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.




Monday, July 3, 2017

Those at Highest Risk on July 4th

On Turkey Day I have a bit of a traditional post on safe travels via Lisa Hannigan (a-turkey-day-blog-tradition-safe-travels).

For July 4th Brian Resnick point out an obvious vulnerable population to fireworks (fireworks-injuries-hospitalizations) and includes a chart showing just who is at risk:


Try to keep those teenage boys and young men safe. As a former member of that group, it is not easy.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Nanaimo Group Extension Formation on Orcas Island

I got a little glimpse of one small portion of the Late Cretaceous Nanaimo Group on a recent visit to Orcas Island. 

The Nanaimo Group is a group of sedimentary formations exposed along the west side of Vancouver Island and in the islands between the BC mainland and Vancouver Island. Geologic maps indicate there is a bit of Nanaimo Group underling the northernmost portions of the San Juan Islands and along the north part of Orcas Island.  

This group of rocks have been receiving some recent attention by those trying to piece together the western North American margin story. Brown (2012) has interpreted a few scattered outcrops of slightly metamorphosed conglomerates (northwest corner of Blakely and Upright head at the ferry landing on Lopez) as being older Nanaimo Group, suggesting the earliest Nanaimo sediments were incorporated into the final assemblage of the San Juan thrust stack and thus adding a time constraint on when the tectonic terranes that make up the San Juans were stacked up. Mathews and others (2017) and Mahoney, (2016) have attempted to work out some of the source material via dating of detrital zircons in the Nanaimo sediments which have narrowed but not fully resolved the potential sources of some of the sediment. Difficult and complex tectonics that requires piecing a lot of scattered and detailed information together to develop an interpretation. 

My very limited look at the Nanaimo was a chance to see just one tiny bit of the story theses rocks may hold. The part of the Nanaimo Group I was looking at is mapped as the Extension Formation dated at approximately 84 million years. My first view was on a bedrock bald with very thin soils and vegetation.   


As my field work typically involves slopes, I came across a cliff of the bedrock within the forest on my traverse. The slope and cliff were north facing and within the forest so the light was dim despite it being a sunny day.


The Extension Formation is primarily a conglomerate. At this site the conglomerate is primarily cobbles and boulders. Due to the light and steepness of the slope, I ended up with some blurry images, but did get few illustrative shots of the various cobbles and clasts.

Granitic boulder

Andesite boulder



metamorphosed sandstone?

Granitic pebbles

Vein quartz clast?

The short story is that this exposure of the Extension Formation is a clast supported pebble to cobble conglomerate to very coarse sandstone that was deposited in a high energy environment. The size of the granitic cobbles to boulders suggest fairly close proximal to a granitic source material. The Extension Formation has been interpreted to include high-energy deposition in deeper marine submarine canyon and fan facies in northern areas of Nanaimo Group, and shallow marine to coastal to braided fluvial depositional environments in the Nanaimo area where coal is present. This rather wide range of depositional environments seems a bit odd as a single formation, but my grasp of the Nanaimo Formations is limited.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Seattle Minimum Wage and Beware of the Single Study

Short note on the blog: I have had a bit of a pause in posts - by far the longest since I started Reading the Washington Landscape. A mix of reasons, but nothing bad.  

Seattle has become a bit of a laboratory on minimum wage. The latest paper (NBER Paper on Seattle's Minimum Wage) made national news.

Scott Alexander provides a cautionary perspective on the subject: beware-the-man-of-one-study. It should be noted as well that the results are for only the past two years. 

An unattributed economist comments:   

For economists, the debate about the minimum wage is almost an unproductive game. It is fun to research, there are a lot of different theories to consider minimum wage increases and ways to measure the impact of the minimum wage. And the general public is interested in this research, which is rare. Although presumably, the results will be heavily filtered through confirmation bias...
At what point is it safe to say this research is unproductive? If economists cannot reach a consensus on the minimum wage, but can reach a consensus on redistribution programs that would be preferable to a minimum wage hike, why don't they just shout at the public about that? 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Short Note on Irondale and Industrial Legacy

I previously noted the iron mining claims on Iron Mountain in Skagit County (hamilton-iron). The iron ore that was mined from a few of those claims was shipped via rail and then barge to Irondale, a small town south of Port Townsend (its-called-ironddale-a-for-reason).

I was recently a bit south of the site of the old iron works and unless one knew about the former industrial site it is hard to picture that this tree lined coast was once a heavy industrial site with piers and kilns. 



The kilns were located essentially on the beach. A cleanup of the site has been completed (see Ecology: Irondale Iron and Steel Plant). The former iron and steel mill is now a Jefferson County Park with a beach restoration project as well (gravelbeach.blogspot/irondale  and gravelbeach.blogspot/irondale). In addition to the iron and steel plant a large saw mill was located on the adjoining site to the north (right in the picture above).

The cleanup of the old industrial site and the cost to tax payers raises an interesting policy issue regarding industrial development that has presented a challenge to many communities. What happens to very specific industrial properties when the site is no longer used for that industry? Irondale is a bit of a lesson in this regards. The abandoned iron and steel along with some contamination remained vacant on this site for nearly 100 years. It is now a very nice beach park, but that was a long time for an abandoned mill to be left as a public nuisance. Something to consider for large scale project permitting.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Extreme Low Tide: Sand Dollar Tracks and Moon Snails

My job the other day was to assess the geology hazard at a very steep and high shoreline bluff. From the top of the bluff there was not much to conclude regarding the underlying geology. All I could ascertain was the upper bluff was too steep and too high to descend.

No way down

There was no way to see any of the bluff without taking a long beach walk from a better access point. The timing of the visit was very good with sunny weather and a very low tide which pulled out well beyond the local mean low tide.

There were plenty of good geology exposures along this steep bluff, but on my return walk I took some time taking in the marine life far out on the sandy tide flats.

Sand dollar pile up

Sand dollar making tracks

Sand dollar track across ripples

During my walk I came across several of these odd odd shaped objects on the tide flats:



The objects are rubbery with sand embedded in them.


And yes bare foot field work is great

Then a bit further on I found the responsible animal.





This large snail is Euspira lewisii or moon snail. The snail happened to also be April's Critter of the Month (eyes-under-puget-sound-critter-of-month.

The sandy rubbery casings I was seeing are egg packages and I happened to get lucky and saw an egg package being just released. The moon snail is a predator and eats clams by boring through the shell.