Whatcom Watch Online
July 1998
Volume 7, Issue 7

Cover Story:

Whatcom County Considers Transfer of Density from Lake Whatcom Watershed

by Adam Gottschalk

Whatcom County is in the process of considering a "transferable development rights" program for the Lake Whatcom watershed. Such a program is aimed at reducing density in the area, through limiting or proscribing further development. This goal would be reached by allowing property owners in the watershed to sell their rights to develop (build, subdivide) to developers in other parts of the Bellingham area.

Reducing Watershed Density

Having a regional policy in favor of reducing density in critical areas by allowing for density increases in other areas, beyond what given zoning would permit, is a notion with at least some association to growth management. The Lake Whatcom watershed is extremely important to the region. Sherilyn Wells, of the Watershed Defense Fund, says that though only about 50 percent of the county's water now comes from Lake Whatcom (with 100 percent for Bellingham itself), that figure for the county is expected to rise to between 66 percent and 75 percent.

In chapter 20 of Whatcom County Code, in a section entitled, "Density Transfer Procedure," it says:

"The transfer of residential development rights from one property to another is allowed in order to provide flexibility and better use of land and building techniques; to help preserve environmentally sensitive areas and open space; to provide more equalization of property values between various zones than would normally be the case; and to work toward achieving county-wide land use planning goals, and the objectives of individual subarea plans" (emphasis added).

Recipients of Density

The zones to be designated as recipients of such transfers are known as "Urban Residential Mixed Districts." Also in chapter 20 of County Code, it says, "This "Urban Residential Mixed" district serves as a zoning overlay for the purpose of designating a recipient zone for transfer of development rights credits," among other purposes. (Contrary to an article which appeared in the April 22 issue of The Bellingham Herald, there is no proposal to allow such transfers within the watershed itself, because there are no "Urban Residential Mixed" zones in the watershed.)

The goal of a "transferable development rights" program for the watershed, then, would be to protect the quality of our water supplies from the negative effects of development. Carl Batchelor, of the Whatcom County Planning Department, who is working with an advisory committee to develop the "transferable development rights" program proposal by the fall, says that some of the obvious benefits of density reduction in the watershed include limiting the expanse of impervious surfaces (pavement) in the area, and reduced traffic (which means reduced oil-laden run-off and reduced automobile-related particulate matter from clutches, brakes, and tires.)

The less obvious negative impacts of increased density (and benefits of decreased density) include those associated with non-regulated household substances like lawn and garden chemicals, paint (and spilled paint), and lawn mowers (with occasional spilled gasoline). Sometimes, there is "a lot to be said for just not having that home there in the first place," Batchelor says.

Selling Density Rights

Of course, the solution to protecting the watershed by limiting development cannot be simply a matter of prohibiting property owners from capitalizing. Negative economic impacts-though of a different order and nature than deteriorated water quality-are negative impacts just the same. In addition, a permanent and complete moratorium on development could easily be seen as a takings issue in the courts.

This is where "transferable development rights" come in. Once we have assigned a value to a given property owner's rights to develop, we can place those rights on the market. Once these rights are sold, the owner can no longer develop (of course) but they will have received some amount of compensation proportionate to what they would have been able to earn, or to the utility they would have derived, from building or subdividing.

Buyers of Development Rights

So who would the buyer of such rights be? Who would be interested in someone else's development rights? Batchelor says the county is anticipating three basic categories of buyers. The terminology has it that the area in which density is to be reduced is called the "sending" area, and the area where increased density is to be allowed is known as the "receiving" area. One sort of potential "transferable development rights" buyer might be an individual owner in the designated receiving area who would "transferable development rights" fit from purchasing a "transferable development rights," which might allow them, for example, to build on their property at a level of 6 houses per acre rather than the standard (typically, 4 per acre).

Another sort of buyer might be a corporation (or individual) with various long-term development interests in the region ("Use your imagination," Batchelor says.) Long-term interest might lead them to buy the "transferable development rights" first, then go shopping for land in the receiving area later; or they might lead them to buy the "transferable development rights" and "bank" them in anticipation of their increased value.

A third category of potential buyer that Batchelor mentions is environmental or preservation-oriented groups. It might be cheaper, he says, to purchase the rights to given plots of land and then retire them rather than spending time and money with lawsuits and lobbying. He mentions such local groups as the Whatcom Land Trust, the Watershed Defense Fund and Friends of Lake Whatcom.

Sherilyn Wells says that this purchasing and retiring of rights would clearly be the territory of land trusts (such as the Whatcom Land Trust), and that, although it is not an impossibility, the Watershed Defense Fund has never played this role and does not now have it factored into their budget. Furthermore, Wells believes the county itself should be doing this sort of thing (with, for example, the Natural Heritage Fund which was created in the early '90s).

Gordon Scott, conservation director for the Whatcom Land Trust, says the county has not contacted his group about any potential role in a "transferable development rights" program. Though the trust has never purchased development rights in the past, they might be interested in exploring the idea, he says; however, he also points out land and rights (conservation easements, etc.) are usually donated to the trust.

Potential Recipients and Senders

As it stands, several sections in the Urban Growth Area north of town have been designated as "Urban Residential Mixed" zones, to be the recipients of density. These areas, very roughly speaking, are north of the intersections of Bakerview and Northwest, Bakerview and James, and around Mt. Baker Highway just outside current city limits. The idea is that now some sending areas need to be selected.

The Lake Whatcom watershed is one such area under consideration; and in fact, Batchelor says, the "transferable development rights" program is just one of six different possible plans that the county is considering for the Lake Whatcom watershed. He also points out that there is a preference written into the code to use "transferable development rights" for density reduction purposes when feasible; such a preference takes the form of allowing a larger margin of "grace" for a "transferable development rights" buyer than for others-for example, a developer in a "Urban Residential Mixed" zone who purchases a Lake Whatcom watershed "transferable development rights" might be allowed to increase the density level of their development by a larger margin than a developer who "only" dedicates open space or a park.

Public Comments

Jean Melious, a land-use lawyer and professor at Western Washington University, says that some of the most important questions in the "transferable development rights" process have to do with the level and quality of public involvement in the receiving area; she wonders who exactly has had the opportunity and the wherewithal to influence the development of the program.

Batchelor notes that he has been working with a citizen advisory group in developing a proposal to present to the county; that group is made up of developers, realtors, Sudden Valley interests, Water District 10 interests, land-use consultants, and others. There might be more input in that group from folks in the sending area than from those in the receiving area, or more input of out-of-the-ordinary individuals than from the everyday folks whose lives will be impacted-which raises important quality-of-life issues.

Batchelor also points out that there were public hearings and significant public involvement in the receiving areas in questions regarding "Urban Residential Mixed" designations and the "transferable development rights" program. However, Gordon Scott says that it is commonly understood in the planning process that even at public hearings, citizen input is not necessarily representative of the average person's opinion-people often come to hearings in the first place because they have some particular interest in, or are particularly outspoken about, the issue at hand. He also says that just because some complaint or disagreement was voiced at the hearings, or through some other means, it could well be that no one listened to it.

Maximum Density

Scott says that the zoning changes allowed for in "transferable development rights" programs can impact the legitimacy of zoning itself-what justification is there for zoning if an area's designation can be changed overnight? What certainty can homeowners and developers have? Scott wonders, for example, how most people would feel if they built or bought a house in a given neighborhood where zoning was allowed for a certain level of single-family development, only to find one day that the county wanted to allow multi-family housing in the area. Batchelor says, though, that the advisory group has recommended six units per acre as an "attainable maximum." He also implies that the density grace given to "transferable development rights" buyers could never let them reach 10 units per acre, which is the level of multi-family housing; presumably increasing density to that level or beyond would simply be prohibited under the "transferable development rights" program.

Quality of Life Issues

If we take the currently designated "Urban Residential Mixed" zones as exemplary, and if we allow that there may not have been perfect public feedback in the planning of the "transferable development rights" program, how likely does it seem that the quality-of-life of some folks in the Bellingham area will be worsened, against their wishes or without their informed consent, by the density increases associated with the program?

If, for example, the benefits to purchasers of "transferable development rights" take the form of impact fee reductions in addition to or instead of just density grace, will taxpayers foot the bill or will the quality of infrastructure and services in certain areas simply fall?

A 1996 study by Patrick Buckley and Debnath Mookherjee, also of Western Washington University, indicates that, as things stand now, there is quite a clear quality of life gradient in the Bellingham area from south to north.

That gradient is clearly visible, for example, in a figure found in the study which maps out the quality-of-life variations in Bellingham from neighborhood to neighborhood. The measurements were bases on six attributes; percent of a given neighborhood's population who have completed high school and/or college, area of parkland per capita, crime rates per capita, arterial traffic levels per capita, and number of multi-family residential units. Without exception, using these criteria, the neighborhoods with the lowest quality of life are found in the northern half of the town, where the "Urban Residential Mixed" districts and receiving areas are, while the neighborhoods with the highest quality of life are concentrated in the south-Fairhaven, along Chuckanut Drive, around Lake Padden and the like.

Social Loss and Gain

If the neighborhoods designated now to receive density transfers are already characterized by lower quality of life then other areas, and if, nevertheless, our efforts to protect our water supplies in the Lake Whatcom watershed entail increasing density and reducing impact fee revenue in those neighborhoods, who exactly will win and who will lose? Will there be a net social gain after all the costs and benefits are tallied up? These and other questions will, with luck, be ironed out before the county implements any "transferable development rights" program. The worry might be that some of us find, rather that being ironed out, some of the potential glitches in such a program were simply steam-rolled over, and will only pop back up again later to haunt us.

Cover Story:

Watershed Association Appeals Crown Pacific's Clearcutting Application

by John DiGregoria

Since their recent acquisition of vast forest lands from Trillium, Crown Pacific's accelerated logging has raised many concerns among Whatcom County residents.

One major example of this is found in the community of Welcome, located around the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Nooksack River. To the southwest of this small town are the Kinney Creek and Canyon Lake Creek watersheds.

The Kinney-Canyon Lake Creek Watershed Association formed in an attempt to slow the cutting and influence forest practices within the area above the citizens' homes.

A small group from the association-including an ex-forester, an excavator, and two geologists-visited some of the potential logging sites with Crown and Department of Natural Resources officials. They raised concerns about proposed cutting activity associated with a deep-seated landslide and roads on unstable slopes above Canyon Lake Creek.

On June 10, 1998, the Department of Natural Resources determined that the Crown Pacific's forest practice application for an 88-acre clearcut, named Smoking Bull, was inadequate. The Department of Natural Resources issued a Stop Work Order for all cutting in the recently-recognized unstable areas, until a complete environmental assessment is completed. Crown Pacific's forest application for Smoking Bull was originally approved as a "Class III Ð 30 day review" application. Since there are legitimate concerns about unstable slopes, this forest practice application should have been submitted as a "Class IV special," thereby requiring a full environmental assessment under the State Environmental Policy Act. This really upset downslope neighbors who felt that Crown officials were not acting in good faith and were attempting to sidestep the law.

On June 12, 1998, the association decided to appeal another Crown Pacific forest practices application to the Forest Practices Appeals Board in an attempt to halt cutting in the watersheds until further environmental review could be conducted and citizen concerns could be addressed. This forest practice application is for a 68-acre clearcut adjacent to Canyon Lake Creek with 3,135 ft. of new road construction and 2,485 ft. of road reconstruction. The appeal states that this forest practice application was incorrectly classified as a "Class III Ð30 day review" application under State Environmental Policy Act.

Specifically, what are all of the environmental concerns from all of the clearcutting and road building in the watershed this harvest season? The appeal asks the court to reclassify the forest practice application as a "Class IV Special" which would cause the State Environmental Policy Act process to create an environmental review of the area of concern. Historically the Forest Practice Appeals Board overrules this type of appeal. (However, a recent decision in the state courts overturned the Forest Practice Appeals Board negative ruling on a similar case.)

On June 26, the association filed two more appeals on two Crown Pacific forest practice application's for the slopes above Kinney Creek and Canyon Lake Creek.

The Canyon Pond cut is 100-acre clearcut in three units with almost a mile of new road and a new culvert crossing Kinney Creek. The largest unit lies just above Kinney Creek.

The Porter Potty Fly cut is a 966-acre high-grade helicopter log on the ridges and hanging valley above Canyon Lake and Porter Creeks. Both of these forest practice applications threaten the safety and welfare of downslope neighbors and their property. This year's cutting and road-building have already caused the creeks to run brown after any rain. There are also concerns that some of the late successional forest groves slated for cutting are prime recovery areas for marbled murrelets. Unless Crown comes to the table in good faith, the association will continue to appeal Forest Practice Applications and contest the activities of both Crown Pacific and the Department of Natural Resources.

Initially, the association had contacted Crown Pacific directly in hopes that their concerns (including potential flooding/debris flows, habitat destruction, and the lack of a sustainable harvest) would be addressed. Crown Pacific called a town meeting with Welcome citizens to inform the people that decisions would be made based on Crown financial burdens associated with the land purchase from Trillium. The Association worked in good faith with Crown until they determined that Crown only followed Department of Natural Resources conditions and that citizen concerns would not be addressed.

Much of the reason for the appeals has to do with declining salmon runs in the area. Old-timers can remember salmon running in both Canyon Lake Creek and Kinney Creek earlier this century, but this is not the case anymore. In the 1980's, Canyon Lake Creek was out of compliance with the section 303 (d) of the Clean Water Act for temperature-could this be the result of past forest practices? Restoration activities on the lower portion of Kinney Creek-including a new fish ladder and rearing pond for Steelhead-have provided some hope among local residents for fish recovery. However, the recent cutting in the Kinney-Canyon Lake Creek watersheds saw those hopes fade, and ultimately pushed Welcome residents into action.

Welcome residents are not alone in their response to the accelerated cut by Crown Pacific (as well practices of the Department of Natural Resources and other land owners in Whatcom County). Throughout the county, communities have been coming together in an attempt to slow down the cutting in order to analyze the cumulative effects of all concurrent forest practices on their communities:

All of these groups struggle in their attempts to change forest practices in Whatcom County. The individual concerns are numerous: loggers in the county are upset as because they foresee the next few years of work slated for cutting this year, especially with out-of-state crews cutting timber. Downstream neighbors are concerned about their safety from flooding and debris flows. Numerous groups are concerned with the impacts to wildlife, particularly salmon and the marble murrelet.

How this will all play out is unknown. However, one thing is for certain: many people feel that current forest practices rules and regulations are inadequate and must be changed to protect the safety and welfare of downslope neighbors from bad investments and poor land use practices from their upslope neighbors.


Old Growth Forests Are Still Being Harvested

by John Digregoria

Do you ever wonder where those large trees on the back of logging trucks are coming from? Didn't we stop cutting old growth with the implementation of Option 9? The overall answer to these questions is that we still allow late-successional and old growth forests to be cut.

In Washington State, Option 9 only affects Olympic, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, and Gifford Pinchot National Forests. Washington State Forest Practices Rules and Regulations regulate all private and state lands. On state and private lands, only unstable terrain and areas with breeding populations of endangered species such as the Spotted owl or marbled murrelet are protected. Otherwise, old forests can still be cut. On Option 9 lands, most late successional reserves and old growth are protected, yet some areas have been designated for harvest.

When Option 9 was signed off by moderate environmental groups, they basically permitted the cutting of late-successional and old growth forests from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) in Washington and the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon.

Late successional forests are actually pre-old growth forests with a single storied canopy consisting of conifer trees. The trees must have a diameter greater than twenty-one inches, and some trees have greater than a thirty-two inch diameter. These forests will soon age (usually in less than fifty years) into what we call old growth. Such late successional forests are extremely important since they create variability across the landscape and will provide future habitat for old-growth dependent species. In the GPNF, many of these forests are slated to be cut.

In Washington State, the GPNF is moving ahead with the deforestation of late-successional and old growth forests. Since 1995, the GPNF has put out for bid the clear-cutting of 2,567 acres of late successional and old growth forests. This year's allowable harvest alone is 1,397 acres of forest-the highest allowable cut of late successional and old growth forests since the implementation of Option 9.

Besides clear-cuts, the GPNF is planning to build new roads through roadless areas in an attempt to reduce Rare 2 roadless areas by twenty-three percent. A Rare 2 roadless area is a roadless area greater than 5,000 acres or an area abutting an already protected roadless area such as a National Park or Wilderness area. Once roads are built, new harvest units continue to be developed.

Part of the irony is that this cutting of late-successional trees and the building of new roads are occurring in areas with sensitive fish populations. Many of the harvest units lie within watersheds with populations of Steelhead, Chinook salmon and Bull trout. In other words, we continue to allow the harvest of mature forests on federal land within watersheds containing threatened or endangered fish populations (regardless of whether they are recognized as such by the federal government).

In fact, the federal government intends to write new recovery plans for salmon in the Pacific Northwest while exempting all areas covered by Option 9 and the Tongas National forest in Alaska. They feel that Option 9 adequately protects fish, and that the Tongas is so big it doesn't need protection (yet).

So as we continue to lose wildlife habitat because of poor land-use practices, we can only expect more of the status quo from all of our corporate appeasing government agencies.

Sewage Treatment:

Natural and Environmentally Responsible Septic System

by Christopher J. Webb
Christopher J. Webb is employed by a Bellingham engineering company as a project engineer. He also serves on the board of directors of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild.

Chris and Lisa Conyers wanted to build a house on their new property in Skagit County, but their site was unsuitable for a standard septic drainfield system. But the high failure rate of conventional septic systems and the $12,000 price tag for the required sand filter system sent them looking for a better solution.

They found their answer in Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetlands (SFCW). Instead of draining into an unsightly, expensive sand filter or mound, the "waste" water from the Conyers' home feeds an attractive, landscaped area in their yard. While proven in other areas throughout the United States and the world, the Conyers' system is the first operating SFCW that has Washington State approval.

While the term "wetlands" conjures up images of swamps, constructed wetlands beds do not look like natural "open water" wetlands, they share the name mainly due to the plant species involved. "Waste" water flows from an ordinary septic tank into a plastic-lined wetlands bed, and then into an unlined wetlands bed for percolation. The small constructed wetlands beds consists of two 2 feet deep, 3 foot wide and 25 foot long (150 square feet) trenches. The beds (trenches) are laid out side by side and plumbed in parallel with either bed able to be taken out of service for maintenance. The first trench is lined with an impervious plastic liner and the second is not, both are filled with drainrock and both are covered with mulch. Various native species of water-loving vegetation, including bulrush, sedge, and lily, are then planted. From the surface the beds look like landscaped areas in the yard, the water is kept 6-12 inches below the surface.

"The "waste" water is completely underground and the flower beds provide a beautiful landscaped area for my yard," said homeowner Chris Conyers.

How A Constructed Wetlands System Works

Problems with standard septic systems are not normally associated with properly installed, sealed septic tanks, but with the drainfield component of the system. These problems often include the formation of a mat of organic matter causing the "waste" water to flow up to the surface and run-off.

To make the septic system more versatile and acceptable in most climates and soil conditions, an aquatic plant/microbial filter (such as a SFCW) can be used to replace the drainfield. The SFCW system consists of the standard septic tank followed by two or more SFCW beds. The SFCW requires a septic tank to settle out most of the solids and float out most of the fats, oils, and greases (these septic tank solids must be pumped out similar to standard septic tanks). The effluent water with reduced solids and fats then flows (usually by gravity) out of the septic tank and in to the SFCW beds.

This effluent water will be very odorous and will primarily contain the following pollutants 1) dissolved organics, 2) suspended solids (that did not settle out in the septic tank), 3) nutrients such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K), and 4) disease factors (measured as fecal coliforms). As this effluent water flows through the SFCW bed it comes into contact with the roots of the wetlands plants growing there.

Wetland Plants

Wetlands plants have evolved over the millennia to be nature's own water purifying system. Historically growing in flat lowlands, they were exposed to the run-off water from the surrounding landscape. As such, they have become especially adapted to filtering out and then utilizing pollutants in the run-off as a food source. Microorganisms grow on the root hairs of the plants and have a critical symbiotic relationship with the plant. These microbes break down the complex dissolved organic and nutrient pollutants in the "waste" water into simpler forms that the plants use as food. The microorganisms need oxygen and symbiotically the plants fix oxygen from the air to the microorganisms in the root zone. Further, these aerobic conditions in the root zones of the plants facilitate the growth of large microorganisms, called protozoa. These large microorganisms are essential to the removal of bacteria, such as fecal coliforms. These aerobic conditions and associated processes also reduce the odor causing factors.

In the winter, this symbiotic plant/microbe relationship continues, even in very cold climates (e.g. Alaska, North Dakota, and Idaho) The water temperature in the beds typically does not sink below freezing due to the insulating effect of the mulch cover, the warmth of the influent "waste" water, and the buffering effects of the ground. Although the plants may appear dormant and their metabolic processes seem to have ceased, plants continue to maintain an active aerobic zone around their roots, even in cold climates.

In addition to nutrients, the plants also require water for their growth. As they grow in the SFCW, the wetlands plants consume much of the volume of water flowing through the constructed wetlands beds through evapo-transpiration (the plant's metabolic process that involves the uptake of water through the roots and then the subsequent release of water vapor from the cells of the body of the plant). The amount of treated "waste" water that is expected to percolate from the second unlined bed therefore is typically less than the amount that enters the bed.

Water Re-Use and Duckweed Farming

The SFCW concept is very versatile and has applications for numerous types of "waste" water treatment and re-use. The ability to obtain high levels of treatment in a cost-effective manner opens up some other possibilities such as re-use. For instance, 2020 Engineering is currently designing an SFCW that discharges its treated effluent into an open pond, which will then be planted with duckweed and other aquatic plants. The duckweed will be periodically harvested and composted for fertilizer, and the water in the pond will be reused for sub-surface irrigation of landscape and fruit trees.

Duckweed's tremendous ability to fix nitrogen means it will polish the water quality in the pond and will be a valuable fertilizer, once composted. Further, an area of duckweed produces many times more protein than an equivalent area of soybeans. This potential makes the duckweed an ideal animal feed supplement, in addition to its value in compost. Any excess water will be discharged via an unlined wetlands bed for percolation. This type of wetland/ornamental pond was recently featured in an article in Smithsonian Magazine (July, 1997 issue). The system described in that article treats blackwater from a nature center in Iowa and has shown over 99 percent removal of fecal coliforms and nutrients such as Nitrogen, and over 95 percent removal of Chemical Biological Oxygen Demand (CBOD5).

Next Steps

The Washington State Department of Health now permits the experimental use of Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetlands and monitors the systems very closely. "We hope to make these natural systems as easy to design and install as conventional systems by installing as many as possible experimentally, and collecting performance data on them," said Mark Buehrer PE, the founder and director of 2020 Engineering. "Once sufficient data is available, the Department of Health will be able to develop guidelines for the widespread use of these systems in the State of Washington," he added.

2020 Engineering is currently at work designing several more systems in Washington State. These systems will all be permitted and tested under the provisions of the Washington State Department of Health's Experimental Septic System Regulations. The state department of health has been very helpful and supportive with the development and implementation of the wetlands systems. Each of these new systems have unique configurations, ranging from a simple two-bed system to a wetland/ornamental pond system. 2020 and Washington State Department of Health will be collecting and analyzing the performance data from these systems to document and analyze their performance.

Why Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetlands?
(A Comparison Chart)

Criteria Subsurface Flow
Septic System
Septic Systems
More biologically diverse than conventional mechanical "waste" water treatment systems and therefore treat a wider array of pollutants. SFCW keeps the "waste" water in the biologically active and aerobic root zones of the wetland plants where high levels of treatment occurs. History of failure, the State of Washington estimates that there are over 200,000 failing septic systems in the Puget Sound Basin. In standard septic drainfield systems the "waste" water is handled in the deeper and less biologically active layers of soil.
$3,000 - $5,000 for a typical two bedroom house. $8,000 - $15,000 for a typical mound or sand filter for two bedroom house.
Simplicity Simple to build and maintain Mound or sand filters are complicated and mechanically intensive, often requiring pumps, alarms, and electricity.
Aesthetics Beautiful landscaped area of yard. Sand filters and mound systems can be large and unsightly.
SFCW are Ecological in that they mimic nature by beautifully using "waste as food". That is, they use "waste" water as a food for the wetland plants and subsequently create an attractive natural amenity. The simplicity and cost effectiveness will facilitate a more extensive retrofit of currently failed septic systems and allow for increased levels of treatment for newly constructed systems. Standard septic drainfield systems were originally designed and implemented as a temporary solution to the numerous failing 'cesspool' systems in use in the 1950's and 60's, yet have been fairly successful in reducing pollution. However, with increasing population they are not sufficient, in some areas, to protect our environment and public health for the future.


The water quality testing that occurred last year at the Conyers' system in Skagit County, WA is now complete and the test results were very favorable. Due to the time of construction, the plants were planted and the system started receiving septic tank effluent "waste" water in late August, which only gave the young plants a month or two to get established before the winter. Ideally, it is best to plant the system in the spring to give the plants the whole summer to establish themselves and stabilize before the winter. Even with the late planting time, favorable test results have been achieved with only a short acclimatization period and has left the design team and the Conyers very optimistic of the long term performance prospects for the SFCW system.

There are numerous other types of wetlands "waste" water treatment applications that can be further investigated and promoted. For instance, substantial documentation related to wetlands' ability to filter, bind, and break down the pollutants in stormwater run-off from roads and developments has been recognized and promoted by such agencies as the Washington State Department of Ecology in their "Stormwater Management Manual for the Puget Sound Basin." Further, wetlands have been used to treat and consume such wastes as landfill leachate, food processing waste, and mining discharges.

Poorly operating "waste" water treatment systems, or the lack of them, are major contributors to our country's water pollution problems. Pollution impairs water uses, causes public health problems, creates regulatory enforcement headaches, and hinders community economic development. Also, a common local problem faced by homeowners and others in rural and non-sewered areas is poor site conditions which do not allow installation and satisfactory performance of conventional on-site systems such as septic tank/drainfields. Practical solutions are needed, and there is great interest and desire to abate water pollution with effective, simple, reliable, and affordable water treatment processes and to use, reuse, and reclaim our water resources with care.

The unique ability of the SFCW technology to achieve high degrees of water quality simply and cost-effectively should be utilized to the greatest extent possible. Unless we improve our current manner of handling "waste" water, the streams, lakes, and aquifers of western Washington will continue to suffer. As an alternative for "waste" water treatment, Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetlands can be a reliable and cost-effective means of treating water of various qualities and "it is a low-cost, low-energy process requiring minimal operator attention."


The sketch and text presented here are intended to demonstrate the feasibility and possible applications for using SFCW for the treatment of residential sewage water. Excerpts were taken from various EPA and Tennessee Valley Authority published literature, and articles authored by B.C. Wolverton, Gerald R. Steiner, P.E., James T. Watson, P.E., and Mark S. Buehrer, P.E.

Mass Transit:

Public Transportation Myths Revealed

By Amy Kenna

Mass transit, often overlooked by even the most environmentally concerned citizens, belongs at the top of our list of environmental concerns.

An article in the February issue of Car and Driver (one of the world's most respected auto magazines) reinforced this idea with some shocking figures. A portion of it read, "In 1990, America had a population of 251.4 million people, 167 million of whom had driver's licenses. There were 188.3 million vehicles, averaging 10,600 miles per year. More than 71 percent of these vehicles were cars, and the overall fleet averaged 20 miles per gallon…our country's cars and trucks burned approximately 99.5 billion gallons of fuel.

"By 2010 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the population is projected to be 300.1 million people, 210 million of them drivers (a higher percentage than in 1990). The vehicle count should rise to 233.3 million, of which only 55 percent (sport-utility vehicles are gaining popularity) will be cars. Moreover, the average vehicle will cover more like 14,000 miles per year, although the fleet fuel economy will have risen to about 22.5 mpg. It all adds up to a total fuel consumption of 150.7 billion gallons per year -that's 51 percent higher than 1990!"

"Dropping CO2 emissions (to Clinton's proposed level) will require chopping motor fuel use by 1Ú3 from the projected trend line." This, the author believes, is extremely unlikely.

These figures illustrate the private automobile's incompatibility with the long-term future of the planet, and are even more convincing considering they come from the automotive press.

Nobody wants a world with polluted air and endless pavement. But what can you, as an individual living in Whatcom County, do about it? The answer for town-folks is ridiculously simple: take the bus, of course.

I realize that often the phrase "take the bus" has negative connotations, due to society's general view of "the bus" being a third-class mode of transportation. But most of the inhibitions we have about buses stem not from reality, but from myths. Here are a few myths about the bus, which, in my opinion (and I ride the bus daily) are not true:

1. Catching buses is an inconvenient and confusing task. In reality, catching a bus is a very simply task: you simply pick up a schedule, find out the time the bus is due to arrive at your stop, and wait. WTA's buses are highly dependable, and are equipped with conveniences many normal vehicles lack, such as bike racks and wheelchair lifts.

2. Buses are always late. I use WTA's services close to daily, and rarely has a bus been over five minutes late. Most buses arrive exactly when they are said to arrive, and if they are early, they will simple pull over at a stop and wait until the proper time to resume the route. Since bus drivers know the route, they will never take the wrong turn or make the mistakes which are most commonly responsible for lateness.

3. Buses aren't safe. People sometimes think of buses as only for sleazy, crazy people. In all actuality, bus passengers generally consist of college students, elderly people and folks who can't afford automobiles, not criminals. Also, strict state laws protect the safety of all passengers from anyone acting violent- bus drivers can arrest people for simply spitting on the bus (if they wish to).

In addition, buses are dramatically safer than cars in the case of an accident, for two reasons: Since the bus driver is a qualified professional, he is far less likely to get in a wreck than the average driver. And in the case of a wreck, people riding buses are much more likely to survive than people riding small, easily pulverized vehicles.

4. Buses are slow and time-consuming. People are often afraid that integrating bus-riding into their routine will eat away at their schedule. In all actuality, Bellingham's public transportation system has an impressive amount of buses running for a town of its size. People at W.W.U. will never have to wait over ten minutes for a bus to come and take them downtown, and people at Bellis Fair only have to wait (at most) fifteen. Also, shuttles exist for routes in W.W.U. for students needing to get to classes fast.

Once you have discovered the routes you need to use, integrating them into your schedule is magically easy. In fact, many times you will discover you have more time if you ride the bus, because when you're on the bus, you can relax and write a letter, read a book, or simply space out, while someone else worries about the driving.

5. WTA's new bus fare (beginning 1999) is outrageous. So a bus ride now costs two quarters instead of a quarter and a dime. Think about the money we pay for private transportation: gas, insurance, maintenance, not to mention taxes for road construction, or the initial cost of the vehicle. A monthly bus pass at this time is only ten dollars, and will soon be fifteen- compared to the hundred-plus dollars most people spend monthly on gas, payments, and insurance.

The reason for the fare increase? WTA has not increased its fare for four years, even though operational costs increase every year, and even though it increased its level of service in November of 1996.

Also, Bellingham bus rates right now are still a dollar and forty cents cheaper than those of Seattle's.

6. Buses are dirty, crowded, and ugly. WTA's buses are always clean and have openable windows for ventilation. Each bus averages about 20 passengers per route-which means that you will almost always have more than enough seats to choose from. Even on the most popular routes, it is rare that a passenger will have to stand.

As far as buses being ugly, wait until this summer, when WTA puts into use its four brand new trolley-style buses on the Fairhaven, Lynden, Ferndale and Blaine routes.

7. Buses only run in town, and only during the day. Since WTA was formed as Bellingham's public transportation entity in 1983, it has gradually expanded its breach of service: In 1989, WTA started up hourly routes to both Lynden and Ferndale, in 1993, to Lummi Island/Gooseberry Point, and in 1994, hourly routes to Blaine and Cherry Point began.

Finally, in 1995, the remaining part of the county was annexed into WTA's reach of service, (with the exception of Baker Lake and other highly remote areas) so that now every portion of the county has some form of service.

Also, WTA has in-town nightline service which runs from Bellis Fair to WWU until 11:00 p.m. every evening.

8. People in wheelchairs can't board the buses. Not only is every WTA bus (except the 20 W.W.U. shuttle) equipped with an efficient wheelchair lift, WTA also provides a Specialized Transportation (WTA-ST) system designed specifically to accommodate elderly people who no longer take the regular bus. WTA-ST provides curb-to-curb service and also provides service to seniors and people with disabilities who live too far from the usual transit routes and do not have their own transportation

9. WTA can't help me if I want to use a more casual shared commute, such as a vanpool. WTA offers a service called the Commuter Connection, which provides service to Everson, Nooksack, Lynden, Deming and Nugents Corner areas.

For ten dollars a month each, a minimum of six riders can use a van from WTA for commuting. The driver is recruited from the riders and paid for his time, and he brings the van home at the end of the day. WTA provides all maintenance, fuel, and insurance. Personal errands can be accommodated if the group is willing, and riders must agree to use the van at least four days a week on average.

WTA also provides free computerized ride-matching services to those who want to set up their own carpools.

10. WTA only provides transportation in normal route areas. Wrong again! WTA offers the Dial-a Ride service to parts of the county which do not have regular daily routes. Dial-a-Ride is a mini-bus service which covers Chuckanut Drive, Deming, Nugents Corner, Everson/Nooksack, Mt, Baker Foothills and Acme/Wickersham areas. How it works: simply call WTA to find out the times and frequency of the service (which depends on the remoteness of where you live). Once this is figured out, WTA can send a vehicle to either your home or an arranged area and then bring you to your destination.

All Dial-a-Ride vehicles are wheelchair accessible. Also, if you wish to use the service regularly, you have the option of beginning a subscription service.

11. If I have the car, I shouldn't consider taking the bus. In today's modern, busy world, it is virtually impossible for many people to rely on public transportation all the time. Especially people with young children already find it difficult to juggle their errands without having to worry about bus schedules, etc.

But that doesn't mean you can't try taking the bus, say, once or twice a week, or encouraging your teenage children to use it. Just a small change, not a complete lifestyle reform, is all that is needed to make a difference.

12. Taking the bus won't make a difference to the future of Whatcom County. In 1993, the population of Whatcom County was approximately 140,000. By 2015, the county's population is estimated to be 230,000-a two-thirds increase in twenty-five years. If every county resident owns a vehicle (and right now there are more cars in Whatcom County then there are people), then Whatcom County will need to have approximately 142 more miles of roads by 2015.

Bus routes average twenty people per route, and therefore save Whatcom County roads from 300 feet of occupied road space per route (assuming each person were to instead drive a 15 foot car). Not only that, but they save Whatcom County air from twenty more pollution-emitting vehicles per route.

Envision Whatcom County with clean air, open land, and minimal gridlock, highway crud, and urban sprawl. This is the vision of public transportation, and with a small sacrifice on everyone's part, it can become a reality.

Contacts for WTA:
Dial-a-Ride: 384-DIAL (384-3425).
Specialized Transportation or Carpool/Vanpool ride-matching: 676-6843 or 384-0294.
Commuter Connection: 676-RIDE or 354-RIDE.


Exploring the North Cascades National Park and Wilderness Areas

by Ariel Blanc
Ariel Blanc is a student at Whatcom Community College.

The North Cascades National Park and Wilderness areas, except for the line of black pavement penetrating through the lowest passes, seem devoid of the influences of man. The ice and snow-protected mountains rise to unattainable heights out of impenetrable forests of pine and fir that flourish all the way to Canada. But human history whistles through the Cascades with the chilly winds that make the trees dance. Everyone who has entered or does enter the park or wilderness area is changed in some way, and in turn they affect the wilderness. Because of this, the wilderness and humans are not separate. It is not a two-sided, us-and-them situation, but more of a geometric shape, connected with no beginning or end.

Natives and European Explorers

Long before the white man came to rest his eyes on the wonders of the Cascades, the Upper Skagit Native American tribe existed symbiotically with the land of the upper Skagit Valley. The tribes built permanent homes, traveled by canoe, and fished for salmon and steelhead in the cold mountain rivers. The Skagits were a peaceful tribe, with no chief or hierarchy; each member was equal, influential and a unique part of the whole, like every tree that makes up a forest.

As the white man explored the northwest area of the continent he was inevitably drawn to the mysteries of the Cascades. In the early 1800's, a few brave souls such as Alexander Ross and Henry Cluster tried to find the low passes between the towering peaks. The real influx of European descendants into the Cascades started with the discovery of gold. Mountain men scrambled through the rocky, forested terrain with picks, shovels, and dreams that knew no limit. During this fever, the small settlements that lined the Skagit River expanded with homesteads and businesses. Prospectors were not the only ones who chose to dwell among the wonders of the mountains; there were also hermits who chose to evade society and live in solitude-by definition of lack of other human contact-amidst the beauty of the wilderness. Perhaps they were attempting to become an unobtrusive part of the cycle like the early Skagits.

Mountain Passes

With the population in the area expanding, and the increased desire to transport mining equipment into the high country, talk of building a road across the Cascades developed. The government funded explorers from different counties surrounding the Cascades to discover any accessible pass in which to construct a path for transportation. Hannegan, Cascade and Stampede Passes were among the few proposed as options, but then rejected because of the unavoidable obstacles mother nature's steep, forested terrain presented.

When the area of Rainy and Washington Passes was decided upon, it became apparent that this new road would not only provide miners and others with easy transportation over the pass, but it would also open up the previously unattainable area for logging.

Formation of a National Park

Realizing that the unique beauty and powers of the Cascades could easily be tampered with through logging, public and private organizations such as the Sierra Club fought against it. It was lobbied that the area be turned into a national park. To add incentive for the park proposition to be passed, the U.S. Senate was presented with the plans for a politically shaped national park. Those who drew up the perimeters of the park did so such that it excluded major mine claims and areas that could have become flooded by Seattle City Light's dammed reservoirs. In 1968, the Senate passed the plan and the North Cascades national park was established.

In the beginning, the park's general management plan included the potential for hotels and restaurants to be constructed atop various peaks, accessible only by trams. But the Washington Park Service was not so daft as to practice what was occurring in other national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone which were being over-run with development, consequently negatively impacting the park's natural ecosystems.

We cannot learn and live as an extension of the land when we bring everything into nature we have made to separate ourselves from her. The general management plan that eventually was passed forbids permanent construction of hotels and other commercials buildings inside the park and the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. This plan is good for another twenty years before alterations will be considered. The North Cascades highway was then constructed with the emphasis on it being scenic; trees were cleared and banks flattened to allow the views to be taken in from the road. It was opened for general transportation on September 2, 1973, exposing the wonders of the Cascades to the public for the first time.

North Cascades Mountain School

There are many ways in which people can interact with the magnificence of the park, such as the North Cascades Institute, a non-profit organization built upon the intent of educating people about the outdoors. Their staff teaches classes on everything from kayaking to botany to Lummi basketry. One of the programs they take particular pride in is their Mountain School, which is attended by fifth grade classes from all over Skagit County. On a recent trip to Newhalem, I was wandering around the closed campground admiring the sadly gray skies and wind singing through the trees when I came upon the school tucked back in the woods. Mountain School, for many children, is one of the only chances they will get to be in the wilderness experiencing, learning and perhaps most importantly sharing their new-found wisdom with each other.

Interrupting a group of kids laughing, I asked if they were liking Mountain School and what they were learning. The children circled around me, stumbling over each other's sentences with enthusiastic answers and stories about how much fun they were having and all the many things they were learning and doing. They were learning about the vegetation and the animal populations of the North Cascades.

I smiled to myself as I left the happy little group and went in search of Christie Fairchild, the director of the school. These kids, many who had never known anything about the wilderness, were growing in a way spiritually that can never be accomplished in the wild forests of suburbia they dwell in daily. Teaching children to love the wilderness is one hopes the conservation plan of the future. These kids, if faced with a choice between economics and saving the places they have come to know and appreciate, could answer in a second that the land is what really counts. If this mentality can be maintained throughout growing into adulthood and taught to their children, generations from now will also be able to see the North Cascades in its natural state.

Mountain School Curriculum

I found Chistie under the cooking tent. We went over to a vacant spot and sat down at a picnic table beneath the blustering trees. Smiling with a peaceful, knowing glow exuberating from her eyes, she explained to me what exactly happens at the Mountain School. The kids spend three days camping and learning a different aspect of "the circle of life." The first day they learn about abiotic or nonliving things. Biotic or living things are the subject of day two, and the children take a hike through the old growth forest on Thunder Creek. On the third day they learn about us, people, and how we need and affect the area as much as everything else does.

The children are divided up into three groups, each group having an important name: Salmon, Raven, or Wolf. Each name represents an aspect of life: water, air, and land. Christie emphasized that the children not only learn about outdoor things, but that they are also learning about themselves and others through projects and journals. They learn how everything interacts with each other.

Experiencing the North Cascades

I knew it was time to discover what the North Cascades mean to me. Am I indeed a part of the circle I've heard so much about? We decide to make the journey that so many before us have. We drive over the pass in understood silence except for the splattering of rain on the windshield. To explain what I see would be to describe wonders that are beyond spoken languages. Adequate descriptions have not been and perhaps cannot be discovered; the feeling is immense.

We stop to take a picture of Liberty Bell looming above us in the fog, but at the time I know it is silly. A picture cannot capture the feeling of what it feels like to be here. I am not so detached; I am made from the same elements as the trees, rocks and rivers. I look around but I can't take it all in, there is so much. Each minuscule piece of everything biotic and abiotic I see is its own wondrous identity, and as they bled together it becomes an overwhelming whole. I breath in and out and blink and feel. I smile and know what it is to be alive.


Loomis State Forest: Beginning Forest Preservation on Trust Lands

by Jennifer Ferenstein
Jennifer Ferenstein is the Columbia Basin organizer for the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

OLYMPIA - On April 7, 1998, the Department of Natural Resources and conservationists signed an historic agreement pertaining to central Washington's Loomis State Forest. The settlement resolves litigation brought on by five conservation groups and one individual over management of the 134,000-acre Loomis State Forest in north- central Washington. In the settlement, the plaintiffs would drop three cases against the board and the Department of Natural Resources and structure a way to fund the removal from trust land status of two large areas in the state forest-about 25,000 acres. The land at stake is roadless, high-elevation lodgepole pine forest-an excellent habitat for species such as the grizzly bear, lynx, and fisher.

Jennifer Belcher, Commissioner of Public Lands, said, "I'm really pleased we've been able to settle this issue and assure folks that management of the Loomis State Forest will provide protection for grizzly bears while meeting our obligations to the Common School Trust. This agreement also assures us that we can move forward with the Loomis State Forest Landscape Plan which was adopted to protect public resources."

Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance welcomed the opportunity to develop a partnership. "I am convinced these forests can benefit the Trusts and the public more as habitat than as lumber. This settlement gives us the time we need to market this positive solution."

The areas which are contemplated to be removed from trust status are Township 40 and Upper Sinlahekin/Paymaster Creek parcels-forests in two largely unroaded areas of the Loomis. A portion of the funds (equal to the value of the timber) would be deposited in the state school construction account-and the remainder would be used to purchase replacement lands for the Common School Trust.

Trust land exchanges are frequently funded by the Legislature, but this is the first time that a trust transfer would be accomplished through private funds raised to compensate the Common School trust. The Department of Natural Resources, which manages the areas on behalf of the state's residents, would continue to manage the state forests under the Loomis State Forest Landscape Plan.

The settlement includes a 15-month moratorium on timber sales currently planned for the two roadless areas, including three sales planned in the near future.

The settlement resolves three lawsuits against the Department of Natural Resources by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs include the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Friends of Loomis Forest, The Mountaineers, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Washington Environmental Council, and Gerald Henderson.

The three cases that would be dropped include: - A federal District Court case, where the plaintiffs have charged that the Department of Natural Resources 's Loomis State Forest Landscape Plan does not provide sufficient protection for grizzly bears. - In a case pending in Thurston County Superior Court where the plaintiffs charge that a timber sale and the Loomis State Forest Landscape Plan violates the state's water quality standards. - In an appeal filed with the Forest Practices Appeals Board, where the agency is being challenged in a road abandonment issue.

The settlement also provides that:-By July 7, 1998, 10 percent of the minimum bid and fees for specified timber sales will be paid by plaintiffs;- Funding for the transfer will be secured by July 1, 1999 and that plaintiffs will pay fair market value for the parcels;-the Department of Natural Resources will maintain low road densities in two Bear Management Units for 20 years, no more than 1.5 miles of open roads per square mile and no more than 2.5 miles of combined open and restricted roads per square mile;-Plaintiffs agree to a moratorium on litigation until Dec. 31, 2000, relating to any Endangered Species Act or state water quality concerns under the Loomis State Forest Landscape Plan on the grounds that the Endangered Species Act or state water quality standards would. A similar moratorium related to grizzly bear concerns extends for 20 years. In other words, in exchange for protection of the land parcels, the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and other conservation groups will pay the state the market value of the land and its timber-a cost of about $10 to $20 million, (though the market value of the land will be assessed in fall of 1998).

The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and other conservation groups have about 13 months to raise this sum. "Our goal is to raise as much of the money as possible from the public in donations ranging from one dollar to one million dollars. We hope to use this demonstration of public support to persuade the legislature-or an individual or group of people with extraordinary resources-to contribute to the balance," according to Dale Neitzel of the Department of Natural Resources. Elsewhere in the Loomis State Forest, the Department of Natural Resources will continue to remove timber to generate revenue for the Common School trust and manage forests for a variety of objectives.


The Loomis State Forest is a 134,000-acre block of Common School Trust land in Okanogan County. It is bounded by Canada and the Pasaytan Wilderness and Okanogan National Forest to the west. It is part of more than 1.8 million acres of lands owned by Washington and managed by the Board of Natural Resources for the benefit of the Common School Trust, which provides construction funds for kindergarten -12th grade public schools. The 30,000 acres which will be taken out of the trust in this agreement is the largest remaining roadless area of state-owned trust land and home to the healthiest lynx population left in the contiguous 48 states.

Contact: Mitch Friedman, Executive Director, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, 360/671-9950 ext. 13, http://www.ecosystem.org/~nwea/, fax:671-8429, 1421 Cornwall Avenue, Suite 20, Bellingham WA 98225=09, NO. 98.051 or: Dave Workman, Department of Natural Resources, 360/902-1023. The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance broadcasts to a periodic public lands and endangered species alert listserv, called Endangered Species NW. If you wish to get on this list, send a message to jscott@ecosystem.org with <subscribe> in the subject line of the message (do not include the <> brackets).

Two New Orca Calves Born to J Pod

by Tracie Horung
Tracie Horung is communications director at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.

Two new calves have been born to the J pod of Orca whales, according to the Whale Museum and the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. This brings the populations of J pod to 22 individuals.

First sighted by Mark Sears, an expert volunteer whale-observer in the Seattle area, both calves were born approximately six months ago, says Dave Ellifrit of the center.

As has been the center's practice for the past twenty years, the calves were given an identifying label consisting of the pod name and number. The new calves are J35, born to J17, and J34, born to J22.

Researchers believe this is the first calf for J22 (who is only 13 years old), and the second for J17. Because the prominent white patches on adult Orcas are typically tinted orange on newborn, and because J35 is "definitely oranger" than the other calf, Ellifrit says calf J35 is probably the younger of the two. The calves' genders have not been determined.

"They seem to be normal, roly-poly, baby killer whales," says Ellifrit. "I just saw J35 in rough water having a grand old time."

In addition to the identification label assigned by the center, the Whale Museum names the Orcas of J, K and L pods for its Orca Adoption Program. Thus, J17 is also known as Princess Angeline; and J22, Oreo. The calves, which will remain with their mothers' pod their entire lives, have not yet to be named.

Besides the 22 members of J pod, there are 19 known individuals in K pod and 52 in L pod. The whales spends each spring and summer in Greater Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia.

Also- Report whale sightings and strandings in Washington to: THE WHALE HOTLINE 1-800-562-8832

Remember the Exxon Valdez?

March marked the ninth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Prince William Sound and except for those whose lives were forever changed by the event, the anniversary went relatively forgotten.

Here in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits, the U.S. Coast Guard apparently remained unmoved by citizen concerns that requiring tug escorts of laden oil tankers entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca was reasonable insurance against a similar disaster happening in these waters.

In February the Washington State Department of Ecology weighed in on the side of better safeguards by asking for mandatory tug escorts until a more comprehensive vessel safety risk assessment can be done for the Northwest Straits.

Local and state environmental groups joined together to ask the US Department of Transportation to require mandatory tug escorts immediately to enhance the industry's voluntary "tug of opportunity" rescue system. The groups also requested that the Secretary of Transportation establish a northern Puget Sound community advisory council like the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (RCAC) to assess fully the risks posed by increasing tanker and cargo vessel traffic in the Northwest Straits.

Calling for immediate action were People For Puget Sound, Washington Environmental Council, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, National Audubon Society, Washington Public Interest Research Group, RE Sources, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of Miller Peninsula State Park, Ocean Advocates, and Olympic Environmental Council.

The groups reminded the federal agency that a major oil spill in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or in the northern Puget Sound would wipe out a major portion of the recovery effort the State of Washington is required to undertake to protect and restore our Chinook runs.

Citizens from around the state attending Citizens Lobby Day and Whidbey Island residents got their message to the US Department of Transportation through a joint petition simply stating: "Please require tug escorts for oil tankers in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We don't want an Exxon Valdez disaster in our waters."

San Juan County Commissioner chair Rhea Miller put it plainly to Coast Guard and Transportation Department officials at a February hearing. "If not you," she asked, "who is going to protect us in increasingly dangerous waters?"

To get involved in protecting our waters from oil spills, join the Adopt-A-Politician Activist Network by calling (206) 382-7007 or email pjohnson@pugetsound.org.


Life After Proposed Listing: Taking the Salmon Test

This article is reprinted from the May, 1998, issue of Sound & Straits, with the permission of People For Puget Sound, 1402 Third Ave. #1200, Seattle, WA 98101

After proclaiming "extinction is not an option" for our Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Governor Gary Locke and local governments began facing up to the daunting task of putting noble words into meaningful action.

Citizens wondering when salmon protection and recovery are supposed to begin may have been led to believe that the fish are supposed to wait for state and local plans to be completed. Do not be misled. Federal, state and local governments can use existing laws and regulations today to make sure that any permitted activity, whether it affects land use or water quality, Does No Harm to salmon or their critical habitats. Better yet, they can require that activities affecting the land and water be Good for Salmon. They can do that today while working hard to develop longer-term plans and projects to restore the critical salmon habitats already destroyed.

Citizens can help remind our elected officials how they can do the right thing by applying the Good for Salmon and Bad for Salmon test to land use and water quality decisions before local, state and federal governments. Included in each decision made by these officials should be the reasonable and simple assurance that the permitted action will not harm salmon or the habitat they depend on.

It's a simple test that can be used right now to put our salmon first. It puts the burden of proof on those who want to alter the natural ecosystem. Here are some recent examples:

Bad for Salmon... Ecology's bend-over-backwards accommodation of ARCO's Harbor Island tank farm oil cleanup plan which has no cleanup deadlines, no removal of contaminated soils, and doesn't address the ongoing leakage of oil through the seawall into the Duwamish River. (If anybody's forgotten, the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1993 began publishing findings on genetic damage and higher mortality of Chinook salmon passing through the petroleum-contaminated waters of the Duwamish.)

Good for Salmon...The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the sediments in the Duwamish Waterway. "There are high levels of chemicals in the Duwamish, and we know the fish are picking them up. The levels of contaminants in the river are high enough to cause lasting harm to fish ... even if the fish stay in the river for only a relatively short time," said NOAA attorney Robert Taylor in the Daily Journal of Commerce.

Good for Salmon... Snohomish County, where a few years ago anti-Growth Management Act forces brought a noose to public hearings and recalled a pro-GMA county commissioner, in March passed without incident a county water quality ordinance. Snohomish County today is where fisheries biologist Dave Somers sits as a county commissioner and Executive Bob Drewel walks hand in hand with King and Pierce County executives talking salmon recovery.

Bad for Salmon... On the other hand, 2nd District Rep. Jack Metcalf squashed the nomination of the Snohomish River as an "American Heritage River" (a nomination supported, among others, by the state, county, and the Tulalip Tribes) which would have focused federal resources on salmon recovery. Just saying no, Metcalf agreed with the City and Port of Everett and the Washington Association of Realtors that "maximum local control and input is the key to preserving this great river." Been there, done that.

Bad for Salmon... Senator Slade Gorton's Elwha River bill links removal of a dam in the Puget Sound region (to the benefit of salmon) to preferential use of the Columbia and Snake rivers by irrigators and shippers (at the expense of salmon). Are salmon just another card to be played in the game of politics?

Bad for Salmon... Cross-Cascades oil pipeline advocates argue that their proposed pipeline from Puget Sound to Pasco will reduce oil spill risks on the Columbia River, notwithstanding opening up Puget Sound to potentially greater spill risks from increased tanker traffic bringing product in to ship via the new pipeline to Pasco. What would be Good for Salmon is to not build the pipeline and reduce barge traffic on the Columbia by upgrading existing pipeline routes to Pasco from the north and the east.

Bad for Salmon... Ecology renewed the Anacortes Shell Oil Refinery's permit to discharge wastewater into Fidalgo Bay in March using 13-year old guidelines for effluent limits despite citizen protests that the guidelines were outdated. Because Shell's refining processes are proprietary, there's no way of knowing, short of a costly citizens appeal, whether Ecology has required the most efficient pollution prevention measures. Worse is the precedent Ecology has set for the four remaining refinery permits up for renewal. Would Ecology and Shell agree to including in its permit the statement that no discharge will harm salmon or the habitat they depend on?

The Good for Salmon or Bad for Salmon test can also be applied to local shoreline decisions on dock applications near eelgrass beds, like the small marina dock in Lopez Island's Barlow Bay and the large Gateway Pacific Terminal dock at Whatcom County's Cherry Point. That's the significance of the proposed listing of our Puget Sound Chinook.


Washington River Deltas: History and Preservation

by Keith Robinson
Keith Robinson is a student at Whatcom Community College.

It is a typical day in the northwest corner of the Northwest today. It rained just a little bit last night, but not hard enough for me to hear it running off the roof of my rain gutter-free basement apartment. The clouds have now lifted this morning to become alto stratus and therefore no longer produce the threat of rain.

My goal for the day is to take my plastic river kayak to Nooksack River delta and see what I can see.

When I arrive at the north end of the delta I find a good spot to put my boat in. To my surprise, I also find enough beer cans for a bum to recycle and get enough money back so that he could buy a fifth of good whiskey. At the water's edge I lay my boat down under a Pacific Willow and survey the area in a 360 degree fashion. A baby stroller and an old fishing dingy, both of which are no longer worthy of occupants, are the first things to catch my eye.

The Pacific Willow which I am standing under already begins to show me the vast amount of resources in these deltas. Salix lasiandra, otherwise known as the Pacific Willow, has a range that stretches from the green forests of Alaska to the brown deserts of Mexico and from the mighty Pacific to the towering Rockies. This is a tree of a thousand survival resources. The inner bark of the tree can be dried to produce fire tinder that is sure to burn, and the more rigid branches make a great bow drill to catch the tinder on fire. Being that a pacific willow is a medium hard wood, it burns slowly with medium low heat which is perfect for cooking over. The inner bark on this bountiful tree can also be brewed into a tea or dried and ground into a flour. The tea that is produced from this plant is used to reduce fevers and fight itchy rashes produced from poison ivy or oak. Elasticity is another great trait of this tree's branches. Stretchy branches can be used to make triggers for animal traps or a bow.

Kayaking on the Mud Flats

I decide it's time to slide into the water and leave the trash, willows, and multiple species of alders behind for the distant mud flats. Once I am in the water, the ebb tide carries my boat, and I gently drift farther and farther away from the distant noise of tractors until all I can hear is the chirping of birds in a semi-globe around me. I soon drift out of the riparian zone as alders and willows give way to bushes and grasses. The bushes and grasses soon give way to just grasses and drift wood, and soon after, the grasses and drift wood give way to just mud and drift wood. All the while the river has been splitting and splitting into an alluvial fan of river chemicals.

Now that I am on the mud flats, it seems as if the show has begun: I count five different species of sea gull; there are two bald eagles, one of which hasn't acquired its adult plumage yet; Canadian geese honk over head; and mallard ducks troll along with their half bodies submerged. In addition, there are countless numbers of smaller birds zooming around my head so fast that trying to identify them would only make me lose balance and roll over upside down in my unstable whitewater kayak.

After a while, the river has split so much that it is too shallow to float my kayak any more, so I get out to sit and observe the birds. The my surprise the mud flats aren't really that muddy at all, but more sandy.

In this ecosystem of which I am just an observer, it appears as if the bald eagles are supreme undisputed rulers. I find myself even a little nervous when the eagle get too close. Wherever they go all other life moves out of the way. Once the bald eagle has flown away or landed, fish catching resumes among all the other birds, but it is evident that the other birds make sure they know where the eagles are at all times.

I soon become bored with the birds and begin to play with the sand like a four year-old at the beach. As I turn up the sand, I discover the lower chains in this delicate web of life. Little bugs that resemble shrimp are everywhere in the sand. I wonder if these shrimp bugs are the delicatessen that the migrating sand pipers feed on as they use river deltas as stepping stones when they fly from South America to Alaska and back again. However, I see no sand pipers today. Has dreaded El Niño thrown them off course, are they not migrating through here yet, or is the Nooksack no good for them because of the toxic pollutants it is forced to ingest from the dairy farms and incinerators above the delta and the infamous GP paper mill below the delta?

When I begin paddling back to my car, I realize I have found what I had come to look for in this northwest corner of the northwest. River deltas naturally produce needed resources for humans and for birds that would otherwise completely disappear if the deltas were to vanish.

Nisqually River Delta

If river deltas are a cherished and indispensable ecosystem, then the conditions of Washington's deltas wouldn't reflect that. Out of the eleven major river deltas in the Puget Sound basin, only one, the Nisqually River, has been locked up and had the key thrown away for preservation. The river itself has an aggressive preservation plan to keep development and resource extraction from fouling up the fragile ecosystems above the delta. This will be done by only allowing agriculture practices, including logging, to take place on the watershed if they don't directly harm the stream. Loggers and farmers will be first asked to comply through education and volunteer programs, then through incentives, and last through regulation if compliance isn't met. The Nisqually River, which has its headwaters on Mt. Rainier's Nisqually Glacier, ends its short but steep journey to the sound in Nisqually national wildlife refuge. In this river delta, that isn't even three square miles, over 240 species of animals can be found.

Background on Washington River Deltas

Other river deltas in the Puget Sound basin are not quite as fortunate as the Nisqually River. Even though the deltas of Puget Sound are important ecosystems, because their alluvial deposits of sediment support an abundance of wildlife including a nursery for young fish and wintering and nesting grounds for water fowl, they have yet to have been put under federal protection. Instead deltas like the Puyallup and Snohomish have been continually diked, filled, diverted, and dredged to allow for industrial economic growth.

In the late eighteen hundreds, when Washington began to experience significant population growth, river deltas provided a nice flat place already free of trees to begin development. With a little bit of dredging, diking and filling, a great port could easily be made to provide access to the inland and open ocean.

For example, before the mid 1880's, the Puyallup delta was much like what the Nisqually River delta is today. The Puyallup delta had three main channels that continually split as they snaked their way to the sound, all the while supporting countless organisms. After World War II, the city of Tacoma handed the Puyallup river over to the Army Corps of Engineers to turn what was believed to be a just pointless and useless mud into a port that would bring economic growth and prosperity. All that is left of the Puyallup's once four-square mile delta is now just some toxic mud here and there. Eight dredged waterways that support the busiest port in Washington are what have replaced the once-bountiful delta of the Puyallup.

Another tragic story is the Snohomish River, which used to be Washington's biggest river delta and covered over fifteen square miles. For the last hundred years, the Snohomish River delta has been continually diked and filled to support Everett's agriculture and port. Only three-fourths of the Snohomish River delta is now remaining due to the urban beast's bottomless appetite for land to support its uncontrolled growth.

Preserving Our River Deltas

With only 27 percent of Washington's river delta acreage remaining, it's time to preserve what we have left. More effort needs to be put forth like that of the People for Puget Sound. This organization is actively working on knocking out levees on the Skagit delta and replacing native plants on the Duwamish delta, so these deltas will be able to recline some of their original mud. The biological diversity these ecosystems support is incomprehensible. Just like everything in this world is interconnected, so is everything in the oceans connected to the deltas in one way or another. The river deltas could be that one link in the chain of life that, if it were to break, could bring the whole load crashing down. After my paddle on the Nooksack delta, I achieved an even greater appreciation for the deltas, for not only are they biological warehouses, but they are also urban wilderness. They are a close place to go and escape from it all. On my paddle, even though I could see Bellingham half the time, I felt a world away. The little biospheres of deltas, if given a chance, possess the capabilities to relax and rejuvenate the mind by a simple tune of a bird, or the soft beat of wings overhead and all around.

Timothy Egan, author of "The Good Rain," describes the Northwest as "anywhere a salmon can get to." River deltas are the protective gateway to salmon's spawning grounds. If we lose what few deltas we have left. we lose not only countless species of birds but salmon as well. Without salmon we are no longer the Northwest; we would be more like an LA of the North that is devoid of our wildlife heritage.

In Memory of Ernst Gayden

Contributed by Janet Collins
Ernst L. Gayden (retired, Huxley College of Environmental Studies) died March 23 after complications following a stroke December 1.

Ernst began teaching at Huxley College in 1971, and retired in 1995. He had studied sociology at the University of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s during Robert Maynard Hutchin's tenure as President of the University. He later attended the University of New Hampshire and the Illinois Institute of Technology where he received an M.S. of science in city and regional planning. Ernst taught at the University of Washington from 1967-1971 as an associate professor of urban planning.

Ernst developed a unique approach to environmental planning which he called "applied Human Ecology." He developed and taught courses including: Environmental Problems in Agriculture, Alternative Energy Sources and Systems, and Settlement Design of urban and rural areas. He always had time for students who wanted to explore alternative ways to plan and design agricultural, technological and community systems. He would guide them, in his low-key way, to examine "appropriate technologies." Ernst's dream was to affect the course of development by equipping students with skills and ideas and encouraging them to address problems in the developing world.

Ernst had a special concern and love for Mexico. He taught for many years in Western's foreign study program in Morelia, and had planned to return there.

Ernst is survived by four sons: Gregory, Jason, Damon, and Seth, all of Seattle; a brother, Don Gayden of Kensington, CA; and two sisters, Betty Bolen of Boulder, CO, and Matie Toi-san Hawkins of Albany, CA.

An endowment fund in the name of Ernst L. Gayden had been established. The fund will be used for providing lectures and teaching on the field of Human Ecology and Applied Human Ecology. Checks should be made payable to The Western Foundation and please identify "Ernst L. Gayden Endowment Fund" on the check or an attached note, Mail to OM 443, or mail stop 9034.


Compassion for Nature: Overly Sensible or Sensitive?

by Jonathan Moore
Jonathan Moore is a student at Whatcom Community College.

An event took place five days ago which involved my wife, and an egg noodle she noticed lying precariously on the laundry room floor. Now if you knew Wanda, you'd be apt to know that anything other than carpet and vinyl is forbidden to lie about-under where a foot may tread.

The arousal of her suspicion caused upon my return home a greeting of determined fervor: "There is a mouse in my house-get it out, please!" As it was late at night, and I was completely exhausted, the alternative to my driving to the store for a classic mouse trap was to stuff towels in every conceivable entry hole to the drawer that held the bag of noodles. Upon my verification that the oddly symmetrical hole in the bag was made by a mouse, the noodles were tossed out along with a bag of rice, and a bag of beans.

That next evening, before settling down to watch a rented movie, I set two traps baited with Reese's peanut butter cups, and placed them in the laundry room. Within fifteen minutes I heard a distinct snap. Looking over, and seeing Wanda completely engrossed in the movie, I decided not to tell her until the morning. (She slept peacefully that night.)

The next morning, while discarding the remains of a tiny mouse that was no bigger than my thumb, an inner, solemn feeling swept over me like that of being in close proximity to death.

The following day another event took place bringing with it a realization that my conscience is not as tuned into the world around me as I thought.

A friend of mine was in the process of renovating a trailer up on Reese Hill. He had a massive Alder tree that towered sixty feet over the front deck. This tree was a nuisance: It detracted from the view of the trees behind it, it stood on one side of a driveway that was planned to be put in; and it dropped nettles and dripped sap all over the deck.

"Get rid of it," he said. So I proceeded to do just that.

Sure, I've pruned trees and bushes, and hacked off sprawling limbs, and cut up dead branches for firewood, but I had never chopped down an entire tree before.

After careful planning, I shimmied up a ladder to the highest point I could reach. Susan braced the ladder to keep it from wobbling too much. Tom stood thirty feet way poised with a rope that kept tension on the tree it the direction of its projected fall (via the anchored pulley).

First I made a horizontal cut one-third of the way through the trunk. Second was a sixty degree angled cut from about twelve inches above the first notching. The last cut was from the backside angled down toward the wedge, stopping about mid-point. Eyeing a slight movement in the gap of the last cut, I turned the chain saw off and climbed down the ladder. I unharnessed the safety rope from around my waist, then walked over to Tom and told him to keep steady tension on the rope. "Okay, here we go," I said, turning around, and right then, on cue, the mighty Alder tipped ever so slightly; bent over; then snapped, falling exactly on its planned spot.

After two hours of trimming, cutting, and cleaning up, I was left with one last task: cut the remaining twelve foot high stump down eight feet leaving a nice natural base to put a flower box atop.

I cut through, and the last length of the tree fell to the ground, smooth and level. I turned the chainsaw off for the last time.

A feeling swept over me like a lost direction. Staring down at the stump, I drew my finger over the inner rings that marked each year it had stood tall and proud. Fifty-seven years in this one spot.

Is a mouse to minuscule that its death matters not? Is a tree inept to feeling pain and suffering? Is a man so ignorant as to feel for only himself?

When I heard that snap while watching the movie, I winced inside. All I could think was, "Why did I do that?" I sat there and stared toward the laundry room door. I knew that the mouse was not in there squirming around and suffering-I had felt it die.

When I ran my fingers over that tree's rings of age, I did not wince, for the tree still had life in it. I trembled, feeling the tree's slow, suffering death, and the tears of nature crying out for mercy.

I am a man, thus a man who quickly threw up barricades to stifle those feelings of anguish and pain. Ignorance? Maybe. But I may not be so ignorant as to senselessly kill the innocence of nature again.

Whatcom Watch Online
NorthWest Citizen