Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

With the region’s salmon population increasingly endangered and dwindling in number, an ambitious Whatcom County group is busy cleaning up waterways, planting native plants, and improving the fish habitats over hundreds of miles of rivers, including the Nooksack River, and streams.

The nonprofit Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association got its start in 1991, and their mission is to engage the local community in the process of salmon recovery. These days, its annual budget is around $1.5 million, though it can vary. Seven people make up NSEA’s full-time staff, though the staff also includes several seasonal members, and four AmeriCorps workers. Annually, the association has between 1,200 and 2,000 volunteers.

NSEA has four main objectives, all geared towards helping salmon. First, improving water quality by planting native plants to create cold, clean and clear water for salmon. Second, removing obstacles that prevent salmon from reaching spawning grounds. Third, improving stream habitat to salmon have places to rest and spawn. Fourth, educating the public about salmon by showing them the importance of being good stewards of salmon habitats.

Jill Clark, philanthropy director of the Whatcom Land Trust, says the land trust partners with NSEA quite a bit because the two have similar missions. “They’re the perfect partner because they’re about preserving salmon habitats,” Clark says. “If we partner together then we just amplify each other’s missions.”

Rachel Vasak got her start as a volunteer with the organization in 1996. “I told myself when I stopped feeling like I was challenged and growing and learning, then I’d go somewhere else,” Vasak says. Today, she is the group’s executive director.

Vasak says the group got its start when a group of local people noticed the number of salmon population declining and they wanted to do something about it. One of Vasak’s favorite things about working for the association is the educational programs they put on. Students for Salmon is a program for fourth graders from Whatcom County, which teaches them about salmon.

“We really focused on getting kids outdoors for a place-based and science-based education program,” Vasak says. “It focuses on salmon, watershed, and watershed health, and students learn hands-on through a series of studies if the creek near their school is a healthy place for salmon or not.” The kids then do a service project to help improve habitats for salmon, cleaning up waterways and planting native plants.

Mike McRory was one of the original founders of the group 28 years ago. Before retiring he was a dentist, and today he spends his time helping at NSEA’s location at the end of East Bakerview Road. On the property they grow anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 plants at a time, raising them to maturity before planting them near waterways.

One of the things the organization does is remove undersized culverts and replace them with bridges. Culverts are tubes that allow streams to flow under roads or trails. McRory says there are about 235 undersized culverts on private property in Whatcom County and they have replaced more than 100.

One of several work parties put on by the organization is on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Squalicum Creek from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers will plant trees along the creek to restore salmon habitats.

Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association
3057 E. Bakerview Rd., Bellingham
360.715.0283 |

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"'We really focused on getting kids outdoors for a place-based and science-based education program.'"