Mar 11, 2021

Bellingham WA: A Wetland would Benefit from Environmental Protection

This is in regard to the natural areas from Wharf St to East Laurel St & Railroad Ave including the embankment behind the art wall (the sidewalk is part of the South Bay Trail), and from N State Street to the railway’s service road downhill from there. I call it Downyland after the Downy woodpecker. It is a place stormwater drains to and there is no outfall to Bellingham Bay. Ownership is partly the private BNSF Railway Co. LLC and partly City of Bellingham (COB).

It is the treed area southeast across Cornwall Avenue from the GPWest site pictured in this aerial view. Interested members of the public are invited to contact Ecology with any questions about the ongoing work at Georgia Pacific West Bellingham. Info may be found at:

Image created by the WA State Dept of Ecology - used with permission 

Image is courtesy of City of Bellingham Public Works

The City of Bellingham (COB) Trestle Repair project is complete as of Tuesday March 8, 2021; the area had been somewhat cordoned off for six months or so. Paths on not only the east South Bay Trail lane but also the west side of the private Laurel Village complex are now very easy access again (although it is not presently a public thru trail).

On the east side the public can legally traverse the City's South Bay Trail in between the construction site of Western Edge by (projected to have 165 units and 500 people) and the 50-unit Laurel Village. But on the west side people are not supposed to but physically do wander onto the unmaintained buffer and Critical Areas belonging to the City and the BNSF Railway Company. For as long as I have resided here (seven years), the area is often used by people for toileting, sleeping, drug using, fireworks, dumping and littering. I don’t know whether the west side is going to be changed officially into public access but officials in charge have had such discussions.

Before leaf out please remove old mattresses and all debris piles

In January 2020 the railroad company conducted a much-needed clean-up of some of the area over which they have jurisdiction in the wetland. There were still items left and I had the impression that they would be returning to finish, but that did not occur.

Jan 2, 2021

While the buds are still emerging and things are in plain sight, it would be good if BNSF could arrange pick-up of some the remaining litter in their part of the area. I am sure there is at least one tire that has been there for years. There are other things such as red canisters, box spring, and so on.


The two eagles have been seen frequently this year on their nest which they first built in 2020. There are ducks and geese this year too, which has been usual in previous years.

I don’t know if the Downy woodpeckers and other past inhabitants have remained/returned after the pandemic started and the 70 or so trunks and trees were chopped from the area by BNSF in March 2020.

I imagine there are several species still trying to make a living there despite the increasing disturbances. March 9, 2021 I saw sprouts growing from the base of this tree that lost some of its trunks due to the chainsaw activity in March 2020. I observed a little brown bird busy there in the sprouts - don’t know what species bird it was.

 Violations are every day occurrences

My first salaried job after my first degree was as an international civil servant. I was stationed for a couple of years with UNICEF-Jakarta. In Community Development one important item on a checklist involves adequate clean water supply and clean drainage to water around the archipelago (Indonesia is comprised of 17,500+ islands although back then the understanding was that there were ~13,000). Ironically, the work done by UNICEF and other NGOs achieves the opposite kind of impact as that created by some citizens in the USA against their own environment! Sometimes LLC businesses contribute pollution even though this is a supposedly rich, developed country. Sometimes regulations, enforcement and/or correction by various governmental entities is somewhat lacking, whether it be in regard to the Federal Clean Water Act, local litter laws, coal dust, oil, mercury, etc.. This pertains big-time to educational systems too. I was shocked when I passed a grown man a few weeks ago who was washing his paint tray and roller into a storm drain on Holly Street downtown. Thankfully, he didn’t mind me gently asking him, “Are you from a foreign country?” He said no, he was from here. I asked him if he knew nothing should be going down the storm drain except rain or if he was aware and simply ignoring the rule. He said he didn’t know, thanked me for the info, wondered if water-based paint was ok, but appeared to cease his activity. I typically do not engage but thought I’d try that time. 

Enforcement, Clean-up, Boundary Markers, Signs

The Bellingham Police Department (BPD) responded to citizen observations by phone/email and later the Encampment Activity Forms up until Dec 2020 when a notice was placed in the header of the online form saying the pandemic and other issues created the need to temporarily not clean although the complaints would be included in their database. In early December the BPD clean-up contractors had removed some debris but the area was littered again immediately thereafter and so it has remained. 

On March 8, 2021 the COB Trestle Repair Project was completed so the temporary official plastic fencing was removed from along the gravel path that leads from Railroad Ave & E Laurel to the wetland below the trestle. A senior citizen entered the (supposedly off-limits) natural area with her dog that afternoon and removed some of the litter. That can be risky for a volunteer due to nasty debris. Dogs of course are frights for the rabbits.

Now children, illegal dumpers, illegal campers, and dogs have ready access to occupy the bluff and the areas below the trestle. There is not much action in the way of paid staff removing dog waste when neighborhood people neglect to pick it up whether it is in the apartment yard or City or BNSF properties. There was a dog waste bag even thrown in the buffer that landed high on a tree branch early February! Thank goodness some Public Works employees gathered it along with a stolen shopping cart and dumped sofa upon my request about three weeks later. 

There is little respect for natural inhabitants among various people such as authorities, residents, groundskeepers, neighborhood dog walkers, smokers, squatters, drug users, and so on. For instance, the plans for the huge Western Edge complex were originally presented as having landscaping, but when construction started landscaping provisions had vanished. For another example this week, two young workers from the Trestle Repair crew needlessly threw a few rocks into the blackberries March 8th without regard to whether they might land on the Hummingbird’s nest, a Spotted Towhee, or a rabbit :-(

There ought to be barriers installed to discourage children, helpful volunteers and unhelpful others from entering the buffer and Critical Areas in general because of the harm they may cause to the environment and/or themselves. Signs are also sorely needed re all manner of regulations even if unfortunately not consistently enforced. 

I wouldn’t want a dog to suffer from putting something in his or her mouth that had fentanyl residue as that could be quickly fatal. I wouldn’t want balloons to continue landing in trees since they kill wildlife upland and downstream. Rocks, dog waste, cans, shopping carts, straws, plastic bags, furniture, yard waste, paint, spit, leaf blower debris etc. should not be thrown anywhere whether public or private property, buffers or natural areas. And even big LLC entities should be unhappy if someone gets themselves hurt entering off-limits areas.


While in this neighborhood there is often spotty interest demonstrated in protecting the environment, perhaps governmental, business organizations, and nonprofits including the BNSF Railway Foundation might be interested in line with civic aspects of their missions or tax write-off endeavors. I have heard there are COB municipal neighborhood grants being offered although I haven’t searched for details about that. Perhaps other possible grantor or partner organizations would include the Washington Recreation and Wildlife , Department of Ecology, Department of Natural Resources, the Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners Program, the Wildlife Division of the Whatcom Humane Society, the Whatcom Land Trust, the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, The BNSF Railway Foundation , etc.?  In May 2020 I looked into the following news regarding federal wetland grant programs but I was unable to elicit replies from local entities that would be good, potential applicants. Maybe someone else would be more convincing.

Thank you for protecting the environment

Personally I am not a candidate for much volunteering at this point. Clematis and ivy need to be removed all along the South Bay Trail. There is Poison Hemlock in Downyland that may or may not reappear this year. Litter needs picking, webinars or open air educational activities ought to be held, the school district ought to be lobbied to teach environmental etiquette, neighborhood associations ought to be enlivened, and so on. Thanks to anyone and everyone who helps protect nature and address the climate emergency.