In June, 1998, the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribe and Whatcom County signed a Memorandum of Agreement. The purpose of the agreement is to establish a local decision-making group to ensure the long-term survival and harvest production of Chinook salmon in the Nooksack Basin, consistent with Treaty Rights and Endangered Species Act requirements.
The Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe will lead the Management Team for fisheries management. Included on the team will be the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The County will lead the Management Team for land use management.Nooksack Estuary Recovery
Important to the goal of ensuring the survival of local salmon stocks is the Nooksack Estuary Recovery Project. The Natural Resources Department of the Lummi Nation will coordinate the development of an environmental impact statement for the project, an essential first step.
It is expected that the cost of developing the environmental impact statement will be approximately two million dollars. The overall project goal is to recover the estuarine habitat and migration corridor that was lost when the Nooksack River was redirected to flow into Bellingham Bay.
Estuaries are critical salmon habitat because they provide a protected and food-rich environment for juvenile salmon growth. Estuaries also allow a transition for both juvenile and adults between the fresh and salt water environments.Nooksack River Diversion
Prior to 1860 the Nooksack River discharged to Lummi Bay. In 1860 a log jam blocked the Nooksack River and diverted it to a small stream that flowed into Bellingham Bay. Since then, considerable effort has been expended to keep the Nooksack River discharging into Belllingham Bay. The stream remaining in the Nooksack River's old channel has been called the Lummi or Red River.
In the 1920s, a reclamation project was initiated to both construct a dike to keep back the sea along the shore of Lummi Bay, and to construct a levee along the west side of the Nooksack River. This project, which was started in 1926 and completed in 1934, initially resulted in the near complete separation of the Lummi River from the Nooksack River.Altering the Lummi River Flow
However, during flooding saltwater intrusion onto the newly reclaimed farm lands and damage to the dam at the head of the Lummi River occurred. The dam was replaced with a dam and spillway structure. This spillway structure was also damaged over the years during high flow conditions. It was most recently replaced by a culvert structure that allows flow into the Lummi River only during high flow conditions.
Levees were also constructed along the Lummi River to prevent salt water intrusion onto adjacent farmlands. The dike and levee construction activity was accompanied by agricultural ditching to drain fields and wetland areas.Wetlands Lost Along the River
Only about five percent of the wetland areas that existed at the outflow of the Lummi River in the late 1880s remain today. As recently as 1955, a water flow of nearly 200 cubic feet per second was measured in the Lummi River channel. Currently, there is essentially no Nooksack river water flowing in the Lummi River channel. And the Nooksack Delta no longer provides the quality of habitat which it did prior to 1860.Salmon Habitat to Be Restored
Restoring wetland and estuary habitats is believed to be an important step in the recovery of the chinook and coho salmon stocks in the Nooksack River basin. Currently, chinook smolts (young salmon) tend to leave the river and rapidly disperse to other marine areas, rather than residing in the estuary "nursery."
This rapid flush of out-migrating salmon is believed to be due in part to the loss of estuary habitats and nearshore eel grass bed in Bellingham Bay. It may also be due in part to the rapid progradation of the Nooksack Delta since 1860. And it may also be due to the loss of smolt access to Lummi Bay with its associated estuary and eel grass beds. The loss of estuary habitat also reduces the opportunities of returning adult salmon to acclimate to the fresh water of the Nooksack River.Goals for the Nooksack Estuary
Specific goals of the Nooksack Estuary Recovery Project include the following:
Multi-Million Dollar Project Launched
The primary goal of the Nooksack Estuary Recovery Project is to improve habitat for Nooksack River salmon stocks by increasing the size of the Lummi River and Nooksack River estuaries, and improving access to migration corridors.
The project is complex. Multiple agencies will be involved, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Numerous environmental permits will be required. It is anticipated that implementation of the project in its approved final form will take seven years. In early 1999, the Lummi Natural Resources Department begins the project design and Enviromental Impact process.References
Bortleson, G.C., M.J. Chrzastowski, and A.K. Helgerson. 1980. "Historical Changes of Shoreline and Wetland at Eleven Major Deltas in the Puget Sound Region, Washington." U.S. Geological Survey. Hydrologic Investigations Atlas HA-617.
Deardorff, L. 1992. "A Brief History of the Nooksack River's Delta Distributaries." Lummi Nation Fisheries Department.
Washington State Department of Conservation. 1970. Water Resources of the Nooksack River Basin and Certain Adjacent Streams: Water Supply Bulletin No. 12.
Map of the Acme Watershed
"Environmental activists have created positive change when they have adhered to the facts." We are encouraged to hear these words from Dave Chamberlain, Crown Pacific Forest Engineer, in Whatcom Watch. (December 1998, page 14). Also interesting are the perspectives of John DiGregoria (page 3) and Andy Ross (page 9) on Crown Pacific's forest practices. Rarely are we so fortunate to have such diverse, rich public debate in the newspaper with a grassroots conscience.Some History
As Mr. Digregoria points out, River Farm has been working closely with local Crown employees on a variety of programs, from ecoforestry to salmon restoration to watershed monitoring. Crown contributes to the trust's Acme Watershed Monitoring Program and we are now finalizing a lease agreement to explore ecologically-based forestry on Crown lands. As forest landowners in the South Fork Nooksack Valley, River Farm also participates in the development of the Acme Watershed Analysis, representing the resource protection and public safety needs of the local community.Crown Pacific's Commitment
In all these pursuits, Crown employees appear to be receptive to the trust's participation, appreciative of the open communication, and welcoming to some of the new ideas. I believe Crown employees want to take pride in the "stewardship of renewable resources and ... commitment to environmental protection in Whatcom County," as the article suggests they do. But with the turn in the market and unrealistic economic expectations, Crown employees are perhaps doing things they'd not ordinarily choose to do. There is no need for excess. One thing I'd like to do for local Crown employees is to ask corporate shareholders to lower, even slightly, their expected short-term return on investment.
Industry's plight does not allow the community to shrug its shoulders and say "Oh, well." Nor does it suggest that public safety, or public resources such as fish and water, require any less protection. We must persist in our search for sustainable ways to balance ecology with economy.Watershed Protection
There are many experts out here in the forested environment. When we make decisions about levels of protection for public safety and resource recovery, various experts draw different conclusions based on similar information. Mr. DiGregoria and Mr. Chamberlain give very different accounts of a Crown Pacific road project in the headwaters of Todd Creek. Each tells a different story and only shares pieces of the truth. Regardless, the one thing that is certain is that there is tremendous uncertainty in predicting the impact of our actions on declining public resources. Nowhere is this clearer than on the steep slopes and inner gorges of our forested watersheds.
Below is my understanding of the developments in Todd Creek earlier this year. To put the story in context, let us begin with the Acme Watershed Analysis, where negotiations continue on the adoption of rules for forest practices and watershed protection. It is my hope that these issues of resource protection can be resolved soon, with rules adopted and enforced. Then we can all move forward and get on with our work.Acme Watershed Analysis
The Acme Watershed Analysis (which the law gives a few months to prepare) has been under development for nearly five years. First Trillium Corporation, and now Crown (and consultants) are developing Forest Practice Prescriptions meant to protect public resources "while maintaining a viable forest products industry." River Farm believes this to be an achievable goal, and actively participates in the process. Protection measures based on sound science and resource conservation, together with ecologically-based forestry, can provide certainty and promise for all members of our community (including local woodsworkers and Crown Pacific).Caution Versus Best Guesses
When figuring how best to protect public safety and resources, two questions arise. The first is "What does the science tell us?" The second, an extension of the first: "How much uncertainty is there in this science, and given that uncertainty, how do we arrive at an acceptable level of risk?" Ultimately, the question becomes: do we err on the side of caution in protecting the community and our threatened public resources, or do we experiment and expand, hoping that our best guesses are close enough?
River Farm has been consistent in presenting the need for low-risk strategies to protect resources in the Acme Watershed. To me there seem to be at least five important issues currently before the Prescription team. One is how to limit sediment erosion from roads, and when and where it may be appropriate to build new roads. Another is how and when, if ever, to re/construct roads across high-hazard areas. Third is whether to log and build roads on steep slopes. Fourth is how best to protect highhazard landforms from wind damage. Finally, and perhaps most challenging, is how to protect riparian areas.Improved Buffers Needed
I have some thoughts here. I believe that for the most part we should stay off slopes greater than about 65 percent, and leave strong buffers to protect from the effects of wind (at least 100 feet). In the past two months, we have seen significant wind damage to inner gorges and bedrock hollows not adequately protected in the Acme Watershed. I also suggest riparian buffer widths of 200+ feet for all perennial streams and one full (e.g. 200+ year) site potential tree height for intermittent streams (i.e.130-200+ feet).
A number of recommendations of a similar nature have been presented, including those from scientists with the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation. The Department of Natural Resources and Crown Pacific both receive these recommendations, and Natural Resources eventually takes responsibility for approving the final Watershed Analysis Prescriptions. The strategies above are probably somewhere between a moderate-to-low risk and are based on sound, best available science with an appreciation for economic constraints.
With the imminent listings of Puget Sound salmon under the Endangered Species Act, wildlife decline, and the degraded water quality conditions of our watersheds, meaningful resource recovery will take everyone's active participation. In this regard, let us remember that recovery has two components: protection and restoration. Without the first, the second may be meaningless. Phrased another way: let us do no further harm.Todd Creek
The draft Prescriptions in the Acme Watershed Analysis allow for an unspecified number of "rare instances" where road construction or reconstruction across high-hazard mass-wasting areas is permitted. This is to allow access to forests otherwise inaccessible to logging, or to prevent having to build too much new road by going around.
An old, poorly-located road toward the headwaters of the Todd Creek crossed three streams that were known to have failed in the past. There appeared to be two options in the matter: put the troubled road to rest (decommission the road, pull back the old stream crossings and let the streams go back to natural), or reconstruct the road, re-establish the crossings, and gain access to the forests.Mud Pollutes Salmon Creek
While the road was being reconstructed and the three stream crossings re-opened, a late spring storm caused the re-activation of old slide debris across the inner gorge of the upslope sides of all three, exposed crossings. As Dr. Chamberlain correctly explains, the newly installed culverts did not blow out or plug, and traffic continued to pass through.
The cutbanks above the road, however, caused active slumping into the streams, leaving fairly large, exposed scars that continue to erode. This caused the lower reaches of Todd Creek (a salmon creek more than a mile and a half from the crossings) to turn to mud for several days. The impact to water quality was documented through the Acme Watershed Monitoring Program and the Department of Ecology, and exceeds current standards.
Crown has been active in trying to contain the damage brought about by these streambank failures, spending a lot of money to lay rock on the exposed surfaces and slow the erosion. While these are important remedial activities, one has to wonder if this road should have been reconstructed in the first place. More significantly, how will we prevent and avoid these types of failures from ever happening again?The Future
River Farm is committed to working with Crown Pacific, and other forest landowners, to find appropriate ways of meeting community needs while practicing conservation forestry. We are blessed here in Whatcom County with high-quality, productive forests which can support the economy as well as all creatures calling it home. Let us care for this treasure well.
In his article (December 1998, page 14), Mr. Chamberlain writes: "We are in the forest management business which means that we harvest trees and we recognize that in some people's eyes everything we do is wrong." Perhaps there are some such people, but out here in the county, community concern rests more with the protection of public resources and safety, and the ability to support a forest products industry, forever.
Boom and bust economics don't work for the community, nor do excessive landslides, flooding or species extinction. Let's all work together to find common ground and help create a future of economic stability and ecological promise. We need not wait for the opportunity it knocks.
After seven years of dedicated and responsible reporting, the Whatcom Watch has become an institution. Its once-a-month issues appear dependably at many spots in Bellingham, and can always be counted on to provide that side to local issues which isn't always presented in the mainstream press. We at the Watch enjoy doing what we can (for free) to inform those interested in environmental issues.
However, those of us at Whatcom Watch regret that perhaps we have become too dependable and, sadly, are being taken for granted. It appears that many regular Watchers have become so used to the free stacks around town, that they have overlooked any obligation to give back to the source of their free environmental news. People seem to be deciding that as long as they can get the paper free at The Newstand, Bagelry, Tony's, Bellingham Public Library, etc. there is no need to spend the $15 for a subscription.
But in fact, there are a number of very good reasons why you should continue to subscribe to Whatcom Watch. For starters, the Watch is a non-profit organization. And, aside from a small stipend for the layout person, almost all of the money we receive from subscribers goes directly directly to the newspaper. Each amount of fifteen dollars (or more) we receive from subscribers serves to increase the quality of the paper. What's more, the paper is volunteer-based, which means that we do not pay ourselves.
Whatcom Watch has two sources of funding: money from subscribers, and money from advertising. Though a substantial amount of advertising is usually necessary for any paper, the former source of funding is generally more preferable, and here's why. When our number of subscribers declines, then we must increase our amount of advertising to meet the bills and that means less space dedicated to meaningful, in-depth articles, and more space dedicated to advertising.
At this point in time, Whatcom Watch contains far fewer ads than most other papers its size, and we don't want to change that. We would like to print as much text and as little commercial advertising as possible but we need your support. What's more, with increased funding, the Watch can begin to pay writers, artists, and researchers, which means an even higher quality newspaper for our valued readers. (Although we like to consider ourselves pretty close to perfect already!)
Please think about subscribing to Whatcom Watch. In the days of junk mail and phone solicitors, we do not want to seem like another entity demanding donations for a cause that has no direct relevance to daily life. We are only reminding you that the concerned citizens of Bellingham and Whatcom County, our readers, are what the paper depends upon to exist and to grow. Whatcom Watch is the product of a supportive community. The more supportive the community, the finer the product, and the closer everyone is to enjoying a clean, safe, and sustainable future in Whatcom County. Please see subscription form on next page.
In 1852, Lummi Indians led a couple of small-time entrepreneurs to a waterfall tumbling into Bellingham Bay. With power for the taking and convenient access to saltwater, Henry Roeder and Russell Peabody proceeded to build northwest Washington's first commercial development, a sawmill at the mouth of Whatcom Creek.
About a century and a half later, I showed up. In the fall of 1991, I moved from Indiana to Bellingham, eager to stake my own claim in the Pacific Northwest. A girlfriend and I took an apartment near Whatcom Creek on the corner of Holly and G Streets near downtown. We filled the place with hand-me-down furniture and admired Mt. Baker from our third-floor window, even if looking down meant an eyeful of parking lot dumpsters and a cinder block wall where homeless men huddled in anonymity. Being a long-time flat-lander, I figured any view of a 10,000 foot volcano, no matter how distant, was worth a foreground of garbage and misery.Tidelands Replaced
As for Whatcom Creek, my view was quite different than Roeder's and Peabody's. Gone was the ambitious sawmill at the base of the falls, replaced by a half-mile of fill-supported industry between Maritime Heritage Park and the Georgia Pacific plant. High tide (which in the mid-1800s climbed to the bluff holding today's county museum) was pinched between a tight, riprapped corridor of blackberry brambles and shrubby hardwood trees. Glistening with motor oil, the creek hardly looked like the wild streams I had hoped to find in my new home.Autumn on Whatcom Creek
My opinion of Whatcom Creek changed, however, as the cold rains of late fall swept inland. One pale, gray afternoon, while walking toward the Shrimp Shack over the Holly Street bridge, I came upon a lively crowd of men, women, and children stretched along its muddy shores. Two dozen anglers dangled fishing poles above the black water, their lines shimmering in the dimming light of day. As drizzle rippled the creek's surface, a flash of silver jumped skyward and I realized what lay before me my first salmon run! If you were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, you may not understand the impact of a Midwesterner's first encounter with migrating salmon. It's cathartic, a truly emotional experience, one best described as seeing wildness for the first time in life.
Within weeks of moving to town, I was sure I had settled in Bellingham for good.
Of course, 22-year-olds tend to change their minds a lot, and I was no different. Within two years, I was gone. A sour relationship, graduate school, and the pursuit of a career ultimately took me to other parts of the country: Portland, south Florida, the desert Southwest, the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, and New York's Hudson Valley. More recently, I spent a year back in Indiana, reacquainting myself with "the pleasures of an unspectacular landscape," to borrow a loving phrase from writer, Scott Russell Sanders.Home Again
As fate would have it, I returned to Bellingham three months ago, meeting the folks at Whatcom Watch soon after. As they saw it, my perspective as a Ulysses-come-home might make for interesting reading material for long-time Whatcom County residents. Perhaps, they figured, the changes in the area would be more evident to someone who has come and gone and come again.
I hope that my upcoming columns will shed light on the quality-of-life issues confronting Whatcom County today: sprawl, economic development, threatened wildlands, to name a few. I call it, "Fish out of Water," for two reasons. One, a Hoosier like myself can feel pretty out of place in a landscape like northwest Washington, surrounded as it is by mountains and the sea. And two, I think we are all "fish out of water" until we find the best way to live here.
You, the reader, can decide for yourself. I won't speak as a long-time resident, but as a concerned one.
An overflow of people squeezed into the Whatcom County Council chambers Tuesday night, December 8, to voice their opinion about items on the council's agenda concerning the Lake Whatcom watershed. During the three minutes the council allotted each of them to speak, many addressed concerns about the quality of the watershed in relation to public and aquatic health.
Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen, Bellingham City Council members, the mayors of Bellingham and Sumas along with others, encouraged the County Council to prove their effective leadership by protecting watershed quality. They called for the support of the ESHB 2514 water plan to implement action towards solving local water resource issues. They called for the denial of funding for the design of a connector between Lake Louise Road and Yew Street to alleviate traffic along Lake Whatcom Boulevard.
Two members of the Lake Whatcom Boulevard Safety Commission argued that the third busiest street in the city would only see more cars and that, since there was no way to stop growth, the county needed to prepare for the influx of people. Opponents of the connector pointed out that the topography and soil stability of the area rendered it a poor site, that the eventual construction of the road itself would be costly and, most importantly, the project would extend urban infrastructures leading to more development around the watershed.Lake Whatcom Connector Design Study Funded
The majority of the people at the meeting felt the council did not meet the call for effective leadership. Despite strong public opposition, it voted 5-2 in favor of funding the design of the connector. Members of the audience reacted by booing and groaning. Cries of "Its our water!" and "You're not representing the people!" rang out. Bob Imhof chastised the crowd by telling them he had seen Boy Scout troops and high school students behave better than the public at this meeting.
During the discussion before the vote, council member Connie Hoag had pointed out that voting for the connector seemed to contradict the council's support of water quality. The audience responded enthusiastically. Her motion for a delay of the decision until the council could assess the results of current watershed studies, however, was voted down. (Editor's Note: Pete Kremen vetoed the connector legislation. Because of the nature of the ordinance the council cannot override the veto.)Development Regulations in Conflict With Comprehensive Plan
During the public statement period concerning Item #6 on the agenda, Bob Imhof interrupted Sherilyn Wells, stating that her three minutes to speak were up and that she was off the subject anyway. "I have much to say and you have little ability to listen," she responded. This action on the part of Imhof showed a disinterest in reviewing the discrepancies Wells had been pointing out between the comprehensive plan and the development regulations the council was voting to adopt that night.
Although the comprehensive plan calls for extra protection against development around the lake, Wells noted that there are areas under Lake Whatcom's zoning policies within the development regulations that are zoned as urban growth areas. The council congratulated Wells on "doing her homework," but did not address her concerns.
Later on, shortly before the closing of the meeting, the council voted 4-3 to increase flood fees to help fund the ESHB 2514 water plan. This decision only illustrates the contradictory nature of the support for development in the county and the support for maintaining the quality of the Whatcom watershed.Watershed Health Must Take Top Priority
It will take at least 75 years for the county to purchase the undeveloped land around Lake Whatcom for conservation. The County Council needs to join with the Bellingham City Council, the Lummi Nation, and the Nooksack tribe to create a foundation for strong policy to take the health of the county's water supply seriously. In King County, they take it seriously enough to seal off their reservoir from the public.
Similar action in Whatcom County needs to occur. Development along Lake Whatcom must to be curtailed. The health of the watershed must take top priority when considering issues of recreational use, residential lawn fertilizers, and logging in the watershed. Most importantly, watershed planning needs the public's input from individuals like Sherilyn Wells.
If residents show this much concern for the health of Lake Whatcom, the council should be willing to take decisive action towards preserving water quality within Whatcom's watershed. Action must be taken for the present and continued health of the salmon, wildlife, and people who benefit from clean water in their watershed.
I was there on December 8th.
I wanted to offer public testimony to our County Council, but they burned me out. I left the meeting at 9:30 p.m. with a splitting headache, thoroughly disgusted and embarrassed that this council was my government. The intimidation, railroading and denial of the rights of free speech were destructive and, perhaps, actually illegal. Instead, I choose this medium to speak out. I speak with many hats on. I wear a hat as president of RE Sources, an environmental education organization with over 4,000 active supporters. I wear a hat as a steering committee member of Sustainable Connections, a local group of businesses and concerned others who try to acknowledge that ecology and commerce are intimately connected. I wear a hat as president of A-1 Builders, a local design/build contractor. Although these different hats might seem to take me in diverse directions of travel, I carry only one compass. My true north points towards sustainability, knowing that my every action affects generations to come, sometimes in complex ways whose connections we can't seem to understand. My true north includes something called the Precautionary Principle. The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle reads as follows: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."Biologist Supports New Pier at Cherry Point
This past Monday (December 7, page 1) The Bellingham Herald reported that Brian Williams, a biologist with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, thinks the Gateway Pacific pier should be built at Cherry Point, even though the herring population has dropped eighty percent in ten years. He wants the pier built so that money would become available to study the fish and why they might be declining. Go ahead and build it. He says that if there is a problem, then Gateway Pacific Terminal would be required to fix it.Business As Usual
I just don't get it. There's already a terrible problem. The herring are disappearing. But we don't know why. It's too complex. We seem to know how specific mechanisms work, but we don't understand the whole. So a fish biologist suggests we build the pier anyway continue with business as usual so that funds will be freed up to study a complex question whose answer escapes us.Complex Question Unanswered
The answer, however, is simple. The fishery is dying; the salmon who eat them are dying. The question, however, is complex. Why are they dying? Say, for instance, the herring population drops another 10 percent with the new pier in place. Does this mean it's because of the pier, or simply because the trend in the population curve is continuing on its historical decline? How can we say the pier furthered this death and dying? We can't because cause and effect, something you and I learned about in school, is no longer an easy equation to prove. What causes the herring's death? Which specific mechanism, so many of which affect their ecology, is killing them, and then, perhaps, the salmon?
And then, perhaps, the people.
There is no time for business as usual.Ignoring Reality
So often I see people behave as if their compass needle is jammed in the direction of denial. How, for example, can a fish biologist suggest that there might be a problem when eighty percent of the fish are already dead? How can our council consider a build out of our watershed while water quality deteriorates? Why don't people believe (and then act accordingly) the barrage of scientific feedback that nearly every biological system around us is in a state of serious decline? Perhaps it's because it's too painful. In their book, "The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State," by James Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Simon & Schuster, 1997) make a very important observation: "A recent psychological study disguised as a public opinion poll showed that members of individual occupational groups were almost uniformly unwilling to accept any conclusion that implied a loss of income for them, no matter how airtight the logic supporting it. Given increased specialization, most of the interpretive information about most specialized occupational groups is designed to cater to the interests of the groups themselves. They have little interest in views that might be impolite, unprofitable, or politically incorrect." (p. 339)Council Needs Courage to Assume Leadership
My own opinions cover this entire gamut: they are impolite, unprofitable, and politically incorrect. Impolite, because I am saying that our council needs to lead us, protect us, instead of bowing down to special interest groups; unprofitable, because protection hurts these special interest groups; politically incorrect, because protection might cost council members their jobs. Before going ahead with the pier and the residential build out of our watershed, we need to study the cumulative effects of the many specific mechanisms that affect our environment. We should not proceed with piecemeal information, so much of which says we are heading south. I ask our leadership to choose true north. I ask our leadership to choose sustainability. I ask our leadership to decide for those of us seven generations hence. And protecting them protects us, and our water, and the herring, and the salmon. Our compass must be aligned with the Precautionary Principle.
Remember Ross Perot's huge sucking sound? You can still hear it, but now it's it's money disappearing, not just jobs.
People don't usually stop to think about how money works, but it's in short supply for most of us because of the way it works: the system is designed to keep money drifting away. Our federal money system makes it easy for malls and chain stores to siphon money away from communities and local businesses. For example, out of every $1.00 we spend at Bellis Fair Mall, a full 93¢ immediately leaves the community. If you think that 93¢ comes back in the form of wages or jobs, check the average mall wage against the salary of the average CEO. And ask yourself where that CEO buys lunch everyday, at the Little Cheerful? Chances are it's somewhere far from Bellingham.
While money spent at the mall leaves Whatcom County in a hurry, money spent at, say, Village Books gets re-spent locally six to 13 times. For example, when Chuck gets your dollar for a book, he might spend it for breakfast at The Bagelry where Ken uses it to buy flour from Fairhaven Flour Mill where Nancy takes in the dollar and spends it on vegetables at the Farmers' Market, and the cycle keeps going. Locally. Supporting our neighbors, jobs and families all along the way.
Local "re-spending" has kept business thriving throughout history, but here's a Bellingham example: the story of the O'Brien saloon and the Fouts boarding house in Old Town during the economic depression of the 1890's. The saloon owner, O'Brien, would pay a quarter for his breakfast at Fouts' boarding house each day. By evening, Fouts would pay that same quarter to O'Brien for his evening pint. By morning, the quarter would find its way back to Fouts as payment for breakfast again. According to The Bellingham Herald, April 4, 1998, this exchange went on for "an indefinite time." The annual income generated over the course of the year for each business was no longer 25¢, but around $100: a pretty penny, as Fouts might have said.
Keeping money local supports businesses, of course, but it also supports local human services, environmental work and non-profit efforts. The 93¢ that leaves town at the mall takes with it our neighbors' discretionary funds which might have gone toward the school play or the parks program if a local business owner had made the sale. The drain of funds away from town leaves non-profit community services severely hindered.Send Childcare Jobs Overseas?
While the ability to transfer wealth instantly around the world serves large profit-making corporations well, it works against towns and counties. Dollars accommodate the international flow of money, a process which actually removes money from community businesses. Local money Kulshan Cash keeps the money here, stimulating and maintaining the Whatcom economy, local jobs and trade.
Some of our most important work is undervalued in the dollar economy care of the elderly, the children, the environment but the societal value of this work is high. The dollar value for this labor is low due to an international race to the bottom: most work for least money. But care of our children is not an overseas job: it has to be done here and it has to be done well. The international dollar value of labor should not define the value we place on something as critical as childcare. But, until now, that was the only game in town. With Kulshan Cash, people in Whatcom County can choose to add a cash value to services that are good for our community like childcare or environmental restoration.HOURS vs. Theirs
Ithaca HOURS, the most famous local currency system operating in the U.S. today, bases its exchange on the value of one hour's labor, rather than a direct dollar equivalency. This feature encourages a more equitable wage structure, basically saying that an hour of my time is worth the same as an hour of your time. Several other communities around the country, including South Sound Hours in Olympia, Washington, have adopted this system successfully.
Both the HOURS system and Kulshan Cash encourage barter-style trading as a way for individuals to start earning and using Kulshan Cash. People with skills to trade advertise in a monthly directory (probably to be published as an insert in one of the existing Whatcom County papers). As with the HOURS systems, participants get some Kulshan Cash just for joining and additional cash for networking on an on-going basis.
The HOURS system in Ithaca is based on a $10 per hour wage, which was the average of all hourly wages in the area at inception. Despite the egalitarianism of the original intent, even in HOURS a farmer gets paid less per hour than a doctor does. And the average wage in the region has changed since the inception of the program. Each community will handle these issues in its own way. By basing Kulshan Cash on the good work that's already going on here, rather than on an hourly wage, Whatcom County sidesteps these complications and gains some significant advantages.
One advantage is that by tying distribution to existing businesses, Kulshan Cash enters the mainstream of Whatcom County's economic life, rather than languishing at the side-lines as modified barter. The direct dollar-for-kulshan ratio is "accounting-friendly" and encourages business participation. Because of Whatcom County's tendency toward ideological polarity, mainstream participation will make or break the deal. Money's simplicity means ideology doesn't matter: you just spend it. One person may spend her Kulshan Cash at Allied Arts and another might donate it to Calvary Temple: either way, the money stays local.Scrip, Barter and Bank Notes
From the earliest years of the U. S. government, banks and cities have excercised the legal right to issue their own currencies. As illustrated earlier, local currencies were used throughout the U. S. during the 1930's depression and, currently, over 100 local currency systems are in full, legal operation around the country.
It's taxable. The general rule is to treat the Kulshan Cash just as you would a U. S. dollar. Income earned in Kulshan Cash is taxed at the dollar-equivalent value. Purchases which would be tax-exempt in federal dollars (e.g., medical services, food) remain tax-exempt in Kulshan Cash as well. Increased economic activity in Ithaca, New York, as a result of their successful local currency system resulted in a proportionate increase in tax payments, which pleases the IRS. Accounting with local currencies is clear and above-board, more so than barter, for example. Tax evasion through barter appears to decrease in communities with local currency systems, which also pleases the IRS.Local Skills: the Real Gold Mine
Inflation or devaluation happens when currency is issued without economic controls. Contrary to popular belief, the gold standard did not prevent inflation; newly discovered gold mines sometimes flooded the market randomly involving everybody else. Because the quantity of Kulshan Cash in circulation is tied directly to the participation level in the community, it has at least three natural economic controls preventing inflation:
Kulshan Central is not a bank; it is a representative board of directors. Like a central clearing house, it monitors the system to increase participation, maintains records and reviews and approves requests for grants from participating non-profit organizations. Currently operating under the non-profit umbrella of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship Social Justice Committee, Kulshan Central will establish a separate 501(c)3 status once a board of directors representing the participating businesses, organizations and individuals has been convened.
It's time that the great wealth of Whatcom County measured in the education and skill of its workers, its energy and natural resources be reflected in our community wealth not just in ourdollar wealth. Kulshan Cash gives us a tool to do just that: to measure our wealth without relying only on scarce dollars. It's time for a monetary system created by and for the community, responding to community needs and developing our local economy, environment and community. The U.S. dollar just can't do it all alone.
Kulshan Central welcomes local artists' design ideas for a one-kulshan coin, a five-kulshan bill and a ten-kulshan bill, emphasizing local themes and images. The final design will be approved by the board and payment to the artist will be made in Kulshan Cash, of course. Artisans to manufacture the coins and print the bills are also sought. Possible materials for the coin design include such local materials as aluminum (Intalco is a local business, after all), wood, glass or stone.
Some examples from the past and present:Blaine Wooden Nickel
During the depressionof the 1930's, the City of Blaine backed a local currency issued by the Blaine Relief Association, whose president, Albert Balch, is credited with the idea of the "Wooden Nickel." Introduced in 1933, the wooden coins were paid to workers performing designated city work and were "redeemable at par" at all Blaine stores. Denominations of "dime" and "quarter" were later minted and the popularity of the idea brought requests from all over the U. S. and Canada to purchase the wooden coins as souvenirs at up to a 640 percent premium! The wooden money furnished a resourceful method whereby people helped themselves.Time-Dollar Health Care Service Credits
Dr. Edgar Cahn designed the Time Dollar system in 1986 in Miami, Florida. The system mimics the community memory of an earlier times in which neighbors helped each other out knowing that, in due time, the favors would be paid back. Time Dollars are earned by volunteers who get one Time Dollar for one hour of service performed, focussing on care of the elderly, ill or injured. A coordinator matches the skills of volunteers with the needs of community members and keeps track of earned and used amounts without a monetary equivalency. Programs are in operation in more than five major U. S. cities and are supported by a major health insurance company.Local Exchange Trading System (LETS)
In 1983, Michael Linton started this alternative monetary system just over the Canadian border in Comox Valley, British Columbia. LETS economies now operate all over the world, the largest one in Katoomba (near Sydney) Australia. The system uses no paper currency but operates on a credit and debit system entirely controlled by the participants. Transactions are reported to a record keeper who subtracts or adds to individual accounts based on services or goods exchanged. Value is determined by the trading partners.Ithaca HOURS
The Ithaca HOURS program was founded by Paul Glover in 1991, in Ithaca, New York. Currency is based on an average hourly wage of $10.00 with denominations in 1/2 and 1/4 HOUR amounts. Circulating currency transactions equaled $2 million by 1995, creating the economic equivalent of 100 jobs at a $20,000 annual salary. The currency system is coordinated by a representative non-profit board with member input encouraged at monthly gatherings.Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (SHARE)
Based on the E. F. Schumacher Society, Susan Witt founded SHARE in 1989 to create innovative methods to support businesses in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in order to increase regional economic autonomy. SHARE assisted a local restaurant in issuing "Deli Dollars" as a method of raising capital for a move. Through a pass-book savings account system, SHARE has created a method for vacationing visitors to invest in the region by backing low-interest small business loans.
1. Businesses pledge to accept Kulshan Cash at the rate, amount and time period each decides appropriate. Pledges can generate a tax deduction under accounting certain conditions, or businesses can use the Kulshan Cash to pay employees or buy goods. Or barter-participants sign-up, advertise a skill.
2. Non-profit organizations receive Kulshan Cash grant funds for project proposals approved by the Kulshan Cash board. Project proposals like rewarding volunteers, paying employees, buying materials or hiring subcontractors with Kulshan Cash.
3. Kulshan Central "mints" the Kulshan Cash, as currency or coin, up to the amount pledged by local businesses and distributes it to participating non-profit groups in the form of grants.
4. Volunteers, or employees:
5. Businesses use Kulshan Cash to:
Once a business has received Kulshan Cash up to its annual pledge limit, it may:
Non-pledging businesses may accept and spend Kulshan Cash just like regular dollars, but the tax deduction option is not available to them.
Earth Community, Earth EthicsReviewed by L. A. Parks Daloz
by Larry Rasmussen
Orbis Books, 1998
376 pp., $20.00 paper
Thoreau had it wrong when he suggested that "the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation." In fact, the mass of Americans seem these days to be living lives of stolid denial of a our current unsustainable trajectory leaving the desperation to those who have seen the iceberg looming just ahead, all too aware of what it takes to change course in time.
Stopping after the first half of Larry Rasmussen's award-winning new book, "Earth Community, Earth Ethics," one could only conclude that if we have not already hit the berg, we are about to.
In what he calls an "Earth scan," Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr professor of Social Ethics at New York's Union Theological Seminary, gives it to us straight on. Noting that it is not "the environment" but our very way of life that is unsustainable, he brings together a crushing array of sources to demonstrate that unless we change course in fundamental ways, the Earth will overheat, choke on its waste, run out of resources, and act decisively to purge the source of its agony.
What's more, Rasmussen asserts that the forces that have brought us to this pass simply cannot be the ones to get us out: nation states are unlikely to be able to do it; corporations, by their very form, are ill equipped; the market system won't; "high-tech nomads and cowboys" won't: our individualist ideology won't.
In short, the first half of the book is a terrific source for those willing to look a grim future in the eye. This is not a book for those who want to feel that hope is plentiful or grace cheap.
Faced by so sobering a picture, it is perhaps not surprising that many of those in socio-environmental work consider themselves to be "spiritual" if not explicitly religious. The challenges before us require a certain strength of soul. Yet as Thomas Berry says, "What now must be done cannot be done by our religious traditions as we know them and what now must be done cannot be done without them." Long an activist with the World Council of Churches, Rasmussen agrees, and in the second half of the book, he examines those traditions.
In place of a cosmology in which God and Humankind are separated from each other and from Creation (and, in the case of humans, are therefore free to degrade "the environment" without consequence to themselves), he reaches out for symbols, images, and language that grasp the essential wholeness of all Creation, human and divine together.
Turning much religious symbolism on its head, he calls for an honoring of darkness of fecundity, stillness, even grief as well as light; he exchanges the language of human dominion and stewardship over life and the Earth for a language of partnership. And he insists that we tell our story from the real beginning.
For Rasmussen, any God-talk in the particular cosmologies and ethical systems of different traditions and locales that does not include the 15 billion-year history of the cosmos and does not relate to all its entities, living and nonliving, ancient forms and very recent ones, speaks of a God too small.
In short, Rasmussen offers a ground plan for the re-creation of our religious traditions so that they might more adequately channel, augment, and empower the deep spiritual energies of those who would see the destinies of humans and the earth more adequately aligned. Earth Community, Earth Ethics rings with prophetic cadence. And, like all good prophesies, offers not only dire warning, but also a pathway to hope. This is a book for those with the courage to face reality, the creativity to transform it, and the will to do the great work before us.
Is there any form of livelihood challenged from more directions than is agriculture? I certainly can't think of any. Newspapers are full of information about many of those challenges.
Weather impacts are usually beyond our control, but we certainly can turn two of the other current leading challenges into opportunities as some are already proving. The two issues that come to mind are global market uncertainties and the salmon/endangered species problem.Global Market Impacts
It appears that agriculture's increasing dependence on a wildly unstable global market situation, with the resultant problems for U.S. agriculture, is based on an incredible misunderstanding.
Governmental bodies and some academics have come to see the giant international commodity firms as the core of "agriculture," and develop policy accordingly. Farmers, ranchers and rural communities are lost in that equation.
So instead of heeding the non-stop state and federal blather encouraging one and all to increasingly grow for export (which basically fattens the bottom line of those commodity firms, with little consideration for what is good for the farming/ranching community), we who actually grow the food need to focus more on growing and selllling what our communities and regions want.
Not only is "local" a huge market largely fed from somewhere else, but it also offers better mutual security, connectedness and individual control potential. There are plenty of good examples of alert folks beginning to enter the more diverse and specialty crops, organics, and value added.Corporate Interests Shape Agriculture
There is a theme that often directly or subtly predominates whenever agricultural interests interact with the rest of the population "conserving resources" versus "exploiting resources."
The activist part of the American population tends to support the best possible stewardship of resources; portions of corporate America tend to take very short-term views and correspondingly exploit whatever they can.
Farmers and ranchers have succumbed to four or five decades of propaganda from agricultural suppliers and others who stand to benefit financially or bureaucratically, and now tend to identify with "resource exploitive" philosophies.
That simple assumption, in which the farmer assumes that whatever is good for his/her suppliers and their grant partners in academia is good for him/her, has been disastrous to agriculture as a whole.Conserving Resources
On a farm-by-farm basis, most farmers are resource conservers. Farmers are stewards of the most basic and important resources. As such we should look to align ourselves with those who truly care about those resources as opposed to those who care primarily about maintaining a bureaucracy or selling something to the farmer.
I believe that the National Audubon Society, the land trusts, the wilderness groups, etc., have far more in common with the long-term interests of agriculture than most groups and companies that call themselves the voices of the farming/ranching communities.Salmon and Endangered Species
Which brings us to endangered species. Everyone wants salmon and the biological community to thrive. It's just the very complex question of how best to allow it to happen. It's hard; it's complex; it's monotonous; it's bureaucratic and frustrating. But it is also an incredible opportunity for all involved to listen and better understand each other. An opportunity for farmers and ecology-focused persons to develop relationships and trust that can serve agriculture very well in the long term.
I know many farmers and many ecological activists (some are one and the same). The majority in each group are good, concerned people who deeply care about our world, and are passionate enough to spend time and energy fighting for their beliefs. Minus a very few on each fringe, those folks are essentiallly natural allies, recognizing the imperative to be good resource stewards, and can work together in good faith. That was demonstrated when over 200,000 citizens helped organic farmers by responding to USDA's proposed national organic standards.Farmers and Conservationists Should Join Forces
Enviros need to better understand and respond to the challenges we in agriculture face, and help us gain a new voice in public policy to correct some great inequities. For its part, agriculture needs to respond to new information about human and planetary health by farming/ranching ever more in harmony with natural systems.
Farmers, consumers, children, salmon... everyone would benefit if we thought and acted as "resource conservers." No, maybe not everyone. There are huge financial interests out there whose profits will be hurt if ranchers get fair prices for livestock, if pesticide needs go down, if farmers have some control over their markets, and so on.
Their voices are loudest wherever paid lobbyists have the most influence. Those lobbyists can be countered only by strong public support for the real agriculture practices by farmers and ranchers. I think we have the best chance to move agriculture profitably into the next decade through grassroots work at the community and state levels.Digging out of the Pit
The traditional profit-seeking allies of American agriculture (including some in academia) have helped farmers and ranchers dig themselves into a deep pit. We need new allies who wholeheartedly will work with us to develop a new cultural support base and, in the the process, dig ourselves out of that pit.
The business of farming and ranching has become so complicated that we've lost sight of some basics. One is to try to look at unsatisfactory situations from fresh perspectives. Another is that "my alleged friends' enemies are not necessarily my enemies." Some of our biggest challenges may be, instead, some of our best opportunites.