Birders propose actions to protect area bird habitat

(Editor’s Note: The following recently was presented as Kachemak Bay Birders’ testimony to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and submitted as a Point of View piece.)

The Kachemak Bay Birders appreciates the recognition that the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission is giving to ongoing user problems at Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough. These problems impact the quality of these sites as well as the enjoyment and safety of the many area residents and visitors that use Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough.

We agree with the methodical approach you have used to better understand these problems as well as possible solutions. We also appreciate the support you have received from the City of Homer Planning Department in working to resolve these issues.   

Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough have good bird habitat which attracts numerous species of birds (133 according to eBird), and abundant numbers of birds at times (e.g. migration). Given this and easy public access to the area, these birds attract many birders. In fact, the area is considered a “hotspot” by eBird.

While the problems that are occurring range from dogs to drugs, we will address only those problems related to birds, bird habitat and birding opportunity. Actions we support are:

1. Park Designation: We understand that city-owned parcels of Bishop’s Beach tidelands (Beach Area 7) are not officially designated as “park.” We recommend that these parcels, as well as the city-owned portions of Beluga Slough be officially designated as park. The main purpose of this is to have existing city code for parks clearly apply.  

2. Vehicle barriers. The berm east of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot and the adjoining intertidal area provides good habitat for foraging and resting birds, as well as a few species that nest there. These birds are easily disturbed by off road vehicles. A physical barrier is needed to prevent vehicles from going east of the parking lot.  While we need better signs, the most effective and least costly enforcement is to physically block vehicle passage with boulders lining the parking lot. 

3. Vehicle use at other intertidal areas. The commission previously discussed not allowing vehicles in the intertidal area from Bishop’s Beach east along the west side of the Spit to Lands’ End. We support this. The current approach of allowing vehicle use in some parts of the Spit is confusing. Allowing vehicles to continue to use the beach west of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot below private property should not be disturbing to birds.

4. Off-leash dogs. We have often observed loose dogs chasing birds that are foraging or roosting in the intertidal areas.  This can be really stressful for birds, particularly if they have just arrived after migrating hundreds and even thousands of miles.  We strongly recommend that loose dogs not be allowed in bird sensitive areas such as the area east of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot, Beluga Slough, Mariner Park Lagoon, Mud Bay, Green Timbers and Louie’s Lagoon.  Our recommendation would still allow off-leash dogs on several miles of beach west of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot and the beach on the west side of the Homer Spit.

5. WHSRN designation. Kachemak Bay Birders recommends that the City of Homer and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge designate its properties in the Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough area as an extension to the WHSRN (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network) designation that already exists for Kachemak Bay (see http://www.whsrn.org/site-profile/kachemak-bay). In April 1994, the City of Homer nominated Mud Bay and Mariner Park Lagoon as WHSRN sites.  

We think a WSHRN designation for Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough would not only be consistent with past commitments by the city of Homer, but enhance visiting opportunity by both residents and visitors and offer even better educational opportunities for our schools. Educational materials, trails, and kiosks that tie in the Bishop’s Beach/Beluga Slough area could provide an excellent opportunity to observe and enjoy our estuarine habitat.  It would provide another example of why Homer is special.

The WHSRN nomination process is fairly simple. The basic requirement is that the nomination come from the landowner (http://www.whsrn.org/nomination-process).  It should be noted that a WHSRN designation is essentially a recognition of shorebird habitat value and has no regulatory authority.   

Although the actual nomination needs to be made by the Homer City Council, a logical starting point is to have the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission make the recommendation to the city council.  

George Matz is a member of the Kachemak Bay Birders. He lives in Fritz Creek.

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