Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Era at Stratum Group

Stratum Group added a geologist for our geology hazard work. Geoff Malick brings some new skill sets and perspectives to Stratum Group. His graduate work was on a large bedrock landslide complex in northwest Washington. Geoff has accompanied me on numerous ventures this summer as well as his own solo ventures. 

Traversing the head of an old slide above Port Discovery

Examining an undercut glacial till bluff at Foulweather Bluff

Notes on glacial advance outwash sand and gravels

Examining a large bedrock failure deposit along the Middle Fork Nooksack Rive 

In a narrow incised channel on an alluvial fan

Checking slope buffers at a proposed timber harvest

Taking in a nice view after a long field day


Monday, August 7, 2017

Firefighters Encamped at Fairhaven

The scene pictured below is very unusual, but does require some explanation. 


The cluster of tents and portable toilets is to support a fire fighting crew based at Fairhaven Middle School in Bellingham. The firefighters were deployed to fight a forest fire on Chuckanut Mountain south of Bellingham. This forest fir was taken very seriously with helicopter water dumps from lake Samish.

The light in the image is the sun. A week of dim light and poor air quality throughout much of Washington State.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Bauermeister Wheat

A modest detour allowed a bit of memory revival along a former familiar road and landscape.    


At least the road name warns about Bauermeisters. Bauermeister Road leads to Bauermeister Farm. This dry land wheat farm is southeast of Connell and I liken these dry land wheat farmsteads as small islands of trees in a sea of dry land wheat and scrub steppe. The nearest neighbor to the Bauermeister farmstead is nearly one mile away.


Dale and Dan Bauermeister were active participants in trials of wheat strains put on by Washington State University. One hard red wheat variety tested on their farm was named for the farm (Red/Bauermeister.pdf).

That variety along with other wheat varieties is changing how wheat is being grown and turned into food (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/magazine/bread-is-broken). Wheat fields in Skagit County are growing Bauermeister wheat and the resulting flour and bread is bringing about a change in bread (new-wave-wheat). New local wheat varietals and baking can be likened to the early days of craft local beers.

From the New York Times article "A couple did not have much flavor or structure, but one of them in particular, Bauermeister, knocked my socks off."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

100 Years Plus of Fossil Fuel in Whatcom County Policy Shifts

Over time values and what society cares about  shifts.

Over time society values and what people care about shifts. The Whatcom County Council in a 6-1 vote reflected some of that change in thinking. The Council voted on some policy changes to the Cherry Point area of the county:  http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/28301

Cherry Point is designated stand-alone urban growth area designated for heavy industrial land use. The designation as urban is a bit unique in that it is not associated with a city. The area is used by two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter. All three are served by deep-water piers. The deep water access and out of city location made this area attractive as heavy industrial site.

The council action was at least in part a reaction to the permit process that was triggered by the application for the construction of a large coal export terminal. It was also a reaction to larger changes taking place at the national level regarding crude oil and a concern that the site could become a crude oil or natural gas export facility.

The policy shifts are not very big, but they do recognize some changes and concerns that were not recognized in the past such as the potential of exporting crude oil or other unrefined fossil fuel products, the impact of rail shipping to the terminals, and the recognition of treaty rights regarding the usual and accustomed fishing and hunting areas. The last item is a big deal and was to a significant degree ignored by the recent coal terminal proponent.

The hearing was very long lasting from a bit after 7:00 to 12:00. The range of views was interesting to listen to, but hearings this long are a test of endurance.

The Council takes in 5 hours of testimony - 3 minutes max per person

Contrary to some views expressed, this has policy shift had been a long process that started nearly a year ago and had already gone through a lengthily public process with hearings and changes to the original proposal.

The most forceful objections were from BP oil. They do not want restrictive policies regarding crude export or new pier construction. They took a number of approaches to their objections, including some mischaracterization of policy changes. The main objection is that by removing the possible ability to use the site as a crude oil export facility, the operation  
Anti change rally before meeting

A strategy of the anti change group was to hold a rally. There were an equal number of pro change folks that held a smaller rally and filled the council chambers before the meeting.

Pro policy change or not, society values do shift. Bellingham was once a coal town.

Mine entrance and infrastructure in the northwest part of Bellingham
This mine closed in 1954


Blue Canyon Mine loading facility in the 1890s prior to the rail line to the mine in th

Coal terminal in Bellingham Bay


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Strait of Juan de Fuca Mole

An article discussing Dunkirk's Mole reminded me of the mole on the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Oblique view of mole on the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Ecology, 2006)

The mole along the Strait was used for loading clay onto barges from a clay mine up slope from the mole. The clay is from marine sediments of the Pyhst Formation. The clay was used as an additive to cement mixes.

The mine was a rather short lived operation. The Pyhst Formation is a rather notoriously unstable formation (clay!), and numerous very large landslides are associated with the marine clays. The mining slopes destabilized the slopes and activated a very large deep-seated landslide. The bare ground in the image above was part of the mine wall that failed, but the area of the slide is actually much larger and extends well into the uplands towards the top of the above photograph.

There has been some discussion of removing the unused mole as it is a protrusion that interferes with beach processes. I am not up on the status of that scheme. But the mole and the mine scheme are good examples of an approach to land use and shoreline use with long term consequences to the public in exchange for short term gain.    

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sceloporus occidentalis, western fence lizard at Port Discovery

A few years ago I was walking the beach at Port Discovery and noted a lizard on the driftwood along the upper beach. Seeing lizards in the field in many places I have worked would not be much to note. But in western Washington seeing lizards is not common. Our cool wet weather limits good lizard habitat to a limited area of drier locations. 

On a recent trip to Port Discovery I was traversing a steep slope well above the bay and got a very brief glimpse of one lizard and then a second lizard chose to stay still. 

Sceloporus occidentalis, western fence lizard (thanks to Lori and Roger for the ID)

The lizards were located well above the beach, 350 feet above. The slope is southwest facing and in the rain shadow of the Olympics. There is evidence that these slopes have burned on a periodic basis and the slopes are very dry with a mix of grass land and trees and brush. Pretty good habitat.  

View of slope area

The underlying geology of the slope was sandy and gravelly glacial till on the top of the slope with sand and gravel glacial advance outwash below. Older glacial and non glacial units are present further down the slope.  

View of habitat from above just above some glacial till exposures

Vie of the Port Discovery bay from the open slope
Species observations from

This lizard species occupies the east slopes of the Cascades, the Columbia River Gorge, the Blue Mountains and the prairie areas of the Puget lowland. The north Puget lowland areas are a bit of an outlier, but match reasonably well with the other habitats as areas that dry out for longer periods due to a combination of climate, slope aspect and soils.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bellingham Marine Heritage Park and Holly Street Landfill Notes

I took a walk down Whatcom Creek to the upper Whatcom Creek estuary in Bellingham. Its a nice walk through the city urban center along the creek and the waterfall at the head of the estuary.



The passage along the creek and falls is a great perc to have in Bellingham.

I walk this trail fairly often as it leads from my office to the main post office, or, if I continue, through a park to one of my favorite watering (beer) holes. The park is Maritime Heritage Park. This park is where Bellingham began as a town due to the presence of the waterfall and its ability to power mill equipment. I have noted the changes that this bit of landscape has gone through before (shifting-landscapes-and-shifting-values), but that previous post left off the post saw mill period.

Post saw mill time, the estuary embayment was, like many waterfront areas, during that 1900s era viewed as an opportunity to create more land. From at least the 1930 through the early 1950s much of the estuary was filled. Much of the fill consisted of municipal garbage.

Post filling the site with garbage some commercial development took place and part of the estuary also housed the municipal sewer plant. Some of the buildings were not well founded and as the garbage settled, the structures began to sag. The Shrimp Shack provided an excellent geotechnical example of differential settlement that upped the geotchnical knowledge base of ordinary citizens.

By the late 1900s, the community values had shifted again and the City of Bellingham saw an opportunity to turn the area into a park. The City partnered with Washington State Department of Ecology and to remediate the legacy of what is now called the Holly Street Landfill.

Part of the remediation was pulling the garbage back away from the creek on the north bank and slightly widening the remaining estuary.

Estuary in 2004 from the DESIGN ANALYSIS REPORT (Anchor Environmental and Aspect Consulting, 2004) 

Estuary 2017 - note tidal bench area at base of the slope relative to no bench in the 2014 image


The southeast side of the estuary landfill is a well used park and includes a native plant restoration area with signage for many of the plants.





Tall Oregon grape has a relative:



Within the restoration plantings I noted that the western red cedars were not doing very well.




A possible explanation is the last few summers have had very long dry spells. Seabacher (2007) suggests that changing climate with longer summer dry periods could reduce western red cedar range. Given the current distribution of the tree, a few hot dry summers along with the obvious water competition of other trees could preclude western red cedars at this site.


The upper estuary at the base of falls was in use during my walk:

Canadian geese and great blue heron
The cement wall was part of the former sewage treatment plant once located at the estuary

A bit of the former garbage dump has been eroded along the southeast bank of the creek exposing old glass and metal.