From The Olympian
October 15, 2014
By Andy Hobbs – Staff Writer
Land purchase will help protect great blue herons in Olympia
An Olympia woman has purchased land containing the city’s lone great blue heron colony in an effort to protect the birds from a nearby townhome development. This month, Alicia Elliott bought the 1.84-acre wooded parcel at the end of Dickinson Avenue Northwest on the city’s west side. The site includes the colony – also known as a heronry or rookery – with about 15 nests perched high in the trees. Elliott is also pursuing an adjacent property to the north that measures 2.73 acres, and said she expects to close the deal by Dec. 1. The area includes Schneider Creek and the West Bay Woods. “It’s part of a bigger wildlife corridor picture that’s worth saving even without the herons, but totally worth saving for the herons alone,” Elliott told The Olympian, adding that she is open to selling the land to the right steward. “I hope it leads to something bigger.”
Elliott also bought and developed a community park on the corner of Black Lake Boulevard and Harrison Avenue in Olympia. The overall effort to protect the heronry is being led by the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation, which is circulating a petition titled Save the West Bay Woods. The coalition was formed in August in response to the proposed Wells Townhomes. The project calls for three two-unit townhomes on private land with an entrance path that passes through the heronry. Some people were concerned that the extra human activity would disturb the herons and cause the crane-like birds to leave. Coalition founder Dan Einstein said the land purchase will provide a crucial buffer for the herons in time for the winter breeding season.
“At least for the heronry, we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Einstein, noting the urgency to protect the herons. “It’s quite possible that had the project gone forward, they would not have returned.” Aside from promoting conservation in the city and West Bay area, the coalition’s next priority is financial. The coalition is applying for grants, and will also host an art auction fundraiser Nov. 16, Einstein said. In the meantime, the Wells Townhomes project remains stalled in the regulatory process and still awaits a permit. South Sound architect and developer Glenn Wells said the project will undergo revisions, with construction delayed for at least a year. The project initially had a limited construction window of Aug. 1 through Feb. 14 to avoid disrupting the herons during breeding season. Wells said he supports protection of the heronry and is exploring other options for his project, such as a land swap or a smaller version of the original plan. He also said the ongoing conversations with coalition have been positive.
“I’m not really able to do anything until next August,” Wells told The Olympian. “I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. We don’t have anything definite.”
Neighborhood residents say the herons have nested at that location in west Olympia for 30 to 40 years. The West Bay area is considered a good food source for the great blue herons, which hunt for food within 3 miles of their nests, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Herons can reach 4 feet in height with a 6-foot wingspan.