By Amanda McKay and Danielle Taylor
Walking through the wet grass, Danielle could hear the rushing river before she could see it. As Whatcom Land Trust’s Stewardship Assistant, Danielle works to monitor Land Trust protected properties throughout Whatcom County, and on this cool, damp day she happened to find herself along the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Seeking out pink flagging put in place by Volunteer Land Stewards, Danielle found the light footpath leading to the confluence of the river. With signs of beaver activity from the multitude of ponds around her, she knew she was getting close by the smell of decaying salmon in the air. She cautiously rounded a corner and was greeted by a spectacular sight: pink salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn. Strolling further along the creek looking for prints in the sand, she was delighted to find what she had really been hoping to see that day; bear prints, clear as day, leading along the creek and eventually disappearing into the water.
Danielle sat for a few minutes to have a snack and drink of water and reflected on just how important her job is. Without the acquisition and restoration of this property by the Land Trust and without community support, the creek might not have been a suitable habitat for the spawning pink salmon. Without the salmon, the bear might not have enough to eat and wouldn’t be around to leave prints in the sand for her to find.
When Whatcom Land Trust protects a property, either through purchase or a conservation easement, the commitment to that property is forever. The Land Trust’s stewardship staff works in the first year to create a baseline inventory report and long term management plan for each new property and easement. The ongoing stewardship of these properties is essential to ensure that their ecological values are protected and improved, thus benefiting water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, climate resilience, and public benefit.
Invasive species identification and prompt removal is critical in ensuring that the ecological value of these properties is protected and maintained. After planting new trees, stewardship staff with the help of volunteers will monitor and maintain annually for several years to ensure they are healthy and grow to outcompete invasive species and survive animal browse. There is so much more that goes into stewarding Land Trust properties than pulling weeds and planting trees. In fact, this is the easy part.
No two days are the same for Stewardship staff at the Land Trust. Splitting time between working in the field and in the office provides consistency, but everyday, in the office and the field, can vary widely. Attending meetings with partner organizations, writing baseline reports and management plans, planning restoration projects and work party opportunities, coordinating with our 100+ Volunteer Land Stewards, and participating in trainings to stay up-to-date with current best practices are some of the stewardship activities in the office. Field days are even more variable with one day being spent monitoring, marking property lines, and meeting with neighbors, and the next day spent maintaining plants or checking on a potential issue that arises in a different watershed.
Being the staff members who are most often out on Land Trust protected property, our Stewardship staff and volunteers are able to witness some pretty amazing parts of Whatcom County.
“When I see a fish jump in the South Fork or an eagle soar overhead, I feel so proud to be protecting their home.” -Danielle Taylor, Stewardship Assistant.
When asked which property was her favorite, this is what Danielle had to say:
“My favorite WLT-owned property is White Deer in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. My first visit there was for a routine site visit, but something about the sun filtering through the trees and the sound of the creeks that run through the property made it feel completely removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is surrounded on three sides by housing developments and a very busy road, yet it feels like you’ve been transported to an entirely different world while you are walking beneath the trees.”
If you’re wondering how you can help steward the natural places around you, there are so many options! Whatcom Land Trust has numerous ways to get involved including work parties, Field Fridays, and becoming a Volunteer Land Steward. The Land Trust also has a Stewardship Reserve Investment Fund which helps ensure that these properties are taken care of in perpetuity. By donating to this fund, you are helping us keep our promise of protecting these lands forever. Even small acts of stewardship can make a big difference. You can perform an act of stewardship by picking up trash along your favorite trail or along the road in your neighborhood. At home, you can help keep our water clean by cleaning up after your pets and not washing your car in the driveway. By washing your car at a designated facility, it keeps oils and salts from entering drains or infiltrating into groundwater.
It takes all of us to care for this land we call home. With your support and help from our partners, we are able to secure and steward these special places around us for future generations of people and wildlife here in Whatcom County. Thank you!