In her day, Margaret was well known to the Olympia City Commission. She would show up at meetings, in force, having gathered friends and fellow activists to join her, often with a sheaf of signed petitions, to challenge decisions not to their liking. She knew how to get things done. She saved important places in Olympia for wildlife and humans alike. Her example and values live on in memory. I have conjured her image many times when feeling tired or cynical or distracted and she has pushed me along to stay involved and engaged in saving natural places in our area.
Two things collided yesterday that brought her vividly to mind: I learned of a meeting of Council members to discuss the sale of a patch of land that I know is valuable and scarce habitat for birds, to be bulldozed and made over to housing; and I read of the Cornell Ornithology study about the catastrophic loss of birds in the last decades. The biggest factor in the failure of birds to thrive is loss of habitat. Bit by bit, we are frittering it away… and now we have a full-blown crisis. What to do? What would Margaret do? She would, I think, seize this moment and use it as a teaching moment, an opportunity to exercise our better natures, to save this piece of Nature. To act, to not give in to despair. I wrote the following letter to my City Council, hoping that they take a moment and reconsider their priorities and I invited them to make a difference, to choose birds, and not business-as-usual. And I pledge to find more ways to take up this cause and follow Margaret’s path wherever it leads. For the birds.
Dear Member of our Olympia City Council
You represent all of us who live in this beautiful place, and with that position of trust you have the power to do something of lasting goodness for us all. A decision is coming up on your calendars that is an opportunity to make a difference in our quality of life and the life of our local wild neighbors who depend on us for their very existence.
You may have read a recent news story that scientists have been able to determine that since 1970 this country has lost more than one in four birds in every biome; that is 2.6 billion birds. And we know that the loss of birds also means the loss of companion animals, insects, plants and trees. Pesticide use is one of the causes but by far the most serious cause of this catastrophe is habitat loss: we are “eating away at the foundation of all our major ecosystems on the continent,” according to one of the researchers involved in the study. One of the hardest hit of all the bird groups are ones who live in grasslands. More than half of that population has disappeared.
Here in Olympia we have a special place where these particular birds flourish. It is rich in a variety of foods, shelter, and places to nest and rear young. It is an “edge” environment which supports many different species who can find what they need in the nearby forested area, the grassy areas, and the bushes and other growth found there. If you go there and just listen and look, you will see many birds of every description going about their lives. That is all they ask of us: let us live. That place is the ten-acre parcel adjacent to the LBA Woods, commonly known as the “scotch broom area.” That moniker can sound dismissive but it is in fact a richer bird environment than the woods themselves.
So this is an opportunity to save habitat for birds and other animals and plants. Instead of ripping out all this vegetation and building over it, losing it forever for wildlife, we could think again and save it. This study telling us of the dire situation of habitat loss and its resulting devastation of bird life is a wake up call. It is new information that calls for new thinking and new decisions and responses from us all. I am aware that the old plan was to build housing here, but it is not too late to value this place for what is already here: valuable, irreplaceable habitat for birds.
We can only turn this terrible situation around, place by place, bird by bird. This place matters, birds matter. Please take time and visit and listen and rethink and make a better choice for Olympia and for birds. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.
For more information on this study, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/vanishing-1-in-4-birds-gone/?