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Pikes/Pines | The Capitol Hill Connections Project

When I tell new acquaintances that I write a column about nature on Capitol Hill, I sometimes get a bit of a side eye. Though there’s much credit due to how we define nature and where we see it existing, many people still wonder why I would want to spend my time pondering one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Seattle. Why not dream over far off wild places instead of a place many might find lacking wildness? One of many answers can be found in the Capitol Hill Connections project.

The goal of this project, collaboratively spearheaded by Seattle’s Urban Bird Treaty City partners is to promote healthy urban habitats along a corridor on 11th Ave between Volunteer Park and Seattle University. This means making the pockets of greenspace in between, as connected as possible, which requires multimodal efforts to engage the public and private landowners in creating, connecting, and stewarding spaces for birds and nature. And often what’s good for them is of course good for people.

Capitol Hill Connections project area in green

Old school, as well as still prominent, conservation efforts across the globe have often left people out of the conversation, and entirely out of the picture. While a vast space with few people might feel more appropriate for this approach (though often this flies in the face of traditional lifeways of Indigenous people in such places), it would be absurd to not focus on people when trying to enhance and steward such a densely populated urban village. We need nature, for our physical and mental health, and a connected greenspace along 11th ave would offer more of this. During the pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that public greenspaces are vital, with the inequities of who has access to nature, and open, safe public spaces laid ever more bare under health guidelines.

Bird Lists for Project Area

Volunteer Park Cal Anderson Park Seattle University 11th Ave Corridor
American Crow

American Goldfinch

American Robin

American Wigeon

Anna’s Hummingbird

Bald Eagle

Band-tailed Pigeon

Barn Owl

Barn Swallow

Barred Owl

Bewick’s Wren

Black Swift

Black-capped Chickadee

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brown Creeper

Bufflehead

Bushtit

California Scrub-Jay

Canada Goose

Cedar Waxwing

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Cliff Swallow

Common Goldeneye

Common Merganser

Common Raven

Cooper’s Hawk

Dark-eyed Junco

Double-crested Cormorant

Downy Woodpecker

European Starling

Fox Sparrow

Gadwall

Glaucous-winged Gull

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

Hairy Woodpecker

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Hermit Thrush

Herring Gull

Horned Grebe

House Finch

House Sparrow

Hutton’s Vireo

Killdeer

Mallard

Marsh Wren

Merlin

Mourning Dove

Nashville Warbler

Northern Flicker

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Orange-crowned Warbler

Osprey

Pacific Wren

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Painted Bunting

Peregrine Falcon

Pied-billed Grebe

Pine Siskin

Purple Finch

Red Crossbill

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-winged Blackbird

Ring-necked Duck

Rock Pigeon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Rufous Hummingbird

Savannah Sparrow

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Snowy Owl

Song Sparrow

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Towhee

Steller’s Jay

Swainson’s Thrush

Townsend’s Solitaire

Townsend’s Warbler

Tree Swallow

Turkey Vulture

Varied Thrush

Vaux’s Swift

Violet-green Swallow

Warbling Vireo

Western Tanager

Western Wood-Pewee

White-crowned Sparrow

Wilson’s Warbler

Wood Duck

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

American Crow

American Goldfinch

American Robin

Anna’s Hummingbird

Bald Eagle

Bewick’s Wren

Black-capped Chickadee

Brown-headed Cowbird

Bushtit

California Gull

Caspian Tern

Cedar Waxwing

Cooper’s Hawk

Dark-eyed Junco

European Starling

Gadwall

Glaucous-winged Gull

Golden-crowned Kinglet

House Finch

House Sparrow

Mallard

Northern Flicker

Orange-crowned Warbler

Peregrine Falcon

Red-tailed Hawk

Rock Pigeon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Snow Goose

Song Sparrow

Tree/Violet-green Swallow

Yellow-rumped Warbler

American Crow

American Goldfinch

American Robin

Anna’s Hummingbird

Bald Eagle

Bewick’s Wren

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Brown Creeper

Brown-headed Cowbird

Bushtit

California Gull

California Scrub-Jay

Cedar Waxwing

Common Redpoll

Cooper’s Hawk

Dark-eyed Junco

Double-crested Cormorant

Downy Woodpecker

European Starling

Fox Sparrow

Glaucous-winged Gull

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

Green-winged Teal

House Finch

House Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Mallard

Merlin

Northern Flicker

Orange-crowned Warbler

Osprey

Pacific Wren

Peregrine Falcon

Pine Siskin

Red Crossbill

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-tailed Hawk

Ring-billed Gull

Rock Pigeon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Rufous Hummingbird

Savannah Sparrow

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Snow Goose

Song Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

Steller’s Jay

Swainson’s Thrush

Townsend’s Warbler

Trumpeter Swan

Varied Thrush

Violet-green Swallow

Warbling Vireo

Western Tanager

White-crowned Sparrow

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

American Crow

American Goldfinch

American Robin

Anna’s Hummingbird

Bald Eagle

Bewick’s Wren

Black-capped Chickadee

California Scrub Jay

Canada Goose

Cedar Waxwing

Cooper’s Hawk

Dark-eyed Junco

European Starling

Glaucous-winged Gull

House Finch

House Sparrow

Mallard

Northern Flicker

Peregrine Falcon

Red-tailed Hawk

Rock Pigeon

Song Sparrow

Steller’s Jay

Tree/Violet-green Swallow

Western Gull

White-crowned Sparrow

Josh Morris, Conservation Manager at Seattle Audubon, and a leader in the project which was developed when the Capitol EcoDistrict joined the Urban Bird Treaty in 2018, was quick to mention people when we talked about the work (for transparency’s sake I should state that Morris and I are coworkers). People are the first on the list of motivations for the project on Seattle Audubon’s page, and Morris makes the strong point that without people, without the community behind this project, it won’t be possible. After all, while there are about 60 acres between the major greenspaces along the proposed connection, there’s also a lot of private property. The project aims to provide a draft vegetation plan for property owners to help guide participation in habitat enhancements along the corridor as well as build a group of local stewards to focus on Cal Anderson park. Morris was clear: “our success is reliant on the people who live on 11th ave.”

Another major goal is harm reduction: building a playbook of creative solutions to reduce bird window strikes, moving away from pesticide use, even turning off lights in tall buildings during migration. This column recently covered rodenticides and their impacts, particularly with an eye to predatory birds like Cooper’s Hawks. Rodent bait boxes are all across the entirety of 11th avenue, including at Cal Anderson Park. The goal of having Cal Anderson be pesticide free is still in the works, but getting everyone else, from business owners to property managers, to elect rodenticide use restrictions is a bigger hurdle. Morris said “rats pose a serious health threat,” so even Seattle Parks and Recreation is reluctant to stop this form of management despite the obvious impacts on native birds.

At the end of the day, the Capitol Connections Project in its current form will be just a start. With initial goals of restricting pesticide use, creating a team of volunteer stewards at Cal Anderson, and drafting a vegetation plan for habitat enhancements well underway, the hope is that this groundwork will be followed up by a lot of hard work from the community. Morris wants public input (go ahead and reach out via e-mail) and has run community workshops and intends to run more in the future. There should be no doubt that this work is happening in an area of Seattle that is affluent. Finding community members with time, money, and expertise to get involved may not be as challenging, but that doesn’t mean the work shouldn’t happen here as an example for future projects.

So getting back to my initial question, why would a naturalist be driven to think about places with less biological diversity, where people dominate the landscape? Clearly I want people to care about nature, and the nature closest to them. That’s the easy answer. But there’s something deeper in the concept of this project – the idea of connections, both for human and more than human members of our community.

Rejoining connections, filling in spaces between fragments, literal and figurative, is something we all need more of and should be emphasizing in our daily lives despite the obvious barriers of the Pandemic. Connectivity along 11th will facilitate the movement of organisms, and people are organisms after all. So where would you rather live? In a space where birds are safer and people are healthier and more connected? Or in fragments, closed off from our neighbors, with less nature around? The enormity and complexity of even a neighborhood scale project like Capitol Hill Connections is real, but it promises to be very worth the effort.

If you’re interested in receiving updates and information about getting involved in the Capitol Hill Connections project, sign up here.


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bobtr
bobtr
4 months ago

These kinds of efforts can also be understood as green-washing to distract from the larger, systematic and City-approved loss of local habitat caused by upzoning and bad design. “Oh look, we’re recognizing the importance of habitat on ten blocks of one street! And throwing in two parks, where it should already be a priority. Aren’t we special!”

catherine hillenbrand
catherine hillenbrand
4 months ago

Thanks for this article, it’s a great project……