Skookum: It’s all in the Watershed

With 22 square miles of watershed, Skookum Creek has an impressive influence on the South Fork Nooksack River (SFNR). Its headwaters are located high in the west slopes of the Twin Sisters resulting in a flow of cold, clean water which travels through steep, narrow canyons into the SFNR. Skookum’s watershed also encompasses numerous high elevation tributary streams including Fish, Hayden, and Arlecho Creeks. From the smallest creek to the largest river, watershed health determines water quality, diverse species’ capacity to thrive, and people’s ability to utilize the water resource now and in the future.

Though the Skookum Creek watershed has an intensive logging history, the forested areas along the streamside – known as riparian buffers – are generally mature and well intact. Because it has been in active forestry for years, there is substantially less development in this area of the SFNR watershed than further downstream. These two factors combined support wildlife habitat as well as a consistent flow of cold, clean water into the South Fork. Musto Marsh, located in the adjacent Hutchinson Creek watershed, provides beaver habitat and a rare low elevation cold-water source for the South Fork watershed. The Skookum watershed also serves as a critical connection between the high elevations of the Twin Sisters and the lowlands of the South Fork valley. Beaver, eagle, elk, and salmon all rely on this connection for survival. Each component of the watershed: upland forests, the riparian zone, and the stream channel influence local habitat quality and stream function.

Generally, throughout the Northwest, stream functions supporting habitat and water quality have been degraded due to land management practices which remove mature forests along rivers. The removal of in-stream wood critical to flow regulation and habitat formation is also a major factor in this decline of watershed quality. Without mature trees, sediment within a watershed is much more susceptible to erosion reducing overall water quality within the streams and rivers. In-stream wood slows the water down, allowing deep pools to form contributing to fish habitat and reduced flooding events. Skookum’s watershed is incredibly important to the overall health of the SFNR watershed. Because it is generally intact, protecting it from further degradation will become increasingly important in our ever changing climate.

Whatcom Land Trust’s pending acquisition of 1,250 acres along Skookum Creek and surrounding Musto Marsh will permanently protect a large portion of Skookum Creek’s watershed which contributes greatly to the overarching South Fork Nooksack watershed that benefits people, wildlife, agriculture and business. Changing the land use priority from commercial forestry to watershed protection, protecting the cold water repository of the headwaters and Musto Marsh, expanding and protecting the riparian buffer zones, facilitating the maturation of upland forests, and overall improving downstream water quality and quantity to benefit the communities of the South Fork valley are the key watershed health objectives in the Land Trust’s restoration and permanent protection of this critical resource.

Working together with Weyerhaeuser, Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, county, state, and federal agencies, recreationalists and nonprofit organizations allows Whatcom Land Trust to make this acquisition a reality. Engaging the community through field trips, tours, and presentations will increase public awareness and appreciation for the importance of Skookum’s watershed health and protection. Skookum truly is a special place. Its watershed is instrumental in shaping and supporting the thriving community of both wildlife and people throughout the South Fork valley. Whatcom Land Trust’s purchase of Skookum will ensure that this watershed and the resource it supports remains intact, healthy, and protected for future generations.

Jennifer O’Neal, Fish Biologist from Natural Systems Design

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