In our part of the Salish Sea, late June is the beginning of harbor seal birthing (pupping) season that runs through August. On July 2nd, I was fortunate to observe one of these births on the shore of Bellingham Bay. On an early Sunday morning walk, I saw this harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) swimming erratically in tight circles and occasionally coming up to the rocks on shore, then back to the water. I was concerned that it was ill and disoriented. I could not have been more wrong. Mamma seal knew exactly what she was doing.
Hoag’s Pond, – a place of reflection adjacent to the 100 acre Woods.
*With apologies to A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin.
June, 2017, Bellingham WA, Pacific Northwest
This is a short story with a bunch of photos about our 100 Acre Wood that, like Milne’s is loaded with critters scurrying about and singing.
This wood is an urban forest in Bellingham, WA that was saved by a 2010 bank crash from becoming a housing development. The wood is now a rusticity community park but almost wasn’t. As with most areas in close proximity to an urban center, it was a primal forest until about 150 years ago when it was logged for its ancient Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar. The undergrowth of salal, ferns, numerous flowering plants and various berry vines covered huge deposits of 50 million year old Chuckanut Sandstone. After logging, portions of this area became a gravel pit that has since closed and is recovering from those ugly scars to its landscape. It now boasts a curtain of huge Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, Black Cottonwood, Alder, Big Leaf and Vine Maple and more.
The wood is laced with hiking and biking trails and is home to numerous critters including chipmunks, squirrels, deer, frogs, turtles, possum, raccoon, and birds of all kinds. My kids rode their bikes there through middle school and beyond and today they walk their dogs and their Dad there.
Ironically, none of this would be here today if it were not for the 2010 housing and banking crash. In a way this urban forest owes its existence to the Bush administration’s reckless policy on the banking industry.
Developers first proposed to build 1,464 homes in the area. That deal fell through to every one’s relief. Later another developer showed up wanting to build only 739 “units.” This was 2008. By the time financing was secured and plans drawn, (despite huge community organizing against it) it was 2010. The financing bank, Horizon was among the first banks in the US to go under with the housing and banking crisis. The bank failed and the development failed, giving the community and the city time to pass a levy to purchase the property at a fire-sale price. And thus the 100 acre wood was secured for the community and for posterity.
Map of the Salish Sea & Surrounding Basin, Western Washington University, 2009. The southern part of the Salish Sea is Puget Sound while the northern part is The Strait of Georgia in British Columbia. There are no clear dividing lines except for political borders.
In Part 1, I made the case that eelgrass (Zostera marina) and other sea grasses are critical to local estuaries and near shore areas as well as to the health of the planet in terms of all of the myriad of ecological functions they serve. I also noted that they are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. In part 2, I review the current status of eelgrasses, the numerous threats to their viability, and many conservation and restoration efforts currently underway both locally and worldwide. Most emphasis is on eelgrasses in Puget Sound and the Pacific northwest but most of what applies here is applicable elsewhere.
Eelgrass Meadow along eastern shore of Bellingham Bay
This diary is about the wonders of eelgrass, one of the major components of near shore habitat that nurtures a myriad of sea critters. Additionally it provides many other functions in support of our sea life, our recreation, and it even contributes to reducing the CO2 problems in our oceans and atmosphere. There are other sea grasses and kelps that contribute as well, but I think that eelgrass is a star.
Eelgrass is a common name for a species of seagrasses. I will focus on the salt water variety of Zostera marina and describe its vital ecological functions, its current status, and efforts to sustain it. This form of eelgrass is the most widely distributed aquatic flowering perennial in the northern hemisphere, growing largely in the cooler waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
World distribution of Zostera marina
I will in part highlight eelgrass in Puget Sound, the southernmost part of the Salish Sea which is the second largest estuary in the US (by volume). However, most of what applies to our local intertidal waters also applies to eelgrass beds and other seagrasses elsewhere in the Salish Sea, along the shores of Oregon and California, the western Atlantic Seaboard and near shore habitats globally.
This is the first of a two part post. In this first part, I describe the many gifts it gives us. In Part 2, I describe its current status, take a look at its threats and the efforts underway to preserve this valuable resource.
Gnarled roots entwined from Cedar and fir trees seeking sustenance where they can
This is a photo diary on some unconventional looking trees I’ve observed in my various local wanderings. Some appear to be growing and prospering under rather difficult and stark conditions. Their shapes are often graceful and even artsy. Others are contorted, gross, gangly, and even eerie, but all are interesting.
Nooksack River valley with the river running right to left in the mid-ground. Taken from Slide Mountain above Maple Creek Reach looking north toward British Columbia.
Maple Creek Reach
Nooksack Valley, WA
This fall I participated in a celebration day to welcome back the salmon of Maple Creek Reach that brought over 100 people to its meadows and river beds. This event was sponsored by the Whatcom Land Trust to honor its supporters for the huge efforts given to preserving this scenic, once wild and pristine property and streams. Located in Whatcom County in the far northwest of the Lower 48, this event was co-sponsored by Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, the Lummi and Nooksack Tribes, and supported by numerous local businesses. The Trust restores and cares for over 20,000 acres of County land.
Part I of this Chuckanut Formation story was mostly about the development of the formation and some of the interesting seaside sandstone features such as the tafoni. Part II will go into other features that the formation provides us including eocene fossils, building materials, coal, and recreation.
Sandstone Formation in Chuckanut Bay at the foot of Chuckanut Mountain
In stark contrast to the mountainous Pacific Northwest of today, during the Eocene epoch (~ 55 ~ 34 Million Years Ago (MYA) it was quite flat. However just as today, the region then was lush with vegetation and interlaced with braided streams meandering from what is now Eastern Washington on to the Pacific Ocean. This was a tropical swamp with exotic plants and animals (although some would be familiar yet today). As the streams approached the ocean, they slowed and their sediments of sand, clay, and silt carried from huge rock formations to the east, settled out. Over millions of years these sediments accumulated, were compressed by gravity and tectonic forces, and solidified into immense geologic rock formations. This bucket is about one of these structures – the Chuckanut Formation made up primarily of sandstone, siltstone, conglomerate, and shale, with pockets of coal from the ancient compressed vegetation.
I have referred to this formation in three previous diaries that were focused on various aspects of it including its Eocene fauna and flora, and more recently, graffiti sprayed on the rock formations along its beaches. Here I want to focus on the formation itself and all it has afforded our region.
This formation is not only in my backyard, it is under it as well. These sedimentary deposits extend to depths of nearly 20,000 feet in places. My focus here is on the Chuckanut Mountains which comprise 10 separate but related mountains (and hills) in and around Whatcom and Skagit Counties in northwest WA. In particular, I will focus mainly on Chuckanut Mountain itself (for which the formation was named) and a bit on Sehome Hill which is most directly in my back yard. In addition segments of this and related sedimentary formations are spread across the northwest, including the San Juan Islands and up into British Columbia.
This diary threatened to get too long so I decided to do it in two parts. This is Part I.
I have been monitoring the local sea star (Pisaster ochraceus) population following the devastating die-off from Wasting Syndrome over that past three years. As previously discussed, some pathogen and/or processes that are as yet not fully understood, have quite literally melted into goo upwards of 90% of west coast sea stars ranging from Baja California to Alaska.