Audubon buys North Bay land for preserve - March 2, 2000
BY JENNY LYNN ZAPPALA - DAILY WORLD WRITER
NORTH BAY - Wet, wild and free.
Almost free, anyway.
The Grays Harbor Audubon Society has purchased 400 acres of property near the mouth of the Humptulips River and plans to set it aside for migratory birds. The purchase culminates a two-year effort that has seen the local chapter raise about $900,000 to buy more than a square mile of sensitive shoreline and estuary.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service awarded a $500,000 federal grant to the local chapter to help preserve resting and feeding areas for migratory birds on the north shore of Grays Harbor, Humptulips estuary and upstream along the Humptulips River, said Dean Schwickerath, chapter president.
Each year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service awards about $40 million to local organizations and partnerships to preserve, enhance or restore wetlands for migratory birds.
An advisory council, the Council of the North American Wetlands Conservation, distributes the federal grants.
The council, which was appointed by Congress in 1989, is a partnership between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the Department of Interior and private conservation groups.
All habitat lands owned by the local chapter will be secured with a conservation easement, so the land will be set aside for wildlife habitat, even if the Harbor chapter dissolves, Schwickerath said.
The Harbor chapter also believes the preserve will continue to attract rare birds and bird-watchers who enjoy following them, giving a boost to local tourism.
"It is extremely important to give people opportunities for nature appreciation in appropriate places, and this could be one of those," said Diane Schwickerath, a board member.
To attract the grant, the chapter raised an additional $400,000 in donations and bought an additional 289 acres in the North Bay over the past two years.
The bulk of the donations were gifts from a handful of anonymous Harborites, said Dean Schwickerath, president of the Grays Harbor Audubon Society.
"We like to think of this as the people in Grays Harbor working to protect and preserve sensitive areas of Grays Harbor," said Schwickerath.
Dr. Karen Knutsen of Onalaska and wildlife biologists Kim Taylor and Janet Strong, both of McCleary, volunteered their time and expertise to document habitat and animal data to apply for the grant.
This type of wetland was once common state-wide, but has been significantly reduced by agriculture and development, said spokeswoman Barbara Fandrich of Aberdeen.
"There is a growing mandate from local residents of western Washington to counter the destruction of decades of "development'," which have destroyed "wetlands vital to the health of our northwest ecosystems," she said.
The Grays Harbor Audubon Society joined the Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce last October to work towards encouraging bird-watchers and "eco-tourists," tourists who seek out the area's natural wonders.
The Audubon census lists 138 different bird species living in or passing through the area, such as mallards, northern pintails, dunlin and long- and short-billed dowitchers.
Migrants from Alaska, Canada, the west coast, Mexico and the distant tropics also use the Harbor as a pit stop along the North American Flyway.
The move will also help protect fish populations, including Chinook, coho and chum salmon, Fandrich added.
Black bear, otter and beaver also call the area home.
The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, Seattle Audubon, Partners in Flight and other community members also worked on the project.
Most of the property the chapter has purchased is undeveloped, said Fandrich. One of the chapter's major holdings in the North Bay area, the Seahorse Ranch on Highway 109, has existing buildings which will have to be upgraded or taken down. The Grays Harbor Audubon Society hasn't decided which will happen yet, she said.