Jesse Buff, Director of Forest Restoration

Director of forest restoration, Jesse Buff, at Landingstrip Creek

Director of forest restoration, Jesse Buff, at Landingstrip Creek. Credit: American Forests

In February, I visited the Nooksak Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) in Bellingham, Washington. I was hoping to see the results of some of the Global ReLeaf program’s earliest work and view current work underway. NSEA’s mission is to restore wild salmon runs in Whatcom County, Washington, through the involvement of local communities, volunteers and landowners. More than 15 years ago, Global ReLeaf partnered with NSEA for the first time and over the next few years worked on numerous projects with them.

Wild salmon are incredibly important to the Pacific Northwest’s culture and economy. They are an important economic driver for the state and its residents through commercial and recreational fishing, and are culturally important to local communities and Indian tribes. However, salmon streams have been severely degraded over time by poor agricultural practices, logging, pollution and dams that block their passage as they make their way upstream to spawn. One key to restoring traditional salmon runs is trees: You can’t have healthy salmon streams without healthy forest cover.

During my trip to Bellingham, I visited Squalicum Creek, where American Forests supported a riparian restoration project in the late 1990s. Before the project, the stream ran through a degraded field, its banks crumbling into the water. Now, the results of that planting were apparent. Today, Squalicum Creek is a heavily shaded stream with healthy trees on its banks, protecting the salmon that live there. I also visited the NSEA project we’re currently supporting — the restoration of Landingstrip Creek. With support from our partner, the Alcoa Foundation, NSEA is planting trees on 128 acres of a former dairy farm surrounding the creek. The tiny saplings I saw — redosier dogwood, red alder, black cottonwood, sitka spruce and western redcedar, among others — will one day make up another dense riparian forest, similar to Squalicum Creek, where salmon can thrive.