Amon Creek Nature Preserve (ACNP) is a wild place that’s practically in my backyard. Near the end of Leslie Road in Richland, ACNP is a narrow natural wetland habitat which supports much aquatic life and is linked to the lower end of the Yakima River. Along the wetland edges are trees and shrubs that form the riparian habitat, protecting the wetland from soil erosion and providing food and shelter for the animals who live there. Beyond the riparian corridor is the native shrub-steppe habitat which supports numerous desert species.
ACNP is an active and highly diverse ecosystem. Numerous bird species use the wetlands year-round or migrate through during various seasons. 50 year-round birds have been documented and as many as 100 types of birds have visited during their migration. Last week I saw several species of ducks busy foraging. Green-winged teals are really nice to see, and the brilliant teal markings on their wings are so bold against the dormant vegetation and water.
Even now with all of our snow and cold temperatures, red-winged blackbirds are busy singing their mating songs and will start building their nests in the tall reeds. Yellow-headed blackbirds will soon join them. Several hawks, including northern harriers and sharp-shins, are constantly soaring over the area in search of a meal. With so much wildlife in this ecosystem, they are very successful, the evidence more easily seen by the tracks left in the snow. Large families of river otters and beavers live in the preserve. While the beavers keep the riparian vegetation under control, other animals are foraging on the abundant supply of fish in the creek. They can’t be seen right now, but there are frogs and turtles in the wetlands. You might be lucky to catch a glimpse of them in the summer and the fall.
Expanding out from the riparian area is the native critically listed shrub-steppe habitat. Black-tailed jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits rely on these plants and others as the mainstay of their diets. Coyotes prowl the area and keep these rabbit populations in check. When the flowers start blooming, bees and dragonflies will be buzzing while the sagebrush lizards and bull snakes will slither under the shrubs keeping out of sight.
Amon Creek Nature Preserve is a natural, highly diverse, highly productive, critical habitat. So why is it that this area and others like it are continuously being encroached upon by the demand for development? We’re constantly hearing about large parks being under attack – Bears Ears National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – unfortunately, the list is much longer than this. Amon Creek Nature Preserve isn’t as large as the national parks or monuments, but it certainly requires just as much effort and demands the support to protect it. The ACNP has been referred to as a “cool little gem” and deserves to remain as a natural diverse open wild space. It would be a huge detriment to the Tri-Cities to lose such a beautiful area.
If you’ve been to ACNP, you’re aware of the recent housing development that’s happening at the edge of the Willowbrook neighborhood. The first house that went up has already cut down the largest of the locust trees in the small but well-established locust grove which was at his backdoor. Did it block his view? Did he just not like that tree? I’m not sure. What I do know is that a red-tailed hawk had 3 young in that tree last year. Hawks return to the same nest each year. Since hers is no longer there, she’ll have to find another suitable tree and use more time and energy to build a new nest.
ACNP is under pressure again by yet another landowner and developer. This time the proposal is for a 96-unit apartment complex at the north end of the preserve, behind the homes on Piper St and across from Claybell Park. If this development is allowed, not only will there be an enormous amount of traffic (approx 230 parking spaces are planned), the noise, bright lights, and possible trash are just a few things that will drive any remaining wildlife away from the area. Where will they go?
If you’ve not been to ACNP, please visit and see what’s at stake of being lost. Tapteal Greenway hosts a walk there on the second Saturday of every month. If that doesn’t work for you, send me a message and I’ll gladly take you through the Preserve.
If you’re interested in helping protect Amon Creek Nature Preserve, please click on my website link for more information. http://www.DiMcpPhotography.com/conservation