There’s a stretch of shoreline north of Bellingham that hosts oil refineries and other heavy industry. It’s also a key feeding ground for salmon, shorebirds and killer whales. The new Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve – a decade in the making – is meant to thread the needle between protecting the environment and safeguarding family wage jobs.
The area was first set aside in 2000, but DNR just last week signed off on a final management plan.
One of the biggest worries in developing the plan has been the herring. Cherry Point once had Puget Sound’s largest population of herring, a population that’s plummeted by more than 90% since the 1970s. That’s a problem, because herring fill a key role in the marine food web. Lose the herring and everything from salmon to killer whales suffers.
Cherry Point is also a busy industrial zone. It’s home to two oil refineries and an aluminum plant, and there’s a steady stream of tankers and barges loading and unloading at their docks. Environmental consultant Fred Felleman says that stresses the area’s natural systems.
“Each of these docks has large discharge pipes that are producing metric tons of oily waste a year,” he says. “And each of those refineries has doubled their capacity from the time they were originally built.”
When a draft management plan was released last summer, industrial users were worried the proposal could force them out of the area. The final version approved last week specifically says industrial uses are acceptable in the reserve.
Still, the plan is hailed by environmentalists as a step toward recovery of Puget Sound. It focuses on research to better understand the declines of herring, seabirds and other at-risk species, and using that science to make future decisions on managing the reserve.