I confess to feeding birds. A few years ago, my husband and I bought a place near Evergreen State College where I work — we have a lovely one-level home on an acre-plus of land, fenced, no grass, lots of native and some ornamental shrubs, lovely perennial gardens near the house and the lot as a whole ringed with cedar, fir and spruce.
What sold us — at least one of us — on the house was the section of the deck that was roofed not to protect humans, but birds and their feeders. Most mornings, we start the day by drinking coffee and watching the birds — the Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds, the Northern flickers and the downy and hairy woodpeckers, the black-capped and chestnut backed chickadees, the dark-eyed juncos and the spotted towhees, the red-breasted nuthatch and the black-headed grosbeak.
We keep the feeders clean; we encourage native plants; we provide water and a variety of shrubby habitats for birds. For some mysterious reason, about halfway through my adult life, birds started to matter. I could see them, and the more I looked, the more I noticed, and the more I wondered about these winged creatures in our midst. Even as I write this, I am mindful that some naturalists are advocating that I stop feeding birds — but I haven’t, yet.
Supporters of the LBA woods — the proposal that the city of Olympia should buy the two forested parcels adjacent to LBA park — make lots of good arguments about why the city should invest funds from the 2004 voted utility tax (VUT) to purchase these 150 acres.
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The most compelling one for me is that these 150 acres represent the last and largest forested area within the urban growth boundary not already a park. Large tracts of forested land offer protection and refuge for humans and other species. In addition, one of the crude but useful tools for determining the impact of development is to keep track of the percent of the area covered by trees and set “canopy cover” goals. The city of Seattle has set a 30 percent goal. The city of Tacoma has a goal of growing its tree cover from 19 percent to 30 percent by 2030.
The city of Olympia has not yet set canopy cover goals, but several planning documents, including the Imagine Olympia Urban Forest & Urban Green Space document, name this is a useful way to protect the urban forest in the face of more development. Cutting down the trees on 150 acres within the city limits won’t help meet any overall tree cover goals.
I get the argument that this particular chunk of forest isn’t magnificent — part of it is an overgrown tree farm. On the other hand, once the trees are cut, we can’t change our minds. Planting some trees, or even setting aside trails through a development, doesn’t begin to match the loss of canopy cover caused by clearing in the first place. There’s something unique about a large stand of trees, and the location of the LBA woods means that lots of city residents will have easy access to them.
In Green Nature, Human Nature: The Meaning of Plants in Our Lives, botanist Charles Lewis discusses the benefits that come with being around plants. One study he describes focused on people hospitalized with severe injuries and deep depression. Researchers put plants in the hospital windows, and after a time, formerly immobile patients rolled over, towards the plants.
Lewis also explains why for many people, walking along wooded winding trails is a stress reliever — as we walk along, our focus shifts. We don’t know exactly what we are going to see, so we keep looking, and sometimes, at some level, we become fascinated, wholly absorbed in wondering what is around the bend.
Plenty of people don’t become fascinated as they walk along trails—but if there aren’t trails to walk on, meandering accessible wooded trails, this kind of fascination will never happen.
And the birds? They need trees and shrubs too. The LBA Woods Park Coalition has created a list of 55 species of birds seen in the park, enough to persuade me that even if this forest isn’t pristine, it’s useful enough to other species to be worth saving. Once it’s gone, it’s really gone.
I’d rather risk saving too much forested land then look back in 10 years and wish I’d argued differently.