One million trees helping land owners, volunteers restore habitat

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 25, 2013 

I planted a tree Saturday for Earth Day.

Perhaps you did, too. What difference does it make?

I am certain there is not only a difference, but marks a dramatic one. In the past 13 years more than 2,000 acres of native trees and shrubs have been planted along wetlands and 160 miles of salmon-bearing streams in Whatcom County through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, called CREP. This represents a significant improvement from where we started.

These vegetative buffers help to reduce water temperatures by creating shade, which is essential for salmon reproduction and survival. The roots of the trees help to stabilize stream banks, recruit nutrients and trap sediments contained in rain water runoff from bordering farm fields.

Wildlife also benefits by having expanded habitat that helps provide food, shelter and forested corridors connecting larger stands of woods. These projects help to beautify our county by adding diversity to our landscapes in the form of native flowering trees and shrubs, which are well loved by pollinators.

That tree I planted Saturday was literally one in a million. It was the 1 millionth tree planted by our team at the Whatcom Conservation District through CREP - a program that provides incentives for working landowners to restore streams across the county. That means people voluntarily practice conservation on their land. No one told them to do it. CREP and the Conservation District simply provided the means. I think that is such a powerful concept.

None of this staggering difference happens without people. People must decide to take action and make the difference. Three hundred and thirty-nine landowners decided to participate in the program. As a conservationist, taking actions like planting trees and helping farmers is part of the job every day. The other part - the part that brings me the most satisfaction - is helping people who want to practice conservation actually do it.

Conservation districts are helping people turn want into a reality here and across our state. The principle of volunteer stewardship is at the core of conservation work. From planting 1 million trees and restoring salmon habitat to helping farmers plan sustainable operations, Washington's 45 conservation districts are positively affecting natural resources by using incentives. The 45 conservation districts are powered by our state's oldest commission, the Washington State Conservation Commission. For more than 75 years this small state agency has administered incentive-based programs such as CREP, and many others, that provide state dollars and administrative support for conservation districts to do this work. Though small, they are efficient and effective.

This most recent Earth Day event was the culmination of a lot of work and partnership with the landowners, contractors, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, the Whatcom Land Trust, Farm Service Agency, Washington Conservation Commission and Natural Resources Conservation Service

People who care are the most important element in the conservation equation. This is evidenced by the 256 Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association volunteers that came out April 20 to plant more than 1,000 native trees on the Whatcom Land Trust preserve. I can tell you what a sight it was to see hundreds of volunteers of all ages with shovels, buckets of mulch and beaver cages doing their part!

While many factors have made it possible to reach this milestone, there is still much work to be done.

We need people who are willing to let us come and improve their stream side habitat. CREP continues on, always in search of new cooperators, with degraded stream and wetland buffers and a willingness to improve.

Perhaps you have a better understanding of what the difference is - the difference is people who voluntarily act to make the difference we need for a healthy ecosystem, for a healthy community. Join us in action by planting a tree at Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association's next work party.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George Boggs is a former Northern California rice farmer and attorney who for the past 16 years has served as the executive director of the Whatcom Conservation District. He received a bachelor of science agronomy from California State University, Chico, and a law degree from Gonzaga Law School.

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