Outdoors

Skookum Creek

A gift of resilience

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Here in Cascadia, many folks know the word skookum.

Meaning “strong” or “powerful,” it comes to us from the language of the Coast Salish people. Not a word that was bestowed lightly, it is also the name given to an energetic creek that flows down from the mountains in the shadow of the Twin Sisters.

Skookum Creek is the largest tributary of the South Fork of the Nooksack River and plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the entire river system.

The recent history of this watershed has been one of extraction. The area has been heavily logged. But all is not lost. The Whatcom Land Trust has negotiated with Weyerhaeuser to purchase 1,400 acres in the South Fork watershed, both along Skookum Creek and at the nearby Duck Pond—a 140-acre wetland—with an eye toward protecting salmon habitat and watershed health for generations to come.

The waters of Skookum originate in the Twin Sisters range, in a high-elevation wetland complex that provides the creek with cold water all year long. This cold water is essential to mitigate the river-warming effects of climate change.

The mostly logged-over landscape can make Skookum Creek seem an unlikely conservation objective, but the project is less about the present and more about the future, about allowing the land to heal.

It is an opportunity for local action that directly impacts climate change. It’s about salmon restoration, to be sure. And it’s about a healthy, old-growth forest yet to be.

“Permanent protection for this wild, steep and high-gradient creek is visionary in that it puts conservation priorities for the future—clean water, salmon, connected wild places, and eventual old-growth forests—under local control,” Whatcom Land Trust Executive Director Rich Bower says. “That local control means that each of us can make a difference, and can successfully change the future and ensure the health of Skookum today.”

Skookum Creek is also an important link in what has come to be called the Cascades to Chuckanut (C2C) Region, the last swath of largely undeveloped land that links the shores of the Salish Sea with the Cascades.

According to WLT Philanthropy Director Jill Clark, no state or federal money is involved in the purchase. “This is one of the largest-ever private funding campaigns for Whatcom Land Trust. It will be a success because it is supported almost entirely by local gifts from the community.”

The effort to save Skookum Creek is urgent. The Land Trust has until Feb. 1, 2019 to raise the funds to purchase these lands. It is an opportunity that will not come again. In this season of giving, what better gift to offer our children and grandchildren than a healthy Nooksack River?

Learn more about the efforts to protect Skookum Creek and make a donation at http://www.whatcomlandtrust.org/skookum-creek

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