Short-eared Owl – Photographed by Marlin Greene
The WDFW Leque Island Unit – more commonly known to birders as “Eide Road” — is a birding hotspot in Skagit County, Washington. I’ve visited Eide Road to see Snowy Owls, Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers who find sustenance in this habitat of wetlands and agricultural fields. It’s an area frequented by birders and it’s a location often mentioned on local birding lists for the various species that arrive seasonally on this 325-acre unit.
As popular as the location is for birders, it’s also open to pheasant and waterfowl hunting during fall and winter. This puts birders and hunters in very close proximity to each other. It’s that closeness between the two groups which inspired a new movement to re-purpose Eide Road for birders and wildlife viewers, leaving other, more productive sites in the area open for hunting during the season.
Photographer Marlin Greene of Friends of Eide Road describes an incident last fall that illustrates the potential safety issues of this land-use arrangement.
“While I was in the area last fall, photographing shorebirds, I noticed a hunter walking through the grove of dead trees toward the paved road and parking area. I assumed he was headed for the parking area. There was also a birder carrying a scope walking back to his car along the paved road next to the dike. When a pheasant flew up in front of the hunter, without hesitation he raised his gun and shot toward the pheasant, which was also toward the person walking on the road only yards away. I don’t believe the hunter was aware of this person — he shot in his exact direction. To his credit, the hunter was a good shot and hit the bird and not the birder — this time.”
Friends of Eide Road proposes that the Leque Island Unit be changed to a non-hunting zone in the interest of safety and also in keeping with the area’s Audubon designation as an Important Bird Sanctuary. The property was purchased with Federal funds allocated for wildlife habitat, and according to the WDFW office, there was no hunting requirement or provision attached.
“This site is wonderful for birds of all sorts and would become more so if hunting was not allowed to disturb the environment. Some of the birds seen here are: shorebirds of all kinds, wrens, several species of sparrows, several species of hawks, a variety of ducks and teals, songbirds in summer, and in winter the amazingly acrobatic short-eared owl (one of the few owls seen in the daytime) and many more.” (Friends of Eide Road)
Marlin Greene cites these additional factors in consideration of the proposed plan:
- The Eide Road site has been designated an Important Bird Sanctuary by Audubon, and signs to that effect have been installed. How long will the state promote pen-released pheasant hunting as the primary activity on land so designated?
- With hunters and non-violent visitors sharing the space like the do now, the chance of a shooting accident happening is a real concern. I had one hunter tell me that I shouldn’t be out there, “You could get shot” he explained. “We shoot anything that moves.”
- Bird photography in the Northwest is growing fast. The Eide Road site is now becoming known and appreciated by many more area photographers, birders and other non-hunters. It’s easy to see that the vehicles in the parking lot are mostly cars with Discover Passes and not pickup trucks with dog kennels.
In April 2013, a groundwater study for the Leque Island property was completed and is now being reviewed by the EPA. Options for property use will be announced, and web-based form will be available for public comments and suggestions. Once the comment process begins, anyone who wants to see land-use status changed to a primary bird-friendly, non-hunting site should present a comment to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Stay tuned to the Friends of Eide Road website for updates and notification of the public commenting process.
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