In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are an essential part of our environment, culture, and economy. Throughout its 30-year history, and especially during a tumultuous 2020, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) has tenaciously pursued their mission to protect salmon through educational programs, habitat restoration, and the ongoing monitoring of Whatcom’s salmon-bearing creeks. This year, they’re looking back and celebrating 30 years of effort.
“Seeing the spring Chinook return to spawn in areas that we’ve cared for is just one of the things that makes all of this hard work feel more like a reward than an effort,” explains NSEA Executive Director Rachel Vasak. “It’s such a joy looking up at a tree we planted — once just a tiny seedling but now over 50-feet tall — or hearing community members describe the wonder they experienced as a child when they learned about salmon and habitat from NSEA over 20 years ago. Over our 30 years, we’ve completed over 450 restoration projects, educated more than 25,000 students about salmon, and planted well over 100,000 trees in Whatcom County.”
A Comprehensive Education Approach
NSEA has developed four distinct education programs. The Students for Salmon program has been running continuously since 1999. Currently, Whatcom County fourth graders get to participate in at least one field restoration activity, with classroom visits on either end.
“We’ve been able to grow capacity and achieve equity by serving all fourth-grade classrooms in Whatcom County,” notes NSEA Program Director Annitra Peck.
Since 2005, the Nooksack River Stewards program, in partnership with the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest in Glacier, has held free public weekend events that share stewardship practices meant to reduce negative impacts on wild salmon and the Nooksack River watershed.
NSEA’s Future Leaders of Whatcom Waters (FLOW) Internship program allows interns to gain valuable professional experience while increasing on-the-ground work capacity.
In addition, NSEA is contracted under the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide training for teachers in collaboration with Northwest Indian College and Lummi Natural Resources via the Climetime Teacher Training. The program combines Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) around climate science with techniques to engage students outside.
If You Rebuild It, They Will Come
Improving access to available instream habitat, while improving the quality and diversity of existing riparian and instream habitat, are both crucial to recover salmon. Over the past 30 years, NSEA has worked with the Lummi and Nooksack Tribes; federal, state, and local agencies; and hundreds of private landowners to improve streams degraded by past land use practices while removing fish passage barriers and improving existing riparian and instream habitat.
Since 2000, NSEA has completed 401 Salmon Habitat Restoration projects. More than 304,600 native plants have been installed to improve more than 35 miles of stream riparian habitat. At least 1,028 large woody debris (LWD) structures have been installed to improve habitat and reduce stream bank erosion. NSEA has also removed 128 fish passage barriers, improving fish access to over 115 miles of upstream habitat. Annually, NSEA maintains and monitors a minimum of 30 riparian projects.
NSEA is poised to continue work in the decades to come. In 2021, NSEA will remove 13 fish passage barriers, improving access to over 20 miles of upstream habitat, and will install 17 LWD structures and more than 21,000 native plants along 7,900 feet of stream channel.