Saving Whatcom one tree at a time

Community members and students celebrate Earth Day

by Tyler Bergen

Each year, groups all over the world organize events to celebrate annual Earth Day, April 22.

The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) in collaboration with other local groups organized a community clean-up project along Terrell Creek, located on the British Petroleum site near Birch Bay on Saturday April 18.

Full families and community members came in their boots, ready to restore the creek. NSEA members organized the event which included a barbeque lunch and free shirts given to volunteers, who came from all ages and backgrounds.

Whatcom's Programming and diversity Board Gave away douglas fir saplings for students to plant in celebration of Earth Day, April 22.
Whatcom’s Programming and diversity Board Gave away douglas fir saplings for students to plant in celebration of Earth Day, April 22. Photo by Jake Hawes.

“The goal of the project was to restore native habitat elements that are vital to the health of salmon runs, as well as removing invasive species from the local ecosystems,” said NSEA Volunteer Coordinator Riley Hills, 24.

This cleanup was one of many that NSEA has conducted since it began in 1990. The volunteers gathered to grab gloves, shovels and tools and begin planting the deciduous and coniferous trees along the stream banks, as well as various other native plants.

Volunteers also mulched the trees and plants, which helps the soil hold moisture and improves the health of the trees.

“The tree species that are being planted are Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, which will eventually shield the creek from the sun, giving salmon the cooler waters they need for growth and development,” Hills said.

NSEA members help community volunteers prepare sapling covers to help newly planted trees grow at a community work party held April 18.
NSEA members help community volunteers prepare sapling covers to help newly planted trees grow at a community work party held April 18.

“Normally our work parties consist of 30 to 50 volunteers, and about 300 plants, but today we have 1,000 plants, and at least 100 volunteers,” Hills said. He said that this event was heavily publicized for Earth Day.

A number of local businesses and organizations sponsored the event, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, British Petroleum, Meridian High school, Whatcom Conservation District, and Starbucks. They collectively funded the project, helped purchase the trees, and supplied volunteers.

“Salmon are such an important species to the northwest,” said Zach Shirk, 29, of the Washington Conservation Corps.

“Without them our whole ecosystem would be different. They are a keystone species around here,” he added.

A keystone species is important for the survival of all the other parts of the ecosystem. Salmon are vital to the overall health of Whatcom County’s rivers, streams, and lakes, said Shirk.

“We are planting along Terrell Creek because it connects Birch Bay to Terrell Lake, which supports Chum and Steelhead salmon, who have been endangered over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Annitra Peck, 37, one of the head coordinators for the event.

The Chum and Steelhead that live in the Nooksack Basin have been losing numbers over the years due to various environmental and climate changes that have affected their habitats, said Peck.

Hills said that invasive species, soil erosion, and deforestation along streams have all contributed to the decline in salmon populations.

“Habitat is really important in supporting fish; salmon really need cold water to breathe. The trees and plants additionally provide detritus food for insects, which in turn are food for the salmon. The tree roots also help prevent erosion, by holding it all together,” added Peck.

“Getting to restore the habitat and work with awesome people is great, and being outside in beautiful places all the time doesn’t hurt either,” said Shirk.

Whatcom Community College celebrated Earth Day on April 22 by giving out 150 Douglas Fir saplings to students. The Programming and Diversity Board was responsible for giving out the trees in conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation.

“We are celebrating Earth Day and Arbor Day together this year, since they are just two days apart,” said Allie Smith, 24, Programming and Diversity board member. “The National Wildlife Federation provided us the trees and everything we needed, and we just had to give the trees out to students.”

Students received saplings of the Douglas Fir trees that were about a foot and a half tall, with complementary planting tips and instructions provided by the Programming and Diversity Board.

“Earth Day is that one day of the year that we can get people inspired to be environmentally thoughtful,” said Whatcom student student Jake Hawes, 20. “We just want people to be more aware of the environment, and to plant trees so that we can all breathe.”

“Between Earth Day and Arbor Day, it’s like an entire week of focusing on what’s truly important, and being conscious of our environment,” said Smith.

She said she hopes that all the students who took home trees will go plant them, and help “make the world a prettier place.”

“What’s funny about restoration work is there’s no book on it, this is mankind’s first try at having to fix the environment, so we don’t know what combinations of trees will work, and which plants will flourish,” said Hills. “This was a really big turnout, I think due to recent events like the BP spill and other natural disasters, people are starting to wake up to the fact that we only have one Earth, and we have to stop depleting it like we have been.”

NSEA regularly hosts work parties throughout Whatcom County to restore local habitats.


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