Thursday, December 31, 2015

Olympia Heron Preservation Group Becomes Land Trust

Above: With the donation of two land parcels on Olympia’s westside by Alicia Elliott, the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation (OlyEcoSystems) organization is now applying for certification as a land trust. The Pacific Great Blue Heron makes nests in these trees during the breeding season of February through August and visit at other times. The nests, seen here, make the trees look like the Truffula trees in the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. Daniel Einstein, chair of OlyEcoSystems provided Little Hollywood a tour of the property on Wednesday. 

By Janine Gates

The powerful story of a few dedicated community members with the Olympia Coalition for EcoSystems Preservation (OlyEcoSystems), a group on a mission to save and restore a local heron rookery on Olympia’s westside, continues to unfold.

Alicia Elliott, Olympia, recently donated to the group two parcels, totaling 4.7 acres, that she acquired last year to protect Olympia's lone colony of Pacific Great Blue Heron. 

With her donation, made in early December, OlyEcoSystems announced this week that it is becoming a land trust, thus protecting the woods in perpetuity. Elliott is a board member of the group.

The rookery parcel is about 1.9 acres, and the adjoining parcel, which will act as a buffer for the rookery, is about 2.8 acres.

In two years’ time, when the group is eligible to do so, it will apply for certification from the Land Trust Alliance, said Daniel Einstein, chair of OlyEcoSystems, on Wednesday as he gave Little Hollywood a tour of the property.

“Certification is going to be good for us…it will hopefully invite more donors, and we can turn those donations into land transactions. To be eligible for certification, we need to hold two or more parcels for two years,” said Einstein.

Land trusts enhance the economic, environmental and social values of their communities, and the support of the Land Trust Alliance will be crucial to the local organization for fundraising, legal support, and other benefits.

Founded in 1982, the Washington D.C. based Land Trust Alliance represents more than 1,100 member land trusts nationwide.

According to a 2010 survey by the Alliance, Washington State has 37 state and local land trusts, owning a combined 32,852 acres. The Alliance will conduct another survey in early January, the results of which will be available in Fall of 2016.

Above: Daniel Einstein today on the property adjacent to the rookery near Dickinson Avenue on Olympia’s westside. The property provides a critical buffer habitat in an urban setting for Pacific Great Blue Herons, and is also home to Cooper’s hawks, peregrine falcons, coyotes, red fox, deer, and many small mammals and reptiles.

Grants Focus on Restoration, Water Quality

Rounding out a successful year for the group, mature alders on the rookery property are now freed of 100,000 tons of ivy, thanks to teams of volunteers at regular work parties, who have also replanted the area with ferns, Oregon grape, and vine maple. 

The property also used to be a holly farm, and about 40 mature holly trees have been taken out because it too is an invasive species.

“The holly trunks are so big, it looks like we’re logging, but we’re not….It’s going to take some years to get it where we want it, but it’s really important to get it out now,”  said Einstein.

With a $10,000 grant from the Rose Foundation, they will be putting in 5,000 additional plants on the property.

Einstein pointed out the direct, stunning view of Mt. Rainier and explained that the group will be placing a picnic table and benches here for the public.

Einstein said the organization is also looking forward to creating a rain garden and planting 2,000 Pacific Willows and vine maples around it that will line rock-lined swales for untreated stormwater from Dickinson and Hays Avenues.

“In our neighborhood, all stormwater goes into Budd Inlet. None of it goes to LOTT - not a drop…most of it just runs off through the woods, or is dumped there by the city through a pipe. The woods act as a filter for the whole system as it moves through to Budd Inlet…. so our grants focus on water quality,” said Einstein.

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance is the regional wastewater system comprised of the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Thurston County.

Besides stormwater issues, legacy dioxins from Olympia’s industrial past are known factors along West Bay Drive. The OlyEcoSystems property is directly upland of the former Reliable Steel on Budd Inlet, and property owned by local architect Glenn Wells. 

Einstein says that for now, the organization is focused on restoring and maintaining what it has, but if purchased by the group, the Wells property could provide neighborhood connectivity to and from West Bay Drive. Wells is asking a price that is double its assessed value of $100,000, says Einstein.

OlyEcoSystems currently pays about $1,500 in property taxes on the rookery parcel and received a conservation easement on it from Thurston County. 

“We were able to get that because of the heron’s nests. That reduced our property tax by 70 percent on this parcel. We could have gotten more of a property tax reduction, but we don’t allow year round public access because of the rookery….If it were a city owned property, there would be no way to close it, so that’s one reason we prefer to hold onto the property ourselves,” said Einstein.

Herons are sensitive to disruptions, and their breeding season starts in February and runs through August. The public is not allowed at the site during those months. The site has been used by herons for about 35 years, and thirty herons came back this past February during the breeding season. The herons also visit in the off breeding season.

“This year, they spent two to three months here, then were chased away by eagles to a location about 800 feet south of here. They were chased again and ultimately ended up on the other side of the inlet….that site is also part of their memory. They move around as needed based on safety and other reasons," said Einstein.

The OlyEcoSystems group has a solid vision and plan to continue their environmental efforts, with the community's help, for years to come.

“As we transition to a land trust, we also intend to remain a forceful advocate for habitat and water quality in our urban core,” said Einstein.

“The idea is that we need to preserve these trees and create a habitat for the herons that gives them flexibility to adapt, particularly as we change their landscape as we become more urbanized. That's why we don’t just want these two parcels, we want as much of the woods as we can get. We’d love to buy the woods on the other side (of the inlet), and work on the shoreline, where they can forage….There’s a connection between the fish and the birds….”

January Work Party

On Saturday, January 2nd, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., volunteers will be clearing ivy from the trees on the parcel in back of Hays Avenue, and clearing ivy off the remaining flat areas on the parcel at the east end of Dickinson Avenue NW. What to bring: gloves, a rain coat, hand saws, chain saws and clippers.

February Fundraiser

The OlyEcoSystems annual fundraiser will be on February 27th at 7:00 p.m. at the Abigail Stuart House (Women's Club), 1002 Washington St. SE, in downtown Olympia. There will be live music, refreshments, beverages, and a silent auction of works by Olympia artists. The event is open to the public. The group says that even if you cannot make a donation,come and celebrate another year of successful advocacy for our environment.

Above:  Olympia's westside as seen from the Fourth Avenue bridge today. The rookery is directly upland of the Reliable Steel site located on Budd Inlet at 1218 West Bay Drive, as illustrated by the vacant metal warehouse on the right. The site was originally developed as a lumber mill. From 1941-2009, the site was used for boat building, steel fabrication, and welding. From 2010 - 2013, the former owner and the Washington State Department of Ecology investigated the site and found contaminants above state cleanup levels. In 2014, Ecology held a public comment period on a draft partial cleanup plan for the site. Under the plan, Ecology will clean up some contaminated upland areas of the site.


OlyEcoSystems is committed to environmentally restoring its 4. 7 acre property, but also has other goals related to improving the water quality and health of Budd Inlet. “…The time is now. OlyEcoSystems is dedicated to affecting public policy and educating the community, but there is no ignoring the fact that our window of opportunity is closing.” – OlyEcoSystems website.

Past articles about Alicia Elliott, the rookery, and OlyEcoSystems can be found at Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, by typing key words into the search engine.

For more information about the Olympia Coalition for EcoSystems Preservation, go to its website, www.OlyEcoSystems.org.