By Lea Hogdal
As fishermen crowded the banks of Whatcom Creek eagerly awaiting the catch of the day, nearby students and community members worked towards fostering a healthy salmon population.
The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association hosted a work party on Nov. 11 at Maritime Heritage Park. Rae Edwards, the park’s volunteer coordinator, said this work party is part of a 40 year restoration plan at the park. The group works to restore the area by removing invasive plants, replacing them with native plants and mulching around them.
Around 60 members of the community came out to volunteer. Among those were students of Bellingham Technical College, the North Cascades Institute and Western, many of them through the LEAD program.
Western senior Benjamen Smith, an environmental science major and an intern of the organization, worked as a group leader. He showed volunteers how to identify native vegetation and educated them on the importance of salmon for the economy and ecology of the area.
“What was really cool about today is we have chum salmon running so we can show them the salmon and exactly what we’re restoring all this habitat for,” Smith said.
Smith said that this restoration project is ensuring that salmon will have a habitat that is clean, clear and cold, the requirements needed in order for salmon to return and reproduce.
Amber Train, a first year student in the fisheries program at Bellingham Technical College, was excited to get involved in her first work party, alongside her fisheries club.
“We want to start getting engaged in different community activities that affect the habitat for the salmon,” Train said.
Train also spoke about how easy it was to join in. The group leaders helped them identify the different species and provided them with the proper gear and tools to work with.
Ivy in the area is one of the main invasive plants that the program is working to get rid of.
“In the ‘70s, that was how they dealt with erosion, they did it here and did it up on campus,” Edwards said.
Western graduate Raena Anderson is an Americorps member serving with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association as their volunteer coordinator. She spoke about the direct consequences the area has on salmon species and the developmental issues that can occur from water pollution.
“There’s also erosion which causes turbidity in the water, making it difficult for them to see. If it’s high enough, it can get caught in their gills and make it hard for them to breath,” Anderson said.
Native plants help to filter out the toxic water runoff that occurs in urban environments. Anderson said that now, because of the restoration project, when water flows over the hillside, pollutants have a better chance of being absorbed instead of running into the stream. This project is creating a better habitat and allowing for the survival of salmon species, like that of chum salmon, at Whatcom Creek .