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Funds sought to save major heron nesting site

Time is running out to raise the remaining funds needed to protect the 188-nest Davis Slough heronry on Camano Island, one of the largest great blue heron nesting colonies in Puget Sound.

Although 70 percent of the the funds to purchase the 31-acre property have been raised, another $165,000 is needed before the purchase option expires on Aug. 30, 2003.

Two nonprofit conservation groups, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and the Friends of Camano Island Parks are spearheading the effort to save the Davis Slough on the north end of Camano Island.

"If the fund-raising goal is not achieved by that date, the property will be sold for development," said Cary Peterson, vice-president of Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

The birds did get some help this week from Island County Commissioners who approved a $255,000 Conservation Future grant toward half the purchase price of the rookery.

Total cost of the property is $510,000.

To receive the county money the Trust and Friends must match it dollar for dollar from private donations.

"We need people to invest in these Great Blue Herons. It's a different kind of nest egg," Peterson said.

"With the heron habitat disappearing in the Puget Sound region this is an extremely important site."

If funds are secured, Department of Fish and Wildlife would manage the site and Island County. Camano Parks and the Land Trust would share ownership.

The proposed agreement also says that if the birds ever leave, the property will revert back to Island County for sale," said Mike Shelton, Island County Commissioner.

"Proceeds of such a sale would be split between the county and the two groups," Shelton said.

"But the heron would have to be gone for a period of at least five years before that would happen," Shelton said.

The Davis Slough Heronry, home to over 400 adult Great Blue Herons is located on the north end of Camano Island. The heronry has experienced rapid growth going from just 30 nests in 1991 to over 188 in 2003, with room for expansion.

"For over 10 years the heron have been nesting in the trees at this site," Peterson said.

"The property also has a buffer area that will protect the privacy of the birds. Heron are sensitive and will move on when people get too close," Peterson said.

Peterson attributes the growth of the Davis Slough to loss of habitat in other areas and its proximity to heron feeding areas.

A state Fish and Wildlife biologist, Ruth Milner, said in a press release the property is prime breeding and nesting habitat for herons and there just isn't much of that remaining due to rapid population growth and development in the coastal areas of Puget Sound.

Current owners of the property live adjacent to the slough.

Peterson credits them for helping to save the rookery by offering the land to the conservation groups first.

"They could have sold it for development immediately, instead of giving us this time to raise the necessary donations," Peterson said.

To donate to the Davis Slough Heronry send tax- deductible donations to the Whidbey Island Camano Land Trust, Post Office 1453, Langley 98260 or log on to www.wclt.org.

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