By Dr. Don Flora PhD
About where they are now, perhaps. Which is just about everywhere. With and without shoreline wildlife buffers, the point of this note.
Kitsap County’s byways, backyards and open spaces provide creature comforts to wildlife from birds to bears. Day and/or night the four-legged kinds sally near, as do the aviators. From where? From hideouts in holes and cavities, under boards and beneath bushes and brambles. From treetops, grassy clumps, fence corner, yard burrows and shrub lands.
If these be habitat, how do we justify wider wildlife habitat buffers along shorelines, or even the critter buffers we already impose?
Presumably, (1) we know which species we want to favor with living space; (2) we know how many of each species we have; (3) we’ve decided how many wild things we want; (4) we’ve accounted for their prey needs and the welfare of those species, (5) we’ve adjusted for losses to predators, (6) we’re sure that habitat is the limiting factor affecting wildlife welfare; (7) we know how much habitat we have already reserved and expect to emerge from other planning; (8) we understand the alternative uses and costs of candidate habitats; with (9) opportunities to choose those less pricey in private and social terms.
That’s a lot. We seem to know little about them, nor do we discuss them. Though research along the I-90 corridor shows that advancing suburbs increase the variety of species while changing the mix.[i] Kitsap shores are already well advanced, yet waterfront real estate ads brag about wildlife there.
There are lots of interesting marine birds and mammals, and we might well consider their need for upland comforts.
Washington’s wildlife management agency has selected “priority” species for special attention. Among the fifty-plus priority marine birds, herons, waterfowl, shorebirds, hawks and falcons there are 17 that visit Puget Sound. Most are passers-through, nesting in prairie country, Alaska and Canada, where they typically don’t use trees.
Four are nesters on Bainbridge Island and probably elsewhere in Kitsap County; of those one is a ‘maybe’ and two are orientated to fresh water.[ii]
Is habitat really a limiting factor for these birds? The County has maturing woodland cover, some is already “late-succession”, around a hundred years old. Elsewhere, cavity-nesting birds seek out old trees whose branch stubs have decayed on into the trees. Here too, but apparently only non-marine wood ducks and (maybe) hooded Mergansers.
So perhaps the only two marine-related priority birds that nest here are bald eagles and great blue herons. Do these birds need nesting sites within 200 feet of tidewater shores (the inland reach of the Shoreline Management Act)? Presumably not. However eagles do appreciate high perches close along the shore.
The amphibious marine mammals come ashore, some (otters, sea lions) to the point of nuisance. Otters are great burrowers above the beach and beyond, as well as favoring boat houses and spaces beneath decks and porches. Using them as an example, the earlier questions come into play: Do we know how many there are, how many we want? And if we don’t know those things, how on earth shall we decide how many acres of upland habitat we should conscript for their use, how many suitable acres we’ve already set aside in open space and buffers, how many miles of shore we should commit, and from that how wide the otter-oriented wildlife habitat buffer should be?
Now, what about other tidewater birds and amphibians? And how do we allocate near shore space between wildlife and, say, children?
A grand mixture of technical and policy questions?
[i] Marzluff, John. 2003. Data presented at a seminar on urban ecology, November 7, University of Washington, College of Forest Resources, Seattle, WA
[ii] Paulson, Ian and George Gerdts. 1996. Bainbridge Island Birds: Species List. Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District.