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Why Now?

The South Fork Nooksack River in the spring mists.  Photo: Wendy McDermott
Paddling the North Fork Nooksack. Photo: Wendy McDermott
Mt. Shuskan and North Fork Nooksack. Photo: Wendy McDermott

The North Cascade Mountains in Washington State are defined by their majestic beauty—wild forests, wild rivers, and stunning vistas. The jewel of North Puget Sound, the Nooksack River, is the backbone of Bellingham and Whatcom County’s outdoor industry supporting a $705 million-recreation economy that includes hiking, rafting, fishing, climbing, hunting, skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and kayaking. And the Nooksack is one of a few river systems in our state that provides freshwater habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon, including endangered Chinook salmon, as well as endangered steelhead and bull trout.

Millions of dollars has been invested in the Nooksack Basin to restore habitat and water quality in support of regional efforts to recover  salmon and steelhead, and the greater Puget Sound ecosystem. As shown in the state's habitat project mapping program Habitat Work Schedule, many projects to protect  and restore salmon habitat are underway, planned or already completed in the Nooksack Watershed.


Given the intact and high-quality condition of habitat in the North, Middle, and South forks of the Nooksack along with numerous tributary streams, the river basin is an important conservation priority in the region. Conservation of the Nooksack as Wild and Scenic provides safeguards to the river against development of harmful water projects and dams, and potential mining projects, all of which would have devastating effects on its wild characteristics and recreational amenities. With over 40 dam proposals on the Nooksack River and tributaries since the 1970s, Wild & Scenic designation is a lasting protection on this investment and any future threats to the watershed.

Wild and Scenic Designation will support restoration efforts throughout the watershed. By protecting habitat and water quality of the headwaters of the three forks and their tributaries, designation will  provide a direct benefit to restoration projects downstream, protecting the investment of state and federal dollars and helping keep wild salmon swimming in the Nooksack for years to come. The designation would also safeguard the river’s water quality and ensure the Nooksack River system’s outstanding ecological, recreational, and scenic values are protected and enhanced into the future.


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