County recycling decision is against the birds | WHIDBEY BIRDING

Last month I had the opportunity to visit family in New York. On the day of my return flight, the morning news announced that New York’s already extensive curbside recycle program would soon expand to accept some previously excluded items like shampoo bottles and other difficult-to-recycle plastics. I rejoiced along with local newscasters who praised the city for broadening its commitment to recycling.

Later that night when I returned to Whidbey and picked up the South Whidbey Record, I learned that the Island County commissioners had reversed their decision to support a curbside recycling program. My heart sank.

I will be the first to acknowledge that New York City and Whidbey Island are as different from each other as night and day. And I know that there are important issues to consider with Island County’s decision. But I must ask this question: Have we forgotten our commitment to ethical stewardship of Mother Earth and the long-term health of ourselves as well as the birds that share our planet?

I don’t have to convince anyone that recycling does preserve natural habitat. For every pile of newspapers recycled, fewer trees are cut from forests that house and sustain countless bird species.

For every aluminum can recycled, less native jungle is destroyed to mine bauxite, the main component of aluminum. Recycling aluminum consumes only 30 percent of the electricity required to make new aluminum.

There are many additional issues that must be factored in: including oil production, transportation and our ever-expanding landfills.

I know all this, yet I must confess that I do a more diligent job of recycling when my husband is available to haul our recycle away. Curbside recycling alongside our garbage pick up would help me be a better earth steward.

As I write this, a male California quail is perched atop one of the fence posts surrounding our home vineyard. He has been calling and calling for days trying to attract a female into his territory so he can begin the breeding season. So far, no one except my husband and I have taken notice. We used to have several quail coveys in our neighborhood but for the last five years we’ve had none.

Although a pair of barn swallows returned from wintering in South America to our house a few weeks ago, they’ve evidently moved on. To date there has been no nesting activity, whereas in the past we’ve had four or five pairs raising young in mud nests tucked under the eaves of our house. I can’t help but note that many of our barn swallows winter in Brazil, the third largest bauxite producer in the world.

On the bright side, lemon yellow American goldfinches and tiny brownish pine siskins are swarming my thistle seed feeder. Mama Bewick’s wren is still tending her nest right outside our front door. Two black-headed grosbeaks and a female Bullock’s oriole have recently visited my suet feeder.

I’ve heard both olive-sided and willow flycatchers calling from the trees beside our house and an early arriving Swainson’s thrush fills the evening with heavenly birdsong. Last evening my husband and I watched a flock of western tanagers glean through the alder trees behind our home.

These bird sightings plus all the inspiration and wellbeing we receive from a healthy natural environment should also weigh into the decision about curbside recycling.

My article last month ended with this sentence, which bears repeating: “The birds have done their part to learn to live with us. Isn’t it time that we bend our ways to give them a helping hand?”

This month I add the reminder that a decision for a sustainable, healthy environment is also a decision about our human future.

Frances Wood can be reached at