Farmers aren’t always known as being helpful to environmental causes. Whatcom County’s Rich Appel is working to change that. Appel, of the county’s Appel Farms, worked to bring together tribal members and dairy farmers to improve water quality in the Nooksack River basin and reopen shellfish beds after years of closure due to multi-sourced contamination. He also built new manure lagoons compliant with the most current federal regulations, and constructed fish-friendly installments on his own farm that cleared the way for a new fish habitat.
Last fall, Appel was awarded the Vim Wight “Building Bridges” award after being nominated by the Whatcom Conservation District. The award, a first for a Whatcom County resident, recognizes a person dedicated to conservation efforts while working to promote understanding and teamwork in their community.
“I feel like our problems aren’t so big that we can’t sit down and work through them,” Appel says. “If you can get enough reasonable people in the room, you can solve these problems. The best way to build bridges is to talk to people who don’t understand what you’re doing.”
Violet “Vim” Crane Wright was a primary player in Washington state environmental issues while working as assistant director at the University of Washington Institute for Environmental Studies and founding Washington’s League of Conservation Voters. She made it her life’s work to speak for those that couldn’t be spoken for. She also worked to bring agriculture and environmental representatives together to work on conservation projects.
Appel has played a major role in forming community partnerships. He helped facilitate the Portage Bay Partnership, signed in January of 2017, between Lummi Nation and Whatcom dairy farmers after 15 months of meetings about trying to improve the water quality in the Nooksack River basin.
In September 2014, Lummi Nation had to close 335 acres of Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting due to the worsening water quality from fecal coliform contamination. At the time, Whatcom dairy farmers were allegedly linked to the contamination. Now, Portage Bay shellfish beds are meeting standards and have been approved to open during peak shellfish harvesting season.
In October of 2017, with help from local organizations, Appel installed new culverts and self-regulating, fish-friendly floodgates on his farm. These floodgates not only keep the farm productive but also open 2.2 miles of fish habitat.
He also decommissioned two manure lagoons—which are exactly what they sound like they are—that were built in the ‘70s and early ‘80s under the federal regulations for that time period. The two new ones are bigger and built to the most current standards and, Appel says, will result in his children not having to worry about its effect on the environment.
“Farmers are raised in this stewardship principle. We haven’t always done things perfectly but when we learn how to do something better, we do it,” Appel says. “You want to leave your land better than when you inherited it.”
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