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Squalicum Creek Habitat Restoration

Squalicum Creek by Shelby Hunter

Squalicum Creek drains approximately 22 square miles, originating in the Cascade foothills east of Bellingham and north of Lake Whatcom. The stream flows southeast for approximately 10 miles before discharging into Bellingham Bay. Major tributaries include Spring Creek, Baker Creek, Toad Creek and McCormick Creek.

Squalicum Creek historically provided approximately 32 miles of accessible salmon habitat (Williams 1976). It currently supports pink, chum and coho salmon. Spawning surveys and smolt traps in Squalicum Creek and its tributaries have also documented a population of resident and sea-run cutthroat trout, as well as occasional use by steelhead trout. Adult Chinook and sockeye are sometimes sighted during spawning surveys, although these fish are believed to be strays from nearby rivers (e.g. Nooksack / Fraser) that support large populations of these species.

The City of Bellingham was awarded Centennial Clean Water Fund Grants by the Department of Ecology in 2004 and 2005 to improve riparian areas along urban streams, including the Lower Squalicum Creek Restoration Project. In 2005, the City completed an extensive project to protect Squalicum Parkway from erosion, while improving fish habitat and restoring native vegetation. City-sponsored Washington Conservation Corps crews continue to clear exotic plants and weeds to ensure native vegetation becomes well established throughout the riparian area.

Squalicum creek before and after restoration
Before restoration: bank erosion and extensive non-native vegetation.
After restoration: large woody debris structures installed to stabilize
banks and improve habitat; area prepared for planting of native vegetation.

The City is involved with the Squalicum Creek Reroute.

Spring Creek seedlingsUpstream, restoration work is being done on a conservation easement at Spring Creek. WCC crews have replaced invasive vegetation with native plants, installed barriers to prevent hikers from wandering off the trail and damaging sensitive riparian areas, and continue to maintain the site by removing native vegetation.

The City collects data on water quality in Squalicum Creek each month as part of the Urban Streams Monitoring Program. Squalicum Creek was listed as impaired (Category 5) for high levels of dissolved oxygen (DO), fecal coliform, temperature, and a number of other constituents on the Department of Ecology’s 2004 303(d) list. For detailed information on 303(d) listings see the Department of Ecology’s web site


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