From filtering air to lessening the impact of heat and floods, healthy forests are essential to the wellbeing of our region and the people who inhabit it. Unfortunately, these forests are experiencing two simultaneous crises: climate change and a decrease in overall biodiversity. Enter Whatcom Million Trees Project, a nonprofit dedicated to combating these issues at the most local level.
The work of Whatcom Million Trees includes both planting saplings and conserving existing trees, namely within naturally regenerated forests. The organization began as an informal monthly meet-up in response to a call to action by Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu, but since 2020, it has grown into a full-fledged 501C-3.
“More than anything, we want people to get engaged with us in the land, whether it’s, through work parties, or as an admin volunteer, [or] helping with our advocacy efforts,” says Executive Director Michael Feerer. “We’re an all-volunteer organization, including myself, so that we can spend most of our money on the trees instead of us.”
In addition to smaller planting efforts, Whatcom Million Trees is also involved with large-scale advocacy. The organization was one of the four major nonprofits involved in the pushback against the proposed Bessie timber sale, which would have put 166 acres of forest near Lake Whatcom at risk of logging.
“We’re not an anti-logging organization … but logging shouldn’t be in our drinking watershed,” Feerer says. “And it shouldn’t be in the naturally regenerated forests, like Bessie, where there’s more than just wood. It’s a whole bio-habitat [with] a lot of other benefits as well.”
Given all of this activity, one might be tempted to ask: Just how many trees have been planted so far? These statistics are readily available on the organization’s website, but according to Feerer, Whatcom Million Trees is about more than hitting a quota.
“The million trees aspiration has been useful for us, because we want to communicate that we are thinking big, but we’re actually not super attached to the number,” he says.
Rather, Feerer hopes that the organization will help to rebuild a connection between people and the natural world– a connection that he believes many of us have lost.
Whatcom Million Trees also involves the community through educational programs, events, and a variety of local partnerships. Previous efforts have included fundraising campaigns at businesses such as Village Books and Pizza’zza, as well as a sold-out documentary event at the Pickford Film Center.
Donations are always useful, but if you’d prefer to get your hands dirty, work parties offer hands-on involvement and require no previous skills or expertise. From planting trees in the winter to trimming tree-killing English ivy in the off season, there are a variety of ways to make a direct and tangible impact on the community.
Looking at the climate crisis on a large-scale level can be disempowering, but these opportunities give people a way to be active participants in positive change– starting at the most local level.
“There’s so much built-up frustration and waiting for national and international politicians to hopefully do the right thing,” Feerer says. “Getting involved in a work party to plant a tree, for instance, or even just to clear land in preparation for a tree, or to remove it to save an existing tree … All those actions are something that people can do.” Bellingham, whatcommilliontrees.org