Whatcom Watch Online
April 1999
Volume 8, Issue 4

Cover Story

The State of the Bay: A Report About Bellingham Bay and Threats to Its Health

by Robyn du Pre
Robyn du Pre coordinates education and advocacy on water issues for RE Sources.

This report was originally published by RE Sources in February of this year. Whatcom Watch thanks them for allowing us to reprint it. This issue contains the first half of the report. The last half will appear in the May issue. To obtain a bound copy of the 24 page report, contact RE Sources, 1155 N. State Street, Suite 623, Bellingham, WA 98225. Phone (360) 733-8307. www.re-sources.org.

Our community is defined by water. Rain shapes the landscape, carving great rivers and rushing to the sea. Many local communities hug the coast, looking out across the vast estuarine system that is Puget Sound.

The people of Bellingham and other Whatcom County towns spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and maintaining boats to get out on the water. We take pride in providing visitors with tasty morsels of salmon and shellfish from the local waters, and our property values are based on whether we can get a glimpse of the bay from our windows.

Ironically, not many years have passed since we disposed of our garbage and sewage directly into the bay. Local industries have also contributed vast amounts of toxic chemicals to the floor of the bay. Fortunately, we have begun to realize we can no longer use our oceans as dumping grounds. Pollution from industry has been decreasing, and we no longer use our shorelands as municipal dumps.

But the runoff from our quickly increasing local population poses a new pollution problem that may prove even harder to control. Couple the above problems with habitat destruction, contaminated runoff from area agriculture, siltation from poor forest practices, and what you're left with is a beautiful bay in big trouble.

In 1998, Bellingham Bay was the 14th most polluted body of water in the entire nation for cancer-causing chemicals. Can we get past the beautiful reflection of the bay to look deeper into its systems and the life it is supposed to support? Will we start to address the irony that, just as we spend more and more dollars to attract tourists to our beautiful area, we must spend millions more on clean-up of the bay? At this point the answer would have to be — perhaps.

What follows is a description and a history of Bellingham Bay. Consider it a baseline for where we are, and where we must go to bring this bay back to the full value it once provided. At the end we offer an overview of current efforts that cover a spectrum of opportunities for citizens to help save the bay in whatever way they feel most comfortable. We are all part of the problem; we all need to be part of the solution. Is Bellingham Bay more than a dump to you?

Bellingham Bay Watershed: Physical Geography

Bellingham Bay and its greater watershed are situated at the northern end of the Puget Sound basin. Puget Sound is framed by Washington's Cascade Range on the east and the Olympic mountains on the west. Glaciation and climate are, perhaps, the most important sculptors of the Puget Sound landscape, which is characterized by tidal lowlands, islands and steep mountains.

The last episode of continental glaciation began approximately 20,000 years ago when the Vashon ice sheet extended from the Fraser River Valley in British Columbia to just south of Olympia. Towering nearly 6,000 feet high, this most recent flow reached its maximum approximately 14,000 years ago and lasted for an estimated 1,500 years before retreating north past the current Canada/United States border. As the ice sheet moved across the land, it scooped great U-shaped river valleys, deposited rock and sediment, and carved the rugged peaks of the Cascades.

As the great glaciers retreated, melting ice and a warmer, precipitation-rich climate propelled torrents of water from high alpine peaks towards the sound. Vast amounts of sediment were carried from the mountains to the sea, establishing the extensive mudflats and river deltas so characteristic of the sound.

Physical Dimensions of the Bay

Bellingham Bay is roughly 12 miles long and 3 miles wide. It encompasses approximately 25 miles of shoreline characterized by steep, rocky faces, extensive mudflats and a few sand and cobble beaches. The bay's depth varies from less than 5 feet at the Nooksack River delta to 160 feet at Post Point. The bay's mean depth is 85 feet with the greater part of the basin measuring less than 88 feet. The complete Bellingham Bay Watershed is further defined by the 1,250-square-mile area west of Mount Baker that is drained by the Nooksack River. Other drainages contributing fresh water to the bay include Squalicum, Whatcom, and Padden Creeks.

Flow of Ocean Water

Large volumes of oceanic water enter Bellingham Bay through Rosario Strait between Lummi, Sinclair and Vendovi Islands at the southern terminus of the bay. A comparatively small amount of water enters through Hale Passage, which runs between Lummi Island and the Gooseberry Point area.

Circulation and tidal mixing are affected by the southwesterly prevailing winds, which cause the surface of the water to move in a clockwise fashion from the south of the bay toward its northern end. The water then moves east and south until it exits past Post Point. Because of this water flow pattern, which takes a relatively long time, marine waters can take up to 11 days to flush through the bay.

Rivers and Streams to Bellingham Bay

Tidal mixing is also affected by the blending of fresh water from the many creeks and rivers draining the interior lowlands from as far away as Mt. Baker. The vast majority of fresh water is supplied by the Nooksack River through its delta at the north end of the bay. With a mean daily flow of about 2,000 cubic feet per second, the Nooksack River is the third-largest river in Puget Sound, after the Skagit and Snohomish Rivers.

Five rivers and streams drain directly to Bellingham Bay: Padden, Squalicum, Little Squalicum and Whatcom creeks, as well as the Nooksack River. In a natural environment unaltered by human activity, river mouths form flat, fan-shaped deltas when they join the sea. The mouth of the Nooksack River is a prime example of a fan-shaped delta, with upland wetlands abutting mudflats where the river meets the sea.

Little Squalicum Creek is a small creek, with a negligible delta, draining out across the cobble of Squalicum Beach. All of the other creeks draining to the bay have been altered so that deltas are either limited or non-existent. To serve community needs for shipping, Squalicum and Whatcom Creeks have been channelized to the point that they have no deltas at all. Padden Creek drains to a mudflat contained by industrial facilities and railroad fill.

A Valuable Estuary

Alteration of river deltas results in significant loss of habitat. Estuaries are the unique spots where fresh water and salt water converge, creating a habitat which has higher biological diversity than almost any other. Migrating and native birds, salmonids, and a host of other animals converge at estuaries for the food, shelter, and protection they provide.

In an estuary, grasses provide a place for young fish to hide, and insects, worms, and small invertebrates provide food for birds. Bellingham Bay retains one of the last unimpaired mudflat and saltmarsh estuaries in Puget Sound, at the mouth of the Nooksack River.

Historically, the waters of the Nooksack flowed into both Bellingham and Lummi bays. In the late 1800s, a two-mile-long log jam diverted the flow of the river so that it all flowed into Bellingham Bay. This diversion was made permanent via a dike at the Lummi River in 1926.

Sediment is Deposited

The Nooksack River carries a large load of sediment from the foothills of Mount Baker, through agricultural lands of its flood plain and finally to the sea. Annual deposits of 526,000 metric tons of sediment into the bay have caused the delta to extend more than one mile into Bellingham Bay since 1873.

Sedimentation from the Nooksack River affects both natural and human systems in the bay. Natural systems are affected because the rapidly growing delta has not yet stabilized, allowing for the development of the range of estuarine vegetation that provides important feeding and rearing habitat for a variety of organisms. Human systems are affected because sedimentation along the industrial waterfront interferes with navigation.

Marine Life in Bellingham Bay

Like many estuarine environments, Bellingham Bay once supported a diverse and prolific population of animal and plant life. Within the bay's waters nearly every family of submarine organism was represented. The cold, slow, circulating water was ideal for many benthic (bottom dwelling) animals. These organisms lie in wait for nutrient-rich tides to supply their meals.

Expansive near-shore beds of eelgrass played host to thriving populations of crustaceans, sea anemones and limpets, as well as marine worms and snails. Eelgrass meadows flourished in the mineral-rich sediment deposits left by the retreating glaciers.

The eelgrass supported extensive colonies of algae, which in turn served as a foundation of the marine food chain. Salmon, the aquatic species most closely identified with our area, spend up to a year maturing within the relative safety of the eelgrass. As many as 57 families of fishes thrived in the rich waters of Bellingham Bay and the greater Puget Sound.

Five species of salmon are indigenous to this region: chinook, coho, pink, sockeye and chum. In addition to these are the cutthroat and steelhead species of sea-going trout. Dolly Vardin, the only native char, and longfin smelt also utilize the upstream reaches of the greater Bellingham Bay watershed.

Life Cycle of Salmon

Born in upland creeks and steams, salmonids require at least three different habitats during their life span. During incubation and fry stages, salmon require clear, cold, oxygen-rich streams with gravel bottoms. After hatching, some salmonid species remain in fresh water for days, while others may stay for up to two years. During this time, they rely on woody debris in the stream which provides hiding cover and insects for food.

As juveniles, salmon migrate to brackish estuaries where they feed primarily on zooplankton in and around eelgrass beds. Upon reaching adulthood, they move out to open marine waters for three to four years to feed on plankton, fish and marine invertebrates.

The cycle is completed when adults return to their home streams to spawn and die. Salmon continue to play a vital role in the aquatic ecosystem even after they die, as their carcasses provide important nutrients for insects, young fish, birds and mammals.

Because of their complex life cycle, declining salmon populations reflect the impacts of stream alteration, destruction of stream-side vegetation, and intensified run-off from impervious surfaces, such as roads, roofs, and parking lots, and from land clearing practices. Urban development, timber harvesting, farming, mining, over-fishing, and the discharge of pollutants (both legal and illegal) all contribute to the current salmon crisis.

Bay is Home to Many Fish and Shellfish Species

In addition to salmon, there are at least seven species of commercially viable marine fish found in Bellingham Bay, including Pacific herring, Pacific cod, ling cod, rock sole, English sole, starry flounder and various types of rock fish.

A diverse population of shellfish is found throughout the bay as well. Dungeness crab, Pacific oysters and four species of clams, which include native littleneck, manila, horse and butter clams, have sustained the residents around Bellingham Bay for centuries. Shellfish are important indicators of water quality. Because shellfish are filter feeders, pollutants that settle to the bay's floor get incorporated into their bodies.

In the case of heavy metals and other bioaccumulative chemicals, toxins are not metabolized by the animal. Instead, they are stored in the flesh. When the animal is eaten by a predator, these toxins are passed up the food chain, being stored in ever-greater concentrations in the flesh of predators, including humans.

Supporting all of this life are a wide variety of algae. Bellingham Bay and the surrounding waters of Puget Sound host more than 200 species of red, green, and brown macroalgae (seaweed) and several species of sea grasses, including eelgrass, discussed above. Feeding on seaweed, and becoming food for fishes and marine mammals, are over 2,900 species of marine invertebrates found in Puget Sound, many of which can be found in Bellingham Bay.

Birds of the Bay

The relatively mild weather and protected inland waters combined with a rich variety of food sources make the waters of Puget Sound a major over-wintering area for waterfowl as well as migrating and resident raptors, song birds and passerines. The greater Bellingham Bay watershed is an important stopover destination for many migratory birds using the flyway between the Fraser and Skagit Rivers.

The bay provides critical breeding and nesting habitat, protected over-wintering waters and vital feeding grounds during the migratory transition for over 75 species of waterfowl. They nest on exposed rock cliffs, cobblestone beaches and in upland forests. This ecosystem is considered a biologically significant area for dunlin, bald eagles, mew gulls, great blue heron, American widgeons, mallard and pintail ducks.

Human History

Archeologists date the earliest inhabitants of the Greater North Cascades Ecosystem to the late Pleistocene era 12,000 to 9,000 years ago. For the last 7,600 years, the coastal lowlands have been used by the Salish people. Approximately 4,000 to 3,500 years ago, larger populations of native peoples began developing semi-permanent and permanent winter villages along the edges of Puget Sound, including the deltas and tidelands of the Nooksack, Lummi and Skagit rivers.

The many creeks, rivers and bays of northern Puget Sound have historically sustained substantial populations of native peoples. They used cedar and other trees for making houses, canoes, clothing and tools. Shellfish and salmon were staples, but waterfowl, octopi and whales were also important to the Salish. Upland meadows were a source of berries and roots such as camas.

When the first Europeans came to the Northwest, their use of the land was much different. It is difficult for modern inhabitants of the area to imagine the experience of the first settlers, to whom the dense growth of trees was an obstacle to home building, travel and even sunlight. To the new settlers, the prospect of living mainly near the shore, as the natives did, was unthinkable. A continuation of their own historic lifestyle necessitated the removal, use and sale of trees and wildlife.

Fur and Gold

Since colonization, the economy of the region has historically been based on resource extraction. Fur-trading companies first explored the Cascades as early as 1808 looking for trade routes between the Pacific Ocean and the resource-laden interior Okanogan region. Alexander Ross of the Pacific Fur Company reported exporting 1,500 fur pelts to China in one season. The fur trade remained strong throughout the 1800s until its decline in the 1930s.

In 1856, gold was discovered along British Columbia's Thompson River, initiating a second flood of settlers to the region. Forty years later, in 1897, the Mount Baker gold rush enticed even more people to move into the greater Bellingham Bay watershed. Though many claims failed to pay out, the lure of wealth from mining was instrumental to the settlement of this region.

Timber and Logging Dominate

While the gold rushes encouraged many settlers to move to the county, timber was the real resource gold of the county at the turn of the century. Timber has been vital to the livelihood of bay area residents for over a hundred years.

At its heyday in the early 1900s, the timber industry was the primary economic engine for the region. In 1925, for example, Bellingham area lumber and shingle mills cut 3.5 million board feet of lumber, 381 million shingles, 38 million laths, and 9 million board feet of box shooks (parts for barrel and box assembly). Logging camps and mills employed over 2,500 men each year during the first quarter of a century.

Now, only a few hundred acres of old-growth forest are left in the Nooksack watershed, which drains to Bellingham Bay. Consequently, we are faced with the need to adapt our timber practices to save other resources we hold dear, including clean water and healthy salmon runs.

Salmon Economy

The abundant populations of salmon and other fish stocks also fed the area's resource-based economy. It is almost impossible to imagine the sight during the salmon migrations in the late 1800s, when farmers literally pitch-forked salmon out of local streams by the wagonload, to be used as fertilizer and pork feed. Shipping barrels of salted salmon and smoked herring preceded the opening of canneries in the county by a number of years.

The first cannery to open in Whatcom County was built at Semiahmoo in 1881. The first Bellingham Bay cannery opened in 1895. Many new canneries were built within the next few years, with 12 operating in Whatcom County by 1901. By 1925, local canneries shipped 500,000 cases of canned salmon.

While this vigorous natural resource economy attracted many early residents, a growing number of people make their homes in Whatcom County today because of the area's natural beauty. In 1970, Bellingham was home to approximately 38,500 people. By 1983 that number had increased a mere 7,400 and stayed at or below 47,290 until 1989. By 1994 the population of the city of Bellingham alone had swelled to over 57,000 and is projected to reach 86,500 residents by the year 2015. The population of Whatcom County today exceeds 153,000 people. More people take up more space, use more resources and generate more pollution.

Part Two of “The State of the Bay” will appear in the May issue of Whatcom Watch.

Cover Story

Selectivity in Salmon Management: Misunderstanding the Measure of Success

by Buck Meloy
Buck Meloy is a Prince William Sound salmon fisherman who resides in Bellingham with his family.

If weak salmon runs are to be restored to self-sustaining and harvestable levels, we will have to remediate habitat destruction and make sure that our harvesting methods are selective. This article addresses selectivity and harvest management. It was initially prepared to assist the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission's members to gain a clearer perspective on this sometimes confusing issue.

There has been much public dialog about “selective” fishing methods, and at least as much confusion. This is an attempt to clarify and define selectivity, and to relate it directly to the needs of salmon.

The key is to understand that selectivity does not exist in a vacuum, but that it is a part of assuring the health of wild salmon within the self-sustaining nature of the resource. For this to be possible, the focus needs to be on Selective Result rather than on the mechanics of any particular gear type.

What Is Selective Result?

With salmon, it is simply the arrival on the spawning beds of sufficient spawning fish to generate and sustain healthy runs. In other words, if all the fish that need to are getting the opportunity to produce plentiful offspring, the harvest of excess fish has achieved a Selective Result.

This is the primary goal of good harvest management. Hence, Selective Result, not whether an individual fish can survive a hook through an eye or capture in a net, needs to be the measure of selectivity.

Can Selective Result Be Achieved Without Fish Kills?

Any harvest of fish kills them, regardless of the method. Selective Result therefore looks not at the fish that have been harvested, but at those that actually return to spawn for each run. In this way, management can focus on the real business of sustaining and rebuilding runs.

What Contributes to Selective Result?

Factors contributing to the Selective Result of the various gear types include:

How Will Selective Result Prevent Salmon Extinction?

Selective Result is not a method, but a measure of the success of management strategies. When we count too few spawning Snake River sockeye or Nooksack spring chinook, which are threatened or endangered, we know that management measures designed to prevent any significant harvest of these fish must be utilized. The measures can include area closures or restrictions on fishing in areas of known interaction with these races of salmon, or during times when these fish might be present.

In the case of endangered sockeye, perhaps only net fisheries would be affected since sockeye are rarely caught by hook-and-line gear. And hook-and-line closures could be necessary when Nooksack kings are present.

What Interferes With Selective Result?

Salmon management is not an exact science. Therefore, there is always a risk that management decisions will not be perfect. Among the risks that could negatively impact Selective Result are:

What Saltwater Gear Types Are Used for Salmon in this State?

Recreational gear:

Commercial gear:

Can a Selective Result Be Achieved With Hook and Line?

Absolutely, as long as hook and line fisheries operate at times and places where stocks needing protection will not inadvertently be harvested along with targeted fish from healthy runs. Reliance on releasing fish needing protection can undermine Selective Result because of the high rate of mortality due to hooking damage, stress, and exhaustion.

Can a Selective Result Be Achieved With Nets?

Absolutely, as long as the net fisheries operate at times and places where stocks needing protection will not inadvertently be harvested along with fish from healthy runs. Since live release from net gear is not always possible, it is important that time and area management be linked with specific gear requirements that further reduce the possibility of unwanted catch.

What Is Allocation?

In Puget Sound, allocation is several things:

1. Judge George Boldt's 1974 decision, based on old treaties, was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. This same Supreme Court decision established a sharing formula that allocates up to 50 percent of harvestable salmon to Indians, and at least 50 percent to non-Indians.

2. At present there is de facto allocation of the non-Indian share of harvestable salmon between recreational and commercial fishers. Except for some small hatchery runs, most coho and chinook salmon have been taken by sport anglers, and most sockeye, pink, and chum salmon by commercial fishermen;

3. There are allocation agreements between commercial gear groups designed to assure that each takes close to its historic proportion of the commercial share each year.
Similar allocations exist in many other Washington waters, varying in their specifics pursuant to court decisions and other agreements. Though required, allocation sometimes undermines Selective Result by imposing legal rather than resource constraints on harvest managers.

What Gear Types Have the Most Selective Result?

Surprisingly to many, an event in 1997 demonstrated that drift gillnets and reefnet gear had the most Selective Result when an unusual abundance of Fraser River chinook showed up during the Strait of Georgia sockeye fishery. Non-Indian seine boats had the next most Selective Result, followed by Indian gillnets and seines and by sport anglers. Management actions could have reduced the chinook harvest had the State so desired.

How Does Hooking Mortality Affect Selective Result?

A salmon that has been injured by a hook, then handled and released, may die. Recent Canadian research suggests that mortality is near 25 percent for each encounter. Multiple encounters with the same fish were not studied. Other studies have come up with numbers that are both higher and lower. A salmon that dies in saltwater is not lost to the ecosystem — it feeds micro-organisms, crabs, and other critters, nourishing them. But if it was a salmon from a depressed run, its loss negatively impacts Selective Result.

Electric Generation

Proposed Sumas Plant: Money, Politics, Health, and Media Manipulation

by Al Hanners
Al Hanners is a retired geologist interested in the environment and democracy.

A mother concerned about the potential health of her children cries out in frustration. She has visions of up to two tons of toxic dioxide compounds per day coming down on their heads.

We are talking about the fast track approval process for a gas-powered electrical generating plant at Sumas, the largest in our state. Canadian natural gas, would be piped across the international border at Sumas, transformed to electrical energy, and then shipped south via electrical power lines.

Manipulation of the media is skillful. Money interests are promoted while not one word about health risks has been printed in The Bellingham Herald or The Lynden Tribune. The same media stress the twenty-four jobs that will be created while not mentioning the jobs that could be eliminated. Lobbyists are even trying to eliminate an environmental impact statement. More importantly the mother is denied direct access to the decision makers in the approval process.

Yes, you may agree, those lobbying for the Sumas power plant have presented only the positive side of the power plant, and they overly restrict public knowledge and comment. However, natural gas is a clean burning fuel. Hydrogen, and to a considerable extent carbon in natural gas, burn cleanly and produce water and carbon dioxide. Hence, what is the problem?

The problem is oxygen and nitrogen. You may say, those elements occur in clean air, and both are essential to support life — our lives. Oxygen is required in biological processes, and nitrogen dilutes oxygen in the atmosphere to an acceptable level. Again, what is the problem?

The problem is that the Sumas power plant would convert some oxygen and nitrogen in the air to nitrogen dioxide, a toxic substance. The problem is the proposed plant's very large size which would result in huge quantities of nitrogen dioxide released into the air over Sumas.

Two processes are being considered for converting natural gas energy to electrical energy at Sumas. The GE process would release 767 tons of nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere per year. That would be one and one half million pounds per year, or over two tons per day.

The Westinghouse process would produce 341 tons of nitrogen dioxide per year, a little less than half as much as the GE process; but the Westinghouse process also produces 280 tons of ammonia per year while the GE process produces none. Do you want to be boiled or fried? Either way, over a ton of those poisonous chemicals would descend onto Sumas and vicinity each day. Moreover, in addition, there is a long list of other toxic substances that would be released into the atmosphere.

Another problem with the Sumas power plant is that, if approved, it would limit the total jobs to be generated in Sumas. The Clean Air Act limits the total pollution that can be released into the atmosphere in any one locality. The proposed power plant would use up a lion's share of the total allowable atmospheric pollution while creating only twenty-four new jobs. Thus, opportunities to generate a larger number of jobs in other industries might be limited.

You can obtain more information on the Sumas power plant issue at the Bellingham and Sumas libraries. Ask the reference librarian for these:

The consultant hired to advise the decision-makers will report on May 10, 1999. In the meantime, any public input to those decision-makers in the power plant approval process must be through an “intervener.” You cannot directly contact the decsion-makers to be sure that your message gets through. By hypothetical analogy, if you were required to act through a third party to get your thoughts on an issue to one of your Washington State Legislators, or members of the United States Congress, the process would be similar.

It is not a democratic procedure, but unfortunately, that is the way the Sumas power plant approval process is. Here is the official “intervener” the public is authorized to contact:

Ms. Mary Barrett
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 40100
Olympia, WA, 98504-0100
Telephone: (360) 644-2475
email: maryb@atg.wa.gov


Here is an interesting event that says a lot about how effective the lack of public information has been in curtailing public input on the Sumas power plant, and how important it is that you make known your concerns to Mary Barrett.

When I reached her by telephone, she obviously was delighted to hear from somebody in the public about the Sumas power plant. “But how did you find me?” she asked.

“I started by telephoning the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General in Bellingham and asking how to reach you. The man who answered the telephone said he had never heard of you and that he worked in a different part of the Attorney General's office. He then found your telephone number and gave it to me.”

“Well, you did better than I did,” she continued. “I tried to get the Consumer Protection Division to forward phone calls like yours to my office, but nothing happened. But tell me, how did you get my name?”
“In this kind of business one has to have friends, friends who network. I have a very good friend,” I replied.


Community on Track to Reclaim Lost Shellfish Resource at Portage Bay

Editor's Note: On February 9, 1999 the Whatcom County Executive submitted the Comprehensive Water Resource Plan to the Whatcom County Council. This article is derived from the section on Shellfish Protection. The plan was prepared by the team consisting of Charles Benjamin, Sue Blake, Regina Delahunt, Barry Hill, Michael Knapp, Craig MacConnell, and Jeff Monsen. The complete document may be found at www.co.whatcom.wa.us

Washington state is a leading producer of clams and oysters, with an annual commercial wholesale value of about $50 million. In Portage Bay this commercial resource has been valued at $300,000 annually.

As a result of bacterial surface water contamination, the State Department of Health has either closed or restricted shellfish harvesting in both Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor. It is essential that the county take action to restore impacted shellfish beds in Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor in order to ensure a productive resource base for long-term use.

Evaluating the Safety of Growing Areas

The Department of Health classifies shellfish growing areas on the basis of comprehensive sanitary surveys. Each survey includes assessments of water quality and pollution sources, and also takes into account meteorological and hydrographic factors that may affect the presence and distribution of contaminants.The presence of certain levels of fecal coliform bacteria is used as the primary indicator of water quality. In classifying each shellfish growing area, the Department of Health relies on the 30 most recent samples taken from each sampling station located in and around the shellfish harvest area.

Using the adverse pollution condition protocol, the samples at each station must meet a two-part standard for water quality. For example, the geometric mean of the samples cannot exceed 14 fecal coliform colonies per 100 milliliters of water (fc/100ml), and no more than 10 percent of the samples can exceed 43 fc/100ml.

Fecal coliform is a group of bacteria, which has been used for many years as a primary indicator of water quality. Among the bacteria in the fecal coliform group is Escherichia coli (E. coli) — strains of which can cause severe illness or death in humans who ingest it. Other disease-causing bacteria, not part of the fecal coliform group, are often present where fecal coliform is found.

Local Sampling Stations Show Serious Problems

Under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, the Department of Health is required to sample approved commercial shellfish areas six times each year. Sampling stations in both Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor have failed to meet these criteria and this failure has resulted in downgrades from the approved status to either a restricted or prohibited status. Specific local closure response plans have been developed for Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor to address these issues. These closure response plans specify the actions that must be taken in order to protect and restore these resources. The actions inter-relate with many existing water resource problems including stormwater discharge, agricultural runoff, municipal and on-site sewage treatment, industrial discharge and marina issues.

The problems that we are experiencing with shellfish quality are symptoms of a very large problem. Water quality in the county must be comprehensively addressed to ensure that the quality of our streams and rivers are such that our shellfish resources are no longer impacted. All of the water quality problems must be addressed if we are to have a viable shellfish resource in Whatcom County in the future.

In August of 1997, the State Department of Health downgraded a portion of Portage Bay from approved to prohibited. This action was necessary to protect public health. Previous sampling of marine water showed concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria above what was safe according to the state water quality standards and National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Recent sampling has shown that the water quality has not improved and the state the Department of Health has notified the county that they are planning to downgrade additional shellfish growing areas in Portage Bay. The formal downgrade of these areas will likely occur in early 1999.

Polluted Water at Portage Bay

Water quality is the most significant factor in determining whether clams, oysters, mussels and other shellfish are safe to eat. In polluted water, shellfish accumulate bacteria, viruses, or toxic substances. While the shellfish themselves appear to be unaffected, those who eat them can become ill.

One of these common pollutants, fecal coliform, is the cause of the current restrictions on Portage Bay shellfish harvesting. Evidence has shown that the pollution in the bay is a result of heavy bacterial loading from the Nooksack River Watershed.The principal source of freshwater into the bay is the discharge of the Nooksack River. Sampling of the Nooksack River below the bridge at Mount Baker Highway as well as several of its tributaries intersecting below that point, are impaired by excess levels of fecal coliform.

Nearly forty percent of the monthly samples collected by the state Department of Ecology in the lower Nooksack River between 1993 to 1996 exceeded the established water quality standards for a Class A stream (100 fecal coliform colonies/100ml). Other studies show similar results. The State Department of Health identified six potential sources of fecal coliform pollution in its August 1997 Sanitary Survey of Portage Bay. Four of these sources of pollution were considered key sources which must be addressed in order to restore the shellfish resource. These are:

Each of these point and non-point sources is recognized as significant, or potentially significant. As a result of the shellfish downgrade by the Department of Health, a local closure response strategy for Portage Bay was established to address the areas of key pollution sources.


The the Department of Health and the team identify improper dairy waste management as the largest potential contributor of fecal coliform pollution in the Nooksack watershed. About 69,000 cows on 241 dairy farms within the basin produce more than one-half million gallons per day of manure. This number does not include young stock. The amount of dairy waste produced each day in the Nooksack watershed on a bacterial loading basis is equivalent to 1.3 million people.

It is recommended that the county actively enforce the Critical Areas Ordinance by providing funding to support an inspector in the field dedicated to that purpose.

The spreading of liquid manure at the wrong time (e.g. to corn stubble post-harvest through the following February) and in a sloppy manner (e.g. to a stream, creek, river or a public right-of-way)has been prohibited by ordinance.

It has also been recommended that the county enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department of Ecology. Through this Memorandum the agencies would clarify their respective jurisdictions, coordinate efforts and make referrals from one another. This would avoid duplication or omissions in inspection activities.

Detailed technical studies on the effects of best management practices on fecal coliform levels and/or research into alternative dairy waste management techniques should continue and be enhanced. Washington State University Cooperative Extension has been and should continue to be active in conducting such research and demonstration projects.

Failing On-site Septic Systems

Failing on-site septic systems, especially in the Marietta area, are an additional potential source of fecal coliform contamination to Portage Bay. The Whatcom County Health and Human Services Department should conduct a survey of on-site septic systems in the Marietta area and require repair of failures.

Sewage Treatment Plants

Sewage treatment plants operated by the cities of Everson, Lynden and Ferndale are known sources of fecal coliform. In monthly averages, the daily discharged wastewater from these facilities must not exceed 200 fecal coliform colonies per 100 milliliter. Sampling by Department of Ecology for the total maximum daily load study indicates that permitted average amounts are exceeded on individual days.Review of discharge permits should be made with a recommendation for tighter changes in upcoming permits under renewal.

Storm-Water Runoff

Storm-water runoff is a source of fecal coliform pollution in the Nooksack River drainage. In urban areas, pet waste and other nonagricultural sources are the primary sources. In rural areas, storm water can carry bacteria from agricultural operations, non-commercial farms or on-site septic systems. Affected municipalities, including the county, are required to develop storm water management plans.

Total Maximum Daily Load

As a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act, the Department of Ecology is conducting a total maximum daily load study. This will help the Department of Ecology and the Whatcom County community determine how best to reduce pollution (of all types) in the Nooksack River and tributaries.

Monthly sampling at 20 sites along the Nooksack River, from Nugents Corner to Portage Bay, began in March 1997 as part of this total maximum daily load study. It will identify the fecal coliform bacteria reductions needed to meet Class A water standards at all points of the Nooksack River. The total maximum daily load study will help better quantify the relative contributions of fecal coliform from the potential sources identified in the the Department of Health Report. A monitoring program is necessary to measure two things. First, it must measure the effectiveness of the Portage Bay Closure Response Strategy. Second, it must measure the effectiveness of pollution limits set by the year 2000 under the total maximum daily load process.

A monitoring plan should include indicators of water quality, shellfish health, land use, education effectiveness, and regulatory actions. It is expected that the Portage Bay strategy will be constantly evaluated and adjusted according to information yielded from an ongoing monitoring program. Without monitoring, there will be no way to measure the effectiveness of resources spent on implementation.

It is essential that sufficient staff resources are allocated in the future to enforce elements of the protection programs and to provide the community with educational information related to resource protection. An on-going long-term monitoring program must also be established so that the county can continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the protection programs that have been established.

Shellfish Protection Funding

The cost projections for completing the closure response strategies for Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor are projected to be in excess of $12,000,000.
Each item in the closure strategy has a funding source identified and, in many cases, secured. During 1999 and 2000 approximately $20,000 in county match will be required to contract for a coordinator to ensure implementation of the closure response strategies. Ten thousand dollars in matching funds has been allocated by the county. An additional $10,000 will be needed in 2000.

Most of the revenue for completing the projects specified in the closure response strategies is currently available through state and federal grants. Local in-kind matching funds are also generally available in the community, for example, producer matching funds for manure management plan implementation.
The Northwest Indian College is conducting a study through the year 2000 that will build upon the the work of the total maximum daily load study to see how fecal coliform bacteria are transported.

Goal Set for Reopening Harvest

The closure response team set December 31, 1999 for reopening the commercial shellfish beds in Portage Bay. This does not, however, mean all fecal coliform bacterial pollution will be eliminated by then. Instead, it means that the contamination will be reduced to meet water quality standards and the Department of Health is satisfied that future exceedences are unlikely given the programs that are then in place.

Water Resources

Watershed Management in Whatcom County

Editor's note: In February 1999 the article, “Local Watershed Management Project to Affect Quality of Life and Economic Future of Whatcom County,” appeared in Whatcom Watch. The article described the Watershed Management Project for Water Resources Area 1. In response to comments received about the document which was signed by the councils of the initiating governments, the structure has been refined and additional information provided on the Public Involvement and Education plan and caucus formation and function.

Public Involvement and Education

It is essential that the general public in Whatcom County are given adequate access to information regarding the Watershed Management Project, and have multiple opportunities to participate in the process. Information will be distributed using a number of methods including public meetings, a telephone hot line, and the Internet. At a minimum the general public will have the following opportunities to participate in the Watershed management Project:

To achieve the desired goal of an informed and involved public, a Public Involvement & Education Team (P.I.E.) is being formed by the Initiating Governments. The P.I.E. Team will be responsible for coordinating communications, managing the flow of information, and developing a strategic program of raising public awareness and obtaining public input and participation.

The goal of the P.I.E. team is to encourage and facilitate the exchange of information between the:

Education Programs

The education component of the P.I.E. program will complement the public involvement component. The P.I.E. education efforts will be focused mainly on the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project, but will assist in the salmon habitat restoration activities underway in response to ESHB2496, and will also cooperate with other community organizations who are conducting education programs on related issues.

For example, it is anticipated that the P.I.E. Team will work cooperatively with organizations such as: Whatcom County Cooperative Extension, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA), Whatcom Watersheds Information Network (WWIN), City of Bellingham Public Works and Parks Departments, RE Sources, Washington State Department of Ecology, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, North Cascades Audubon, Conservation District.

Public Involvement and Education Coordinator

The P.I.E. program will be led by a Public Involvement and Education Coordinator who will be selected and hired by the Initiating Governments. This person will encourage input and facilitate participation by the public.

Information and Communications

The P.I.E. Team will utilize a wide variety of media to disseminate information and ensure the flow of communications between all parties involved in the Project.

For efficiency, to reduce costs, and to conserve natural resources, the P.I.E. Team plans to use a telephone hot line and an Internet web site as the two primary communication tools.

Hot Line

The P.I.E. Team will establish a countywide, toll-free telephone hotline that people can call for general information, the latest news, notices of meetings, and contact information. The telephone number for the hotline will be widely publicized and the information available through the hot line kept up-to-date by the P.I.E. Team.

Web site

The Internet is an invaluable tool for communicating, distributing information, and gathering public input. While not every citizen in Whatcom County owns a personal computer and has Internet access from their home, almost everybody knows someone who does and everyone can access the Internet free of charge at the Public Library. A Web site will give the P.I.E. Team the ability to disseminate information quickly, obtain public input, and encourage public involvement.

The Watershed Management Project web site will be made user-friendly by incorporating many of the features common to other web sites. There will be a standard “Home Page” which is the hub of the site and the first page reached when people visit. This page will have a logo, slogan, and a brief description of the Watershed Management Project.

The remainder of the Home Page will consist of links people will be able to follow in order to find the information they seek. Additionally, the web site may include features such as: surveys or polls; a feedback form which can be filled out and submitted online; e-mail discussion lists and a directory of contact names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

Watershed Management Conference

To formally launch the P.I.E. effort and provide an organizing opportunity to caucuses, the P.I.E. Coordinator and P.I.E. staff will organize and facilitate a “Watershed Management Conference” to be held on Wednesday May 5, 1999. Widespread publicity for and about the event will be arranged to enable interested citizens to become involved with a caucus. The conference will provide the time and focus for each caucus to identify priority issues of members, select representatives to the Planning Unit, and assess organizational needs.

The Watershed Management Conference will be a 4-hour long event. The conference will start with an overview of the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project, the role of the caucuses, and an introduction to the P.I.E. program. There will be a visual presentation of the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project web site as well as a general description of the other avenues the public will have for obtaining information and communicating with the Project (e.g., the telephone hot line).

The remainder of the conference will consist of facilitated break-out groups for each caucus and one group for individuals who do not feel they can be represented by a caucus. After the break-out groups meet, there will be reports from each group and an opportunity for general public comments and questions.
This event will also introduce the Watershed Management Forums, a series of regularly scheduled public meetings for people who want to be informed and heard throughout the planning process.

Watershed Management Forum

The P.I.E. Team of the Initiating Governments will sponsor Watershed Management Forums. These Forums are to provide a mechanism for participation and input by people or organizations who may not feel that they can be represented by one of the caucuses. Many of these forums will be informational and of broad interest

The Watershed Management Forums will be open public meetings facilitated by the P.I.E. Coordinator. The Forums could act as a mechanism for the public to hear about and comment on the work of the caucuses, and will provide time for input and discussion as well as time for presenting information.

The two-hour Forums will be regularly scheduled at a central county location. Members of the Initiating Governments Staff Team and Technical Teams may attend these meetings. The discussion topics will be publicized at least one week prior to the meeting on the Watershed Management Project web site, on the telephone hotline, in local papers, on local radio bulletin boards, and through other means as necessary.

Please address any questions or comments to:

Linda Sterling, Division Secretary
Whatcom County Water Resources
1000 N. Forest St., Suite 203
Bellingham, WA 98225
Phone: 676-6876
Hotline: 676-6940
Website: WRIA1project.wsu.edu
E-mail: lsterlin@co.whatcom.wa.us


Nooksack Salmon Recovery Summit Scheduled for Whatcom County

by Jim Hansen
Jim Hansen is Watershed Restoration Coordinator for the Lummi Nation.

A public forum on salmon recovery and frank discussion about Endangered Species Act repercussions to the Nooksack River watershed figure to highlight the Nooksack Recovery Team's Watershed Restoration Summit III, scheduled May 6-8 in Bellingham.

Now in its third year, the Watershed Restoration Summit represents an opportunity for the major players in Nooksack River natural resource management to consider past accomplishments and the challenges ahead in the watershed.
The summit is sponsored by the Nooksack Recovery Team, a collection of stakeholders that haven't always seen eye to eye — Indian tribes, industry and agricultural representatives, salmon-based citizen groups, and local, state and federal agencies — but who have joined forces to help protect and restore the Nooksack River watershed and its salmon.

Focusing on the challenge to restore salmon habitat, rather than on policy differences, the Nooksack Recovery Team cooperators are responsible for implementing over 300 salmon restoration projects in the past decade. Among these efforts by tribes, citizens' groups, and various agencies to recover the watershed have been projects to replant trees near streams, replace culverts that choke off habitat, and retire unused logging roads that threaten mudslides.

Already considerable interest in the summit and related salmon restoration activities is expected to climb this year, given the National Marine Fisheries Service's March, 1999, listing of Nooksack chinook stocks as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act .

Community Participation Invited

The community at large will enjoy a bigger role in the summit this year. Summit organizers are adding two public events this year. The first is a Community Forum on Thursday, May 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bloedel Donovan Park field house in Bellingham. Speakers representing environmental, agricultural, legislative, tribal and conservation interests will present a multi-media panel discussion aimed at providing general community education on the salmon recovery challenge.

Panelists will include:

  1. Steve Seymour, a fisheries biologist working for Whatcom County, who will discuss the statewide salmon recovery process.
  2. Hugh Lewis, an attorney working with the Washington Trout conservation group, who will describe fish habitat and its role in salmon recovery.
  3. Jim Hansen, Watershed Restoration Coordinator for the Lummi Nation, who will discuss recent habitat projects completed by the Nooksack Recovery Team Members.
  4. George Boggs, District Coordinator for the Whatcom Conservation District, who will discuss the role that agricultural producers can play in the salmon recovery process.
  5. Lisa McShane, an activist working for the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance conservation group, who will discuss socioeconomic effects and land-use implications of the salmon recovery process.

Restoration Project Work Party

The second public event in conjunction with the Salmon Summit is a planting party on Saturday, May 8, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association invites one and all to the planting party activities which will include planting and exotic weed control at a project site on Squalicum Creek in Bellingham, near Saint Joseph's Hospital. To reach the project site, go south on Meridian from the I-5 exit to Birchwood Avenue and go east on Birchwood .25 miles and watch for signs indicating “Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Work Party.”

Nooksack Recovery Team Summit III Executive Session

An executive session of resource stakeholders, set May 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Lummi Nation Wex Liem Community Center, will remain the bread and butter of the summit. The session will bring together Nooksack Recovery Team members and cooperators with local, state and federal policy makers to review accomplishments and challenges. Speakers will include representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribes, Whatcom County, and the State of Washington.

Many of the summit attendees are among the players charged with developing an effective recovery plan in the Nooksack that successfully negotiates a maze of conflicting political, regulatory, and legal boundaries and biases.

Nooksack River spring chinook are in big trouble. The state has set a minimum goal of 2,000 wild Nooksack spring chinook returning to spawn. State biologists have counted no more than 145 in the river's north fork in the last ten years. In 1990, they counted none. The Nooksack Recovery Team's goal is to restore a harvestable surplus of all salmon species for future generations.


The Coevolution of a Garden and Gardener

by Al Hanners
Al Hanners is an environmentalist and a retired geologist.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Journal of the Whatcom Horticultural Society, Winter 1998-99, Vol. 11, No. 1.

As I write seated at the kitchen breakfast bar, from time to time I gaze out the picture window to watch the birds flitting about, gleaning insects from the lawn, and eating at the bird feeders.

The large green lawn, unbroken by trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds, affords a sense of spaciousness. The solid screen of trees and shrubs about it provides not only privacy, but also a bird sanctuary. Evergreens offer birds shelter throughout the year.

There are blueberries for robins in summer and rock cotoneasters in winter. Filberts collected by Steller's jays in August are hidden in soft ground for recovery in winter. More importantly, the rear border is a “bug factory” for clinging insectivores (insect eating birds), chiefly chickadees and Bewick's wrens. It is a dense mix of bitter cherry, male Scouler's willows, birch, and laburnum. A clump of fennel sits in front.

There are no bark chips on the ground and only a few patches of vegetative ground cover, all anathema to birds; only lovely ‘Ruth Kelsey‘ violets and oxalis are sparingly used. Instead, the tree and shrub border constituting the bird sanctuary has limbs down to the ground to shelter ground-feeding birds. They love to scratch in the duff of dead leaves and twigs beneath. There are towhees all year, and fox and song sparrows in winter.

I feel the intrinsic beauty of the flowers blooming in front of the shrub border; however, flowerbeds, too, have double duty. In fall, goldfinches cling to dead yellow evening-primroses and cosmos and eat the seeds. Barren flowerbeds are choice locations for sprinkling millet to entice shy ground-feeding birds out into the open.

We had never lived on the West coast before moving to Bellingham and had only a general knowledge of how to pursue nature as a hobby. Here are a few of the incidents along the way that made the garden and gardener what they are.
For years we had maintained a substantial winter bird feeding station. One day while living in a big city, I found cheap bird feed at a warehouse. As I watched a forklift unload a huge truckload of bird feed, I remarked my amazement at the size of the operation. The manager replied, “Do you know who is our best customer? It is the cemetery. People like to see something alive there.” As for us, winter is long but retirement is longer. By chance we live between the hospital and crematorium. In the meantime, we, too, enjoy seeing “something alive out there.”

Once we used pesticides to rid our lawn of troublesome hordes of craneflies, but it also killed the earthworms. When I could no longer bear the thought of a lawn without robins hopping about, I stopped using them. Now robins again search for worms, and other birds control the craneflies. We seldom see one.
We admired Colorado blue spruce and found it trouble-free when we lived in the east. Naturally, we put one in our Bellingham lawn, but were dismayed on learning that normally pesticide spray is required to control the aphids that eat all winter in Bellingham's climate. For years I complied, but as the bird population grew and a friendly gardener taught me tolerance by example, and as I learned to relocate or eliminate insect prone plants (but not the spruce), I used pesticides less and less. Now it has been years since I applied a pesticide to the blue spruce and still it is lovely.

Yes, birds can prevent serious insect damage and tolerance is an excellent option, but the birds and the gardener need to be partners. Make a garden a good place for insectivores to visit and they will come. However, grow insect-prone plants only in areas where birds normally go. They may not regularly visit window boxes, porches, and some isolated plantings. The continuous shrubby border provides shelter for all clinging insectivores. An all-sunflower seed feeder brings in chickadees; a suet feeder attracts bushtits and chickadees, and a birdhouse with a small entrance hole may be the home of Bewick's wrens.

Recently, I noticed the hummingbirds coming to our deck to feed at the red fuchsias also took an unusual interest in the orange-red mimulus growing in a pot. On inspection, I found a few aphids. Sometime ago I would have run for the spray bottle of liquid insecticidal soap. This time I did nothing. The aphids disappeared, and the hummingbirds lost interest.

Art Review

Bellingham Artist Creates Serene Landscapes of a Peaceable Kingdom

by Ted Lindberg
Ted Lindberg is an art critic for the magazine Preview: The Gallery Guide.

In a significant way, Rebecca Meloy's pastels and oil paintings go beyond her obvious talent for organizing compositions and capturing local color. One gets the immediate impression that she does not merely go about with sketching equipment to apprehend promising “land-shapes,” “sky-shapes,” and “building-shapes” for decorous composition.

Her content, judging from her own statements about the earth and the “whole interconnected life system” must matter to her, must be utilized in an evocation of her own, deeply-held, philosophic beliefs. Meloy's landscapes are lucid and serene — not what one might expect from an artist so forthrightly impassioned with environmental and ecological imperatives. She applies neither the “impressionist” nor the “expressionist” treatment, and she is not interested in conceptual or art-stylistic game-playing. Rather, she goes for a kind of straightforward, almost photo-realist statement that underscores the exceptionally pure design and simple visual virtues she cherishes in a real and visible world.

With Meloy, there is no pamphleteering or raising of alarms on canvas or paper; instead, there is the order, balance and wholeness of a physical setting that has been nurtured and treated with respect. She treats her artistic “ground” as if it were a fully organic garden, and the color, vigor and lushness of her ensuing images bear the unmistakable characteristics of a desirable world, a Peaceable Kingdom.

One cannot stress enough the purely plastic pleasure demonstrated in Meloy's pastels and oil paintings. These are from the sure hand of a twenty-year veteran who directly and without hesitation states what she means; who both consciously and intuitively hits her mark virtually every time.

This is a quality which, unfortunately, cannot be taught or transmitted. If, in the past, Meloy's work may have exhibited, like that of many emerging artists, doubt or disorientation, in her present achievements not a shred of uncertainty remains.

A show of Rebecca Meloy's work, Inhabiting the Landscape, is running through May 29, 1999, at the Cornish College of the Arts Alumni Gallery in Seattle, Fridays and Saturdays from 12-5 pm. The Meloy and Company Gallery in Bellingham is at 1220 Bay Street.

Government Action

Fishing, Conservation Groups Sue to Save State Oil Spill Program Fund

On the March 24, the 10th anniversary of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters, commercial fishing and conservation groups filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court to save the state fund dedicated to oil spill prevention and clean up programs.

Earlier in the day, state lawmakers marked the 10th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill by vowing to fight on in this legislative session for additional tug protection for oil tankers as soon as they enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Senate and House lawmakers made clear that additional tug protection requirements would have to be part of budget decisions trying to fix the state's oil spill prevention and response fund current deficit.

The fund, under attack in a suit brought by the US Oil Company in late 1996 which seeks to overturn the whole fund as unconstitutional and to seek a refund of all of the oil spill prevention tax that they have paid, was established by the State Legislature in 1991 with the support of the oil industry as part of the legislation that created the Office of Marine Safety and, with it, the state's marine oil spill prevention program.

Funding for the state's oil spill prevention and cleanup programs comes from a 5-cent-per-barrel tax currently imposed on crude oil shipped into Washington state by tankers. The fund's chronic shortfalls have come from an “export credit”, a credit for the full amount of the original tax paid for oil or refined product that subsequently leaves the state.

“The oil companies have fought against oil spill prevention by working to abolish the Office of Marine Safety, to do away with funding oil spill prevention, and refusing to have tankers escorted by tugs” said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound, speaking for the plaintiffs Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, React Consulting Group (representing the coastal fishing industry), Friends of the San Juans, Ocean Advocates, Tahoma Audubon Society, Protect Our Peninsula's Future, and Friends of Grays Harbor.

“It makes no sense to collect a tax from oil companies that put our waters at risk when they ship crude oil in and then to return the taxed amount when they put us at risk twice when they send refined product out,” said Fletcher.
Worse yet, according to Fletcher, the effectiveness of the state's spill prevention and response programs has now been put seriously at risk by shortfalls in the fund created by crediting oil refiners for finished product exported out of the state.

Last fall, a state Department of Revenue audit of just one marine terminal resulted in an additional credit of over $900,000 against the spill response and administration taxes to be remitted to the state fund. This month, the Department of Revenue has increased the same “export credit” for the same terminal by an additional $400,000.

According to the suit, the effect of these two audit adjustments has reduced the funds in the administration account below the amount necessary to properly operate the Oil Spill Program, had forced extensive, emergency cut-backs in the Oil Spill Prevention Program, and places all of Washington State's marine waters under an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill.

These and past audits demonstrate that the “export credit” provisions, even after eight years of experience in calculating, are not understood by even the oil companies that wrote them, and nor by their refineries, and are substantially under-declared and under-estimated.

The suit calls for elimination of the “export credit” provision, as applied to collection of the barrel tax funding the state's oil spill prevention and response program, while also asking that the original funding set up for Washington state's oil spill prevention program be preserved.
For more information, call (360) 754-9177 or (206) 382-7007.


Grow Wild

by Veronica Wisniewski
Veronica Wisniewski is co-owner of Wildside Growers and a Whatcom County naturalist.

“Wild gardening, why that's just a bunch of weeds, isn't it?” How often have I heard that when I tell people I own a nursery that specializes in native plants. Hardly, is the appropriate response. With so many people seeking inspiration in the woods, prowling the bluffs and headlands, and tramping to alpine meadows, why not experience the splendor of these areas in the backyard. If the books, magazines and articles appearing in the popular press recently are a measure of interest, plenty exists out there. To foster this interest, a number of Whatcom County plantspeople will contribute articles featuring plants, discussing plant communities and providing tips on incorporating natives into your landscape design over the next several months.

Attracting Wildlife

Among the many reasons for replacing sod with native plants, attracting wildlife to one's backyard ranks high. A little effort exerted in establishing a small wildflower plot of rudebeckias, penstemons, monarda and yarrow, for example, provides nectar for hummingbirds and hawkmoths, seeds for goldfinches and white-crowned sparrows, and color for most of the summer. Add a couple of shrubs, such as red osier dogwood and ocean spray, and nesting habitat becomes available, a tree frog may find cover to hunt insects, and color is added to the winter landscape. For those with greater inclination and space, the opportunities are numerous.

Drought-tolerant Plants

For the more practically-minded, appropriately chosen native plantings, can provide a low-water, low-maintenance landscape. Native plants are adapted to the Pacific Northwest's unusual maritime climate. Unlike much of the rest of the country, where summer rain and warmth make it the most prolific growing season, summer drought arrests growth in the months that are typically prolific unless supplemental watering is provided. Many native plants have adapted to this hydrologic regime by taking advantage of the long cool moist, but mild, spring and fall months to develop extensive root systems and by aestivation, a form of summer hibernation, during the extremes of summer drought. This isn't to suggest that native plants don't benefit from summer watering, but that after they are established, they do not require it.

A word on no-maintenance landscapes; they exist, but few people would (or should) cover their yards in noxious weeds like Himalayan blackberry, tansy or reed canary grass. Because we of foreign descent brought our weeds with us, even native landscapes require some weeding to look good...and a little grooming never hurt anyone's appearance. That said, I personally prefer pulling a few weeds to sucking the exhaust of a gasoline engine on my weekends off. (Though I have failed to reach that state of sodless nirvana myself.)

For the high-minded, native plantings can be a means of preserving threatened plants or plant communities. While replicating an old-growth forest in the urban backyard would be a tall order, native prairie meadows and alpine rock gardens certainly fit the urban landscape and a desire one may have for a sunny spot in the yard. A native prairie planting, including such plants as camas, cerastiums, Oregon sunshine, shooting stars, Idaho fescue and yarrow, would contribute space to plants from one of our most endangered ecosystems. If you have never seen a Washington prairie, the Washington Park bluffs in Anacortes or Pass Island in Whidbey Island State Park will pass through the peak blooming period in the next two months.

The Pacific Northwest offers a host of plant communities adapted to areas as diverse as dry sandstone balds or forested peaty fens. This diversity ensures that some species exist that are adapted to the conditions in any backyard. The plants are out there and people are making them available. Now is as good a time as any to start incorporating the natives into your landscape.

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