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Proposed updates to protect Great Blue Herons

Skagit Land Trust has proposed an update to Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance to protect Great Blue Herons – an iconic local species with a unique presence in the county. Recently, heron nesting areas have shown signs of stress and disturbance with the loss of coastal nesting habitat. SLT is concerned that without articulated, clearer protections, this charismatic and much loved bird could face an uncertain future in the County.

Skagit Land Trust recommends the County be informed by the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) Management Recommendations for Great Blue Herons and take into account conditions unique to Skagit County as it considers strengthening its Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) protections for this species.

Want to add your voice to the conversation? There will be a second public hearing held on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 11am. Please attend the public hearing if possible. If you wish to speak, arrive early to sign-in. Be prepared to limit comments to two or three minutes. It helps to time yourself at home. Your presence in the audience in support of the proposal is greatly appreciated. The public hearing will take place in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room, 1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon. For accommodations due to special needs call 360-416-1320 at least 96 hours before the hearing date. Submitting written comments in support of the proposal is also greatly appreciated. Talking points have been provided below. You can email or mail your comments to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners by Tuesday, February 19, 2019, 4:30pm. Be sure to include your full name and mailing address. Comments not meeting these requirements will not be considered. The Commissioners’ deliberations for final docketing will take place onMarch 19th, 10:30am. (This is a public meeting but no comments will be taken at that time.)

Email comments must be sent to pdscomments@co.skagit.wa.us with the proposal name (“Skagit County’s 2019 Docket - P4”) in the subject line. Comments are welcome on any of the proposed amendments. Include your comments in the body of your email message rather than as attachments.

Paper comments must be printed on 8 1⁄2x11 paper and mailed or delivered to:

Comments on proposed “Skagit County’s 2019 Docket”
Planning and Development Services
1800 Continental Place,
Mount Vernon WA 98273

Talking Points for Public Comments on Skagit Land Trust Heron Proposal

Please describe in your own words why Great Blue Herons are important to you and why you want to see them protected in Skagit County. It is fine to simply say you want the Commissioners to adopt SLT’s recommendations. However, if you would like to write a more in-depth comment, we have provided message points below.

  • If Skagit County wants to protect its Great Blue Herons as it continues to grow and develop, it must strengthen its Critical Areas Ordinance to protect their breeding and nesting areas.
  • Skagit Land Trust has submitted a proposal to the County to strengthen the Comprehensive Plan and Critical Areas Ordinance to provide greater protection for Great Blue Heron breeding and nesting areas.
  • The proposal is based on the WDFW’s Great Blue Heron Management Recommendations which provide specific guidelines for protecting heronries. WDFW recommends that local land use planning should protect existing Great Blue Heron colonies using colony-specific management plans that consider colony size, location, relative isolation, and degree of habituation to human disturbance.
  • The proposal would apply to Skagit County’s three known heron breeding and nesting areas with 20 or more nests, and any heronries of this size that may be established in the future.
  • The proposal seeks to protect the forests within which nest trees are located from encroaching development, while establishing buffers to protect herons from disturbing activities through the breeding and nesting season.
  • Skagit Land Trust’s proposal will help to ensure that Great Blue Herons remain a part of the Skagit County landscape for years to come. I encourage the Board of County Commissioners to docket (approve) the proposal for further consideration.
  • Skagit County’s nutrient rich eel grass beds and mature coastal forests provide ideal habitat for Great Blue Herons to breed and raise their young.
  • With well over 700 nests, the March Point heronry is the largest on the Salish Sea and is one of the largest on the entire west coast of the United States!
  • The second largest, and the oldest heronry in Skagit County, on Samish Island, was abandoned partway through the nesting season in 2017. Although we do not know the exact cause of the abandonment, we know that heronries are vulnerable to disturbance.
  • During the breeding and nesting season, Great Blue Herons are very sensitive to human activities they are not accustomed to. They are known to have abandoned nesting sites in response to the intensification of nearby activities, noises, and lights.

Want more background on Skagit Land Trust's work with Great Blue herons and proposed recommendations? Watch Molly Doran's presentation to the Commissioners.

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