Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sign Audubon Society Petition For SDOT To Change SR520 Plans That Will Result In "Catastropic" Decline Of Shorebird Migration At Union Bay Natural Area

Connie Sidles, is a local birding expert who maintains a blog documenting the many types of birds, including beautiful pictures, at the nearby Union Bay Natural Area, also known as the Montlake Fill, and is also author of Fill of Joy and Tales from the Montlake Fill.

Connie sent the Blog staff email about her latest post saying: 

Dear Laurelhurst Blog friends, FYI, I just posted perhaps my most important blog about Montlake Fill that I ever wrote. I hope you will see fit to re-post it on your site. - Connie

Will You Help?   

Dear friends, I wonder if you could help our shorebirds at Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area)?

Shorebirds are sandpipers that migrate from Central and South America all the way up to the tundra in Alaska and Canada. Every spring and fall, they pass through Washington. Notably, they come to Montlake Fill to thrill us with their beauty, their hardiness, they *tininess*! Imagine flapping your arms day after day, hour after hour, for thousands of miles to get to Alaska on your own power! That’s what shorebirds do.

Long-billed Dowitcher, one of 29 species of shorebirds who visit the Fill.
Long-billed Dowitcher, one of 29 species of shorebirds who visit the Fill.

Unfortunately, Montlake Fill has suffered a *catastrophic* decline in shorebird migration. We went from some 1500 birds in the 1990s to a mere 42 individuals last year. That is because woody vegetation has grown all around the mudflats and ponds of the Fill.

Shorebirds need open space so they can see their predators coming from far off. They don’t like habitat that has dense cover, where raptors can lurk. Because willows and bushes have invaded the main ponds of the Fill and now nearly blanket the best mud, shorebirds have quit coming.

We have a *unique*, once-in-a-lifetime chance to restore shorebirds to Montlake Fill.

Washington Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) is planning to give the University of Washington $2 million to mitigate for the floating bridge they are widening across the Lake Washington (Union Bay is part of Lake Washington).

Tragically, though, the mitigation plan they’ve come up with calls for *more* woody vegetation at the Fill. Not only that, the plan calls for so-called “buffer plants” to be planted around all the ponds, making it impossible for students and community members to access them to view any birds at all. These plans will effectively end shorebird migration here. A migration pattern that has existed since the end of the last Ice Age will be no more, at least as far as we will be able to observe in Seattle.

Seattle Audubon and I have been trying to persuade WSDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers (who have jurisdiction here) to alter their plans and *remove* woody vegetation from around the two biggest ponds of the Fill. The conservation scientists at Seattle Audubon believe this will restore a significant population of migrating shorebirds to the Fill.

WSDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) refuse to listen. Instead they insist on following a generic mitigation plan that does not take into account the fact that the Fill is a teaching site, where usable shorebird habitat can be accessed by both birds and people.

Their plan doesn’t even take into account the fact that our wetlands in the NW differ in nature from those of the eastern US, where these plans were concocted. Indeed, we will end up with woody deciduous wetlands that, according to Professor Dennis Paulson of the Slater Museum (a world expert), will provide habitat for very few birds at all.

We are asking everyone who cares about shorebirds and the Fill to sign Seattle Audubon’s petition asking WSDOT and the USACE to revise their plans for the Fill and remove woody vegetation from two ponds. This is a simple, easy, low-cost way to restore an important ecological niche to the Fill and to Seattle as a whole.

We also ask that people send emails or letters to WSDOT, USACE and the UW, letting them know this is an important issue for us. Here is a link to Seattle Audubon’s web page to give you contact information.

Finally, we are asking people to spread the word about the petition and our efforts to help shorebirds. Please forward this message to your Facebook friends, your families, and to organizations you belong to.

Numbers do count in an effort like this. Will you help? Will you ask everyone you know to join with us? I know your voice(s) would make a difference!

Here is additional information from the Audubon Society website:

Shorebirds in Decline 
Shorebirds are in trouble. According to the 2014 “State of the Birds Report,” authored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and National Audubon Society among many others, "Shorebirds are declining more than many other species groups. Long-term migration counts for 19 shorebird species show an alarming 50% decline since 1974." Local declines are also apparent. This is significant because, as pointed out by the 2014 State of the Birds Report, "Long-distance migrants require healthy stopover habitats along their entire pathway, and the chain of sites is only as strong as the weakest link."
A Chance for Local Change: The Union Bay Natural Area (Montlake Fill)

Since at least the 1970s, the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA; aka Montlake Fill) on the University of Washington (UW) campus has arguably been one of the most important stopover areas for migratory shorebirds in Seattle. Today shorebirds are rarely seen here due to the conversion of this area from open habitat to a wooded wetland. While loss of open space habitat is a widespread threat to migratory birds, it is a threat we can address right here in Seattle. The phrase “think globally, act locally” comes to mind.

Photos: Left: UBNA Central Pond in 1961, looking southwest. Photo by Dennis Paulson; Center: UBNA Central Pond in early 1980s, looking north. Photo by Constance Sidles; Right: UBNA Central Pond in 2014, looking north. Photo by Doug Parrott.

Last year, the Seattle Audubon Society learned of a unique opportunity to address shorebird declines right in our own backyard, at Union Bay Natural Area on the University of Washington campus. The UBNA is one of several sites being utilized by WA Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) to offset wetland impacts at Foster Island and the Arboretum due to construction of the new State Route 520 Bridge. The State of Washington has allocated some $2 million to improve wetland habitat at UBNA. Unfortunately, WSDOT's mitigation plan for UBNA will accelerate the catastrophic decline of shorebirds here.

WSDOT's plan claims to include enhanced shorebird habitat, but instead it calls for increased planting of "buffer areas" around all shorebird sites and maintenance and growth of trees where they exist. Although the mitigation design is meant to create habitat that would be used by diverse wildlife, no planning has occurred to consider any specific wildlife species or group.

Twenty-seven of 29 shorebird species historically observed at UBNA are included on the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) Priority of Habitats and Species (PHS) list. WDFW recommends that these species be given special consideration during State mitigation planning. Unfortunately, WSDOT did not consider PHS in this process. Consequently, the mitigation plan focuses on a standardized prescription for wetland creation without considering that the reduced amount of open space will effectively end shorebird migration at the Union Bay Natural Area. 
Seattle Audubon advocates for tree planting across Seattle but also understands that not all species use the same habitat types and trees are not appropriate in all wetlands. We believe that biodiversity declines are a global problem that we can affect right here. Let us not lose a unique opportunity to bring back shorebirds to Seattle, and give ordinary citizens a glimpse into the lives of some of the planet's most extraordinary migrants.

You can help! If this is an issue that matters to you, please sign our petition to WSDOT, UW, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and 46th District House of Representatives, Representative Jessyn Farrell. The more people who take these actions by sending emails, writing letters, and signing the petition, the more effective we will be. Your voice matters!
  • WSDOT's 2011 Final Wetland Mitigation Report identifies the restoration goals and concept for Union Bay Natural Area.
  • WSDOT's 2014 draft update to the mitigation design at Union Bay Natural Area.
  • After pressure from Seattle Audubon emphasized the importance of shorebirds at this site, WSDOT revised the draft mitigation design (01/2015) to reduce planting densities.
    • Unfortunately, woody plants need to be removed and no new woody plants should be established near at least some areas with a shoreline in order to provide a benefit to shorebirds.The WSDOT revision does not address the habitat loss threat to shorebirds at this site.

  • Read the letter from Seattle Audubon to WSDOT recommending an alternative mitigation design to benefit shorebirds at UBNA.
How can you help?

Who at Seattle Audubon is making these recommendations and what is our credibility?
  • Dennis Paulson, PhD, Director Emeritus of the Slater Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound, and long-time Seattle Audubon teacher and volunteer. Author of two books on shorebirds and three on dragonflies.
  • Constance Sidles, Seattle Audubon Society Conservation Committee and Master Birder. Author of four books on the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area).
  • Jon Houghton, PhD, Seattle Audubon Society Conservation Committee and Master Birder, and Principal Senior Ecologist at biological consultant firm
  • Herb Curl, PhD, Seattle Audubon Society Board Member, former Professor of Oceanography at Oregon State University, and retired research manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


1 comment:

John Vidale said...

While I like shore birds, I also like trees rather than a vista revealing cityscape, particularly as trees are what seem to naturally grow in the UBNA. They might also provide a better sound barrier from the 520 bridge traffic.

It is not clear to me that migratory birds are the ancestral inhabitant of that space. It used to be water before the lowering of the lake in 1916, and I thought at one point the trees in UBNA had been chopped as part of the lumber operations that occupied that ground a century ago.

I would think trees would harbor a year-round population of birds, also, not such a downgrade from a couple of intervals of interesting migratory birds.

At the least, more thorough discussion would be necessary to convince me to advocate denuding the shoreline of the UBNA.