16 hrs July 13, 2015 Wendy Harris
The Cow Beach project is full of manure. The city continues to assert that wildlife, habitat, people, pets and recreation are all compatible uses throughout the waterfront, finding consultants who reach conclusions that contradict Best Available Science. Some of the greatest damage is done through impacts to forage fish, which form the lynchpin of the aquatic food web on the Pacific coast.
This issue is relevant to the MNAC meeting and the ASB trail tour, which passes by the G street pocket beach, a small but rare and important accretion beach charmingly referred to by the city as “cow beach.” Cow beach is a habitat conservation area within shoreline jurisdiction and a frequently flooded area within a 100 year flood plain. It is now also the site of a new concrete stairwell from the ASB trail to the water, providing public shoreline and recreational access. Hey, don’t we want public access? Why would this be a problem?
This is a documented surf smelt spawning area that contains eelgrass. In the past decade alone, depleted forage populations on the Pacific coast have been associated with failed salmon runs, starvation of sea lion pups and seabird population declines. That could be a problem at cow beach, where federal and state protected habitats and species include chinook and chum salmon, steelhead, bull trout, marbled murrelet, eagles, seals, Caspian terns, blue herons, river otters, and a numerous other bird species.
The G street pocket beach was consistently identified as a priority for protection and restoration from the beginning of the waterfront planning process. Contrary to this, the city pulled every trick in the book to justify this concrete shoreline access stairwell: the CAO allows trails within critical area buffers, impacts of public access on spawning surf smelt are not well documented and the eggs are so small the public will not notice and all of this can be mitigated through signage (can dogs read now?). Educating the public is a better goal than keeping them out of sensitive habitat. Most of the area was already degraded from prior use so this does not make it any worse. Ergo.. no net loss.
Is public shoreline access really so innocent? Let us take a closer look.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife has determined that outdoor recreational activities are the fourth leading cause of loss in biodiversity. In fact, 27% of federal endangered, threatened, or proposed listed species are harmed by outdoor recreation.
Best available science, cited in county and city documents, reflects the harmful impacts on wildlife and biodiversity created through outdoor recreational activities. This is also the subject of concern in a public comment submitted by the Blue Green Coalition, signed off by REsources and Futurewise.
One of the best local sources of documentation is found in the city of Bellingham’s 1995 Wildlife and Habitat Assessment by Nahkeeta Northwest, (Ann Eissinger) beginning on page 21. Eissinger references the 1985 work of Boyle and Samson in reviewing the data from 166 studies establishing harmful impacts from hiking, camping, fishing, boating, wildlife observation, photography, swimming, and on-shore recreation, with regard to birds, mammals and plants. Negative impacts range from trampling vegetation, disturbance, displacement of animals from trails, nest losses through predation, nest abandonment, loss of shoreline habitat, air/water/noise pollution and local species extinction.
Recommendations, incorporated by reference into the COB Wildlife and Habitat Assessment, suggest separating wildlife and recreation as much as possible by managing specifically for wildlife in certain areas, providing large areas of continuous habitat for area sensitive species and designating certain areas for recreation or “sacrifice areas.” The city has failed to act on these recommendations.
See also the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services BAS Code Recommendations Report, from the last comp. plan update in 2005, Chapter 7. Certain species are highlighted as being intolerant of human activities such as marbled murrelets, nesting alcids, northern goshawk, and great blue herons. In Table 7-6, the report reflects numerous harmful impacts from recreational activities on aquatic habitat.
The Blue Green Coalition notes in a public comment that, “throughout the sub-area plan, habitat and public access are phrased together almost as if they are the same thing, with a few notable exceptions. To clarify where habitat and public access should be located, a study of proposed habitat and public access areas should be conducted to assess where they should co-occur and where access should be limited due to habitat sensitivity. We believe that the most valuable habitat opportunities will be found at the log pond, under Central Avenue, at the C street stormwater outfall, and at G street, north of the ASB lagoon.”
The city also received a letter from the Department of Ecology raising potential concerns with siting public access, outdoor recreation and habitat restoration on the same sites. The city has ignored DOE’s concerns, as well as those of the Blue Green Coalition and the general public, who clearly and consistently asked for better habitat protection and connectivity.
The only conclusion to be reached is that the city and port value the waterfront cash cow over the cow beach. The cow beach stairway is a done deal, but will we allow other “cow beaches” to fall for the sake of fun and recreation? Or will we address our responsibilities as stewards even when it means sometimes putting other needs first? If you support the latter, considering voting against the city’s next green way levy until issues of habitat protection and restoration are addressed and resolved. And if attend the MNAC meeting, let the city know that you support habitat and protection for all local native species, even when that means that not every square inch of the waterfront will be available for human use.