Nooksack River GRP

  • Open for full review: TBD
  • Tentative publish date: TBD
  • Interim update: N/A
  • Last full updated: 2017
  • Public Comment:

Table of Contents


Site Description

This section provides a description of the physical features, hydrology, climate, and winds found within the Nooksack River area and includes an overview of oil spill risks in, or near, the planning area.

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The Nooksack River GRP begins upstream partway up the South Fork of the Nooksack River, north of the border of Whatcom and Skagit Counties, near the town of Acme. It continues north along Highway 9 to where the main stem meets with the North, Middle and South Forks. The plan follows the river along Highway 9 to Deming and further northwest to Everson. Heading west of Everson, it includes a section of Lynden on the north side of the river, plus the flat land and tributary creeks to its south. West of Lynden, the river curves south through the City of Ferndale. The planning area includes a portion of the Lummi Indian Reservation, and then ends about 3 miles upstream of Bellingham Bay. Here it adjoins the existing San Juan Islands/North Puget Sound GRP, which covers the rest of the Lummi Indian Reservation and the Nooksack River delta.

The planning area is located entirely within Washington’s Water Resource Inventory Area Nooksack (WRIA 1), and contained within Whatcom County. The southern border of the plan abuts the Samish River GRP, and the Sumas River GRP is located to the plan’s northeast.

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Physical Features

There are three sources of the Nooksack River, all in the North Cascades mountain range. The North Fork begins 80 miles upstream from Bellingham Bay, draining a semicircle of glaciers called the Nooksack Cirque between Icy Peak and the eastern slope of Mount Shuksan. As this fork travels westward, it passes north of Mount Baker, past the ski area, and parallels Highway 542 (Mount Baker Highway) to river mile 40. Here, it meets the Middle Fork, which drains the southeast slope of Mount Baker. The South Fork Nooksack joins three miles later at River Mile (RM) 37 to create the main stem Nooksack River.

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The South Fork Nooksack River sources on the eastern slope of Twin Sisters Mountain, south of Baker. As it enters the planning area, it crosses Highway 9 in Acme, then flows north parallel to the highway for its final nine miles until the confluence with the main stem. The upstream sections of all three forks are characterized by steep, forested hills draining into creeks and streams that meet the rivers in narrow valleys. As the forks approach their confluence, the valley floors begin to widen and fill with farmland, with the South Fork valley particularly wide and gently sloped.

After the forks converge, the main stem Nooksack continues draining north along Highway 9, passing Deming and the Nooksack Indian Tribe Reservation. At RM 31, the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) splits from Highway 9 and heads southwest towards Bellingham. From here west to Puget Sound and north to Canada, the valley is wide-open and essentially flat. The wetlands, groundwater, lakes and stormwater from this valley are the source of several large tributary creeks. Fourmile Creek and Deer Creek both empty into Tenmile Creek, which enters the Nooksack River just above Ferndale. Silver Creek empties into Bellingham Bay as part of the Nooksack delta.

The Nooksack River valley is home to many of Whatcom County’s 1,400 farms, and popular crops include corn and hay to feed dairy cows, although it is most famous for its berry farms. Sixty-five percent of the red raspberries grown in the US are from this county. It is also a center for milk production, producing 246 million dollars of milk annually from 44,000 cows (AG Water Board).

The Nooksack River creates the eastern border of this flat valley along Highway 9 up to Everson. Here, the highway continues north and separates the river from the adjoining Sumas River watershed. Although turn of the century flooding combined the rivers, Highway 9 and the railroad track have since separated surface drainage between the two systems. The Sumas River flows north to Canada, where it empties to the Fraser River flowing west to Vancouver, British Columbia. Many of the towns in this area, including Everson, Nooksack, and Lynden, originally began as Nooksack Indian Tribe settlements, which were then either relocated or destroyed as settlers capitalized on the area’s location as a through-route to Canada (Moles 2014).

In Everson, the Nooksack River makes a westward turn towards Lynden, a city along the north bank that became a popular relocation point for Dutch immigrants in the early 1900s (Doughtery 2008). Fishtrap Creek and Bertrand Creek, relatively large tributaries draining south from Canada, discharge the Nooksack River downstream of Lynden.

As the river continues south into Ferndale, it passes under bridges for Interstate 5, BNSF railroad, and finally Main Street, which connects the two halves of the city. Just downstream of the bridge is Hovander Homestead Park, a National Historic Site with a barn and farmhouse built over a century ago. The park adjoins Tennant Lake Park, a wildlife area and interpretive center co-managed by the Whatcom County Parks Department and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The last 3.5 miles of the river and delta, including Silver Creek, create the eastern border of the Lummi Nation’s reservation lands before it empties into Bellingham Bay. Most of this estuary area is undeveloped and difficult to access.

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The upper reaches of the Nooksack River drain the foothills of the Cascade Range and so receive more precipitation than the coastal areas. Bellingham averages 35” or more rain annually, and may receive a few inches of snow once or twice a year. The North Cascades in the central and eastern part of the county experience more extreme weather, averaging 90” of precipitation, several feet of which arrive as snow and sleet (NOAA).

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As with most of Western Washington, the rainy season is considered to begin in October and end in May or June. The non-glacially fed areas, such as the creeks in the lower valley, experience low summer flows during the dry season.  Because of the agricultural nature of the lower Nooksack watershed, water levels are further drawn down by drainage activity and irrigation in the summer. The melting of glaciers and snow that are the source of the upper forks of the Nooksack River add extra runoff during the spring thaw, typically during the months of May and June.

There are two USGS stations along the mainstem Nooksack River tracking velocity and river height. One is located at the Mount Baker Highway (542) bridge near Deming, at river mile 31. This gage shows that the highest flows are in November and May, averaging over 5,500 and 5,100 cubic feet per second (cfs), respectively. The quietest months of August and September average 2,000 cfs and below (USGS).  At the downstream gage in Ferndale, near RM 6, rainfall on the tributary creeks adds additional flow during the early spring (USGS).

The low, quiet summer flows are popular times for recreational floating on the river, using inflatable rafts or inner tubes. During this season, logjams and sandbars emerge that may prevent boats with propellers from accessing all stretches of the river uninterrupted.

The southern border of the plan abuts the Samish River GRP, with which it also shares a wetland complex. Part of the complex is the source of a small tributary draining to the South Fork Nooksack River, and another part of the complex forms the headwaters of the Samish River itself. Studies to determine whether there is actually a connection or transfer between the two watersheds are so far inconclusive (Gendaszek 2014). In the event of a heavy flood, the Nooksack River may overtop and combine with the Sumas River watershed.

The planning area fully resides within the boundaries of Water Resource Inventory Area Nooksack (WRIA 1).

Nooksack (WRIA 1): The Nooksack watershed comprises the western portion of Whatcom County, as well as small portions of Skagit County and British Columbia, Canada.  It is bounded by Bellingham Bay and the Strait of Georgia on the west and its east side includes portions of the Cascade Mountain range, including Mt. Baker.  This watershed has a mix of urban, agricultural, rural land uses.  The watershed consists of the Nooksack River, which originates in the Cascade Mountains, and its numerous tributaries.  It also includes the Sumas River (tributary to the Fraser River), and coastal drainages including the Lummi River, and Dakota, California, Terrell, Squalicum, Whatcom, Padden, and Chuckanut Creeks.  The Nooksack River is a source of drinking water for the city of Bellingham, and several other cities in Whatcom County.

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Climate and Winds

The temperatures in western Whatcom County remain mild year round. Near the coast, Bellingham averages 4.3” of snowfall annually, out of 35” total precipitation, and highs from 73 degrees to lows of 35 degrees (WRCC). Winds at Bellingham airport tend northerly most of the year, averaging about 8 mph.

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Further inland near the Cascade foothills, the temperatures are slightly more variable and precipitation increases. Clearbrook, a few miles north of Everson, averages 16” of snowfall out of 46” of total precipitation, and highs of 75 to lows of 30 (WRCC).

Upstream of the planning area, the Cascade Mountains experience extreme weather. The Glacier Ranger Station averages 45” of annual snowfall out of 61” of total precipitation, and highs of 75 to lows of 25 (WRCC). Just east of that station, the Mount Baker Ski Area holds the US record for annual snowfall, with an accumulation of 1,140 inches (95 feet) of snow during the1998-1999 ski season.

Winter often means the chance of severe storms. In the past, blizzards, ice storms, and windstorms have caused major damage and flooding throughout western Whatcom County. These storms are most likely to occur from November to February, although they may hit as early as October and as late as March. Historic storms included wind gusts up to 104 mph, wind-chills of 70 below zero, and lowland snowdrifts 25 feet high (Whatcom County DEM).

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Tides and Currents

The tidal influence on the Nooksack is visible at the tide gage on RM 5.8. At that distance from the bay, the tidal influence is mild, mostly affecting the river by slowing the speed of flow during an incoming tide, with the river height changing only by a few inches. High tides during low summer flows will have exaggerated effects, and will stretch further inland than usual.

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When the Nooksack River runs above 9600cfs, a portion of the water diverts through an elevated culvert into the Lummi River, vastly increasing its usual flow. Below that water level, the Lummi River has very low discharge and water speed, but can also experience tidally influenced flows when tides are above 8 feet.

In the 1970s, the USGS developed relations between travel time and dye clouds for various discharges in the Nooksack River at the USGS gaging station in Ferndale. The relations were developed for the section of the River between Everson and the Lummi Indian Reservation over the river discharge range between 1,150 cfs and 20,000 cfs at the USGS gaging station in Ferndale.

Figure 2-1: Time of Travel from Everson at Various Discharge Levels

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Risk Assessment

The Nooksack River area is plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills. Potential oil spill risks include, but are not limited to, oil pipelines, rail transportation and facilities, recreational boating, road transportation, aircraft, and other oil spill risks. This section briefly discusses these risks and how they could impact the GRP planning area.

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Oil Types:  Both refined petroleum products and crude oil are transported in bulk within this planning area.

Crude oil and refined products contain a mix of hydrocarbons with varying properties; different types of crude oil and refined products will behave differently when spilled. Recent changes in oil production have led to an increase in the movement of Bakken light crude transported through the planning area via rail, and diluted bitumen from Canada transported through the planning area via pipeline and, to a lesser extent, rail.

Crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota has properties similar to gasoline or diesel, and poses a higher risk of fire because much of it will evaporate quickly into flammable vapors. Unlike gasoline, the heavier hydrocarbons in the crude will persist in the environment after the light ends evaporate or burn. Bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, is heavy, almost asphalt-like, until it is mixed with lighter oil products known as diluents to create diluted bitumen. Once mixed, the diluted bitumen will initially float on water after being spilled. Environmental conditions, such as the density of the receiving waters and sediment load of the receiving waters, will affect how long diluted bitumen floats. As the light diluents evaporate, the remaining heavy constituents may sink into the water column. There are specific response actions recommended for non-floating oils, detailed in the Non-Floating Oil Spill Response Tool in the Northwest Area Contingency Plan (NWACP), Section 9412.

Pipelines: There are two pipelines carrying petroleum products through the Nooksack River area: the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, importing crude oil from Canada, and the BP Olympic Pipeline, distributing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the refineries at Cherry Point and Ferndale.

The Trans Mountain Puget Sound pipeline system is operated by Kinder Morgan Canada. It carries crude oil products via the Trans Mountain pipeline from Abbotsford, British Columbia, for delivery to four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties in Washington State. The system capacity is approximately 180,000 barrels (7.5 million gallons) per day.

The BP Olympic Pipeline travels 400 miles from the Cherry Point refinery northwest of Bellingham to Portland, Oregon, with additional input lines from the refineries at Phillips 66 Ferndale, Tesoro Anacortes, and Shell Anacortes. It delivers product to terminals at Harbor Island in Seattle, SeaTac airport, and Tacoma before exporting 1.3 billion gallons per year across the Columbia River to Oregon.

Rail Transportation and Facilities: Rail companies transport oil via both unit trains and manifest trains in this area. Unit trains include: up to four locomotives, buffer cars, and 118 loaded tank cars transporting oil in 714-barrel (29,998 gallon) capacity USDOT-approved tank cars. Manifest trains include: up to four locomotives, a mix of non-oil merchandise cars, and one or more 714-barrel (29,998 gallon) capacity USDOT-approved tank cars carrying refined oil products, such as diesel, lubrication oil, or gasoline. These trains may include emptied tank cars, each with residual quantities of up to 1,800 gallons of crude oil or petroleum products. Every train locomotive typically holds a few hundred gallons of engine lubrication oil, plus saddle tanks that each have an approximate capacity of 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  Manifest trains may also transport biological oils and non-petroleum chemicals.

Unit trains carrying crude currently operate on specific routes. Unit trains carrying crude from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota enter Washington State near Spokane, continue along the Columbia River to Vancouver, and then head north along I-5.  These trains enter Whatcom County from the southwest on tracks along Puget Sound, cross the Nooksack River in Ferndale between I-5 and the Main Street Bridge, then continue north to Canada. Unit trains of diluted bitumen also may be transported from Canada into the US using the same tracks. North of the planning area, the Custer spur splits west from the main line to deliver Bakken crude to the refineries at BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 Ferndale.

The other tracks in the Nooksack River area are known as the Sumas subdivision, which parallel Highway 9 north to Canada. Another spur connects downtown Lynden to Sumas, Washington on the Canadian border. Unit trains do not currently operate on these tracks. BNSF owns the commercial rail track in this planning area, although other rail companies may operate trains on BNSF tracks (WA Dept. of Ecology).

Recreational Boating: Because this GRP is inland, and the Nooksack River is too shallow for most commercial traffic, boating associated with the tribal commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence fishery and recreational boating are the only notable risks of oil spills from vessels. Because these boats are typically powered by gasoline engines, these boats are unlikely to carry a significant volume of oil. There are two public boat launches on the Nooksack River, at RM 5.8 in Ferndale, and at RM 31 between Everson and Deming.

Road Systems: Vehicle traffic on roadways pose an oil spill risk in areas where they run adjacent to the shorelines, or cross over lakes, rivers, creeks, and ditches that drain into the Nooksack River. Interstate 5 carries West Coast traffic between Canada and Mexico and poses the most significant risk of highway spills, due to the frequency of large tanker trucks carrying a number of fuel types. State Highway 9 does not have the traffic capacity of I-5 but is more convenient to move fuel between smaller upland communities. Highway 9 travels from the southeastern corner of the plan area along the South Fork, then north through central Whatcom County to become Canadian Highway 11 after crossing the border. There is potentially high use by logging trucks and local fuel trucks serving the inland communities in these areas.

A vehicle spill onto one of these bridges or roadways can cause fuel or oil to flow from hardened surfaces into the Nooksack River or its tributaries. Commercial trucks can contain hundreds to thousands of gallons of fuel and oil, especially fully loaded tank trucks, and may carry almost any kind of cargo, including hazardous waste or other materials that might injure sensitive resources if spilled. Smaller vehicle accidents pose a risk as well, a risk commensurate to the volume of fuel and oil they carry.

Aircraft: A corner of Bellingham International Airport (BLI) overlaps the planning area along I-5 near Silver Creek, on the outskirts of Bellingham. Run by the Port of Bellingham, it handled over 62,000 flights in 2016. Some commercial carriers use BLI for flights along the West Coast, but the majority of flights are local tourism and other small craft (NASEM). Since this airport is within three miles of the river, the potential exists for aircraft failures during inbound or outbound flights that could result in a spill by releasing aviation fuel to the Nooksack River or its tributaries.

Other Spill Risks: Other potential oil spill risks in the area include fuel storage areas (including waste oil storage), road run-off during rain events, on-shore or near shore activities where heavy equipment is being operated or stored, and the migration of spilled oil through soil on lands adjacent to the river or its tributary streams.

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the planning area. It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns exist. It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains. General information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife can be found near the end of this section. A list of economic resources in the area is provided in the section’s appendix.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive. Some of the sensitive resources described in this section cannot be addressed in Section 4 (Response Strategies and Priorities) because it’s not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations. Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is presented with enough detail to give general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response. During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit in the Planning Section.

The information provided in this section can be used in:

  • Assisting the Environmental Unit (EU) and Operations in developing additional response strategies beyond those found in Section 4.
  • Providing resource-at-risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the GRP area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the GRP area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.

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Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

Most biological communities are susceptible to the effects of oil spills. Plant communities on land, aquatic plants; microscopic plants and animals; and larger animals, such as fish, amphibians and reptiles, birds, mammals, and a wide variety of invertebrates, are all potentially at risk from smothering, acute toxicity, and/or the chronic long-term effects that may result from being exposed to spilled oil.

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The Nooksack River basin includes a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats. These varied habitats support a complex diversity of wildlife species, including various salmonid species; large and small mammals; passerine (i.e., song) birds, raptors, upland birds, and waterfowl; reptiles; and amphibians. Some species are resident throughout the year; others are migratory either within the basin or, in many cases, seasonally migrate outside the basin. Many wildlife species found in the Nooksack River basin are classified as threatened, endangered, sensitive, or of special concern under the federal Endangered Species Act or Washington State guidelines.

Classification types are listed below, with the abbreviation of each type provided in the brackets (to the right of the classification).

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Sensitive species that may occur within this area, at some time of year, include the following federal and state listed species:

  • Common loon [SS]
  • Marbled Murrelet [FT/ST]
  • Sandhill Crane [SE]
  • Streaked Horned Lark [FT/SE]*
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo [FT]*
  • Bull Trout [FT]
  • Chinook [FT]
  • Dolly Varden [FT]
  • Steelhead [FT]
  • Oregon Spotted Frog [FT/SE]
  • Whitebark pine [FC]*

* Unlikely to be directly oiled during a spill incident.

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General Resource Concerns

  • Wetlands in this region include areas along the main stem of the Nooksack All wetland types support a diverse array of bird, insect and fish and wildlife species.
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  • Islands provide important nesting habitat for a variety of bird species, as well as habitat for a variety of mammals. Associated gravel bars provide spawning habitat for Chinook salmon.
  • Stream mouths may be concentration areas for anadromous fish and are feeding areas for a variety of birds.
  • Human-made structures such as pilings, rock jetties or log rafts may be used as roosting or nesting areas for a variety of birds.
  • Shallow intertidal and subtidal habitats in the delta and lower reach of the river are critically important as rearing areas for juvenile salmon, Dungeness crab, hardshell clams and other fish and shellfish. These habitats are often important feeding areas for marine birds, shorebirds and herons.
  • The tributaries of this river provide abundant habitat for spawning salmonids.
  • The riparian areas adjacent to the Nooksack River, and its tributaries, contain elements of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and provide rich and vital resources to a wide variety of fish and wildlife. Riparian vegetation is heavily used by a variety of wildlife and provides nearshore fish habitat.  Approximately 85 percent of Washington’s terrestrial vertebrate wildlife species depend on riparian habitats for all or critical portions of their life histories.  In particular, passerine and other bird species use riparian areas for foraging year-round, and for nesting in the spring and summer, including sensitive species such as Lewis’s woodpecker and willow flycatcher.
Fish & Shellfish
  • Salmonids (including Chinook, coho, chum, pink, sockeye, cutthroat trout – resident and coastal, steelhead, and bull trout) are present in the river system throughout the year. Spawning occurs throughout the system and juvenile salmonids use backwaters, nearshore areas, and protected bays as rearing and foraging areas prior to migration into the ocean.  Returning adult salmonids support significant tribal, commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • In addition to salmonids, several dozen species of freshwater fish exist in the Nooksack River basin. These species all provide important contributions to stream ecology.
  • Hardshell clams are found intertidally along marine shorelines throughout the Nooksack River Basin. Extensive geoduck beds also occur intertidally and sub-tidally throughout much of the region.
  • Dungeness crabs are commonly found within the Nooksack Delta and throughout Bellingham Bay.
  • Freshwater mussels have been documented in tributaries to the Nooksack River.
  • Seabird concentrations routinely occur year-round in marine areas adjacent to the river mouth and adjacent shoreline. The largest concentrations occur in these areas during the fall through spring seasons.  There are no significant seabird nesting colonies in this region.
  • Bald eagles and great blue herons nest throughout the region and forage in intertidal and nearshore waters year-round. Peregrine falcons occur along the lower river and delta.
  • Waterfowl concentrations, including trumpeter swans, may be found seasonally throughout the region with heavy concentrations in the lower river and delta.
  • Shorebird concentrations are common at along the outer part of the delta and other scattered sites.
  • Harbor seal haulouts are present in the area in the vicinity of the river delta. In addition, California sea lions are often observed using navigational buoys in adjacent areas as haulouts.
  • Mammals common to the region include deer and elk, bats, and various semi-aquatic species such as muskrat, beaver, river otter, etc. throughout the basin. In general, this group is dependent on riverine areas, ponds, tributaries, and riparian forests for den sites and foraging areas.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

  1. Lower Nooksack River (~RM 0 to ~RM 6.5):  The river reach from the I-5 bridge to the mouth serves as a transition area from freshwater to saltwater and includes Tennant Lake, Tennant Wildlife Area and nearby critical habitats for a variety of species including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, salmonids, crabs, multiple bat species, and harbor seals.
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  1. Smith Road/Wiser Road shorebird staging area.  Farm fields and wetlands north of Bellingham in the vicinity of Smith and Wiser roads are used by shorebirds during spring migration for staging, feeding, and resting habitat.
  2. Whatcom County shorebird and waterfowl wintering area. Bird concentrations present along river main stem (~RM 11 thru RM 16), farm fields, wetlands, and Wiser Lake.  Species present may include various geese, swans, cormorants, grebes, ducks and a shorebirds.
  3. Green Lake and Fountain Lake. Waterfowl concentrations, especially geese and swans.
  4. Lake Fazon. Waterfowl concentrations, especially geese and swans.
  5. Squaw Creek sandhill crane staging area.  Wetlands and farm fields located between Squaw Creek and Kamm Ditch provide sandhill crane staging areas during spring migration.
  6. South Fork of the Nooksack River (~RM 10 to ~RM 0). From Acme to the confluence with the main stem.  Oregon spotted frog breeding – particularly in Black Slough.  This reach is also adjacent to documented marbled murrelet breeding habitat.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Maps and Descriptions

Figure 1: Lower Nooksack River specific geographic areas of concern.

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Figure 2: Nooksack River specific geographic areas of concern.

Figure 3: South fork of the Nooksack River geographic areas of concern.

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Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally significant resources are present within the planning area. Information regarding the type and locations of cultural resources is maintained by the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP). This sensitive information is made available to the Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning. The Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) or Cultural Resource Departments of local tribes (see Table 6‑1) may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in the area and should be contacted, along with WDAHP, through normal trustee notification processes when significant oil spills, or smaller spills above reportable thresholds, occur in the area.

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During a spill response, after the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit. In order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm culturally sensitive sites, WDAHP should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action.  WDAHP and/or the Tribal governments may assign a person, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted, to monitor response activities and cleanup operations for the protection of cultural resources. Due to the sensitive nature of such information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not included in this document.

Cultural Resources Contacts 

Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (360) 586-3080
Lummi Nation (360) 312-2257,

(360) 961-7752
Muckleshoot Tribe (253) 876-3272
Nooksack Indian Tribe (360) 592-5176

(360) 305-9126
Samish Nation (360) 293-6404 x126
Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (360) 436-0347
Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians (360) 652-3687 x14
The Suquamish Tribe (360) 394-8529
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (360) 466-7352
Tulalip Tribes (425) 239-0182
Upper Skagit Tribe (360) 854-7009

Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains:

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times (photographing human remains is prohibited to all except the appropriate authorities).  Refer to Section 9403 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources:

If any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources, all work must be stopped immediately and the Incident Commander and Cultural Resource Specialist notified.  The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Prehistoric Cultural Resources: (May include, but are not limited to, any of the following items)

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs, fish traps, and prehistoric water craft
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)

Historic cultural material: (May include any of the following items over 50 years old)

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams, or shipwrecks

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Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Socio-economic sensitive resources are facilities or locations that rely on a body of water to be economically viable. Because of their location, they could be severely impacted if an oil spill were to occur. Economically sensitive resources are separated into three categories: critical infrastructure, water dependent commercial areas, and water dependent recreation areas. Appendix 6A of this chapter provides a list of economic resources for this planning area.

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General Information

Flight Restriction Zones: Flight restriction zones may be recommended by the Environmental Unit (Planning Section) for the purpose of reducing disturbances that could result in injury to wildlife during an oil spill. By keeping a safe distance or altitude from identified sensitive areas, pilots can lessen the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental hazing of wildlife into oiled areas, and avoid causing the abandonment of nests.

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Implementation of Flight Restriction Zones will take place within the Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) after a Unified Command is formed. The Planning Section’s Environmental Unit will work with the Air Ops Branch Director to resolve any potential conflicts with flight activities that are essential to the spill response effort. Typically, the area within a 1,500-foot radius and below 1,000 feet in altitude is restricted to flying in areas that have been identified as sensitive; however, some areas have more restrictive zones. In addition to restrictions associated with wildlife, Tribal authorities may also request notification when overflights are likely to affect culturally sensitive areas within reservations. See Section 9301.3.2 and Section 9301.3.3 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for more information on the use of aircraft and helicopters in open water and shoreline responses.

Wildlife Deterrence: After a Unified Command is formed, the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section), in consultation with the appropriate trustee agencies and the Environmental Unit, will evaluate wildlife deterrent options for the purpose of keeping un-oiled birds and mammals away from oil during a spill. The “Bird Deterrence Unit” and “Marine Mammal Deterrence Unit” in the Wildlife Branch would participate in operations. Deterrence options might include the use of acoustic or visual deterrent devices, boats, aircraft or other situation-appropriate tools. For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310) and Northwest Area Wildlife Deterrence Resources (NWACP Section 9311).

Oiled Wildlife: Attempting to capture oiled wildlife can be hazardous to both the animal and the person attempting the capture. Response personnel should not approach or attempt to recover oiled wildlife. Responders should report their observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch so appropriate action can be taken. Information provided should include the location, date, and time of the sighting, and the estimated number and kind of animals observed. Early on in the response, before a Unified Command is established, oiled wildlife sightings should be reported to Washington Emergency Management Division. For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310).

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