Jul 28, 2020

Bellingham WA: Think globally, Act locally - Downyland

For decades, there has been a slogan "Think globally, act locally" and I abide by it. My volunteer activities have usually been very meaningful to me over the years relative to my paid jobs because they served a purpose greater than myself, my employer and the employer's customers. I wish I could report the same satisfaction, however, with my volunteer efforts towards protection of plants and animals in the little wetland below North State Street, near the roundabout and Wharf Street. 

There are people besides me who love this spot, and some do defend it. I would love it if even more influencers could advocate for the beautiful little spot I am referring to. 

A Parks & Rec WHARF STREET TIMBER TRESTLE REPAIR should start this month or next and take three months. Access by pedestrians and bikers will be blocked. The first step will be to build an access road for the trucks to get in from East Laurel Street, involving widening the current path about 12 feet into the buffer. 

For over a year, I have been calling the area from East Laurel Street to Wharf Street "Downyland" after the woodpecker. Searching the hashtag Downyland will display many of my attempts at stewardshipI summarized some of my concerns in a letter to City Council on May 24th 2019 and subsequent messages, but there was no response. 

Many creatures were particularly displaced and/or harmed the fourth week of March 2020 when the railway company (BNSF) damaged it by chainsaw. Parts of the wetland is either owned by the railway or they have an easement (I have heard both descriptions). The chainsaw operators actually started their activity the day the Governor's first pandemic-related shut-down started. Many people complained to the City of Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department about the logging. My objection was passed along by a senior planner to the environmental complaint department of the Community Development and Planning Department. I don't know if others' complaints were directed there. In these four months, I don't know if any correctional action was or will be taken, despite my many requests for information. One needs a clearing permit from the City if one is going to destroy trees (per the Critical Areas regulations contained in the Bellingham Municipal Code). I submitted a complaint to the Stormwater Hotline as well, but my requests for status there have also gone nowhere. The trees and trunks that were removed posed no hazard to people because it was a No Trespassing zone. Furthermore, the trees were not dead as one of the loggers said. 

It was nesting season when the 30-40 mostly maple and alder trees and trunks were felled. Even if there were a legitimate reason to fell trees in that area, it should only be done in fall or winter. You can tell where a person's heart is if they down trees in Spring. Some of the trees could have fallen on nesting ducks. I saw a downy woodpecker flying around like crazy in subsequent days. A varied thrush was looking lost and desolate. The chickadees were not understanding.  Meanwhile the promised cleanup of squatting humans' toxic trash by BNSF that was begun in January was never completed.

People are a huge danger to the air, land, water and wildlife in the wetland. For buffers and other Critical Area or conservation easements in Bellingham, human-made hazards that get in the way of wildlife transit or the health of the ecosystem should not be there.

Apartment & condo dwellers in three complexes are helped by the woodland in that the trees somewhat muffle environmental noise, provide shade and cool the air in summer, and shield the wind off Bellingham Bay in winter. Trees absorb stormwater runoff volume and toxic load, enrich the soil, fortify the slope against landslides, provide food for forage fish which salmon and others need, and gift the world with grandeur surpassing the built development. 

Birds, rabbits, deer and so on should be able to transit the paths, trees and bunkers they have made through the buffers, and not be blocked or struck by tossed litter, downed trees, or poison substances. Juncos are one bird species, for example, that nests low to the ground. Birds travel through the blackberry bushes and forage on the ground - they are not always in the air. Therefore, items thrown into the brush potentially land on and directly harm the life forms that live there. I believe the Critical Ares chapter of Bellingham Municipal Code (https://bellingham.municipal.codes/BMC/16.55.340) should be enforced. Similarly, protective County, State and Federal rules should be enforced.

5/19/20 (BEFORE) and 5/20/20 (AFTER)

We are always grateful when the folks under contract with the City's Police Department keep cleaning litter and dangerous stuff from illegal encampments over the years. Besides trespassing, environmental harm, and toxic debris, the fire hazards from such sites are preventable therefore we would hope for more permanent prevention of these violations.

On a bright note, little kids did some volunteer planting of conifer saplings along the buffer March 1, 2020. I happened to observe their activity which looked like it was authorized. Shortly thereafter I emailed a logical person at Parks & Rec to find out details and received no answer. I recently wrote to a different logical person to see if those saplings may be saved during the trestle repair, and again no reply.

6/23/20 Deer and Eagle families in Critical Area. The spot under the trestle is continually littered.