Is Governors Point Wildlife Habitat Threatened?

by Laura Leigh Brakke

The headline in The Bellingham Herald (February 25, 2018) announces that Governors Point is preserved and then goes on to state that public access is determined to be the way to this end. Therefore, one must ask what is being preserved. Surely, introducing thousands of people is not the best method to preserve critical wildlife habitat. The 125-acre property is zoned for 25 house sites and the current owner is proposing “only” 16 houses. Is it a reasonable tradeoff for wildlife to substitute up to nine more houses for the construction of a new road, a parking lot, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people walking on two miles of trails through critical marine and terrestrial animal habitat?

In 2004, the Whatcom Land Trust published their Cascades-to-Chuckanuts Conservation Plan (C2C). Funding for the development of the plan was provided by the Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation. The primary long-term objectives identified in the C2C are to “protect and restore one of Western Washington’s most intact lowland forest ecosystems, and to provide ecosystem connectivity and diverse habitat linkages from the North Cascades west to the Chuckanut Mountains and the marine coast south of Bellingham.” Linking and restoring these fragmented ecosystems will provide direct benefits to at least 27 listed and sensitive species of fish and wildlife.

Pacific Ocean to Cascades
“The C2C region, which is approximately 350,000 acres, is one of the last remaining places in the Puget Lowland Forests ecoregion where the combination of forests and open space stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade Mountains. A satellite view of the region acquired in 2000 shows how rare it is to have forestlands relatively connected from the Cascades to the ocean. All other natural connections have been severely disrupted by sprawling urban areas such as Seattle and Tacoma or widespread agricultural development.

Although heavily impacted by logging and agricultural and limited urban development, the C2C region still contains substantial unconverted land containing many conservation values. It is also one of the few places where enough intact ecosystems are still available for which a comprehensive conservation strategy can be developed. With the proper mix of further land and water protection, progressive forest stewardship and restoration, the C2C region could become one of the most important conservation anchors for northwestern Washington.”

“Jewel in the Crown”
I believed that the WLT understands the biologic richness of Governors Point as a “Jewel in the Crown” of the C2C region as 125 acres of essentially undeveloped land and rich habitat for wildlife. Therefore, I am hopeful that, working with Randy Bishop, a balance can be reached to preserve sensitive habitat for great blue herons, eagles, owls, deer, coyotes, kingfishers, otters and many other species against the desire to have new roads, parking lots and trails for people.

Will WLT do a wildlife survey prior to building trails and parking lots, and will they adhere to the No Net Loss principle? The Critical Areas Ordinance lists the Chuckanut Wildlife Corridor as the only named habitat of local importance. The CAO protects steep slopes, marine nearshore habitat, eelgrass beds and critical wildlife habitat. Governors Point has those critical areas that need protection. Fewer houses but more human traffic seems to be contradictory in meeting goals of preservation, restoration and enhancement.

The donation to the WLT is an amazing gesture from Randy Bishop. For the sake of the wild flora and fauna of our area, the donated land could be modeled on its mirror image just across Chuckanut Bay to the north, the Clark family conservation easement — thus preserving intact marine coastline and habitat for land-based animals and birds.

Trails Are Redundant
The potential plan (with trails for humans) for Governors Point, is redundant, because Governors Point is situated in close proximity to Larrabee State Park, where there are miles and miles of trails available for two-legged visitors to wander. There are approximately one million annual visitors to Larrabee State Park — if only 10 percent of those numbers come to walk on the Governors Point nature reserve, that would equal 100,000 people impacting this critical habitat annually. These are considerations that the WLT and Randy Bishop are willing to discuss and are trying to mitigate.

Friends of Chuckanut has been advocating for preservation of the natural resources, scenic quality of the Chuckanut region, and responsible recreation for over 25 years, and will continue to do so.

There are ways to limit the damaging effects of introducing cars and people into this area, and Friends of Chuckanut looks forward to working together with the Whatcom Land Trust and owner of Governors Point to effect a great outcome balancing wildlife needs and human desires.

Laura Leigh Brakke is president of Friends of Chuckanut, which she helped establish with other interested people in 1989. She has lived in the shadow of Governors Point since 1985.