[Tweeters] Fir Island Game Range

keithwilliamson8 at gmail.com keithwilliamson8 at gmail.com
Sat Oct 1 13:46:58 PDT 2022

>From https://wdfw.wa.gov/places-to-go/wildlife-areas/skagit-headquarters-wildlife-area-unit:

“September 2022 update: We’re happy to announce that the Headquarters Unit of Skagit Wildlife Area has reopened to the public!

This wildlife area and water access site near Conway was closed in August and much of September due to construction activities. Contractors used heavy equipment to perform dike maintenance to support tidegate function and protect nearby agricultural lands.

The work also included removing vegetation along portions of the dike system in preparation for a project next summer to raise and widen the dike in accordance with Army Corps of Engineers standards. Plans for 2023 also include improving the boat launch and staging area at Skagit Headquarters Unit, which are popular for accessing Freshwater Slough and the Skagit Estuary and Island units, but are difficult to use at low and high tides.”

The trees and brush were apparently cut down for a project next summer to raise and widen the dike. The dike system at the Skagit Wildlife Area Headquarters Unit is part of the flood protection for Fir Island. Last winter, WDFW tweeted some images showing fairly extensive flooding on the bay side of the dike system at the Headquarters Unit (e.g., the parking lot near the boat ramp was under quite a bit of water). That flooding likely put pressures on the dike system there. I remember seeing those images of flooding at the HQ Unit last winter, and thinking about the land owners on Fir Island…

Sincerely, Keith Williamson

Camano Island, WA

From: Patti Loesche <patti.loesche at gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2022 7:23 PM
To: Gary Bletsch <garybletsch at yahoo.com>
Cc: tweeters <tweeters at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] Fir Island Game Range


I visited Wylie today and actually thought, I am very glad that Gary isn’t here to see this. The trees you described have not just been removed, they have been butchered. It’s painful to witness. Whatever the goals of the Wylie project, those goals are hostile to trees and birds. And as you wrote, that mean little blind sticks out in the wide open now. The cattail monoculture is doing fine.

Patti Loesche


On Sep 30, 2022, at 4:51 AM, Gary Bletsch <garybletsch at yahoo.com <mailto:garybletsch at yahoo.com> > wrote:

Dear Tweeters,

Greetings from Chautauqua County, NY. Thanks to one and all for the interesting discussion about the Montlake Fill or UBNA, if I have the toponymy right. At least there is some discussion about what trees to plant and what to remove.

As best I can tell, at the Fir Island Game Range, or Wylie Slough, habitat "improvement" continues to "progress" without much public discussion. This site has been the premier birding spot in Skagit County for a long time. In late July, the last time I birded there, signage stated that the site would be closed for all of August and September. That alone was enough to make me scratch my head--WDFW would close the place for the best shorebirding time of the year, but have it open just in time for hunting. That is usually how they roll at that agency--hook and bullet, hook and bullet.

A few days ago, a friend sent me some recent photos taken at the Game Range. The project there must have been completed a few days ahead of schedule. My friend was dismayed at what he saw. Apparently, the riparian corridor between the Headquarters Parking Area and the Dike Junction has been damaged, to say the least. Many of the good-sized trees were removed. That includes the big Sitka Spruce, a tree that has attracted all sorts of interesting birds over the years. Many alders were taken down, some of which had nest cavities used by Tree Swallows and Downy Woodpeckers.

The so-called Viewing Blind is apparently now clear of brush. I call this the Skull-Cracking Blind. Countless people have smashed their foreheads when trying to enter this absurdly low structure. A friend of mine nearly lost an eye after suffering a detached retina in such a mishap.

Pardon the digression, but over the past few weeks, I have visited ten or twelve lovely blinds here in Chautauqua County, including a brand-new one that is nearly complete. They all have ample headspace, generous viewing ports, and comfy benches. It does not take Frank Lloyd Wright to design a blind. Nowhere in the world have I seen a blind like the one at the Game Range. Even in such places as Papua New Guinea and Madagascar, where the per capita income must rank among the lowest in the world, wildlife areas feature proper, roomy, comfortable blinds, or hides, as the British say.

I had been grumbling about the Skull-Cracking Blind for another reason. Since it was constructed, WDFW had allowed a towering growth of brush to obscure the view from the blind. Between retinal detachment and an opaque screen of vegetation, this structure offered a new twist on the meaning of "blind."

Now it seems that no one who succeeds in entering unscathed will complain for lack of view. The shoreline of the slough has been scalped.

It would be interesting to read some accounts and descriptions of the changes at the Game Range, if any birders visit there in the coming weeks, before waterfowl hunting gets going. It would be good to learn the status of the cattails in the main pond; those cattails had been slowly colonizing the mudflat, making it less and less attractive to shorebirds, and harder and harder for people to observe the ones present. That was the vegetation that I was hoping to see removed--not trees and brush!

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch

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