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2020 - Skagit County Planning Commission Public Hearing - 1/21/2020

Skagit Land Trust Proposed Amendments - County Critical Areas Ordinance for Great Blue Heron Protections

Skagit County Planning Commission Public Hearing
January 21, 2020
6:00 p.m., Commissioners Hearing Room
1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon, WA

Take Action to protect Great Blue Herons in Skagit County. Attend the hearing and/or submit written comments. We need as many supporters as possible to attend the hearing, even if you do not wish to speak. Thank you!

Click on this link to find out full details about the meeting, key message points, and how you can help or provide written comments.

Skagit Land Trust (SLT) has proposed an update to Skagit County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) to protect Great Blue Herons – an iconic local species with a unique presence in the County. SLT is concerned that without articulated, clearer protections included in the Skagit County CAO this charismatic and much-loved bird could face an uncertain future in the County. It is of great concern that the second largest and the oldest heronry in Skagit County, on Samish Island, was abandoned partway through the nesting season in 2017. Although the exact cause of the abandonment is not known for certain, we do know that heronries are vulnerable to many types of human disturbance.

Skagit Land Trust recommends the County adopt P-4, Skagit Land Trust’s proposed amendment. This amendment is informed by the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) Management Recommendations for Great Blue Herons and also considers conditions unique to Skagit County. Adopting this, will strengthen the Critical Areas Ordinance protections of Great Blue Herons.

2019 - Skagit Land Trust Presents to the Skagit Planning Commission

Skagit Land Trust presented to Skagit Planning Commission on Tuesday evening. Click the PDF link to view the presentation.

Great Blue Heron - County Presentation

2019 - Skagit Land Trust Leads Effort for a Critical Area Ordinance to Protect Heron Nest Sites

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.

Skagit Land Trust's Proposal Can be found here Heronry CAO proposal

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.

October 2018 Blanchard Update

What a great celebration we had in the pouring rain on September 16th. Senator Kevin Ranker, DNR Lands Commisisoner Hilary Franz, Representaive Jeff Morris, BESD Board member Bill Wallace and Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki joined with 85 enthusiastic supporters to remember the journey and thank all involved. The effort to protect Blanchard's forests began over 15 years ago with grassroots advocacy. Harriet Spanel became a strong supporter in the legislature. Groups including Conservation Northwest, Friends of Blanchard Mountain and Skagit Land Trust were appointed to the Blanchard Strategies process to ensure the conservation message had a solid voice. We worked with divergent stakeholders to come to a collaborative solution that met a range of stakeholder needs. The Blanchard Strategies solution conserves the 1600-acre forested core of Blanchard Mountain and maintains a working forest around it.

Please be sure to thank those who went to bat for the over $15 million that has funded the solution. In this final stage, replacement lands are being purchased and DNR lands are being swapped so that Blanchard's core can be managed forever as a natural area, while the Blanchard working forest continues to produce revenue for the junior taxing districts. The purchase and swaps should be completed by the end of 2018.


  • Thank the DNR staff (Hilary Franz and staff and Jean Fike and staff)
  • Commissioner Janicki- Skagit County Commissioners;
  • Senator Ranker. Sen. Kevin <; he was essential to getting Blanchard funded through the legislature and spent several years trying
  • Rep Jeff Morris. eff <; he was essential to getting Blanchard funded through (Rep Kris Lytton also very helpful, (360) 786-7800)
  • Chairman Steve Tharinger.; he was essential to getting the final $10M funded through Trust Land Transfer program - went out of his way to include it
  • Bill Wallace of the Burlington Edison School Board. Bill was formerly the regional director of DNR and began the Blanchard Strategies process. He has stuck with it, now representing the BESD.
  • These local reps supported Blanchard: Rep Norma Smith -; Rep David Hayes (10th) and Rep Beth Doglio.

July 2018 Blanchard Update

Time to Celebrate!

Thanks to hundreds of supporters who wrote or called their state legislators, when the Capital Budget was passed this year, $10 million was designated to finish protecting the1600-acre core of Blanchard Mountain ($6.5 million previously been provided for Blanchard).

The funds are provided through a WA State Deptartment of Natural Resources (DNR) program called Trust Land Transfer. DNR will determine the value of the forest protected on Blanchard, and then swap this value for replacement DNR properties elsewhere in the Skagit. While the Blanchard Core will be managed to achieve mature forest conditions and for recreation and wildlife habitat, the replacement lands will generate revenue for schools and other institutions. The Trust Land Transfer process will take place this year and next.

The forest will be named for one of its greatest advocates, Senator Harriet Spanel who passed away in 2016. With this huge funding hurdle passed, the Blanchard Core is well on its way to permanent protection. The Blanchard Forest Advisory Committee, of which Skagit Land Trust is a longtime member, wants to thank all involved. The Blanchard Committee will be hosting a party for the community to celebrate.

January 22, 2018 Blanchard Update

Blanchard Mountain Funded!

The Capital Budget Bill that was passed this week included $10M for the Trust Land Transfer program for the “Harriet Spanel Forest” which is Blanchard Mountain. This funding will enable the full protection of the 1600-acre forested “core” of Blanchard Mountain as outlined in the 2007 Blanchard Strategies Agreement. The funding is due in large part to the tremendous community support for protecting Blanchard. Over the past decade thousands of constituents reached out to their state representatives. Outreach was particularly important in the last two years as the Agreement’s deadline for funding was ending.

Trust Land Transfer is a mechanism that will allow the core forest lands on Blanchard to be transferred to conservation status, while replacing these lands with other working forest lands elsewhere in Skagit County that will benefit schools. The WA State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working with legislators to address some issues affecting junior taxing districts that currently receive a portion of their funding from the Blanchard land that will be protected (i.e. the Burlington Edison School District). DNR will also have to do an internal land exchange because DNR’s holdings in Skagit County don’t have enough of the specific classification of land to do the entire Trust Land Transfer. But all of this is a process DNR and the Blanchard Advisory committee are willing to work through. Skagit Land Trust will continue to serve on this committee. We are confident Blanchard will be protected now that the funding is available. Thank you to everyone – you did it! Please take a moment to thank your legislators and others involved for their work and support.

These are:
Bill Wallace of the Burlington Edison School Board
All of the 40th delegation (Ranker, Morris, Lytton)
Representative Steve Tharinger (Capital Budget Chair)
Skagit County Commissioner Janicki
Land Commissioner Hilary Franz and her staff

Recent news articles about Blanchard Mountain

‘Exultation and relief’ as state OKs money to protect this beloved forest and playground

Area projects to proceed with passage of state budget

Blanchard Mountain spared from logging