Saving the Heron Forest

Great Blue Heron

There is a 2.2 acre tract of woods at the foot of Olympic Drive in Gig Harbor, across from the Tides Tavern, that has been home to a heron rookery and the occasional homeless person.

The State of Washington designated the forested tract as a nesting area for great blue herons in 2011. At least eight heron nests had been identified on the wooded lot, with two other potential nests spotted.

The great blue heron is listed as a “state monitor species,” which means the state Department of Fish and Wildlife monitors the birds and manages their populations to prevent them from becoming endangered, threatened or sensitive.

Last year, a developer had reached agreement with the property owner to buy the land with the intent to clear the forest and build a gated community for 35 townhouses. That plan fell through as it would have required a number of deviations from the city’s municipal code. Another developer then stepped forward to buy the land and would have built 12 houses; that plan would have been allowed per the city’s planning department.

Some studies indicated there had been no active nesting after 2014, which apparently eliminated the main obstacle for the proposed developments moving forward.

However, the citizens of Gig Harbor were up in arms about any development of that property. Letters were written, protests were made at council and planning meetings, and the organization Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor worked to buy the property.

And sometimes, there is truth in the saying that elections have consequences.

An election last November saw a new mayor elected – one that replaced a mayor considered, unfairly or not, strong on development and weak on preservation.

Almost immediately, the new mayor began efforts to have the city buy the property. On March 6th, the city council agreed to the discounted asking price and the purchase/sale agreement was signed on March 10th.

Now there is a 60-day period that will include a formal appraisal; an environmental assessment; a tree survey; and due diligence.

It’s heartening to see that people working together can create the future they want to see in their community.

Sometimes the bulldozers can be stopped.