Herons can't endure much more noise

Skagit Valley Herald 11/22/02

 

Voices of the Valley

By TOM GLADE

 

The heronry on March Point is certainly one of Fidalgo Island's most valuable wildlife assets. Located beside the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the heronry is the second-largest great blue heron colony on the West Coast, thus an asset of statewide significance.

After Concrete Nor'West's operation at the adjacent site was closed in 1996, the number of nesting herons surged to nearly double. The heronry has over 400 active nests, which means it accommodates over 800 adults. Since herons lay four to five eggs, the heronry shelters more than 1,800 herons during the breeding season. To preserve this wonderful asset in perpetuity, Bud and Vera Kinney had the vision to gift their land to the Skagit Land Trust and thus to all of us. Recently T Bailey decided to move their operations to the Concrete Nor'West site after Anacortes limited the hours of their steel fabrication operation. In its letter to T Bailey limiting their hours of operation, Anacortes stated, "given the loud and particularly noticeable character of the noise that is generated from your site, many of your neighbors have had their sleep and their lives disrupted in a major way. Without appropriate protective measures, T Bailey's noisy operation will likely have similar adverse impacts on the herons. The herons have withstood noise from the sawmill, the highway and the railroad, but how much noise can they endure before they abandon the colony? Studies (Leonard 1985, Parker 1980, Kelsall and Simpson 1979, Werschkul 1976) have shown that great blue heron colonies have been abandoned in response to housing and industrial development, highway construction, logging, vehicle traffic and repeated human intrusions. If the herons abandon this colony, the intrinsic value of the Skagit Land Trust property will be destroyed and the Kinneys' trust will be violated.

While both the sawmill and Concrete Nor'West operates/operated eight hours a day, five days a week, T Bailey operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If T Bailey continues its 24/7 operations, it will triple the time that the colony is exposed to industrial noise. Unlike the sawmill's noise, T Bailey's noise is explosive and random; a character that both humans and herons find hard to adjust to. Field observations have shown that metallic clanging noises like the slamming of a gate on a gravel truck invariably cause herons to flush. If herons are flushed from their nests for longer than three minutes, their eggs begin dying.

To prevent negative impacts to the heronry, several measures must be added to the permit conditions. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife classifies the great blue heron as a priority species, a classification that requires "protective measures for their perpetuation due to their population status and sensitivity to habitat alteration. Fish and Wildlife recommends large, permanent buffers around heron colonies, and it also recommends that larger colonies receive more protection than smaller colonies.

Since the proposed location of the office building and its access road is well within Fish and Wildlife's minimum buffer recommendation, the building and its road should be located outside the buffer. The buffer areas and their trees should be permanently protected, and the noisy operations should be confined within a fully closed building.

Other measures include professional monitoring of the heronry during the nesting season. If the monitoring demonstrates that certain operations are disturbing the herons, T Bailey should take immediate, corrective action to stop the disturbances. In Whatcom County, a similar monitoring program was required during the construction of a golf course that was adjacent to a heronry. In general, Whatcom County's corporate and civic leaders have exhibited an entirely different mind-set about their heronries than the mind-set our leaders have about ours.

In 1996, led by CEO and founder David Syre, Trillium Corp. of Bellingham voluntarily purchased and protected the heron colony at Point Roberts, the largest heronry on the West Coast. The following year ARCO Products Co., guided by Bellingham Port President Scott Walker, preserved the heron colony located near Birch Bay, the third-largest heronry on the West Coast. Through land purchases and conservation easements, ARCO and Trillium, in cooperation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Whatcom Land Trust, have permanently set aside 240 acres, providing safe harbors for approximately 1,400 nesting herons annually.

Instead of balking at protecting the March Point heronry, T Bailey, the Port of Anacortes and the City of Anacortes should take the lead in protecting one of Fidalgo's invaluable natural assets, an asset with statewide significance.

Tom Glade of Fidalgo Island is vice president of Evergreen Islands.