More than 'vista' marred by clearcut at Mar Vista | Guest Column

Stephanie Buffum Field, executive director of Friends of the San Juans.  - Contributed photo
Stephanie Buffum Field, executive director of Friends of the San Juans.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Stephanie Buffum Field

The current clear cutting of 1.7 acres of shoreline trees and vegetation on the property formerly known as “Mar Vista” has caused many citizens to ask how could this happen and who is responsible?

Many want more than an explanation, they are asking for accountability, remediation, and restoration.

Friends of the San Juans has been surveying the islands’ shoreline habitats and species for over 14 years. Based on our own and other’s scientific research, we know that clearing the vegetation along that shore will directly affect salmon and the fish they eat (forage fish).

The shoreline’s trees and shrubs will no longer provide food to the out-migrating juvenile Chinook salmon that are known to frequent the waters there; juvenile Chinook are dependent on terrestrial insects, and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are dependent on adult Chinook for food. The vegetation will also no longer help control erosion or provide shade to any forage fish eggs that are laid on the pocket beach.

As is so visible in the pictures of the newly cleared and straw covered shoreline, stewardship ethics and land use laws were broken by these new property owners and/or their advisors. An investigation is underway by San Juan County and the Department of Ecology.

We will continue to communicate with those responsible for enforcement and recommend full restoration, building setbacks commensurate with the action and remedy commensurate to the violation.

Unfortunately, enforcement has been woefully underfunded in San Juan County and many cases, as egregious as this one, are still unresolved.

In my 12 years with Friends of the San Juans, I have seldom seen fines levied that are commensurate to the devastation left on the landscape. I have seen few restoration plans required by the county, and fewer restoration sites monitored.

I have never seen the county charge for time spent investigating and litigating a case. Thus, these actions are not only damaging the natural resources we all value but our county budget as well.

Technical assistance for property owners and other land development professionals is available.

For example, our planning department provides residential pre-application education to property owners before construction begins. This is to ensure that development is safe for people, and preserves critical habitat. The property owners in this instance had completed a residential pre-application this past July with staff from our planning department, but they chose to disregard it.

Community members can help by calling the county council and telling them to make sure justice code enforcement investigation is swift, restoration and monitoring is required, and that the prosecuting attorney’s office acts in a timely manner.

— Editor's note: Stephanie Buffum Field is executive director of Friends of the San Juans.


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