Conservation Plan
Conservation Plan
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Purpose and Scope of the Land Protection Plan

Whatcom Land Trust’s 2013-18 Strategic Plan calls for a new land protection effort focused on achieving multiple conservation objectives by protecting and restoring natural and working lands of regional and local significance. The Land Conservation Plan identifies, evaluates, and prioritizes conservation targets and strategies across Whatcom County at the landscape scale. From strategic planning in 2013, Board and staff identified and reaffirmed the following broad conservation themes as Whatcom Land Trust’s conservation focus:

  • Protect and restore salmon habitat
  • Protect the Lake Whatcom Watershed
  • Increase efforts to conserve farmland
  • Mitigate the impacts of climate change
  • Become a more visible community leader

Community Outreach

Community engagement is an ongoing goal for the Whatcom Land Trust outlined in the Land Conservation Plan 2017 update. To continue to make strides towards this goal, the Trust administered a public survey over a six-month period beginning in 2016 and ending in 2017 to the residents of Whatcom County. The intention of the survey was to gather local feedback on the community’s conservation priorities for the seven focal areas outlined in the Land Conservation Plan. Funds for the project came from the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Fund for Whatcom County Grant Round and from the Land Trust Alliance.

Research conducted prior to the survey generated a list of community groups throughout the focal areas to present the survey to. By the end of the project, the Trust had surveyed a total of 261 participants in-person and online from over 30 different organizations.


By administering this public survey, the Whatcom Land Trust gained a greater understanding of the local population’s vision and priorities. With this knowledge, the Land Trust can continue to pursue conservation actions that are in line with community values. Additionally, the public survey facilitated conversation between organizations in the community and the Whatcom Land Trust, building on a relationship that is critical to the success of the Whatcom Land Trust’s mission.

In your opinion, what are the top conservation priorities for the future?
For Future conservation projects, how would you prioritize the following focal areas?

Future Steps

Land Conservation Focal Areas

Focus areas have been refined over the years with direct input from local natural resource experts in order to determine the highest protection priorities based on federal, state and local assessments.

Below is a map of the seven focal areas of Whatcom County, in addition to their top two conservation priorities displayed as graphics. The number of each focal area indicates public priority status, i.e. #1 is the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

Click on map to enlarge

map of focal areas

1. Lake Whatcom Watershed Focal Area (31,101 Acres)

Public Priority #1: Purchase and Remove Development Rights

Public Priority #2: Improve Water Quality

Land ownership in the Lake Whatcom Watershed

Description: The glacially-carved 7.6-square-mile Lake Whatcom is flanked by rugged Lookout Mountain (Galbraith) to the west, Stewart Mountain to the east, Anderson Mountain to the south, and Squalicum Mountain to the north. Lake Whatcom is approximately 10 miles long and one mile wide. Approximately 18,329 acres (60%) of the watershed is zoned Commercial Forestry (CF), most of which is publicly owned. About 15,000 people live in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. The Lake Whatcom reservoir is the drinking water supply for some 100,000 people in the City of Bellingham and parts of Whatcom County, nearly half of the County’s residents.

Water quality has been in decline and is listed as impaired for dissolved oxygen primarily due to elevated levels of phosphorus.

The City of Bellingham has actively pursued purchase of lands to reduce watershed development and restore forest cover. The Land Trust has been a conservation partner on many transactions and holds conservation interest in more than 1,500 acres in the watershed.

2. Coastal Shorelines

Public Priority #1: Protect Shorelines for Habitat

Public Priority #2: Protect Adjacent Forests and Wetlands

Description: Whatcom County has 134 miles of marine shoreline with a variety of shore forms, including river deltas and estuaries, feeder bluffs, sandy beaches, and rocky shorelines. Each shore form provides important habitat values and recreational opportunities.

Primary objectives are to allow natural processes to occur and provide public access to water.

2a. Coastal Watersheds – Wetland Complexes (>320 Acres)

3. Whatcom Core Agricultural Zone (125,000 Acres)

Public Priority #1: Protect More Farmland from Development

Public Priority #2: Improve Water Quality & Quantity

Description: For more than a decade Whatcom County has had a stated goal to maintain a critical mass of at least 100,000 acres of farmland to sustain agriculture as a viable part of the economy. Approximately 85,000 acres of the County is zoned Agriculture. Whatcom County has identified an additional 15,000 acres with significant agricultural value as Rural Study Areas to focus on in order to reach the critical mass of farmland.

The four pillars of farmland protection are:

1) land use regulation,

2) purchase and transfer of development rights,

3) property tax relief, and

4) economic development (American FarmLand Trust 2012)

All of which are being implemented at some level in Whatcom County.

The 85,000-acre Agricultural Zone and 15,000 acres of Rural Study Areas together form the core working farmland of Whatcom County. This core is primarily dedicated to protecting soils to grow food and is primarily protected through the Agricultural Purchase of Development Rights Target Areas. Areas with prime soils and water rights should be highest priority.

4. North & Middle Forks of the Nooksack & Major Tributaries (254,330 Acres)

Land ownership in the North & Middle Forks of the Nooksack

Public Priority #1: Protect and Increase Side Channel Habitat for Salmon

Public Priority #2: Restore Forested River Corridor

Description: This priority area is dominated by the North and Middle Forks of the Nooksack River and its major tributary streams like Canyon Creek, Maple Creek, and Clearwater Creek.

5. Chuckanut Mountain Focal Area (15,721 Acres)

Public Priority #1: Protect Habitat and Wildlife Corridors

Public Priority #2: Limit Residential Development

Description: The Chuckanut Mountain Focal Area has rich habitat, including mature second growth forest, wetlands, snags, cliffs, caves, and wildlife corridors. Private working forests and parklands offer recreation opportunities with multi-use trails throughout this focal area.

6. South Fork Nooksack River Valley (37,357 acres)

Land ownership in the South Fork Nooksck River Valley

Public Priority #1: Restore Forested River Corridor

Public Priority #2: Limit Development in Floodplains

Description: This special valley is dominated by floodplain and wetland habitats and flanked by the foothills of Stewart Mountain to the west and the Van Zandt Dike and Blue Mountain to the East. All five species of Pacific salmon hold, spawn and rear in the snow-fed South Fork of the Nooksack River. Spring Chinook salmon is highly imperiled with the threat of extinction.

7. Upper South Fork Nooksack and Major Tributaries (79,730 Acres)

Land ownership in the upper South Fork of the Nooksack River

Public Priority #1: Restore Forested River Corridor

Public Priority #2: Improve Water Quality

Description: The upper South Fork of the Nooksack and its major tributaries including Skookum, Arlecho, and Cavanaugh Creeks, flow through a watershed dominated by forestland, primarily managed for timber.

See complete Land Conservation Plan report`