Whatcom Watch Online
June 2001
Volume 10, Issue 6

Cover Story

Fisheries Biologist Sounds Alarm on Health of Lake Whatcom

Introduction by Tom Pratum
Article by by Jim Johnston

Tom Pratum spent his youth in the Bellingham area, before leaving after graduation from Sehome High to eventually obtain a PhD in chemistry at UC-Berkeley. He has recently returned to Whatcom County after spending the past 15 years in the Seattle area.

Part One

This past month I had a chance to talk with Jim Johnston who retired on May 31, 2001 from his position as resident fish biologist for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jim holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fisheries biology from the University of Washington. After college he served in the U.S. Navy, then worked two years with the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission in British Columbia.

During his 30-year career with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and its predecessor, the state Game Department, he held several field and research biologist positions.

He served as director of fisheries research, regional manager of the Olympic Peninsula region in charge of all fish, wildlife, habitat and enforcement programs, and as assistant director of the agency in charge of all state-wide fish, wildlife, habitat, and enforcement programs. Jim also served as president of the International Chapter (British Columbia and Washington) of the American Fisheries Society.

Seventeen Years Spent on Lake Whatcom Fisheries

He chose to leave the “fast track” and get back to field work seventeen years ago when he and his family moved to Bellingham. His duties here have included managing the recreational fishing and resident fish populations in over 1000 lakes, reservoirs and ponds, in addition to over 2000 miles of streams in an area extending from the Canadian border to Everett, and from the crest of the Cascades to the San Juan Islands.

In retirement, Jim and his wife are moving on to another adventure: they are building their year-around retirement home on a lake in central British Columbia.

During the last 10 years Jim has often come to the defense of the Lake Whatcom watershed and its fish and wildlife. Jim was kind enough to provide his thoughts on Lake Whatcom issues yet to be resolved by this community, its leaders, and state, federal, and tribal entities.

Continuing Degradation of Water Quality and Fish Populations

Lake Whatcom is the drinking water source for approximately 66,000 residents in the city of Bellingham, as well as 250 private residents around the shore who draw their water directly from the lake. Many Bellingham citizens are concerned about the continuing degradation in water quality in Lake Whatcom and its resultant impact on human health and on the well-being of the creatures residing in the watershed.

What follows is a response Jim wrote to a local resident inquiring about the effects of mercury pollution on Lake Whatcom’s fish populations. He granted Whatcom Watch permission to allow its publication here.

His response is wide-ranging, and, due to space limitations, we have chosen to publish sections this month pertaining to the evolution of native fish in the lake and the various man-made threats to fish survival.

Next month we will continue with sections regarding mercury in the lake, the impacts of mercury on human health related to consumption of angler-caught fish, and some final thoughts on the future of the lake.

Article by Tim Johnston:

Thank you for your interest in the effects of mercury pollution upon the fish of Lake Whatcom. This response should answer your questions. I have to go back a little in time and then at the end, forward in time, to provide an answer you can act upon.

The Past

Lake Whatcom’s Geologic History and Fish Entry

Lake Whatcom and its drainage was ground- out during the last ice age, which ended approximately 10,000 years ago. After the mile-thick layer of ice melted and filled the carved basin, there was a lake, its tributaries, and an outlet to the sea.

Around that same time, fish invaded these waters from the sea. It was a time when our ancestors still lived in other parts of the world; humans hadn’t yet learned to write.

We believe sea-run cutthroat trout and sockeye salmon were among the pioneering fish species to enter Lake Whatcom via what we call Whatcom Creek. They spawned in the lake’s tributaries. Their young lived in those tributaries and the lake for one to two years, then migrated to the sea. These anadromous species (those that ascend rivers from the sea for breeding) lived in the sea for periods measured in months to up to two years before returning to spawn in their home tributaries.

Salmon Died After Spawning and Trout Did Not

Some died after spawning (salmon) and some did not (trout). We have no idea how numerous these species were. Suffice it to say that by the time the ancient forests grew to cover the landscape, the fish populations were utilizing all habitat that each species required and their numbers were very large by today’s standards.

Not all of the young fish in Lake Whatcom migrated to saltwater as had their parents. Some became lifelong residents of the lake and its tributaries. Lake Whatcom’s kokanee are resident and derived from sockeye. The Lake Whatcom cutthroat are resident and derived from sea-run cutthroat.

Natural Selection Fixed Genetic Code of Cutthroat and Kokanee

In the Lake Whatcom watershed, resident cutthroat and kokanee found ways of living that would increase their chances of survival until spawning was complete. Adaptation to their new world did not occur overnight.

Trial and error, life and death; it took hundreds if not thousands of years of natural selection before their life histories (migration patterns, habitat selection, age at spawning, time of spawning, solutions to competitive interactions, disease immune response systems, what to eat, how to avoid being eaten, etc.) were fixed in their genetic code.

Even then there were variations in their life histories; some spawned at age three while some waited to age four; some lived their whole lives in the tributaries while others lived most of their lives in the lake. All this variability was evolutionary adaptation ensuring that no matter what environmental catastrophe came their way, some would survive to carry on.

I’d like to show you one example of how a species adapted and evolved in Lake Whatcom. The adaptation fish went through to survive in a natural environment left them vulnerable to the works and spoils of man (mercury and other pollutants, Bellingham’s Middle Fork Nooksack water diversion, logging, urbanization and politics).

Sea-Run Cutthroat and Resident Cutthroat

The resident cutthroat trout, unlike kokanee with their small mouth and closely spaced gill rakers (for filter feeding of the lake’s tiny zooplankton), had physiological features (large mouth/wide gill raker spacing) that allowed them to shift diet to larger and larger food items as they aged.

They, being a trout as opposed to being a salmon, had the ability to survive spawning, live to a relatively old age and attain a large size. Longevity allowed them to develop migrations and feeding adaptations while in Lake Whatcom that would place them on an equal or higher level of dominance with respect to the sea-run cutthroat.

Competitive Advantage First Went to Sea-Run Cutthroat

Initially the differences in life histories between sea-going and resident cutthroat gave great competitive advantage to the sea-run form. The larger sea-run cutthroat produced more and larger eggs (related to body size of the female) when it returned to spawn at age four (1200 eggs per female) than a smaller but equal aged resident cutthroat (500 eggs per female).

Numerical and individual size advantage in the spawning tributaries was held by the sea-run cutthroat juveniles. Due to the resident cutthroat’s smaller egg size they tended to be smaller as fry than the sea-run fry.

Small size placed resident fish at a competitive disadvantage and they were driven from the streams into the lake. Most of the sea-run cutthroat left the tributaries and lake for saltwater by age two, while the resident cutthroat remained in the lake until spawning time.

Move to Deeper Waters Give Advantage to Resident Cutthroat

In the lake the resident cutthroat trout diet was first composed of aquatic invertebrates, but over evolutionary time they began feeding on other species taking up residence in Lake Whatcom, such as crayfish. When the fastest growing cutthroat reached 12 to 14 inches they shifted their diet to crayfish.

As they rapidly increased in size they again shifted diet; this time they moved off-shore and went much deeper, up to 100 feet, to feed on all sizes of kokanee or juvenile sockeye.

These adaptations to move to open-water habitat and feed on kokanee/sockeye were the life-history changes that, in the end, gave resident cutthroat dominance over sea-run cutthroat. Feeding on the kokanee/sockeye enabled them to reach 16-20 inches by the time they first reached sexual maturity (age three and four for males and age four for females).

Cutthroat Trout Continued to Grow Larger Over Time

When they returned to their home streams to spawn they were larger than the 3- and 4-year-old sea-run cutthroat (11-14 inches). The fact significant numbers of cutthroat do not die after spawning enabled resident cutthroat to continue to grow larger over time.

This increased their reproductive and size advantage (up to nine pounds at age eight) over the largest of the sea-run cutthroat, which rarely live to reach more than 20 inches and three pounds by age eight. The current state record sea-run cutthroat was caught almost 60 years ago and weighed a little over six pounds. The largest Lake Whatcom resident cutthroat I have seen weighed 12 pounds.

Loss Of Lake Whatcom’s Anadromous Fish

The anadromous component of Lake Whatcom’s fish populations disappeared hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Perhaps one of the Northwest’s famous 300 year-cycle earthquakes was responsible. When I walk down Whatcom Creek the circumstantial evidence of a great earthquake is apparent in the shearing and collapse of some rock formations

In the 1964 earthquake, many of that state’s coastal streams, which had been accessible to fish returning from the sea, experienced land form fractures and drops near their confluence with the sea. As a result, returning fish could not leap the 8–15- foot newly created waterfalls. Those falls look much like the falls in Whatcom Falls Park where the fracture layers and slabs of sandstone are very vulnerable to cleavage during magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquakes.

Resident Kokanee and Cutthroat Fill the Void

In the absence of the sea-going population component, the resident populations of kokanee and cutthroat must have rapidly expanded. I have walked all the tributaries of Lake Whatcom and in doing so couldn’t help trying to visualize the numbers of small kokanee spawning in the fall back then...or the numbers of larger cutthroat spawning each spring.

How many? After trying to picture an undisturbed basin my best estimate would be 100,000+ kokanee spawners and approximately 25,000 resident cutthroat. Does this seem excessive? Not if the numbers found in other lakes and tributaries in Western Washington that have seen less development are any example.

Spawning Research Over Thirty Year Period

Palmer Lake, a small, private lake lying just over the ridge from Lake Whatcom (next to Squires Lake) has a population of Lake Whatcom resident cutthroat which were planted there prior to 1940. They spawn in the main inlet, which has about the same width and flow as Lake Whatcom’s Carpenter Creek.

One spring I spent part of an afternoon beside that stream, walking slowly beside spawning cutthroat. I counted over 900, 8–10 inch fish in a 100-foot section of the stream. The spawning gravel was free of silt and covered over eighty percent of the stream bottom.

I used data collected at Palmer Lake, and hundreds of other stream surveys (size/gravel/spawner usage) I have made in the past 30 years, to estimate a range of spawners that would have historically utilized Lake Whatcom’s tributaries.

The Present

The Lake Whatcom native cutthroat and kokanee are two of the most important stocks of these species left in the state of Washington. They are not hybrid crosses with other races. They are the source stocks for all recreational sport fisheries on coastal, resident cutthroat and kokanee in the state. No other natural lake in the state, lacking access to the sea, has had populations of cutthroat and kokanee as large as Lake Whatcom’s. Lake Whatcom and its native fish have been unique and priceless.

Adaptations Become Liabilities

Although sockeye and sea-run cutthroat are no longer found in Lake Whatcom, the life histories exhibited by the two species’ resident forms continue to reflect past adaptations. Most resident cutthroat in the lake continue to leave the inlets and enter the lake as fry, and they continue to depend on the crayfish and the kokanee to enable them to attain large size.

While the resident cutthroat no longer compete with sea-run cutthroat, they live in a world of heavily silted streams caused by logging and urbanization. The large cutthroat use their size to dig into larger gravel that has not yet been compacted with silt.

Finer gravel that would be used by smaller cutthroat and kokanee adults for spawning are so filled with silt that deposited eggs cannot survive. Compacted silt slows or stops intra-gravel water flow which stops oxygen renewal for the developing eggs. Silt also prevents removal of the eggs’ waste products; these are conditions which can lead to their death.

Large Fish in Shallow Streams: Easy Target for Predators

Fish size can be an advantage on the one hand and a disadvantage on the other. The silt load and floods have widened the stream channels and caused much of the flow to spread out in a thin layer.

When you combine silted gravel with reduced average stream depth we see the larger cutthroat not able to reach their spawning gravel. The larger cutthroat are often picked off by predators (such as blue heron, otter, and raccoons) in the shallow streams that often do not cover a fish’s back.

In the last 16 years I have observed a significant reduction in size of the large cutthroat spawners. Today it is rare to see them larger than two to three pounds. The four to nine pound fish have virtually disappeared where once they comprised approximately 15 percent of the fish I counted. We can conclude that siltation is reducing overall survival but is it the only reason the numbers of large fish are declining? No.

Mercury Contamination Reduces Survival of Fish Eggs

There are plenty of scientific studies that show mercury contamination reduces the survival of fish eggs. It has also been shown to cause fish to become lethargic, making them more vulnerable to predators. Mercury has been shown to reduce their feeding rates which causes fish to be smaller at sexual maturity.

Those impacts of mercury, combined with logging impacts, explain much of what we observe today. Will we now see smaller cutthroat being favored by natural selection? It’s not likely. The small gravel needed by small fish for spawning is so compacted with silt it can be likened to walking on cement. Survival’s exit door is closing.

Can Fish Survive Another Decade in Lake Whatcom?

We are now down to near zero for natural spawning kokanee in Lake Whatcom tributaries. Twenty five years ago over 20,000 kokanee naturally spawned in Lake Whatcom’s tributaries. Today only the Lake Whatcom Hatchery, with its lake-reared, returning broodstock and annual 5,000,000 kokanee fry plant back into the lake keep the native strain of kokanee from becoming extinct in Lake Whatcom.

The lake’s native cutthroat are not fairing much better. Were we not making annual hatchery plants of 50,000 to 100,000 Lake Whatcom-origin cutthroat fry (from a captive broodstock kept isolated from Lake Whatcom), the cutthroat would also become extinct in Lake Whatcom.

Cutthroat Spawning Declines by Fifty Percent Every Five Years

Since 1987 the number of spawning cutthroat in the lake’s tributaries has declined by 50 percent every five years. Many of the streams no longer allow cutthroat to successfully spawn due to siltation. Beaver Creek, a tributary to Austin Creek, once the best spawning stream for cutthroat in the Lake Whatcom drainage, has seen a 90-plus percent decline in spawners.

Without the two hatchery supplementation programs, Lake Whatcom’s native kokanee and cutthroat would become extinct within five to ten years—this is a sad commentary on the way we have mistreated and dismissed the value of two species that have endured so much.

They struggled 10,000 years to evolve. During that time over 2000 of their generations sent their genetic material into the future, and we have destroyed their home and ability to survive in less than one of our human generations.

Sport Fishing Impacts

In the last 14 years Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife changed the fishing regulations several times to steadily increase the protection of Lake Watcom cutthroat; from 1980 catch limits of eight fish with no size restriction, to today’s regulations that do not allow fishing for cutthroat. The regulation changes have made a limited contribution to slowing the decline of the cutthroat.

The catch limit for kokanee is five fish per day with no limit on size. Since the hatchery-origin kokanee population has expanded in the last 13 years (due to changes in hatchery practices), we saw no reason to reduce limits.

Small Mouth Bass Planted into Lake Whatcom in 1983 and 1984

Small mouth bass were planted into Lake Whatcom by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1983 and 1984 and have expanded their range to include the whole lake. The primary diet of these fish includes aquatic insects, crayfish, perch, and peamouth chub. They are known to occasionally take cutthroat and kokanee but those two species are not a significant part of their diet.

The number of cutthroat and kokanee taken by the bass is too small to account for the decline of the cutthroat and obviously has had no impact on kokanee. The smallmouth bass sport fishery in Lake Whatcom has become known throughout Washington and has become the destination choice of large numbers of anglers each year.

It should be noted that largemouth bass, perch, brown bullhead (catfish), and pumpkinseed are not native to Lake Whatcom. The presence of these warmwater fish species are the result of illegal plants made by citizens. For environmental and human health reasons my agency has made the decision to no longer use rotenone, a fish toxicant, to eliminate unwanted species from a lake.

The future of recreational angling in Lake Whatcom must change due to mercury and other contaminants in the fish flesh.

Fish Ladder and the Nooksack Middle Fork Diversion

The City of Bellingham has water rights to Lake Whatcom and also on the middle fork of the Nooksack River where the diversion is located. The diversion water goes underground through an aqueduct into Mirror Lake near the south end of Lake Whatcom, and from there into Lake Whatcom.

This diversion has greatly expanded the watershed to include not only the 200 miles of tributaries that flow into the lake, but also to include Mt. Baker, where the middle fork begins.

Originally, back in the 1950s, the city had a water right in the south fork of the Nooksack River. This water right was subsequently transferred to the middle fork of the Nooksack due to the absence of spawning salmon in the section of river upstream of the current location of the diversion.

Fish-Killing Viruses Possible If Fish Ladder Built

Recently, a fish ladder has been proposed for the diversion dam to allow spawning fish above the diversion in the middle fork. If the ladder is built, two deadly fish killing viruses (IHN and VHS) could be carried to the upper Middle Fork Nooksack, above the diversion dam, by salmon or trout returning from the sea. This will become the larger, long-term issue regarding a ladder.

One environmental organization or another may demand that the fish ladder proponents (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Nooksack Tribe) develop an environmental impact statement required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Those currently pushing forward with plans to build the ladder, with no viable fish disease protection for Lake Whatcom even being considered, are opposed to writing an environmental impact statement.

Environmental impact statements are designed to give administrators all the information they need to make a wise decision and allow the public to be fully informed and participate in the option selection process. There are options that could be employed to stop the pathogens from entering Lake Whatcom, although at this point no one is willing to spend the money needed.

Pathogens Could Ensure Extinction of Kokanee

If the pathogens enter the lake, the Lake Whatcom hatchery will be forced to close (ensuring extinction of the kokanee), as will the Whatcom Falls trout hatchery which supplies the trout for all lowland lake fishing in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, and northern Snohomish Counties. The hatcheries would close because as responsible fish managers we could not transport the fish (even if any survive the highly contagious diseases) out of the Lake Whatcom watershed.

If these viruses are allowed to enter Lake Whatcom, kokanee (which have never been exposed to these viruses) will die by the millions, as will many other species of fish in the lake, such as the native cutthroat. It is worth remembering at this point that mercury can destroy a fish’s immune response system, making them easy victims to newly introduced diseases.

Options: Close the Diversion, Reroute It, or Don’t Build Ladder

My agency, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, recently changed its position of opposing a fish ladder at the diversion. While Fish and Wildlife now shares the tribes’ goal of eventually seeing anadromous salmon and steelhead gain access to the upper reaches of the Nooksack Middle Fork above the diversion, the agency is opposed to allowing these adult fish above the diversion until we can be 100 percent sure that Lake Whatcom is protected from disease transmission.

Since there are no foolproof solutions available to protect the fish if the diversion remains open and a fish ladder is built, there are really only three options: permanently close the diversion, reroute the diversion around Lake Whatcom, or don’t build the ladder. The first two are very expensive options; but what are the native fish of Lake Whatcom worth?

I’ve discussed the logging issues already as far as siltation of spawning beds. A joint citizen and Department of Natural Resources watershed planning group is currently meeting to determine ways to protect stream and lake habitat from problems caused by future logging and road building. I hope they will contribute to the development of stream-side logging restrictions along all sizes of stream, old culvert replacement or removal, and road restrictions or retirement that allow stream and stream-side habitat recovery.

I also hope they will consider methods and funding of instream silt removal. Without immediate corrective actions the future actions will only protect habitat for extinct fish. I consider this joint citizen and Department of Natural Resources process one of the potentially brighter prospects for sound land management that is occurring within the watershed today.

Urbanization of the Watershed

Getting the horse back in the barn will be a heroic chore. Short-sighted planners, elected officials, and the general public had an opportunity long ago to restrict development around Lake Whatcom to protect it as the primary drinking water source for Whatcom County.

Other western Washington cities, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Everett, and so on, as well as Vancouver, B.C., have all acquired and isolated their drinking water sources from such encroachment and pollution. Current efforts to restrict development and attendant run-off into the lake are slowing but not stopping the degradation of our drinking water, or fish-rearing habitat. Are current efforts enough? No.

We have left natural selection processes for cutthroat and kokanee behind in the Lake Whatcom basin. The fish must now try to adapt to “human” created selection processes. Unfortunately, the rapidity of environmental change that humans are bringing to this basin will not allow wild fish the adaptation time they need.

Next Month — Part Two
Mercury in Lake Whatcom: The impacts of mercury on human health related to consumption of fish, and some thoughts on the future of the lake.

Y Road Dump Leaves Questionable Legacy

by Tom Pratum

Tom Pratum spent his youth in the Bellingham area, before leaving after graduation from Sehome High to eventually obtain a PhD in chemistry at UC-Berkeley. He has recently returned to Whatcom County after spending the past 15 years in the Seattle area. He hopes in the future to give something back to the community that provided him with such a wonderful environment to grow up in.

Paint, paint thinner, batteries, household trash; I can personally attest to the fact that wastes of all types, without any limitation I can recall, were accepted at a county dump within our Lake Whatcom watershed. This is the well-known Y Road dump. The portion I remember visiting was located near the current Stewart Mountain Y Road Trail- head parking lot. This site began accepting waste in 1970 or 1971, and ceased operation as a general waste site in 1984. It did however accept demolition debris until 1989.

There was also an earlier dump site located to the west on the other side of the Y Road. The precise time when disposal began at this site, along with the total area covered by waste and the nature of the material here, is largely unknown. It is thought that disposal probably began in the 1940s, and ceased when the later dump site described above began operation (1970-1971).

Streams Near Dump Empty into Agate Bay

Both of these dump sites are located in the Olson and Carpenter Creek drainage basins, and each of these creeks empties directly into Lake Whatcom near Agate Bay. Olson Creek is one of the major tributaries to the Lake, and its watershed encompasses a large area of northwest Stewart Mountain.

There is anecdotal evidence of fish kills in the Agate Bay area dating back to the 1940s. There were four well-recorded fish kills in the 1990s, the largest of which occurred in 1994. Jim Johnston, retired Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, estimates that this kill encompassed a minimum of 10,000 kokanee.

Agate Bay Fish Kills Related to Toxic Dump Material?

Some of these kokanee were examined by a fish pathologist and all were found to have livers that were very abnormal in appearance, but had no additional evidence of disease. Jim Johnston feels that it is likely that these kokanee were feeding on insects, and possibly accompanying toxic material, washed out of Carpenter and Olson Creeks by spring rains when water tables were high.

The feeding behavior of the kokanee, being different from other fish in the lake, would make them more susceptible to this type of toxic event. However, the few analyses that were conducted by the Department of Ecology on these fish for toxic materials were inconclusive.

Two Studies Completed: Effect of Dump Sites on Water Quality

Two studies were completed in 1999 regarding the effect of the dump sites on water quality. In each of these studies data from previous work were used in part to draw conclusions. One study, which was requested by Whatcom County Public Works and conducted by BEK Environmental, indicated that wells in the area appeared unaffected, but that water closer to the surface (in “perched” aquifers) should be checked for leachates.

The other study was conducted by the Washington State Department of Health at the request of local residents. This study reviewed previous data, and offered recommendations regarding what would be required to assure that water quality is unaffected.

Should Domestic Wells Be Monitored More Often?

While this study also recommended (among other things) that water closer to the surface be checked for leachates, Whatcom County has relied on a one-time monitoring of the water quality in domestic wells in the area, which was performed last year. These draw on water in deeper aquifers that may be unaffected by landfill material closer to the surface. There are no current plans for ongoing monitoring of wells in the area.

Despite the fact that questions remain regarding the effect of these dump sites on our water quality, the County Council appears satisfied with the present course of action (or, inaction). Of the four County Council members present at a recent forum sponsored by the Washington Environmental Alliance for Voter Education on May 10 (Connie Hoag, Marlene Dawson, Sam Crawford, and Dan McShane), only Connie Hoag indicated any desire to further check this area.

Cover Story

A Conversation with Political Cartoonist Pat Oliphant

by Merrilyn Bissell

Merrilyn Bissell was a staff and feature writer for the Pasadena, California daily newspaper, The Pasadena Independent. She also managed a bookstore for many years and currently is a volunteer at the Whatcom Museum gift shop.

Eminent editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant visited Bellingham last month under a cloud of controversy. His syndicated April 9 cartoon depicting a Chinese waiter serving Uncle Sam (see cartoon on page 4) had offended the Asian American Journalists Association.

The cartoon inspired two headlined articles in The Bellingham Herald: “Oliphant offends many with China cartoon,” and “Controversial artist draws applause.” Since The Bellingham Herald did not print the offending cartoon, readers had to draw their own conclusions.

Cartoonists Not Worth Their Salt Unless Controversial

Sometimes Oliphant’s political barbs boomerang back. When asked if his “China” cartoon ranked with his 1970’s Kissinger cartoon in offending certain groups, Oliphant chuckled.

In conjunction with a visit by the Pope to the United States, Oliphant drew a petulant Henry Kissinger (see cartoon on page 5) in full papal attire saying, “I don’t know why we had to import a Pope when we have me.” “About five million Catholics called up (The Washington Star) about my Kissinger cartoon,” he said, then added, “Cartoonists are not worth their salt if they are not controversial.”

Cartoons satirizing Kissinger, Nixon (an Oliphant favorite) and presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush (specifically added for this exhibit) are on display at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art until July 8. Museum director Tom Livesay, a friend of Pat Oliphant and Oliphant’s wife, Susan Conway, arranged the exhibit which contains 114 items, including Oliphant’s bronze sculptures of presidents, lithographs and mixed media objects.

Among the displays is the cartoon of the “Clinton Legacy Liberry” [sic] which appeared in the February 200l issue of the Atlantic Monthly, along with contributions from thirteen writers on “Bill Clinton and His Consequences.”

An elongated bronze sculpture of George Bush (Father Bush” Oliphant calls him) pitching horseshoes and wearing glasses shows the influence of Ronald Searle, a British cartoonist admired by Oliphant, and the sculptor Giacometti.

Father Bush Drawn With Glasses, Carrying a Purse

When George Bush (1989-1993) first ran for president, Oliphant noticed “he removed his glasses for speeches and public appearances because he thought they made him look like a wimp. So on behalf of all the rest of us who wear glasses, I gave him glasses in every cartoon, and added a purse for him to carry (see example on facing page) just for good measure.”

Peter Ustinov said, “Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our minds, our one duty is to furnish it well.” A lively assortment of characters decorate Oliphant’s mind: hobgoblins, popinjays, buffoons, scamps and toadies. They make their appearances as caricatures in this exhibit.

Gore and Bradley Transformed into Wily Tap-Dancing Scarecrows

One appreciates the genius, humor and artistry of Oliphant’s creations when trying to write about them. Wendy Wick Reaves, curator of Prints and Drawings for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, used 65 pages of the catalogue “Oliphant’s Presidents” to illustrate and comment upon Oliphant’s works. Stanford Professor of Art History,Wanda Corn, in a witty, perceptive analysis of Oliphant’s art for the catalogue “Oliphant in Santa Fe,” admired the “descriptive energy” and “sure movement of hand” displayed in Oliphant’s caricatures. In a cartoon of Al Gore and Bill Bradley, she observed, “You make drawing look easy— squiggle, squiggle, swirl, swirl, scratch, scratch— and stiff Gore and intellectual Bradley are transformed into wily tap-dancing scarecrows doing a bit of vaudeville.”

Oliphant demonstrated his artistry for an appreciative audience at the Mt. Baker Theatre during his visit to Bellingham. He stood at a lectern in the darkened theatre. The only visible light was on the spiral drawing pad in front of him—images from the drawing pad were projected onto a large screen for the audience.

Oliphant Commentary Kept Audience in Palm of His Hand

His left hand, holding a piece of charcoal, moved swiftly, surely across the pad. A few bold, deft lines and the image of Lyndon Johnson emerged, grotesquely humorous, instantly recognizable. On other pages Hillary Clinton appeared with cat whiskers, Kissinger as a fish. Throughout, Oliphant kept up a waggish, running commentary that had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Later, he spoke of his pleasure in being in Bellingham again. (In 1975 he gave a lecture at WWU. It rained the whole time he was here.) This time there was a sun break, but what Oliphant said he enjoyed most was the warm response he received from the people who came to view the exhibit and see him onstage. He said he could not remember a “more enthusiastic, heartfelt reception from all age groups than I received here.”

Oliphant’s caricatures, cartoons and political observations have been met with a shower of awards. He has received a Pulitzer Prize, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, the Premio Satira Politica of Italy, and the Thomas Nast Prize. More words may have been written about him than lines have been drawn by him.

Career Began in Native Australia in 1950s

A faint touch of his native Australian accent still lingers when he describes his homeland as “Nebraska with beaches.” His career as a cartoonist began in the 1950s on the Adelaide Advertiser. After a while there, he began to feel stifled by dictatorial editors who told him what to draw. Oliphant slyly got revenge.

He created a tiny feathered proxy to put his opinion into his cartoons. Thus, Punk the Penguin. The original Punk was a live penguin that a fellow reporter brought to the office in a bag. (They smell bad, like old fish,” Oliphant remembers. The real penguin went to the zoo and Punk became Oliphant’s inspired “spokespenguin.”

Punk the Penguin Whispers in Oliphant’s Ear

Does Punk rock with a young generation? “He’s cool” is the opinion of youthful visitors to the exhibition. According to Tom Livesay, “Punk sits on Oliphant’s shoulder and whispers in his ear, ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously.’”

After doing countless cartoons about Australia’s weather for the Advertiser, a frustrated Oliphant applied for and was given a job with The Denver Post in 1964. For a political cartoonist, finally given freedom to express his opinions, Oliphant felt like he’d arrived in nirvana. “The Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, riots, burning cities, offered everything a cartoonist could wish for,” he wryly recalls.

After Winning Pulitzer, Oliphant Satirized It

Oliphant quickly rose to the top in his profession. His cartoons were distributed nationally and internationally to hundreds of newspapers. He established a new style of cartooning and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. (He claimed the prize was “political” and never made another submission to the selection committee. A later Oliphant cartoon satirized the Pulitzer Prize.)

In 1981 Dartmouth College awarded Oliphant an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his “incomparable contribution to keeping politics in perspective.” (Oliphant says he received a lot of dunning letters for that one.)

After eleven years at The Denver Post, he joined the Washington Star and moved to the epicenter of politics, Washington, D.C. When the Star folded in 1981, Oliphant became an independent cartoonist.

After Tour, Exhibition To Be Viewed at National Portrait Gallery

Reviews, accolades, and exhibitions continue to follow in his wake. After this exhibition finishes touring, it will be at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The Library of Congress recently acquired sixty cartoon drawings, sketchbooks, and illustrations of his works which are on exhibit.

In a forward to Oliphant’s Anthem, the catalogue for the Library of Congress exhibition, Senator Bob Dole said, “To the newspaper reader, the editorial cartoon is second only to the headlines. And even then, it is the cartoon that is clipped and put on display. You don’t see too many headlines framed as a wall hanging.”

His Caricatures Are Merciless, His Views Lack Charity

In a New Yorker profile on Oliphant, James Stevenson wrote, “His caricatures are merciless, his views lack charity, but his work is probably more visible, and more widely copied, admired and deplored, than that of any other political cartoonist in America.”

“I like to be thought of as an artist who draws cartoons,” Oliphant says. Often he is compared to the great French artist-caricaturist, Honore Daumier. Last year, The Washington Post invited Oliphant to write an essay on Daumier after Oliphant visited the Daumier exhibit at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Oliphant’s essay appeared in the form of a letter to Daumier, in which Oliphant expressed his “awe and respect.” “I have been on an intravenous drip-feed of your work for a good part of my life,” Oliphant wrote.

What Charles Baudelaire said about Daumier in his l9th century essay on caricature could apply to Oliphant’s art today. Baudelaire saw in Daumier “the connection between sure knowledge— caricature’s biting essence of truth—and fugitive expression—its breathtaking shorthand.”

Child Hurled Bowl of Spaghetti at Oliphant Cartoon

Rick Epting, a former colleague of Oliphant’s on The Denver Post, teaches journalism at Skagit Valley College. He tells a funny anecdote relating to Oliphant during their time at the Post. Oliphant drew a cartoon about the Free Speech Movement which featured hippies bearing placards. One of the hippies was a caricature of Epting—a dubious distinction, Epting thought at the time. Not being a prognosticator, Epting took the cartoon home and taped it on the refrigerator. His two-year-old daughter, sitting in her highchair across from the refrigerator, picked up her bowl of spaghetti and hurled it with precision. Splat! End of cartoon.

After viewing Oliphant’s exhibit at the Whatcom Museum, your mind begins thinking in cartoons. You imagine eight presidents, sitting in eight highchairs, wearing baby bibs, hurling eight bowls of spaghetti at Oliphant’s caricatures of them taped to a refrigerator.

When asked to describe a caricature of himself, Oliphant politely declines. Does this towering iconoclast stand out in a crowd? Oliphant looks like your everyday, friendly accountant: affable, approachable, ready with his astute (and humorous) analysis. In a group of fellows his age, however, he stands out. He’s the one with a full head of hair.

Union Continues to Press Wage Issue

by Daniel L. Warner

At the May 1 open session, representatives from the carpenters’ union continued to press the commission on the “best bidder” program that was presented at the April 17 meeting (Whatcom Watch, May 2001, page 14). The program would, if adopted, tend to force port tenants to pay the “prevailing wage” when they have construction or remodel work undertaken. John Servais, a local port watcher, said he was “dismayed at the April 17 negativity” and hoped the commission would respond whether it will accept or reject this idea. Larry Whitman, from Ferndale, said he had 20 years in the construction trade, and that $8-10 an hour was not a living wage. At $25 an hour a worker may earn $50,000 a year, but there are no paid vacations, if any time off at all. Now he is driving to Everett to find work at a living wage. It is an “ugly loophole” to let port tenants pay $10 an hour for carpentry work.

Commissioner Douglas Smith said it was not the government’s responsibility to provide jobs, but rather to provide an infrastructure for business. The port is a steward of public land, facilities, and moneys, and success needs to be measured objectively, not subjectively. Commissioner Scott Walker wondered about whether other measures of success than the bottom-line profit might be measureable.

Commissioner Smith said the commissioners would mull the “best bidder” idea over and make a decision following consultation with staff—within the next few weeks.

Consultant Recommends Fix for Squalicum Lighting Problems

by Daniel L. Warner

In the May 22 work session that followed the brief meeting, the commission received the report from Candela, the lighting consultant hired to examine the port’s lighting (Whatcom Watch, March 2001, page 15 and April 2001, page 6). Peter and Jan Willing, among others, have for years complained to the port about the glare and inappropriate lighting at the port properties that obscure the sunset and night sky for port neighbors. The consultants report indicated that indeed there were many inappropriate light fixtures, systems, and placements. The consultants made specific recommendations about changes. The Willings attended, and were allowed to participate a bit in the proceedings. The commissioners again thanked the Willings for sensitizing them to the lighting issue, and the commission approved in concept changes in the lighting. Staff will make a report to the commission on prioritizing and costs for making changes.

The port also heard from consultants hired to examine and make recommendations for upgrading the Bellingham International Airport terminal. At present the terminal is too small and it is not well laid out for expansion. The consultants are just getting started on this project; the commissioners generally agreed that the consultants were on the right track. Staff and the consultants will work on a plan to be submitted for approval in the future.

Also on the agenda was discussion about the work on the “airport runway safety area.” This is an upgrade (mostly federally funded) to provide space at the runway ends for “runaway planes” and to enhance runway safety at the airport. Additionally the commission discussed goals and strategies for clear and consistent port signage.

Bellingham and Whatcom County Initiatives and Referendums

by Peter Tassoni

Peter Tassoni recently moved back to western Washington after a ten-year hiatus in Utah. Peter has been active in preservation issues since graduating from the University of Washington in 1988.
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on initiatives and referendums in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Simply, an initiative is an ordinance created by the citizens, ratified by the citizenry through a petition process, and placed on the general election ballot for an electorate vote. A referendum is a petition created by citizens to repeal a recent ordinance and placed on the general election ballot for an electorate vote.

Origins of Initiative and Referendum Process

The initiative and referendum process was created in the early 1900s during a period of robber barons and labor unrest. It allowed the people to create laws that politicians wouldn’t make or repeal laws that the politicians had made. Direct legislation was designed to allow “the people” to create laws directly. It was a reaction to a corrupt political system. The direct legislation process for the City of Bellingham and for Whatcom County is explained below.

History of Direct Legislation in City of Bellingham

For the City of Bellingham, which is classified as a first class code city under Washington State law, initiatives require signatures from registered voters equal to 20 percent of the last mayoral election and need to be filed at least 95 days before the general election. Citizen referendums require eight percent signatures and need to be filed at least 75 days before the general election.

The city finance director verifies the signatures and determines if the petitions are sufficient. Sufficient petitions are forwarded to the City Council within 20 days of filing.

The City Council can adopt the initiative outright and pre-empt a citizenry vote, or ignore it and let the voters decide the issue. The council can also choose to put an ordinance on the ballot for an advisory vote before taking action on it itself. Advisory ballot issues are not binding. Bellingham City code Article 10 “Direct Legislation” defines direct legislation for the Bellingham City electorate.

Examples of Initiatives and Referendum in Bellingham

The City of Bellingham had four initiatives and one referendum between 1982-1999. The 1986 anti-pornography initiative passed but was ruled unconstitutional. The 1986 peaceful solutions in Central America and the 1999 watershed initiatives (Proposition One) failed. The 1982 parking garage bonds initiative passed. The 1982 referendum prohibiting the implementation of a half of one-cent sales tax failed.

History of Direct Legislation in Whatcom County

The Whatcom County auditor records all the petitions filed for direct legislation from the electorate. The records are public but have not been updated to include most of the nineties. County initiatives and referendums require signatures from registered voters equal to 15 percent of the last general election turnout to be sufficient and the petition must be filed at least 255 days before the election date or in March.

The county council can adopt the initiative outright and pre-empt a citizenry vote, or ignore it and let the voters decide. The council can also choose to put an issue on the ballot for an advisory vote before taking action itself. Advisory ballot issues are not binding. The Whatcom County Home Rule Charter Article 5 “The Public Interest” describes the direct legislation process related to Whatcom County.

Examples of Initiatives and Referendums in Whatcom County

Between 1982-1999, thirteen initiatives were introduced. Five did not get the required amount of signatures and didn’t reach the ballot. There were two advisory measures: Conservation Futures Levy Question (Proposition 1) in 1996 and Criminal Justice Tax (Proposition 2) in 1997. The council did adopt the successful Conservation Futures Levy Question as an ordinance in 1997. The justice tax died with its failure at the ballot box.

Repeal of the Home Rule Charter in 1986 failed. Initiatives on a nuclear free zone in 1984 and high voltage power lines limit (Initiative 4-90) in 1990 both passed, were unchallenged in court, and are on the books today as law.

There have been four referendums but only two made it to the ballot. The Critical Areas Ordinance (Referendum 92-3) in 1992 passed but the excise privilege tax in 1990 failed. Thus, critical areas continues to be an important planning and development tool used today and the county still collects monies on the excise privilege tax.

The reject T.R.C., accept Olivine (Initiative 1-83) passed but was held invalid by the county prosecuting attorney because the issue was determined to be an administrative matter and not eligible for electorate legislation.

The county council adopted the ban medical waste burning (Initiative 2-89). It became law without needing an electorate vote. But it was later ruled unconstitutional in court for violating interstate commerce conditions.

Infectious waste limits (Initiative 1-99) passed with a two-thirds approval. However, the County Council amended it and adopted it in January 2000. It was challenged by Recomp on procedural and constitutionality grounds. Judge Zilly ruled on the procedural arguments in the fall of 2000. The State Environmental Policy Act and SWAC reviews were completed by December 2000.

Recomp mounted a public relations campaign that resulted in the April 17 county council reaffirming the ordinance. The infectious waste limits now goes back into court for a ruling by Judge Zilly on its constitutionality regarding interstate commerce conditions.

Problems with Direct Legislation

Many of the successful initiatives throughout the United States are being ruled unconstitutional. Here in the state of Washington, Initiative 695 is a good example. The initiative passed but parts of it were later held to be illegal. The argument from the political machine is that informed elected officials make better laws through compromise and debate than the general public does. But better is a relative term.

Locally, the 2000 Georgia-Pacific water rate and the 1983 reject T.R.C., accept Olivine were ruled invalid after sufficiency was achieved. But the 1989 ban medical waste burning and the 1985 abortion free zone were ruled unconstitutional after ballot victory. The latter violated federal laws.

Next Month — Part Three
Limitations on the Initiative and Referendum Process

Bellingham and Whatcom County Ballot Measures

City of Bellingham

Title Qualified for Ballot Voting Outcome
1999 Watershed Property Acquisition Yes Failed, received 49.3%
1993 Prohibit Building Municipal Arts Center Yes Passed with 67.9%
1988 Anti-pornography Yes Passed with 61.8%
1986 Peaceful Solutions In Central America Yes Failed, received 43.7%
1982 Prohibit Parking Garage Construction Bond Yes Passed with 52.4%
1980 Municipal Electric Utility Feasibility Study Yes Failed, received 40.5%
2001 Repeal Monthly Storm-water Fee Yes Not on ballot*
2000 Repeal Georgia-Pacific Water Rates Yes Not on ballot
1998 Repeal Hoag’s Pond Land Swap Yes Not on ballot
1983 Repeal Prohibition onxv Parking Garage Bonds ** Passed with 50.4%
1982 Repeal Of 1/2 Of One-cent Sales Tax Yes Failed, received 49.4%

Whatcom County

Title Qualified for Ballot Voting Outcome
99-1 Limit Infectious Waste Yes Passed with 65.5%
97-1 Lowest Prosecution for Medicinal Cannabis No Not on ballot
95-2 Eliminate Garbage Flow Control No Not on ballot
94-1 Prevent Release of Toxic Chemicals No Not on ballot
90-4 Limit High Voltage Transmission Lines Yes Passed with 64.3%
89-2 Ban Medical Waste Burning Yes Adopted by council
88-1 Locate Detention Center Downtown No Not on ballot
86-1 Repeal Home Rule Charter Yes Failed, received 40.5%
85-1 Abortion Free Zone No Not on ballot
84-1 Nuclear Free Zone Yes Passed with 64.6%
83-1 Reject T.R.C., Accept Olivine Corp Yes Passed with 52.6%
92-3 Repeal Critical Areas Ordinance Yes Passed with 53.5%
92-1 Repeal Natural Heritage Ordinance No Not on ballot
90-3 Repeal Garbage Collection/Solid Waste Programs No Not on ballot
90-1 Repeal Solid Waste Excise Tax Yes Failed, received 47.9%
82-3 Repeal Sales and Use Taxes No Not on ballot
82-2 Repeal Shoreline Management Program No Not on ballot
81-1 Repeal Tax On Bingo, Raffle, Pull-Tabs, etc. No Not on ballot
87-2 Competitive Solid Waste Disposal Council Rejected
87-1 Prohibit Off Road Vehicle Parks Council Rejected
86-3 Prohibit Off Road Vehicles On Public Lands Council No signatures submitted
85-1 Abortion Free Zone Council Unconstitutional
83-2 Reduce Council/Eliminate Executive Council No signatures submitted
83-1 Impose Additional Sales and Use Taxes Council Rejected

*The Bellingham city attorney is asking a Superior Court judge to decide if the ordinance can be challenged by referendum before placing it on the November ballot.

**Placed on ballot by Bellingham City Council.

***Mini-initiatives require the signatures of three (3) percent of votes cast in the county in the last gubernatorial election, compared with fifteen (15) percent for initiatives to the people. Upon verifying the signatures, the County Council holds a public hearing and enacts or rejects it.

Creative Plantings

Native Notions for the Shade Garden

by Veronica Wisniewski

Veronica Wisniewski is the proprietor of Wildside Growers, a native plant nursery and landscaping service.

Ideas for planting in a shady spot ranks as one of the most frequent requests I receive. Looking for masses of bright blooms to brighten a dim spot in the yard, my customers are usually disappointed with the offerings. Approaching a shady spot with an open mind and eye and gardening in the shadow provides fertile ground for creativity.

With the infinite palette of colorful blooms available, it is easy to think of gardening largely in terms of shade and hue. Plants are so much more than their blossom color, however. Glossy smooth or spiky bold, leaves offer visual interest through shape and texture.

Stiff and straight or supple and curved, stems provide structure and dimension. Viewed from different angles, it is helpful to think of the shade garden as a rock to be sculpted rather than a canvas to be colored.

Shade Plants Are Not Massive Bloomers

Because sunlight is at a premium in the understory, photosynthetic area is maximized; simply said, in the shade, leaves rule. As a result, shade plants typically are not the massive bloomers that sun- seeking plants frequently are. Thinking of flowers as jewels in a verdant setting, foliage becomes the filigree that enhances the gem.

An example of this is the mix of wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), false Solomon’s seal (Smilacena or Maianthemum stellata), and vanilla leaf (Achlys- triphylla that has integrated itself in my dry shade garden. The deep green heart-shaped ginger leaves offset the lacy blue-green diaphanous bleeding heart leaves in a contrast of shape and color.

Vanilla leaf and Solomon’s seal poking up here above the leafy tapestry add the element of dimension. The pink bleeding heart and white star-shaped Solomon’s seal flowers provide a dash of color across the rich texture of the foliage that emphasizes the interesting flower shapes.

Foliage Invites Appreciation of Intricate Textures and Forms

Viewed beyond the swaths of color, the shade garden invites appreciation of individual flower design and contrasts of shading and form. Add a few ferns, the occasional Sitka columbine (Aquilegia formosa) or trillium, and such shade-loving members of the saxifrage family as mitreworts (Mitella spp.) or heucheras and an attractive easy to care for shade bed can be the result.

Other native ground covers suitable for well- drained loamy to moist soils include: foam flower, (Tiarella trifoliata), woods strawberry (Fragaria vesca), wild lily of the valley (Maianthemum dilatata), partridge foot (Leutkea pectinata), woods sorrel (Oxalis oregana) or inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra). A well-chosen patchwork of groundcovers can provide an ever varied backdrop for individual focal plants.

Dappled-Light Habitat

Providing seasonal focal points where light is dappled, the Pacific Coast irises are eye-catching highlights. Iris tenax with its white netted petals ranging from lavender to royal purple atop a fountain of grass-like foliage or the yellow Iris inominata veined in deep maroon herald the arrival of summer with showy extravagance. Short- seasoned bloomers, iris are meant to be savored in season, as are asparagus or chestnuts.

Tall Penstemon ovatus with its crown of blue flowers and pink wild hollyhock (Illiamna rivularis) draw the eye from the ground to admire their shapely blooms. Paired with goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) flower and leaf are pleasing. For a dramatic display in the shade garden, the occasional flowering of bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) is a pleasant addition. Other distinctive woodland denizens include Jeffrey’s shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyii) and white fawn lily (Erythronium oreganum).

Native Shade-Tolerant Shrubs Attract Song Birds

Finally, the inclusion of some of the Northwest’s fine shade tolerant shrubs can pay back not only with blossoms, but by attracting native songbirds. Red-flowering currant and mock orange on well drained soils delight hummingbirds and butterflies. Red elderberry and red osier dogwood supply berries enjoyed by grosbeaks, orioles, towhees and all types of songbirds.

Stellar’s jays favor beaked hawthorn and the dried seed heads of ocean spray are festooned with head-over-heels siskins in the midst of winter. Propagators compete with birds for the seed of Indian plum (Oemlaria cerasiformis), the harbinger of spring with its graceful white bells. Inclusion of one or two of these shrubs in the native shade garden is sure to provide interest beyond color.

Please Do Not Collect Plants from Wild Areas

The usual admonition applies: refrain from collecting plants from the wild. The depletion of plant populations by overzealous collecting cost Sehome Hill, for example, its chocolate lily population (Fritillaria lanceolata) and is made further deplorable by the high rate of mortality such collections incur. Encourage responsible propagators to supply desirable plants by patronizing them.

By widening the scope of interest, the shade garden can be a creative delight rather than a challenging chore.

Local History

Lake Padden: From Lummi Nation Retreat to City Park

by Aaron Joy

Aaron M. Joy, having just graduated from WWU with a sociology degree, is employed as the part-time librarian for The Bellingham Herald and spends his time painting and drawing. He recently received a Mayor’s Arts Award Letter of Commendation for his work writing and co-producing the recent production “Bellingham Is…A Celebration!”
This is the eleventh in a series examining Bellingham’s parks. It is based on the book “A History of Bellingham’s Park,” available at the Whatcom Museum store and Henderson’s Books.

Lake Padden Park and Municipal Golf Course
Created: 1971 (golf course); 1972 (park)
Location: 4882 Samish Way
Area: 1,006 acres

Parks and golf courses are not usually found together, but Lake Padden Park and Golf Course is a special asset to Bellingham’s park system. Not only does it provide public access to south Bellingham’s scenic and secluded 150-acre Lake Padden but also access to a state-of-the-art public golf course.

The scenic and isolated features have been a highlight of the lake for many generations. The area was considered sacred by the Lummi Indians and was often utilized as a retreat for those who needed a holy place for meditation.

Early White Settlers Developed Lake Padden Area

Two early white settlers are equated with the area – Michael Padden and Will D. Jenkins. But, their development proposals and entrepreneurship were able to destroy the natural serenity of the lake and the surrounding area.

Michael Padden (?-1880), the namesake of the lake, homesteaded the Happy Valley in 1870 (claim filed November 1873). In 1879 his son, John, was the first male child born in Fairhaven. John later recalled that when his father died there were six heirs to the Padden homestead: “We donated the land for the Round House and Railroad, and gave the right for water from Lake Padden.”

Will D. Jenkins arrived later and was immediately much more active in developing the area’s full potential. The Bellingham Bay Reveille of April 19, 1889, features an advertisement for his newly platted Highland Glen on Lake Padden’s southern shore: “The proprietor has very wisely set apart and dedicated portions of the plat for hotels, churches, public school buildings, boat houses, and public parks.”

Bellingham Purchased Lake and Surrounding Land

The lake and the surrounding area (the future site of the park) was purchased by the city in 1925 from the Fairhaven Water and Power Company for $165,900. The lake had been used as the water supply for south Bellingham since 1900, with the purchase simply assisting in the administration of this function.

In 1968 the south Bellingham water supply was switched from Lake Padden to Lake Whatcom. Three years earlier a proposition had been made to transform Lake Padden into a park.

On November 19, 1968 a million dollar bond for the development of Bellingham’s park system was passed with about 60 percent approval, part of which went to the creation of Lake Padden Park and Municipal Golf Course. This was the biggest source of funding for the parks department since the New Deal W.P.A. funding.

Gently Rolling Terrain Suited for Golf Course

A park board committee was formed to survey the proposed 22-acre site. The committe toured the site and found that it was “more than adequate” and “well suited” for an 18 hole golf course, driving range, club house, putting green, parking lot and maintenance area. The gently rolling terrain “would simplify construction as well as maintenance of the course and would facilitate the design of an attractive course…There are ample trees present for aesthetic purposes as well as to accommodate practical design considerations in separating fairways…In conclusion, we feel the south side of Bellingham is the best location for a course.”

In 1970 the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation contributed around $400,000 to the project, about 75 percent of the park’s construction costs. As Phil Schwind told The Bellingham Herald a few years later: “Lots of people were involved. People think parks are just built overnight, but you don’t build Lake Padden overnight. There was nothing there when we began but natural forests.”

First Manager Is Liaison

Between 1969 and 1972 Phil Schwind was the first manager/superintendent of the golf course, which at that time made him the liaison between the city and the architects and construction companies while the course was being built. In 1972 he was promoted to parks department director until his retirement from the position in 1977, the year before the parks department was consolidated with the recreation department.

On July 29, 1971 about 175 acres were opened and dedicated as Lake Padden Golf Course, Bellingham’s only municipal golf course. The park would be completed the following year. The course contained only nine holes, doubling in size by March.

Challenging Golf Course

Since its opening day, the course has been reputed to be one of the toughest and best golf courses in Washington. Chuck Chevalier was the first official customer of the course. Though it remained city property, the supervision of the course was placed under a non-city private agency in 1981. There currently exists a proposal to renovate and enlarge the 19th hole clubhouse, to be funded through golf course green fees.

Golf Course Idea Began in 1919

The idea of a municipal golf course in Bellingham can be found as early as 1919 when Dr. W.W. Ballaine appeared before the park board on the matter of establishing such a course. The idea was revived in 1933 by H. W. Flansburgh, C. F. Larrabee and Jack Templin, who had found a 50-acre tract lying at the south-eastern border of Fairhaven Park which would be suitable for a 9 hole course. Though the tract was professionally examined and critiqued and a 10-year rental agreement proposed by the owners, the Pacific Realty Company (owned by C. X. Larrabee and Cyrus Gates), no action was taken.

Two years later interim park superintendent William Sturgeon proposed a purchase of the 130 acre Lakeway Golf Course on James Street. The Lakeway Golf Course was a prosperous business from 1929 to 1966 and was for a long time the only public golf course in Bellingham. In 1978 the Fred Meyer Shopping Center was built on the site.

Lake Padden Park Dedicated

On August 22, 1972, which was designated Lake Padden day, the 220 acres surrounding Lake Padden and adjacent to the golf course were finally dedicated as Lake Padden Park. The Bellingham Transit System even offered a special half-fare round trip rate on its regular Lake Padden run, with an extra bus on standby. Stationed in each bus was a parks department employee “to explain the park’s features to the passengers.”

The ceremony featured talks by Schwind, Mayor Reg Williams, park board chairman William Lewis, City Councilwoman Mary Knibbs, who replaced a ribbon cutting with the presentation of a handmade key to the Charles Cross family. Recognized at the dedication was former park superintendent Herb Olson (1936-1972), who was active in the early days of the park’s creation, and a moment of silence was held for longtime park board member Kenneth Ireland (15 years service).

Next Month — Part Twelve: Maritime Heritage


From an Elder’s Perspective: Clarification of Lummi History

by Pauline Hillaire

Lummi Nation elder, Pauline Hillaire is the cultural resource specialist for Lummi High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Evergreen State College and a teaching certificate in vocational education. Pauline’s hobbies include research of genealogy and Indian history. Her research project began in 1961.

This letter ends my participation in this tête-à-tête between Marlene Dawson and myself. I told Whatcom Watch I wouldn’t answer Ms. Dawson; but, here I am. The reason I am answering her article “Lummi Ownership of Reservation Tidelands Is Disputed” (Whatcom Watch, April 2001, page 3) is because, whether she knows it or not, she’s teaching my history in an unfair and unaccountable manner (through various media).

In paragraph two she has claimed “… no desire to undermine the Lummi Tribe’s sovereignty.” Well, I thought that’s all she had to do in her life judging from the number of articles she’s put in The Bellingham Herald, over KGMI, now the Whatcom Watch. By the way, I didn’t say “sovereignty,” I said, “treaty.”

Addressing Diminishment of Lummi Nation

Her “desire to undermine” shows in the The Bellingham Herald article of January 6, 2001; she said, “One aspect of addressing diminishment (of Lummi) is to develop a case that reservation boundaries have been disestablished.” Of this double-standard, one statement nullifies the other; but, which one?

In paragraph three she says, “I don’t believe I have publicly made any statement as it relates to this (tideland lease) negotiation.” The January 6 Herald reports, “She (Ms. Dawson) fought against renewing leases for tribal tidelands. She questioned the permanence of Indian treaties.” This is among several other statements regarding diminishment, etc. So, there’s proof here, too, of her public statements in this regard.

Treaty of 1855 Gives Lummis Legal Right to Their Lands

Paragraph four: Ms. Dawson has claimed the absence of title to Lummi tidelands. The Treaty of 1855 gives us legal right to our lands; so would a title. The only difference is a U.S. treaty is the supreme law of the land.

Paragraph six: The Code of Federal Regulations 25 (CFR 162.5) designates the “secretary of the interior as having approval power for tribal leasing … to protect the interests of the beneficiaries … to preserve the environment and culture (of tribes) … against unscrupulous non-Indians.”

Also in reviewing this law, we find that environmental impact statements are required now and that some tribes have been allowed to administer short-term leases on-their-own. “Null and void” is a given for unapproved leases. Contracts are a different matter.

How Dare We Respond?

Paragraph seven: This concerns her “Public Interest” section vs. my question, “What value is this battle to Whatcom County (Council)?” Since then, the county council has joined her. I specified this “battle” as being Ms. Dawson’s numerous letters, articles, and KGMI broadcasts which focused on Lummi’s concerns regarding an on-going lease on tidelands and public responses to them.

Her articles carried threats of reservation diminishment, tribal jurisdiction claims, questions on the longevity of the treaties, doubts on tideland title, and rejection on renewal of tideland lease agreement. How dare we respond?

Since some members of the county council have joined her, she’s added Bellingham’s contract for water delivery, ferry location payment, Portage Island comments, and Clean Sound vessels. Who knows where she’ll stop in her Whatcom County Council capacity or otherwise.

No Such Thing As Surplus Tidelands for Aboriginal People

Paragraph 10: Her “Indian Reorganization Act” section says, “ … tidelands were the only surplus lands left.” Bluntly, there’s no such thing as surplus tidelands for aboriginal people. Tidelands are a valuable resource for food, canoe travel, and temporary camp housing. Lummi voted against this Indian Reorganization Act but were required by U.S. to abide by it then, and still do.

Paragraph 11: Mentioning the submerged land issue reminds me that there are submerged lands on Sandy Point. She states, “As it related to the tribes (tribes are required to) … prove congressional intent for ownership ….” Here’s a left field answer to her left field comment: “only if it goes to court.”

This is like the public domain issue where tribes, if they want a particular parcel of public domain, they must prove aboriginal title or use. Otherwise, only Congress can prove its own intent. Again, our title is embodied in the Treaty of 1855 and acts of Congress.

Lummis No Longer Have All the Salmon; They Now Have Half

Paragraph 16: The “in common” definition has come to mean we, as aboriginal people, no longer have l00 percent of the salmon; we now have 50 percent of the salmon. Land wasn’t mentioned. “In common” also implies that Indians and non-Indians are on friendly terms over the salmon resources; they are not.

And it is completely appropriate that our tribal government claim the economic income from leasing, including the protection powers of the Secretary of the Interior … if it’s not already there.

Paragraph 18: The tidelands “… are not a part of the surveyed reservation.” The survey probably didn’t include the face of the high bluffs either. But every inch within the exterior boundaries of Lummi prescribed by treaty are included. Tidelands, too, are included from lowest tide to highest tide.

Paragraph 19: It’s too late to say she “… wouldn’t consider it wise … to enter into a tideland lease …” because it’s already been done; it just hasn’t been paid since 1988.

Parade of Nightmares

Paragraph 20: Lastly, the “parade of nightmares” to which I referred is already spelled out from our past as smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, venereal disease without providing treatment, unfair practices toward Indians by traders, settlers, churches, Indian schools and their lack of accountability, etc. Present-day nightmares continue with the parade of prejudice, racism, bigotry, and undermining of U.S. treaties.

Should Ms. Dawson continue to feel she’s offended me on any or all issues here? She’s offended all of us who stand up for our rights, be they aboriginal or negotiated by treaty. And from what I hear, she’s offended some of her own people.

Wildlife Refuge

Ocean Litter: Is Midway Island the World’s Refuse Dump?

by Matt Parker

Matt Parker is a senior majoring in economics and environmental studies at Western Washington University and who will graduate this month. He spent fall quarter as a volunteer for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

From “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

“And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!”

“You see goonie?!” Silva said.

I thought I must have been mishearing what my Sri Lankan friend was trying to say over the low hum the engine of his army-green work truck was emitting

“You see goonie?!” Silva said again from behind the wheel in his sun protected vehicle.

Silva, a fellow worker for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was asking me if I had seen the landing of the first black-footed albatross, or “goonie” as they are lovingly called, at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge for this year. I hadn’t been expecting this celebratory event so early in my three-month volunteer stay.

Nevertheless, the proud silhouettes of graceful black-footed, Laysan and short-tailed albatross began piercing the bright horizon as the birds returned home in copious numbers after spending the summer months hundreds of miles away exclusively above water.1

Home to Endangered Seals, Threatened Turtles, and Albatross

The U.S. military’s historical uses of these three sandy islands contained in a minute lagoon, which lies almost exactly “midway” between the United States and Japan, are wholly different from its current use as a wildlife refuge.

Now, after the historic “Battle of Midway” and subsequent uses of the atoll as a military base, Midway can be appreciated as a stockpile of natural treasures, complete with endangered Hawaiian monk seals, threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles and the world’s largest colony of Laysan albatross.

Located over 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the atoll began changing its function in 1988, at which time the U.S. Navy invited the Fish and Wildlife Service to operate an “overlay” National Wildlife Refuge. At that point, the Navy still carried out operations on the island, including the Midway Naval Air Facility. This facility, however, was closed in 1993.

Navy Began Environmental Cleanup Project in Mid-Nineties

Shortly thereafter, the Navy began a thorough and expensive environmental cleanup of the atoll to remediate the significant pollution from the years of military occupation. By 1997, the project had entailed the removal of over 100 fuel tanks, thousands of gallons of leaked petroleum products, and many navy structures with flaking lead paint and asbestos. Further, tons of refuse that had been dumped into the lagoon were removed.

Following the cleanup, the island made a transition to the habitat restoration stage when the Navy left the atoll in the hands of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Workers began ridding the island of non-native plant and weed species that had taken over and planting native Hawaiian shrubs and grasses.

National Wildlife Refuge Established in 1997

In the summer of 1997, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was established to preserve and enhance the natural wonders that this 1,500 acre northwestern Hawaiian atoll has to offer, including over 1.3 million of the best pilots on the planet; Laysan, black-footed and short-tailed albatross.

The albatross of Midway, which have long evoked visions of masterful flight over the North Pacific, use their impressive six to seven foot wingspans2 to soar with the wind over the Pacific for about a quarter of the year.3

Albatross Never Touch Land During Summer

During the three months at sea during the summer, they never touch land; their only respite from the wing is when they light on the sea to feed or rest.4 Juvenile birds perform an even more awesome feat, avoiding land for at least two to three years.5

The majesty of their flight is exemplified by a Laysan albatross that flew from the coastal waters of Washington State to Midway making an average travel speed of 360 miles per day.6 When they finally return to their breeding grounds on the islands each year, perhaps surfing the periphery wind currents, the birds show the airborne grace that makes most witnesses wish for wings.

“Goonie” Landings Look Like Controlled Crashes

Not surprisingly, upon their return to Sand, Eastern or Spit Island in the Midway lagoon, they exhibit the clumsiness that earned them the friendly nickname, “goonie.” Their haphazard landings are reminiscent of early Orville and Wilbur Wright test landings, a lot of which look more like controlled crashes.

Not infrequently, an island visitor will hear a wicked “clang” and look up to see an albatross flailing its webbed feet in the air after a connection with a light post, only to land and walk away. I even had one of the five-pound birds fly into the left side of my golf cart, clip my head, and tumble out the back end, all without injury.

Albatross Fly Thousands of Miles Foraging for Chicks

Albatross of the black-footed species, covered in milk-chocolate colored feathers with dark hazel beaks, generally fly east for food and have been tracked as far away as the west coast of the United States foraging for their chicks.7 Journeys as far as the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands are flown by white-bodied Laysans8 to snatch squid, goatfish, mackerel scad or flying-fish eggs for their young.

Recently, a researcher tracked a Laysan by satellite for 90 days during the brooding season and found that the bird flew 24,843 miles, cumulatively, to feed its chick. This is almost one full trip around the globe in three months.

When albatross finally arrive at an area rich in prey, they simply land on the ocean and pluck at prey with their curve-tipped beaks.9 Due to their foraging habits, albatross unintentionally create curious little collections of international souvenirs throughout the fields of Midway that have been known to include toy elephants, Japanese cigarette lighters and even a working Mickey Mouse wristwatch.

Albatross Parents Feed Chicks Plastic Garbage Via Regurgitation

These souvenirs, which include many less distinguishable miniature plastic items as well, are encased by sun-bleached ribcages laced with weathered, black feathers. The souvenir collections, of course, are the remains of juvenile albatross who died with a plastic-satiated stomachs. Worse yet, the plastic was usually fed to the birds by their parents via regurgitation.

Long before the first plastic bottle cap ever littered the ocean, albatross were learning to feed on prey that swam or floated along the surface of the sea. Now plastic refuse rides the currents of the Pacific Ocean, often times thousands of miles from where it was distributed, finding its way into the foraging niche of North Pacific albatross.

Their evolutionary instincts tell them that most items on the ocean surface are acceptable meals to bring home to their juveniles, so the birds unknowingly pluck up litter similar in size to their usual catches.

When the adults fly into Midway with a stomach full for the sake of their chicks, they purge the plastic through the regurgitation of the meal. The youngsters, on the other hand, do not have the ability to regurgitate their stomach contents,10 and essentially become little trash stores.

Juveniles Distressed by Plastic Ingestion

This phenomenon, sadly, can contribute to the physiological distress of albatross chicks11 and decrease their chances of survival. The birds may suffer from emaciation (a false feeling of “fullness”), accumulate ocean-carried PCBs deposited on the plastic, or experience internal bodily blockages and/or lacerations due to the collections in their stomachs.12

Plastic ingestion is not considered a species threatening occurrence for Midway’s goonies, but fingering the miniature objects found marking bird graves reminded me just how horribly expansive some of our environmental problems are. For example, some of the litter I studied had telling Japanese writing inscribed on it.

Origin of Garbage Hinted by Foreign Inscriptions

The foreign inscriptions hint to the journey the plastic could have traveled by hitching a ride on the Kurishio current from Japan and transferring to the North Pacific current, which runs through albatross feeding territory. Research leads us to believe that most of the refuse that ends up in the stomachs of these chicks has traveled a similar journey from coastal landfills or garbage runoff in Japan.13

Oceangoing vessels have also dumped their garbage into the water, contributing to the floating mass of homeless trash that flushes around the Pacific until it is ingested by a pelagic animal or deposited on a distant shore. Regardless of how the litter enters the water, albatross feeding hundreds of miles from major cities cannot isolate themselves from the effects of human civilization. The beaches of Midway, some of the most remote in the world, are, ironically, the most littered I have ever seen.

Hawaii’s Seldom Seen Survivors: 1,400 Remaining Monk Seals

Triangular slices of pink skin hung off his 600-pound body in an interesting design. The work of a tiger shark, I assumed, as I inspected one of 1,400 remaining Hawaiian monk seals as sun glimmered off its wet coat under the mid-Pacific sun. The bite mark, which I could see clearly on the seal’s underside while it rested on the shore, was over two feet long. And, from the looks of things, the shark hadn’t even gotten a full bite.

Escaping the jaws of 12 foot sharks is not the only challenge these scarce, deep gray beasts face. Often, the seals that use the lagoon and shores of Midway for precious habitat find themselves threatened by the same thing that kills Midway’s albatross — ocean borne litter.

Weeks before seeing the shark attack victim, we came across a juvenile male monk seal on one of Midway’s beaches, its whiskered face trapped by a 10-inch diameter bottomless plastic bucket wedged tightly around its neck like a rubber band around a Twinkie.

Lethal Shark Attacks Are Not the Only Hazard

Juvenile Hawaiian monk seals that avoid lethal shark attacks in the shark-harried waters of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands sometimes let their curiosity lead them into trouble. Their playful nature is believed to contribute to marine debris entanglements like the one I witnessed.14 The seals seem drawn to inspecting abandoned fishing net, fishing line and other manufactured objects, like the bottomless bucket, that find their way to the reef surrounding Midway.

Often times, net or fishing line will form an underwater, medusa-like entanglement that catches the seals, who thrash around in a desperate attempt at freedom and become hopelessly bound. In 1997, 16 such entanglements were documented in the Northwestern Islands, and this only includes the cases that were witnessed.15

There are undoubtedly entangled seals that die of injuries underwater, get eaten by sharks while in their precarious position, or even break free. In 1999 alone, at least 13 tons of marine debris were pulled out of the 25-square-mile lagoon by diligent workers at Midway.16

This Place Is for the Birds…and Dolphins

I pulled my wrinkled and comfortable, long-sleeved denim shirt out of my green backpack. Really, I wouldn’t need the extra warmth; the sun would be up in minutes and within a half-hour the Midway heat would warm me atop the dolphin-monitoring tower at Cross Point. Pulling the binoculars up to my face, I scanned the water that ran in front of Eastern Island out to the open sea as a Bob Marley beat played on my walkman. I waited, scanning some more, still only spotting white terns and masked boobies flitting above the morning chop of the deep blue Pacific.

When I gave my eyes a rest from the binoculars, I glanced down to my right and found a 250-pound Hawaiian green sea turtle popping its head out of the serene harbor surface, breathing in the salty morning air.

The Marley tunes gave way to U2, and the orange sun rays gave way to golden ones, but persistence paid off and I found the dolphins again. Their shiny dorsal fins split the ceiling of the ocean causing me to sit up a little straighter on my chair. Just like the other mornings, one of the spinner dolphins fired out of the water, twisting and flipping like a supercharged jumping bean. Some of the 200 resident spinner dolphins were back from a night of hunting in the sea.

Historic Runway Now Overrun by Weeds and Birds

I followed them with the binoculars from the south lagoon entrance. They moved west into the shallow and calmer waters of the lagoon. Eventually, they moved out of my field of vision and I made my last entries into my dolphin data sheets for that day.

The scarce ironwood trees and golden fields of verbasina flowers on Eastern Island were now fully illuminated across the water to the north. I couldn’t see them, but the masked boobies, red-tailed tropicbirds, sooty terns and crickets began their day’s activities while juvenile shearwaters huddled in their burrows.

Nor could I see the historical runway that still challenges weeds on the now abandoned island. The only flying to be done that day on Eastern Island would be by the birds, not by B-17’s or Brewster Buffaloes lowering their flaps into the wind. Now, and hopefully forever, the only things which need stand guard on these hallowed grounds are mother albatross, crouching atop warm eggs.

Going There…

Midway offers a wide range of tourism opportunities, from hands-on Elderhostel experiences with spinner dolphins and albatross (Elderhostel leads “educational adventures” for those 55 and older), to relaxing week-long stays at this secluded lagoon. Midway is known for its scuba diving, birding and beach combing (trust me, it would be hard to find more relaxing or beautiful beaches).

Guests stay in old navy barracks which have been converted to hotel rooms, and there are three eating facilities, weekly movie showings and two rustic bowling lanes. Visitors to Midway are treated to a multicultural experience, for most of the 175 residents are from either the Philippines or Sri Lanka.

Find Out More About Midway

Visit the following websites or use the following phone number:
midwayisland.com/ (no “www” needed)


1 Whittow, G. Causey. “Laysan Albatross: The Birds of North America,” No. 66, 1993, p. 3. The American Ornithologists’ Union of Washington D.C. and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1993. (species account publication)
2 Harrison, Craig S. “Seabirds of Hawaii: Natural History and Conservation,” p. 108. New York, Cornell University Press, 1990.
3 Whittow, p. 3.
4 Ibid, p. 3.
5 Ibid, p. 12.
6 Ibid, p. 3.
7 “The Population Biology of the Black-Footed Albatross in Relation to Mortality Caused by Longline Fishing,” p. 13. Report of a workshop held in Honolulu, Hawaii, 8-10 October 1998 under the auspices of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.
8 Ibid.
9 Whittow, p. 3.
10 “The Population Biology…,” p. 5.
11 Auman, Heidi J. “Plastic Ingestion, Biomarkers of health, PCBs and DDE in two Species of Albatrosses on Sand Island, Midway Atoll,” p. 28. Michigan State University, 1994. (thesis)
12 Ibid.
13 Auman, Heidi J. et. Al. “Plastic Ingestion by Laysan Albatross Chicks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, in 1994 and 1995,” in Albatross Biology and Conservation, pp. 243-244, edited by G. Robinson and R. Gales. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chipping Norton, 1997. (research paper)
14 “Marine Mammal Commission, Annual Report to Congress,” 1997, p. 51.
15 Ibid.
16 Unpublished Fish and Wildlife information, Midway Atoll’s Monthly Marine Debris Recovery, 1999.
17 “The Population Biology…,” p. 5.


Bellingham Losing Quality of Life

by Michael Frome

Michael Frome, PhD is a journalist, author and retired Western Washington University professor.

Myron Wlaznak is absolutely right in his May 30 column in The Bellingham Herald when he criticizes the city council for proceeding with one development after another regardless of what the public thinks or says, or what the neighborhood plan says.

Approval of the massive Birch Street subdivision at Park Ridge in the Whatcom Falls neighborhood is a prime example of what Wlaznak calls poor planning: “planning that goes against all logic and experience, planning that cannot pass the common sense test, planning that defies the public wishes.”

City Council Gap Between Promise and Performance

This is more than a local neighborhood issue. The longer I live in Bellingham the more clearly I see the gap between promise and performance by the city council and city administration in protecting the quality of life.

Bellingham is losing the values we treasure and that make it desirable. In every respect, including air quality, water quality, soil stability, green space, open space, the environment is daily degraded.

Last week, in late May, the city senselessly chopped down beautiful old trees in the Fairhaven section and people mourned. One fellow said, “They’re taking all the historic value, all the charm out of Fairhaven piece by piece.”

Fifty-Two Developments: No Significant Impact?

The same thing is going on everywhere in the city. Of fifty-two residential developments proposed for construction two years ago every one of them was determined by the city to have no significant environmental impact. That doesn’t make sense except as a way to circumvent state law and give developers what they want.

It was clear at the very beginning of the Birch Street proposal in 1998 that the site is fraught with obstacles to development, including two streams running through the full length of the property, numerous extreme slopes and ridges, and limited traffic capacity. Many in the Whatcom Falls neighborhood pointed this out repeatedly in letters and at countless hearings, hoping to ensure that any development in the area would safeguard the quality of life.

The planning commission, as a matter of record, on June 3, 1999 identified major issues: public safety, site access, traffic volumes, neighborhood circulation, street standards, utility corridors, wetland and stream preservation, buffers, wildlife impacts, stormwater management, trails and access, housing density, minimum lot size, impact on abutting properties, school impacts, emergency response, and preservation of neighborhood character.

Nevertheless, our concerns were ignored. To add abuse to injury, when the city council approved the project in late 1999, at the last minute the developer was allowed to recalculate average lot size based on buildable plus non-buildable land without any public input at a council meeting.

Developer Cleared Trees, Disregarding Legal Appeal

Last October the developer began clearing trees to work on a stream crossing of west Hannah Creek, totally disregarding our legal appeal and also ignoring required permits from the state Department of Natural Resources for logging and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for work in the creek. That could hardly be the consequence of responsible planning.

A group of students at Western Washington University, working under Professor Lynn Robbins, in December completed a study that proposed preserving Park Ridge as an “Urban Natural Open Space.” Their research and findings demonstrate that benefits of conserving Park Ridge clearly outweigh the liabilities and costs of development.

Park Ridge Provides Community with Green Lungs

Of course they do. Perhaps some miracle has kept the area natural and undeveloped. We can see now that the site embraces lush vegetation, wetlands and a thriving, diverse wildlife population, remarkably within the city limits. Park Ridge provides a growing community with green lungs, opportunities for outdoor recreation and environmental education to complement classroom studies. Hannah Creek is critical to the restoration of Whatcom Creek as a viable, healthy salmon stream.

Park Ridge, the site in question, is the last heavily forested area in Hannah Creek watershed outside of Whatcom Falls Park. It includes wooded high ground, popular with mountain bikers, hikers and birdwatchers in the entire community. It embraces six wetland areas and two creeks. The rocky steep slopes make it difficult for building but attractive for recreation and nature study.

Salmon Are Ultimate in Loyal Neighbors

Salmon are the ultimate in loyal neighbors. They swim thousands of miles from the ocean to return to the stream tributaries where they hatched in order to spawn a new generation. Bellingham faces no greater opportunity or challenge than the restoration of salmon to Whatcom Creek.

The best way to save it is to acquire the land by purchase and keep it free of sediment, metals, oils and nutrients, runoffs from roads and roofs which are inevitable with the Birch Street subdivision.

True, it costs money to buy land in the public interest, but considerably less than underwriting the costs connected with development communities are forced to bear. Open space has proven repeatedly the best investment. All of Bellingham can benefit greatly from this endeavor which will promote quality of life and leave a lasting legacy to the communit


How to Bring the World’s Sixth Largest Economy to Its Knees

by Rick Hanners

When Rick Hanners is not writing, he likes skiing at Blacktail Mountain in Montana

Point One: Another Energy Crisis

It’s fair to say we’re in another Energy Crisis, similar in political and economic scope to the one we had in the 1970s. To make an interesting game, have people ask their family members, neighbors or friends the following questions:

• Do you know what R-11 refers to?
• Do you know what a triple pane window is?
• Why would someone wrap a blanket around a hot water heater?
• What is an airtight wood stove?

Prior to the 1970s, not many people would know what the heck those questions were referring to. Now it’s more or less common knowledge. The point is that the first energy crisis, the one that took place in the 1970s, had a lot to do with fuel efficient cars and keeping homes in the northern-tier states efficiently warm in the winter.

Now it’s the southern-tier states’ turn to learn about wall insulation, awnings, tinted windows, north-facing windows, whatever it takes to make their homes efficiently cool in the summer. And SUVs may have to head to the scrap yard.

The tendency to accept trendy, ethical or quick-fix solutions to an energy crisis needs to be avoided. Some of these ideas are based on bad science, especially ignorance of the two basic laws of thermodynamics and the impossibility of perpetual-motion machines.

Energy must be consumed at some point to accomplish economic ends, and fuel cells, for example, do consume fossil fuels, albeit more efficiently. Mixing up ethics and science can lead to wishful thinking and bad politics. This is particularly apparent in the United States after a decade of phenomenal economic growth and the emergence of a generation of young adults who have never seen anything else.

And quick-fix solutions can lead to delays, misdirection and general confusion about the issues. Crafty politicians can use all of these to divert serious dialogue about an energy crisis.

Point Two: Hydroelectricity

The Whatcom Watch article “Internet Servers, Desert Electricity Hogs, and Clear-Cutting Computers” (February 2001, page 1) mentioned that hydroelectricity accounted for about 10 percent of the electrical generation in the United States. For most of its history, hydropower was like a godsend because it didn’t pollute and would last forever.

More recently people concerned about restoring salmon runs have brought up the obvious – that dammed rivers have a new ecological system not favorable to the native species. But the 10 percent figure could also change – in either direction.

It Could Go Down

That 10 percent figure depends on the capacity of all United States reservoirs. A hydroelectric facility is made up of a dam, a generating plant and a reservoir. In a way it’s like a big storage battery. The reservoir stores water that is recharged annually by rain and snowmelt. The amount of recharging can change depending on drought conditions, but if the reservoir has ample storage capacity one can reduce the impact of droughts.

As a natural course of things, rivers and streams carry with them silt, suspended particles, even dissolved minerals, all of which over time have been accumulating in the nation’s hydroelectric reservoirs and reducing their storage capacity.

The amount of power generated in a split second still remains the same – that depends upon the height of the dam and the efficiency of the generators – but the amount of stored power is diminishing as the reservoirs fill up with material.

It Could Go Up

During the dam-building craze that took place in the United States, primarily from the end of World War II to about 1970, extensive studies were conducted by the federal government to find out how many dams could be built and where. These studies, I’m sure, have not been forgotten.

Dams were proposed or theorized in the most unlikely places – unlikely by present terms. For example, two large dams were proposed, and even fought over in the political arena, that would have inundated portions of Glacier National Park in Montana. Neither of these dams had to have generating facilities on site. They could have been used simply to store water for dams downstream in the Columbia River system.

For many years opponents to dam building felt content that a principle had been set in the case of a dam on the Little Tennessee River – that it wasn’t the endangered snail darter which had stopped that dam in the end, but the fact that the proposed dam would never have been profitable.

So, like nuclear power plants, new hydroelectric dams were unlikely to be built not just because they were unpopular, but because they couldn’t turn a profit. Is that true today when the Bonneville Power Administration is willing to pay $200 a megawatt-hour for power it used to buy and sell for about $16 only twenty years ago? I have read nothing on this possibility in the media.

It’s only speculation, but a crisis is like a war, and people often do things they don’t want under wartime conditions. In the near future the Cascade Mountain Range, with all its rainfall and snowpack, could be seen in a new light by people living in big cities who want power, not pretty rivers.

Point Three: Deregulation

In the case of California, serious bureaucratic bungling brought the number six economy in the world to its knees. Three rules were passed by the California legislature to govern how the new deregulated market would function:

• The two big utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, were forced to sell all their oil- or gas-fired power plants. They could keep their hydroelectric and nuclear plants, but essentially they were put at the mercy of the open market. These oil- or gas-fired power plants were eventually bought up by out-of-state interests, particularly Houston, Texas-based energy companies.

• These two utilities were not allowed to raise their rates to residential and small commercial customers. Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison accounted for the vast majority of the power used in California, and they soon accumulated $10 billion in debt from being forced to buy power high and sell it cheap.

• All California utilities were forced to buy power from a centralized high-tech facility that would interface the utilities and power generating companies. But utilities were only allowed to purchase power 24 hours in advance, with no provision for long-term contracts. Power used to be bought and sold in contracts as long as twenty years. Imagine a house mortgage with the same rule – each day the homeowner would contact the bank to see how much was owed.

The other 49 American states watched in horror at what happened in California. Many are already on the road to electrical power deregulation.

In the state of Montana, Montana Power sold off all of its generating plants to get into the telecommunications business, and a firm in Pennsylvania bought them. From now until sometime in 2002 the Pennsylvanian firm is obligated to adhere to Montana Power’s existing contracts and continue selling power to Montanans. But after that – could it all go to California? Or will Montanans have to pay more to compete with California, as much as ten times what they pay now? Similar issues are facing other western states.

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