by Quinn Welsch
Down a forested gravel path on the Lummi Indian Reservation, volunteers from Whatcom Community College and Whatcom County traveled on foot to sustain one of the county’s sites for developing ecosystems.
Armed with no more than pitchforks and shovels, the crew of about 40 went to work on a few acres of land at Smuggler’s Slough, stomping out invasive plants and spreading mulch around young trees.
“This gives everybody the opportunity – no matter what their education or their background – to work with their hands and make a difference,” said Anitra Ferderer, coordinator of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) and event organizer. “It’s a pretty good buzz you get for the rest of the day.”
NSEA, a non-profit organization, spear-headed the project on the reservation two years ago by planting the trees and protecting them with grow-tubes, small plastic tubes that protect the new trees from natural predators.
NSEA organizes work parties in the fall and spring to help build and sustain healthy ecosystems. They often work closely with Whatcom’s Service Learning Club to get volunteers for their work parties. On Earth Day, the organization had 233 volunteers from the community to help plant trees around Landing Strip Creek in Acme.
Strengthening the salmon population along the Nooksack River basin is NSEA’s primary goal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that salmon populations in the state are in decline. Chinook, Coho, Chum, and Sockeye have all been placed on the endangered species list as either “threatened” or “endangered.” Through community support and volunteering, NSEA’s volunteer work parties have helped alleviate the problem.
Smuggler’s Slough serves as a watershed for the surrounding creeks and a healthy environment for young salmon to grow. The newly planted trees at the site will eventually develop and contribute to a much cleaner watershed. The shade from the trees will support an environment more friendly to salmon, and gradually increase the health of the nearby water sources.
Sean Martin, an intern for NSEA, wearing knee-high rubber boots and wielding a pitchfork, said the salmon are important to both the state’s ecology as well as culture.
Martin describes the formation of watersheds as similar to pouring water over a crumpled piece of paper. The water that pools into the crevices are essentially watersheds; Whatcom County’s mountainous topography and wetlands allow for an abundance of watersheds.
Some of the volunteers may be fulfilling their service learning hours for class requirements, others, such as members of the International Friendship Club, along with their advisor Ulli Schraml, volunteer to give back to their community.
No matter their motive, their actions count. Ferderer said one of the organization’s goals is to be community based. “That’s where our work parties come in to play,” she said.
Adjacent to the site is NSEA’s previous project: a flat field with trees about 4 feet tall. They are just a little older than the ones being tended to, and the tall, invasive grass that once surrounded them is retreating at the far end of the field.
Besides the occasional pile of garbage buried at the site, Ferderer said one of the main problems is the reed canary grass. The invasive weed spreads rapidly and chokes out other plants. “The best way to get rid of reed canary grass is to shade it out,” she said.
On May 12, NSEA, along with Bellingham Cold Storage, rallied 48 volunteers to help restore a small patch of land next to Squalicum Creek, right at the corner of the Guide Meridian and Squalicum Way. Reed canary grass isn’t present at this site, but in its stead are blackberry bushes, notorious for strangling out other plant species. Other than uprooting and trimming back the invasive bushes, volunteers mulched young plants, and helped pick up trash along the nearby roads.
Squalicum Creek’s ecosystem has been one of particular concern for NSEA. Ferderer says many of the city’s homeless people camp near the creek, causing human waste, along with garbage, to pollute the creek.
Squalicum Creek and Smuggler’s Slough are two of the dozens of sites NSEA caters to. Their 2011 annual report showed a total of 91 work parties, in which Ferderer said about 18,000 volunteer hours were logged. Ferderer said NSEA’s monthly water quality tests and spawning surveys have shown an increase in water quality.
By planting more trees, NSEA plans to create an area more compatible with Washington State’s temperate rainforest. Newly formed canopies will provide additional habitat, and contribute to the overall-well being of the area.
NSEA accepts volunteers on an informal basis. Their work party schedule is listed on their website: www.n-sea.org. Their next work party is on June 2 at Happy Valley Park. It will be the last work party for the group until late October.