Whatcom Watch Online
October/November 1999
Volume 8, Issue 10/11

Editor's Note:

The news stand version of this edition contains several articles on local elections and candidates. That material is not included in the online edition because of its limited time value. If you wish to read this information, back issues of the Whatcom Watch are available at the Bellingham Library.

State Ecology Study:

Degradation of Lake Whatcom Water Quality Needs to Be Addressed

by Paul Weideman
Paul Weideman is a free lance writer living in Bellingham.

These days, water quality in Lake Whatcom is at the forefront of public conscience. Political and community leaders continually cite it as an issue of major concern, and for good reason. The lake, which provides drinking water for 65,000 Whatcom County residents, contains metals, pesticides and other toxic compounds exceeding state water quality standards. A report issued in late September by the state Department of Ecology documents the lake´s water quality degradation.

While the study calls overall contamination in the watershed “low-to-moderate and…similar to other areas of the Puget Sound Basin,” it does not assuage the concerns of water quality activists. “There has been a public campaign to claim there is no real problem,” says activist Marian Beddill, “Scientifically, there is a problem.”

The study´s Worrisome Findings

Sherilyn Wells, a longtime water quality activist, attributes current water quality problems to the city´s lack of foresight. “This simply highlights what happens when you say, ‘People, move in above the water supply.´”

Certainly, much of the current dialogue about Lake Whatcom´s future hinges delicately on the conflict between developing the watershed and protecting water quality. As it stands now, current zoning would allow a 230% increase in the number of dwelling units in the lake´s watershed. Ecology´s recent study documents an already afflicted drinking water supply that could become more tainted with increasing urbanization.

The Study´s Nuts and Bolts

The study itself details contaminant levels in the lake, fish, and surrounding streams. Specifically, scientists sampled water and sediments from Austin Creek, Cemetery Creek, Lincoln Creek, and Fever Creek as well as from storm drains at Park Place, on the lake´s northern edge, and Cable Street, near the lake´s drinking water intake. Sediments from three different lake sites and fish tissue from the lake and Whatcom Creek were also analyzed in order to ascertain the extent of toxicity.

Scientists screened for fecal bacteria, metals, petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs), semivolatile organic compounds, and pesticides with the objective of collecting data to monitor dangerous chemicals in the water and identify the need for further sampling.

Extent of Pollution

The results are troubling. The study recommends adding the lake to the state´s list of impaired water bodies, a move that Ecology´s Dave Serdar, one of the authors, says should inspire “a call to action” on the part of state officials. Moreover, all the creeks sampled qualify for the impaired water body list for containing at least one contaminant that doesn´t comply with state standards.

Metal concentrations in stream water are highest in Fever Creek and lowest in Austin Creek, with copper, mercury and zinc exceeding water standards in at least one site each. Chromium, copper, and zinc concentrations are double the concentrations of 30 stream sites in King County, according to a study by Metro in Seattle.

The northern basin of the lake is the most developed and, unsurprisingly, the most contaminated. The highest metal concentrations in the lake occur there, and mercury levels reach 0.46 mg/kg, nearly double any other site. Park Place is the watershed´s most contaminated site with a wide array of contaminants including zinc, lubricating oil and semivolatile compounds.

Dissolved fecal matter above state standards is present at every site examined in the study. Widespread detection of caffeine also could be an indicator of human sewage, according to the study. The feasible sources for these pollutants include leaching septic systems, sewer overflows or illegal sewer connections.

Fifteen pesticides pollute the water, and the three most toxic, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion, exceed standards at the Cable Street drain, in close proximity to the city´s water intake that sends some nine million gallons of drinking water daily to county residents.

The Missing Nuts and Bolts

Results from the study were compared to surveys of urban streams and the Puget Sound Basin by Metro in Seattle and the U.S. Geological Survey, resulting in the “low-to-moderate” assessment of water quality. “They´re comparing apples to oranges,” Wells insists. “The fact that we´re similar is alarming.”

 Dave Serdar agrees that these levels of contamination are alarming for a drinking water source: “The types of contamination you see are typical of what you see in urban areas,” he concedes. However, he adds, “It´s cause for concern; I don´t think you want to see typical urban water quality in your drinking water.”

Activists are concerned about how the mixing of dozens of chemicals will affect public health. Robyn Du Pre, from the environmental education group RE Sources, comments, “Very little has been done to study how these chemicals react in combination with one another.” Wells concurs, “Here we´re talking about a watershed where [hundreds of] contaminants are mixing with each other. What´s that doing to us?”

Fish Indicators

Meanwhile Jim Johnston is concerned about the fish. “[Ecology´s study] does not anywhere make a passing mention at fish health,” says the resident fish biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“A critical [question] of the water chemistry scheme is ‘How long does a fish live?´ The fish are the canary in the cage. They are going to tell us the health of the lake much sooner than anyone else.”

Johnston quickly points out the study´s exclusion of documenting past fish kills in the lake. According to Johnston, since the 1940s, one fish kill per decade has been the norm. In the last 10 years, four fish kills have occurred.

“Externally they appear perfect. When you cut them open, you see engorged, horribly colored livers, fire-engine red, mauve, maroon,” Johnston notes about the dead fish. The consistent pattern is more alarming. Each fish kill has involved kokanee off the mouth of Carpenter Creek at the lake´s southern end, supposedly the lake´s cleanest site.

Contaminant Sources

What is killing the fish? Where is it coming from? Where did the mercury in the lake´s sediment originate?

Ecology´s study is an initial step to answer these questions by addressing pollution source control. Clearly, urban areas and industry are largely responsible. Urbanization carries in its wake polluting runoff from fecal matter and yards liberally sprayed with pesticides. Motor oil and lawn pesticides consistently appeared in lake and stream samples.

Much testing remains to be done. Carpenter Creek, site of four fish kills this decade, was not even sampled in the study. Carpenter Creek parallels the Y Road Dump, an unlined disposal area used as an industrial dump for decades that drains into the lake.

 Johnston suspects the dump, capped with porous material, is a likely candidate for seeping mercury to the lake. According to Johnston, a colleague discovered mercury in a sediment sample from the base of a well dug between the dump and the lake.

The Future

Sherilyn Wells believes the muddle of politics may be helping to degrade our water. Development remains as the most important issue facing the lake´s future. Wells believes a moratorium on all development and subsequent downsizing is the recipe for restoration.

“All of this takes people willing to do tough things politically,” says Wells, who owns 12 lots in the watershed herself. “It´s more important to save our water supply. As long as you have an open watershed you are vulnerable.”

Within the past year, battles have ensued about logging in the lake´s watershed. A portion of the watershed is potential logging land managed by the Department of Natural Resources, but logging creates runoff concerns, and according to Johnston is responsible for increasing silt levels in streams, preventing native fish from laying eggs and reproducing successfully.

An increasing number of cities have closed watersheds that prohibit development and logging. Seattle, Everett, Los Angeles and even New York City have closed their watersheds to protect public health.

Dave Serdar from the Washington State Department of Ecology commends the actions taken by these large metroplian areas to protect their drinking water source. “Seattle is a good example of a city looking to protect both its drinking water source and the whole watershed,” he said. “I think New York City recognized that two hundred years ago by having the foresight ...to avoid that problem by going up to the catskills for their water.” In light of these facts, Serdar concludes, Bellingham seems behind the times. “At least for Whatcom Waterway, for surface water sources to be so close to industry is unusual,” Serdar says.

Locally, groups like RE Sources are trying to educate the public by letting them know the dangers of domestic and industrial chemicals. Robyn Du Pre, who helps direct the program, says “We all need to be much more responsible with our use of toxic chemicals in businesses and homes. I really believe this change occurs one person at a time. I´m not going for a cultural epiphany here.”

Water Quality and the Ballot Box

This November, Bellingham voters will have the chance to take a tangible step in the direction of water quality protection. The watershed initiative was born after local officials agreed that purchasing property in the watershed was vital for its protection, but then proceeded to ignore their own advice, according to Marian Beddill from the Clean Water Alliance. “If the City Council and the County Council don´t have the guts to do what they put in writing to do, we´ll go ask the citizens for them,” Beddill assures.

The initiative would tax individual and business water usage and use the revenue to purchase land in the watershed to prevent development. The levy could cost each household up to 12 dollars monthly, and expected revenue is $4 million annually.

Jim Johnston, and other community activists, view halting development as an intelligent foresight.

“I drink this water. I don´t like it,” he says with a wry, meaningful tone. “I think we´re extremely short-sighted as a society.” In light of continuing water degradation, as demonstrated by Ecology´s report, Johnston considers a final question, one that all would like to remain rhetorical: “Where are we going to go for the next source?”


Cooperative Efforts Speed Recovery in Whatcom Falls Park

by Valerie Wilson
Valerie Wilson is an environmental scientist who owns and operates EcoLogic in Bellingham.

Like so many things in life, the accident at Whatcom Creek has affected our lives at many different levels. At an emotional level, tears are still being shed at the loss of three young people. In politics, the issue of pipeline safety has been discussed in Washington, DC. Locally, the incident has generated public scrutiny of where and how gasoline pipelines are operated. Olympic Pipeline has even placed large ads in The Bellingham Herald explaining different actions by the company. Scientifically, we have learned new things about Whatcom Creek and are witnessing first-hand the regenerative capacity of nature. It seems, now that the ash has settled, that Bellingham, as a community, is striving to transcend the tragedy of the Whatcom Creek explosion.

“Remembering Whatcom Creek”

A conference, “Remembering Whatcom Creek,” was held on a sunny Saturday, September 19, at the Bellingham Library. Sponsored by the Center for Pacific Studies at Western Washington University, it offered a mix of presentations on Whatcom Creek. Tom Edwards of the Lummi Nation blessed the meeting when he sang about the healing of Whatcom Creek.

A gem of the meeting was when a few of the people involved in restoration activities of the creek shared their thoughts on how everything worked and what lessons were learned. Three scientists from Western Washington University along with government officials and consultants discussed the events following the explosion and also what we can expect for the future of Whatcom Creek.

A Different Kind of Fire

On June 10, a different kind of fire started in Whatcom Falls Park. It was different from other forest fires in that the gasoline filling the creek provided most of the fuel for the fire, which when ignited resulted in an explosion that blew off whole branches of trees lining the creek. The high heat drove the gasoline into the water, and even under rocks. Considered a flash fire, Suzanne James, a fire ecologist at Western Washington University, said that “flash fires will sometimes occur in very dry forests, like those in Southern California, but are uncommon in forest communities of our region.” The gasoline and fire killed three young men, a fledging red-winged hawk, two otters, many fish and insects, small plants, and trees. Gasoline was left in the soil, creek bed and the water.

Restoration Efforts

Over the past three months, an incredible amount of energy and effort have been applied to assessing and remediating the battle-scarred Whatcom Creek. Tony Palagyi, a consultant for Olympic Pipeline, estimated that 1500 to 2000 different environmental samples (such as soil samples, dead fish, water, etc.) were taken around Whatcom Falls Park.

Now dry, Hannah Creek has been diverted through a pipe into Whatcom Creek in order to remove the gasoline-soaked soil and sediment. Trees have been removed, trenches dug, and huge machines, like the horizontal bore, have been used to pump gasoline from the soil. Thor Cutler of the Environmental Protection Agency said that “nine million dollars has been spent on source removal” (e.g., removing the gasoline from the soil and sediment).

Balancing Clean-up and Habitat

Creek restoration at Whatcom Falls Park strives to balance habitat with the clean-up of toxic materials. The act of removing the gasoline from the soil and sediment is disruptive to wildlife habitat. “A dry creek, like Hannah Creek, is not good fish habitat,” said Wayne Landis, a professor of aquatic ecology at Western Washington University. The remediation efforts at Whatcom Creek focused on removing the gasoline without completely destroying native habitat. The Joint Restoration Committee had to determine how much gasoline to remove from the soil and sediment.

Using the ecology of the stream as a guide, the Joint Restoration Committee decided that Whatcom Creek should be able to support chinook, cutthroat, and steelhead salmon populations. By researching the scientific literature, they determined how much gasoline would impair growth and reproduction in salmon or their prey animals and applied that level as a remediation goal. Using a variety of remediation technologies, the streambed is being poked and prodded to ensure a clean stream for the web of life supporting salmon.

Remediation at Whatcom Falls Park goes beyond removing gasoline from the sediments and water. Efforts are underway to watch for and remove invasive plant species that can crowd out the native vegetation before it has a chance to grow back. Also, the burned areas beside the stream were stabilized to minimize erosion into the creek. Restoration has even gone beyond returning the park to pre-fire conditions. Since the restoration efforts focused on salmon habitat, sections of the stream are being altered to accommodate migration and breeding habitat of the fish. Logs have been placed in the stream to make log jams that promote salmon migration. Areas of the streambed have been dug out to create pools in the creek for salmon rearing and gravel bars have been added to increase spawning grounds. Tony Palagyi of Equiva Services remarked that “restoration activities have increased salmon habitat in Whatcom Falls Park by about 60 percent.”

Long-term Restoration Plan

Restoration of Whatcom Falls Park will occur well into the future, even though emergency remediation is nearing completion. As the green slowly returns to the sides of the creek, designs are underway to restore and improve the quality of Whatcom Creek and the park. A long-term restoration plan will be developed under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This draft plan may be published by the end of October and will solicit public comment and review.

Even more changes may be in store for Whatcom Creek, such as altering the path of creek to make more fish-friendly bends. A monitoring program will also be developed to record the type and abundance of fish that frequent the park. Water and streambed samples will be taken regularly to monitor potential pollution.

Lessons Learned

There was consensus among most of the people involved in the remediation of the park that the emergency remediation process has moved along surprisingly quickly. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Ecology both said that restoration efforts in Whatcom Falls Park were much more efficient, effective and consensus-based than most other similar situations in other locations around the state and country.

Apparently, we have accomplished in a few months what takes most communities years to accomplish. Full support by the Olympic Pipeline helped the process move quickly. When needed, experts from various areas of the country were consulted to determine the best options for restoring the creek. In addition, local scientists at Western Washington University were asked to participate in the assessment and planning process.

Clare Fogelson of the City of Bellingham shared three lessons from the incident:

1. Have spill response gear on hand at all times.

2. Have a trained environmental specialist on call to collect necessary data.

3. Always store the chlorine tanks at the water treatment plant on the other side of the building, away from the explosion. Fortunately, when the gasoline was ignited on June 10 the chlorine tanks were on the other side of the water treatment plant and did not explode.

New and Improved Park

Bellingham appears to be turning lemons into lemonade with regard to improving the wildlife habitat in Whatcom Falls Park. Restoration efforts have made a promising start to a “new and improved” Whatcom Falls Park. We can look forward to even more changes in the park. The effectiveness of the restoration activities is a tribute to those individuals involved in the process as well as to our community.


People for Puget Sound Thank Governor Locke; Urge Release of Funds for Rescue Tug

by Mike Sato
Mike Sato of Lopez Island is People for Puget Sound´s North Sound Director and former Communications Director.
Gore´s Year-Old Commitment Still Unfulfilled

We are pleased to join Governor Locke in urging the federal government to ‘get off the dime´ and release funding to put a rescue tug in place in the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” said People for Puget Sound executive director Kathy Fletcher.

On Thursday Governor Locke sent letters to top federal officials urging them to release funding. This could get a powerful tug on-station at Neah Bay before winter, as protection against a devastating oil spill from tankers or other vessels in the approaches to and outer reaches of the Strait.

“This a ‘no brainer,´” said Fletcher. “Every day fully laden oil tankers come into the Strait without special protection, no local pilot, no escort tugs,” Fletcher added. “It´s an Exxon Valdez size disaster-waiting-to-happen, but right on our doorstep,” she said.

Funds Available From Earlier Oil Spill Settlement

$5.2 million was obtained in settlement of natural resources damage claims resulting from the Tenyo Maru oil spill at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That fund, and interest it has accrued, are to be used for federal, state and tribal natural resources protection and restoration projects. Several federal cabinet officers have the final say on using these funds to charter a tug for duty at Neah Bay, including Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, whose department has been balking.

Babbitt was in Port Angeles for a national park conference. The Makah Tribe and environmentalists sought a meeting on the tug issue with him. In today´s letter to Babbitt and to Secretary of Commerce William Daley, Governor Locke urged release of the Tenyo Maru funds. “The temporary placement of such a tug is absolutely critical to ensuring that the comprehensive review of marine safety is successful,” Locke wrote.

Interim Tug Protection Should Come Before More Study

Locke´s statement refers to a new “risk assessment panel” the state and federal governments are organizing to assess shipping safety in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The panel is to have its first meeting next week. Fletcher, who has been asked to serve on this panel, noted that environmentalists have supported repeated studies that recommended enhanced tug protection, but were never implemented.

“Frankly, we´re looking for the federal government to ‘get off the dime´ on this Tenyo Maru funding for interim tug protection in the Strait before we lend our support and participation to yet another study of the risks,” Fletcher said. “The Strait is a very risky shipping lane, the busiest in the world, and we need tugs now, as common sense insurance while we study,” she added.

Gore Commitment to Washingtonians Still Unfulfilled

Fletcher noted that it was a year ago this week that Vice President Gore, in a electioneering visit to Seattle, pledged that he had a “process now under way for resolving” this glaring gap in oil spill protection. Gore said then: “Although that process will not be completed in a matter of hours, I assure you it will be completed before the rough seas of winter drive up the risk factors again.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, front page, September 14, 1998].

“Well, that winter came and went with Gore´s commitment unfulfilled,” Fletcher said. “Now the Makah Tribal Council has offered to redirect its portion of funds from the settlement of the Tenyo Maru oil spill toward a rescue tug, and federal agencies are dragging their feet.”

“We join the Governor — whose leadership is much appreciated — the Makah Tribe, the local governments and the people of Washington in urging the federal government to help get this done by releasing more of those funds,” said Fletcher. “Nothing could better protect the resources damaged by the Tenyo Maru than to prevent another oil spill,” said Fletcher.

For further information, please contact Mike Sato at People for Puget Sound´s North Sound office in Mount Vernon. Phone: (360) 336-1931. Email: northsound@pugetsound.org. You can also send a message to Governor Locke by going to www.pugetsound.org.

Forget Y2K — Y6B is Here

by Rick Dubrow
Rick Dubrow is president of A-1 Builders and RE Sources board of directors

Heard all you care to about the computer bug Y2K? If so, why not try Y6B for size. Y6B you say? It is, quite simply, the Year of Six Billion. In October 1999 the population of the Earth will reach six billion people.

The reaction to Y2K ranges from simple hand-wringing to apocalyptic predictions of doom and gloom. It is quite possible that many will be tempted to give Y6B the same disaster treatment - to make the story more “sexy.” More likely, most of us will be tempted to ignore Y6B and hope that it won´t impact us. And it won´t - except for the ever more crowded schools our kids attend, or the increasing traffic congestion that we get caught in, or the spreading monster of suburban sprawl that gobbles up our open spaces and farmland, or the...get the idea?

The Biggest Challenge

The truth is Y6B presents everyone — yeah, YOU too — with an enormous opportunity to take a closer look at the big quality-of-life issues that face our families, towns, country and planet. It could help us to focus on lasting fixes for population growth-related problems But we need to see Y6B as the biggest challenge facing our world.

Take a look at what National Geographic had to say about Y6B. “Of all the issues we face as the new millennium nears, none is more important than population growth. The numbers speak for themselves. Earth´s population, which totaled 1.7 billion people in 1900, is now nearly six billion - and growing,” National Geographic October 1998 edition devoted to the issue of population.

Why would one of America´s most reputable, influential and impartial periodicals spend so much time and space on what some pundits say, at best, is a “challenge of the past,” and at worst, is a “non-issue”?

The numbers do speak for themselves. And perhaps more importantly, so do the quality of life issues so clearly related to rapid population growth and Y6B.

Our Contribution

With almost 269 million people, the United States is the third largest country in the world. Our unintended pregnancy rate is nearly 60 percent and teen pregnancy is the highest in the industrialized world. We use a third of the world´s energy and produce 25 percent of its solid waste. At current rates, we´ll add another 124 million people by 2050.

Population-related problems such as urban sprawl continue to assault our environment and communities, spew forth air and water pollution and erode the quality of our lives. And let´s not get started on the “joys” of grid-locked traffic and the amount of time and money we waste every year because of it.

At the moment, nearly one billion people on the planet are not getting enough to eat. And in the developing world, lack of access to reproductive health services is killing hundreds of thousands of mothers and their children every year.

If we ignore the Y6B challenge now, we´ll be talking about Y9B in just 50 years.

We need to tackle sprawl with smart growth plans. The urban scourge of sprawl has swallowed 11 million acres of farmland (or two New Jerseys) since 1980. Two billion hours are wasted in sprawl-related grid-locked traffic every year. And when it delays trucks, it adds a budget-busting $7.6 billion to the price of the goods we buy (or enough to buy every high school class in the land new computers with Internet access).

We need to educate our children about the social, political and environmental impacts of population growth, the interdependence of people, animals, natural resources, food, industry and land, and how their personal decisions will affect the quality of life in tomorrow´s world.

Family Planning

There must be a speedy expansion of our international family planning funding and more investment in education for young people — particularly young women — in the developing world.

Our nation´s support for voluntary family planning initiatives in the world´s poorest countries is one of the great humanitarian success stories and has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Funding helps to save millions of poor women and children´s lives every year by providing safe family planning services, specialized training for doctors and nurses and assistance to other agencies in their education efforts. Or as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hammers home, the program “raises the status of women, stems the flow of refugees, protects the environment, promotes economic growth and reduces abortion.”

The truth is that if every child is planned and wanted, we´ll have a better world. It will also be a less crowded world.

Some people might argue that Y6B is the ultimate proof of the old saying: “Size matters.” I would rather paraphrase its most frequent response: It´s not the size that matters, it´s what you do about it. That´s the unique challenge that Y6B offers us all.


Habitat Restoration Plan for Bellingham Bay Falls Short

by Valerie Wilson
Valerie Wilson is an environmental scientist who owns and operates EcoLogic in Bellingham.

Habitat is dwindling for most non-humans. Decreasing salmon populations are our most visible sign of this fact as habitat loss is at least partially responsible for the salmon´s demise. The humans are taking over, replacing fallow fields with green lawns, rugged shorelines with retaining walls, and salt marshes with docks and harbors.

Scientists and government regulators are starting to look at the “big picture” to determine the extent of human impact on the environment. The Bellingham Bay Pilot Project is an example of such an attempt by governmental entities to evaluate habitat on a larger scale. The draft environmental impact statement, published in July, 1999, by the Pilot Project team, brought promises of wildlife habitat restoration to Bellingham Bay.

Initially conceived by a group of five federal and state agencies that had joined together to address and expedite sediment clean-up within Puget Sound, the demonstration pilot project has in its heart the need to dredge and dispose of contaminated sediments from the navigation channel. Like the sugar coating on a pill, the pilot project offers habitat restoration to offset the distaste of moving around and potentially releasing the cocktail of contaminants in the sediments caused by past industrial activities.

The Pilot Project produced several documents on wildlife habitat and land use in the bay which are summarized in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. As one flips through the reams of paper produced by the Pilot team and its habitat subcommittee, the question is whether the Pilot Project´s promise of habitat evaluation and restoration is more than just sugar-coating.

Habitat Analysis in Bellingham Bay

After perusal of the draft Environmental Impact Statement and two other supporting documents pertaining to land use and habitat, it appears that the habitat subcommittee of Pilot Project applied a great deal of rigor to only some aspects of the habitat evaluation process. Unfortunately, rigor was not applied in evaluating the foundation of the subcommittee´s habitat analysis.

The habitat subcommittee applied ranking factors (or criteria) to prioritize several different habitat restoration plans for areas within the bay. The benefit of such an approach is the creation of a consistent and transparent framework for evaluating options so that anyone can figure exactly how they arrived at their ultimate decision.

The ecological information (i.e., the foundation of the habitat plan) used to determine restoration efforts was based on the life histories of the target species. The idea behind this strategy is that if you protect these animals, you will also be protecting the web of life that supports these animals at their various life stages (e.g., egg, fry, fledging, juvenile, adult).

Target Species Selected

Unfortunately the habitat subcommittee creates a list of target species with no explanation as to how they arrived at the importance of those species. After looking at three different documents, there was no definition of criteria used to choose the target species. It´s a shame that the habitat subcommittee took painstakingly care to document only the some aspects of the habitat restoration plan, but left the public in the dark as to why they chose the species on their list.

The species targeted for protection in Bellingham Bay, taken from the Final Habitat Restoration Documentation Report, are listed below.

Where Have All The Warm-Blooded Creatures Gone?

Where are the birds on this list? Have we given up on our birds? Bellingham Bay has been described as a Significantly Important Subregion for marine birds (Wahl et al., 1981; Eissenger, 1994). The bay is located along the Pacific flyway and between the Skagit Bay and Fraser River estuary.

As the thousands of birds pass over Bellingham Bay, some birds stop by during migration. Sensitive species like the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, marbled murrelet, and trumpeter swan are common in the bay during some seasons.

Our bay is also visited by marine mammals, like harbor seals. This is where the Pilot Project falls short on its promise of habitat. In addition to neither explaining nor justifying the very foundation of the habitat restoration plan, the Pilot team did not include any threatened and sensitive marine birds on the target species list.

Finding Solutions

In establishing habitat restoration goals, the habitat subcommittee determined that protecting and restoring ecosystems was their most important goal. It is interesting that they chose to protect mostly commercially-important ecosystems, like fish and shellfish, excluding our marine birds and mammals. With eyes on pieces of green-dyed paper, wildlife habitat is not as thoroughly analyzed as is the sediment clean-up options in the Pilot Project.

However, the pilot project does represent some of the first attempts by government entities to band together at national, state-wide, and local levels to address environmental problems. The intent of the Pilot Project to include habitat restoration in its sediment clean-up plan is to be celebrated. It is finally sinking in that the humans are taking over and that we have to avariciously guard some natural features of our environment if we are to continue to enjoy wildlife.

Unfortunately, there are a few holes in the Pilot Project´s habitat restoration plan. The good news is that these holes are fixable, but only if the Pilot Project is willing to spend more time and money on re-thinking or at least justifying its species list.


Eissinger, A.M. 1994. “Significant Wildlife Areas, Whatcom County, Washington.” Whatcom County Planning & Development Services, Planning Division, Bellingham, WA.

Wahl, T.R., S.M. Speich, D.A. Manuwal, K.V. Hirsch and C. Miller. 1981. “Marine Bird Populations of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia and Adjacent Waters in 1978 and 1979.” Puget Sound Marine Ecosystems Analysis Project (MESA). DOC/EPA Interagency Energy/Environment R&D Report No. EPA-600/7-81-156.

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