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Olympia will buy 2.75 acres to protect great blue heron habitat

Great blue herons take off from West Olympia over Budd Inlet on Dec 29, 2015.
Great blue herons take off from West Olympia over Budd Inlet on Dec 29, 2015. sbloom@theolympian.com

The Olympia City Council has approved the purchase of two properties near the city’s lone great blue heron colony in the West Bay woods.

The deal will add about 2.75 acres to the area that surrounds and protects the colony, also known as a rookery or heronry. About 15 nests are perched high in the trees off Rogers Street Northwest near the Olympia Food Co-Op where the birds have lived for more than 40 years.

The city’s goal with acquiring both properties is to expand its inventory of open space and wildlife habitat. Another goal is to create trail connections between the northwest Olympia neighborhood and the West Bay waterfront.

The first property measures 1.61 acres and is between the end of Farwell Avenue Northwest and West Bay Drive. Property owner Jill Floberg has agreed to sell the site for $210,000. A down payment of $15,750 will secure the option to buy the property. The rest of the balance is due by Dec. 31, 2017.

The second property measures 1.14 acres and is located between the end of Hays Avenue Northwest and West Bay Drive. Property owner Michael Wirth has agreed to sell the site for $97,955.

An effort to protect the woods and heronry has been led by the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation, which was launched in 2014 in response to a now-defunct townhome development proposal.

Since then, the coalition has helped the city identify properties to protect near the heronry. Shortly after the coalition was formed, Olympia resident Alicia Elliott bought nearly 4.5 acres of land that includes the heronry and Schneider Creek.

Daniel Einstein, executive director of the coalition, told the council Tuesday that volunteers have devoted more than 3,000 hours toward restoring the habitat. Volunteers have removed holly trees and English ivy while planting native species such as red cedars and sword ferns.

Einstein also thanked the city for amending its parks plan — based on public feedback — to include a component for habitat preservation.

“That’s a big deal and it’s something we should all be proud of,” Einstein said. “The community continues to clamor for action on environmental issues.”

Meghan Hopkins, who lives on Hays Avenue near the two properties, praised the council for its commitment to preserving wilderness within city borders.

“Community members feel connected to these woods and they’re willing to work hard for these woods,” she told the council. “You can feel the love that people put into these woods.”

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