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Studies conclude Haub property in Gig Harbor is not an active nesting site for herons

A blue heron passes the time on an old pylon by the Old Town Dock in Tacoma. Recently released studies conclude that there is no active nesting by great blue herons at the Haub property located at the corner of Harborview Drive and Soundview Drive in downtown Gig Harbor.
A blue heron passes the time on an old pylon by the Old Town Dock in Tacoma. Recently released studies conclude that there is no active nesting by great blue herons at the Haub property located at the corner of Harborview Drive and Soundview Drive in downtown Gig Harbor. Staff file, 2015

Recently released studies conclude that there is no active nesting by great blue herons at the Haub property located at the corner of Harborview Drive and Soundview Drive in downtown Gig Harbor.

The studies — conducted cooperatively by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Soundview Consultants LLC — began in March 2016 at the request of the landowner.

While no nesting behavior from the birds at the site was recorded by officials, the birds were spotted roosting on the site during the winter.

The study from Soundview Consultants — an environmental consultant firm located in Gig Harbor — was led by biologist Patti Bakker, senior scientist and environmental planner for the firm.

“Basically this year’s results matched what we suspected might happen given what we know about the quality of the habitat and the species of bird,” Bakker said. “The results this year were slightly different from last year in that there was the roosting going on from the herons from December to March — but no nesting behavior, which is what we predicted. The last sighting in the area was in late March but in the April monitoring there was no herons spotted in the area.”

Basically this year’s results matched what we suspected might happen given what we know about the quality of the habitat and the species of bird. The results this year were slightly different from last year in that there was the roosting going on from the herons from December to March — but no nesting behavior, which is what we predicted. The last sighting in the area was in late March but in the April monitoring there was no herons spotted in the area.

Patti Bakker, senior scientist and environmental planner for Soundview Consultants LLC

Herons begin nesting around April and were likely already established at other, more preferable nesting sites. The birds were spotted flying to the north side of the Harbor and Bakker speculated that there might be nesting in a stand of trees there.

The report from WDFW biologist Michelle Tihri also states that on April 27 a search of the nests on the Haub property revealed them to not be in use and no herons on the site at that time.

This is the third consecutive year that the site has not been actively used for nesting by the herons, the WDFW report states.

Bakker said that there are several reasons why the site would be less desirable to the herons, which includes the increased noise and human presence near the site, the number of predators (eagles) and harassers (crows) in the area and the lack of readily accessible food sources.

Another reason the herons may have moved from the site, Bakker states in her report, is the nearby presence of several more preferable nesting sites within five miles. Those sites include:

▪ the Narrows Park open space containing 36 acres of natural area

▪ Crescent Lake Park, with 2 acres of natural area

▪ McCormick Forest Park, with 122 acres of natural area

▪ Sehmel Homestead Park, with 98 acres of natural area

▪ Fox Island Nature Center and Wildlife Preserve, with 5 acres of natural area

▪ Various undeveloped bluffs and slopes in the surrounding Puget Sound north and south of Gig Harbor

The recommendation from Tihri states that the “habitat protection be afforded this site thru 2024 in the event that herons return to nest. If during this period the site becomes active, the site should receive full protection as an active heronry.”

However, the report states, “the recommendation to continue habitat protection of this site thru 2024 is at the discretion of the jurisdiction and is not enforceable by state law.”

Bakker’s report notes that great blue herons are not listed as an endangered, threatened or sensitive wildlife species with either the federal or state governments, though they are a Washington state listed monitored species. As a monitored species, their habitats or active nesting sites would be considered to be of local importance but since the site has been found inactive for nesting and used only for roosting, it is not protected under federal, state or Gig Harbor municipal code.

Large areas of protected open space and natural areas near the subject property that consist of forests, wetlands, streams, and shoreline habitats likely provide much more suitable habitat for great blue herons than the existing urban locale,and as such, the local heron population has moved on.

Bakker, in her report on heron activity

Her report further states that the management recommendations for herons are primarily applicable to “undisturbed, prime habitat areas,” which is not the case with the Haub property because of the already existing surrounding urbanization.

“As WDFW’s recommendations are aimed toward large undisturbed sites within a statewide context, it is impossible for any proposed project in the urban setting of downtown Gig Harbor to meet these guidelines,” Bakker wrote in her report. “For example, the rookery previously identified on this site is no longer present, but if present it would have been considered to have been within an ‘urban area’ according to the WDFW recommendations, as the area within one quarter of a mile surrounding the site is more than 50 percent developed. The recommendations for protection of occupied nests within urban areas is for a 197-foot buffer year-round, a 656-foot buffer from unusually loud activities and a 1,320-foot buffer from blasting or extremely loud development between February through September for the breeding season. Establishment of any such buffers is entirely impossible within Gig Harbor’s downtown core.”

She goes on to state: “Large areas of protected open space and natural areas near the subject property that consist of forests, wetlands, streams, and shoreline habitats likely provide much more suitable habitat for great blue herons than the existing urban locale, and as such, the local heron population has moved on.”

The potential of the location as a heron nesting site was early on considered an obstacle to some for the proposed One Harbor Point development by the Cheney Foundation. A public hearing for the development is scheduled during Monday’s (June 26) City Council meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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