Habitat Loss

I recently spotted this young bull elk browsing in what looks like a healthy, pristine forest. What’s missing is the audio. Audio that is far from pristine nature. Behind the elk, not far away, was an ominous cacophony of brutal noises that foretells the destruction of the elk’s habitat. The chattering growl of multiple chainsaws, large trees thudding to the ground, the low rumbling thunder of giant earth-moving machines scraping into boulders, the almost supernatural howl of a large shredder. It was all there, all at once, only a few hundred yards away.

I was happy to see the elk looking healthy and enjoying his meal, but that happiness was overshadowed by the rapid development taking place in the forest behind him. The location is the Nelson Dairy area of Suncadia destination resort. Suncadia is located in the Cascade Mountains, just off of Interstate 90 and about 80 miles east of Seattle.

The Nelson Dairy area has variously been known as the Nelson Preserve and The Nelson Conservancy. Both of those titles seem like a mockery now as one witnesses the gouging of new roads through the forest, the rapid construction of huge homes (or vacation getaways, whatever people call them) made with enormous amounts of wood (former trees). The dust, noise and rumble of construction pervades the forest, even down to the trails along the scenic Cle Elum River.

Seeing that young elk and listening to the hyper destruction of its habitat was sobering. The lcoal elk herd has historically depended on the 7,000 plus acres of Suncadia as year-round habitat. With development increasing all around, that habitat is more important than ever to all the local wildlife, including deer, bear, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and other species. For a long time, development in Suncadia was sluggish and it seemed that the dramtic loss of habitat was a long way into the future. I don’t know precisely what economic factors are causing the recent surge, but the build rate all over the resort’s property is phenomenal and disheartening.

The elk and other wildlife are being squeezed into smaller pockets of habitat, and at the same time they have to venture into developed areas to get what they need. This is already happening in terms of elk and deer appearing on the golf courses and in the adjacent town of Roslyn. Inevitably, the wildlife will suffer.

The people who spent a lot of money to live in Suncadia might suffer too. They might be dismayed to see the bucolic setting that they initially enjoyed and bought into is now giving way to development, diminishing their privacy, peace and pace of life. Who wants to sit on the flagstone patio of their $2,000,000 home and hear nail guns, chainsaws, skill saws, bulldozers, excavators and heavy trucks all day?

The fate of our area seems sealed. Big money talks and it drowns out dissent. Local politicians take campaign money from realtors and developers (and some of them are realtors and developers), land and water rights are bought and sold, the wealthy build huge weekend homes. Nature, along with local human inhabitants, continues to fade away. This continues to be one of the sad themes of the American West.

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