About 6:20 on an otherwise quiet Thursday morning, nature came to call in the form of coyotes. In short order, they killed the four chickens kept in a small run and coop at my neighbor’s house. A housemate heard the commotion, and by the time she could respond, the predators were already gone.
My neighbor had raised hens before and did a really good job with these birds. People out with their children or walking their dogs would drop by to visit these chickens, bringing them treats. The local cats would sit and stare at them. They were certainly spoiled birds and had admirable lives as chickens go.
I never imagined they would end up in leftover pieces scattered about my yard and a few feathers floating on the parking strip.
Then, on Friday night, another flock a couple of blocks away was taken out by the same suspects.
I know these coyotes. I’ve seen them on occasion, and the pack has a history that goes back 40 years. I found four of their dens — coyotes may have half a dozen. I made the mistake of mentioning to a homeowner one was close to her house.
“Oh, no!” she said. The den — dug into a hillside and hidden by undergrowth — would be exposed and destroyed.
The coyotes moved on, as they did from beside a public stairway when an urban camper pitched his tent off the steps, as they did when a forest restoration project in a park stripped the forest floor of existing plants.
Now, I seldom tell exactly where I spot wildlife in Seattle. I’ve seen coyotes, opossum, raccoons and lots of smaller native mammals in places like Ravenna, Discovery and Carkeek parks and the greenbelts that run along the Duwamish and Rainier Valleys. I know there are skunks in Seattle and deer. I understand there are still foxes, although I haven’t seen one. I know what they say: “Leave us alone, people.”
An unnatural relationship
We have an unnatural relationship with the natural world in the city. We admire and romanticize the nature around us, yet most of us don’t do anything to help it, and those who do can be quite political.
Politics play in one green place, the Cheasty Greenspace on the the east side of Beacon Hill. A pilot bike trail and agility course and hiking trails are proposed.
The forestry community — which centers around the Seattle Green Partnership, a coalition of Seattle Parks and Recreation and the nonprofit Forterra — is divided. On March 25, 200 people attended a meeting at the Jefferson Park Community Center to comment on the proposal. People opposed to the project shouted down Parks’ representatives.
I’ve done volunteer work in the area where the trail system would be built, and I don’t have a problem with it. The greenbelt is not, as some opponents maintain, wilderness. It’s a place where much of the biomass is invasive plants — English ivy, clematis, Himalayan blackberry — and it’s not pristine.
Uphill from Columbian Way, where a series of jumps and a “free ride” area would be constructed, are sites of former large encampments of homeless people. Above it is a Parks’ maintenance yard.
A 1.8-mile bike trail and 1.5 miles of hiking trails would circumnavigate the area. They are set well away from residential areas, much like the trails in Carkeek Park. The trail system would open up the area to environmental restoration, which, if staged correctly, would not disrupt the habitat for mammals and birds that already exists.
Erosion from bikes can be mitigated by trail design and maintenance — the bike community would need to step forward to help in a way it has not done in Seattle before. Bikes could help leave a troubled past behind.
Seeing the forest for the trees
Wild Seattle does not exist in our woods or parks. It exists in habitat, and the species that use the ecosystem don’t acknowledge plats, property lines or political posturing.
Since I’ve worked on urban forestry projects in Central and South Seattle for two decades and organized work projects that have planted tens of thousands of native trees, shrubs, ferns and wildflowers, you might think I’d align with those set against this bike business.
I support it because it would be good for neighborhood kids, and it would attract cyclists from all over Seattle. The project could inspire people to adopt and care for the Cheasty Greenspace, a good patch of woods.
For Cheasty — as in Carkeek and Discovery Parks, in West Seattle and north Capitol Hill — the greatest threat to the woods isn’t exotic species that choke the forest. It’s well-intentioned people who can’t see the forest for the trees.
So, this modest proposal: Let’s try this pilot project. If Seattle can’t make a park with a bike trail work, then the project should be canceled, just like the off-leash area in Volunteer Park was axed when it proved to be a bad idea.
And to my fellow foresters: No one is taking your projects away. Once this controversy simmers down, we can all return to what’s at hand: pulling ivy or planting trees — or my dream of introducing the western diamondback rattlesnake to Golden Gardens and bringing grizzly bear back to downtown.
CRAIG THOMPSON is a longtime community activist. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.