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April 19, 2018

4/4/2018 9:38:00 AM
Birds' mess
From the editor

Heather Carter, La Conner Chamber of Commerce executive director, hit a grand slam home run in January in bringing a world-renowned expert on owls to speak. Paul Bannick filled Maple Hall for his hour-long show, sharing the wonder and importance of owls in our world, and stressing that in saving habitat for owls, we will save ourselves.
Restaurants and rooms in La Conner were also full, a boon to merchants in mid-winter. Carter took the prize for turning plans for the first ever “Birds of Winter: a Skagit Valley Experience,” into an economic success. Very impressive.
The Valley’s chambers of commerce and EDASC, the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, have visions of attracting large numbers of birders to our region next January and February and growing “Birds” into Tulip Festival 2 in years to come. That’s success, bringing tourist dollars during the year’s slumped shoulder months.
Dozens of farmers, a different set of the one percent, don’t agree. It seems they are not so much against tourists clogging the roads with cars, or turning in their driveways, or even urinating on their properties as they are against birds eating their cover crops and having their feces pollute waterways. At a March 28 meeting at WSU Extension, some 10 farmers gave Andrew Miller, EDSASC program coordinator, earfuls of complaints. Miller, coordinator of agricultural development, was told a “win-win” was not possible: there is no slice of economic pie for farmers to enjoy.
The birds eat cover crops worth hundreds of thousands of dollars collectively. Planting more cover crops will attract more birds. Taxing merchants or tourists to compensate farmers sounds like a scheme of multi-year complexity on par with a NAFTA or World Trade Organization type agreement. More research is definitely needed, but the conservationists, championing the birds, need years to create and test hypotheses, some of which will be wrong and all of which will feed birds.
Tony Wisdom, of Skagit Valley Farms, suggests tax money supporting dike and irrigation district infrastructure as offering a direct benefit to farmers. Birding tourist dollars must more than filter down to the farming community. Those dollars must sustain the infrastructure of farming to ensure a future of farms.
This is a classic problem of merchants in town versus farmers in the country.
Winter 2019 will be here soon enough. Snow geese, trumpeter and tundra swans, bald eagles and some 360 other bird species will migrate into the Valley. Birders will follow. And ahead of that, this summer, even this spring, economic development professionals will be planning their measure of success: more human bodies lured into Valley rooms, restaurants and retail for longer periods of time, leaving more of their dollars behind. Getting people to spend money: we are good at that.
The farmers? Seems they need a chamber-of-commerce-like organization to organize them and advocate for them. But that is only a first step. Please step forward with farmer solutions.
So it’s not about the birds. It’s about sharing the wealth that the birders bring, distributing economic benefits to the source: the stewards of the land on which the birds gather.
And the birds? If they could speak their desires, they might voice all nos: no cars, no tourists, no merchants, no roads, no farmers, no farms. The only change the birds want is that of the tides, daily into and out of what will once again be their estuaries and marshes.

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