Local

Whatcom County agricultural and conservation communities unite in a rescue mission

Farmer finds hundreds of dead fish near Lynden. They’re trying to save the rest.

Joel Ingram, habitat biologist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Jeff Littlejohn, hobby farm owner, talk about low water flow in Pepin Creek and the deaths of aquatic animals along Double Ditch Road on Monday, Aug. 13, near Lynden.
Up Next
Joel Ingram, habitat biologist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Jeff Littlejohn, hobby farm owner, talk about low water flow in Pepin Creek and the deaths of aquatic animals along Double Ditch Road on Monday, Aug. 13, near Lynden.

During the Dog Days of August, water is worth its weight in gold to the local agriculture community. Without water, most crops won’t grow.

So what would cause Twin Brook Creamery owners Larry Stapp and Mark Tolsma to voluntarily take water away from their own fields by turning off their irrigation and instead pump water into a stream north of Lynden? Would you believe fish?

That’s exactly what they did, according to a Sunday press release by Whatcom Family Farmers, in an effort to save coho salmon, steelhead, resident trout, stickleback and other marine life, including mussels and crawdads, that were stranded along the east side of Double Ditch Road close to the Canadian border.

The agriculture community worked alongside the conservation and environmental community Monday to help relocate the fish and agricultural wildlife to the other side of the road, where water was still free flowing.

It was farmers such as Jeff Littlejohn who actually first saw that Pepin Creek, which runs along the east side of Double Ditch Road, was drying up in areas where it doesn’t usually dry up and brought it to the attention of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We’ve watched this stream for all these years,” said Littlejohn, who’s lived in the area for 26 years. “Yes, there are times that it has dried up, but rarely to my place. Usually further south it dries up, and further upstream. It fluctuates radically from year to year and time of the year, but this year it was one of those sudden things we’ve never seen happen before. It’s the first time there’s been this sudden drying all the way up to Prairie (Road), and it was pretty shocking.”

Littlejohn said once he saw dead fish, including salmon fingerlings, in the dry areas of the creek bed, he collected them to preserve for researchers.

0813 Fish 2.jpg
Jeff Littlejohn, who farms along Double Ditch Road, shows some of the fish he preserved for research after finding them dead last week in Pepin Creek in Lynden. Evan Abell evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

The cause of the creek running dry is believed to be north of the U.S.-Canadian border, near where Pepin Creek splits off from Double Ditch Creek, DFW local habitat biologist Joel Ingram said. When the water flow slowed, it forced levels to drop, and the sun started to heat pooled water, making it deadly for cold water-loving species.

“We convened with local landowners and assessed what was going on and are just trying to save whatever is left in the stream channel to make sure we can have continued production throughout this season and future seasons,” Ingram said of Monday’s efforts.

In addition to the agricultural volunteers and DFW, Ingram said members of the Whatcom County Conservation District and state Department of Ecology assisted with Monday’s rescue.

0813 Fish 1.JPG
Joel Ingram, left, looks on as Sue Littlejohn and Aneka Sweeney catch a crawfish in Pepin Creek along Double Ditch Road on Monday in Lynden. Whatcom County farming volunteers assisted the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other conservation agencies rescue salmon and other marine life after water levels dropped. Evan Abell evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Regardless of how many fish they were able to save, Littlejohn said he saw the rescue mission as a “win-win” in getting the agricultural community to work alongside the conservation environmental community and have some “great conversations.”

“There is a great deal of cooperation between the two in this part of the county,” Littlejohn said. “There is a bit of pride in that.”

  Comments