”

Einstein says the remains of a former homeless camp there have been cleared.
“The idea is to close this area off and create a habitat preserve. We’re going to have to create that because there isn’t one in city code. The herons need to be left alone so we can enjoy them down on the shoreline. We are also working to daylight Schneider Creek and restore it for fish passage….Eventually, we want to protect 80 to 90 acres,” said Einstein.

Above: Looking like Truffula trees, this tree has several visible blue heron nests.

While Einstein says he’s been having positive conversations with city officials, a few policies regarding codes and lax permitting have to be changed in order to make progress.

He also stressed the need to make the city’s urban forester position fulltime. City of Olympia Urban Forester Michelle Bentley has a heavy workload and is only available part-time, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon.

Volunteers Make It Happen

“It’s so exciting!” said Debbie Hathaway, a board member of the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation.
“It’s been a very encouraging sign that neighbors care about wildlife corridors. It’s a sign of good things to come. It’s also a good example of how we can work together,” said Hathaway.

Northwest neighborhood resident Meghan Hopkins also came, and brought her hard-working four year old daughter, Clare.
“We can see the herons from our living room window. It’s inspiring to see community members come together for what they believe in for the creatures of the natural and human worlds, and balance out everyone’s needs,” said Meghan Hopkins.

For more information about the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation, go to:
Back-To-Back Work Parties
Above: Seth Chance, Robyn Montgomery, and Alicia Elliott take a brief break from working while Ruben Males rakes the open space at West Central Park today. The park features edible and medicinal plants, which are scheduled to be labeled with small brass plaques.Today, workers harvested the last of the tomatoes, delicata squash, and strawberries of the season.

For more information about West Central Park, Alicia Elliott, and DeGarmo’s Pharmacy, go to and type key words into the search engine.

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