A volunteer carefully plants a seedling in Whatcom County

A volunteer carefully plants a seedling in Whatcom County. Credit: American Forests

About Whatcom County Riparian ReLeaf:

American Forests and Alcoa Foundation are partnering with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) to restore the habitat of local salmon species. The watersheds being targeted in this project are all in need of riparian enhancement because of vegetation loss, altered or channelized waterways and degradation from industrial, agricultural and urban uses. Invasive, non-native vegetation heavily populates riparian zones in these areas, often forming monocultures that outcompete native species.

ReLeaf Location:

Bellingham, Wash.

Key ReLeaf Activities:

  • Planting 7,000 trees at 12 sites, including 2,000 feet of streamside habitat
  • Improving spawning and food-source habitat for salmon populations

Why This ReLeaf Project?

Improved riparian habitat will benefit the area’s wild salmon populations by increasing vegetative cover to provide shade, aiding in cooler average water temperatures, increasing the capacity for dissolved oxygen and increasing food resources for young salmon, among other benefits. Healthy riparian zones also help improve air quality, reduce impacts of climate change by acting as carbon sinks and improve quality of habitat for other wildlife, including eagles, beavers, deer, amphibians and other native fish. Additionally, by participating in restoration work, community members are increasing their stewardship activity and awareness, helping build partnerships toward a healthy community.

Why Salmon Habitat Restoration?

Populations of salmon in the Nooksack River Basin have been on the decline for more than 60 years, with several local species being listed as threated under the Endangered Species Act. A myriad of factors have contributed to the precipitous decline in our local salmon populations, including increasingly poor water quality, low water quantity and overall habitat loss. Fish passage is frequently reduced or eliminated by poor riparian conditions and natural and non-natural barriers. Salmon are an indicator species: The decline in a waterway’s ability to support spawning and rearing young salmon is indicative of an overall deterioration of the health in an ecosystem. The more intact and productive a freshwater ecosystem is, the healthier the salmon stocks will be. In addition to being an indicator species, salmon are also a keystone species, supporting a vast and complex web of life-forms, large and small, from aquatic insects to eagles, bears, orcas and humans.