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The Emerald Edge


Inside Passage! Bellingham to Juneau.

It’s March, or Tamwex’és - time when the frogs come out in our local Nooksack language, and I would like to take you on a tour of the Emerald Edge, which spans Southeast Alaska, British Columbia (BC), Washington State and Oregon. This area really does encompass those places that I love so much and that I write about (and visit) again and again. The Tongass Forest, Great Bear Rainforest, our nearby Salish Sea and coastal areas, and the Olympic Rainforest are all situated within the Emerald Edge.

Water & Rock Reflection! West Coast Vancouver Island, BC.

This connected ecosystem of ocean, coast and forest is home to the world’s largest coastal temperate rainforest and stunning biodiversity, including bears, puffins, elk, salmon, wolves, Orca and other whales. It covers more than 100 million acres of coastal old-growth Sitka spruce, cedar and hemlock, thousands of rivers and salmon streams, 40,000 islands and 35,000 miles of coastline. It provides habitat for fifty percent of wild pacific salmon, is home to eight hundred to fifteen hundred-year-old trees and provides some $15 million to the economy for bear viewing in the Great Bear.

Short Eared Owl. Skagit River Estuary, Washington State.

I know I have contributed (as often as possible!) to that tourism dollar figure. Just writing this, I am salivating and pondering my next trip north.

Alaskan Reflection! Kenai Fjords National Park.

If you love something, you have to fight for it. That means spreading the word and providing educational and financial support. And right now, there are a number of important and timely campaigns and non-profits working to protect this special area. I wanted to highlight just a few with the hope of increasing your understanding on why this area is so important to protect.

Tidepools! BC Coast.

Folded within the glaciers and snowfields of the Olympic, Cascade, Vancouver Island, and Coastal Mountains, the Emerald Edge is one of the most productive carbon sinks on Earth. So important that in 2020 the BezosEarthFund invested $33.33 million to sequester 3.5 million metric tons of CO2 through permanent protection of over 100,000 hectares of old growth forest (one hectare equals 2.471 acres).

And starting high on those glaciers and snowfields, amazing rivers such as the Alsek, Stikine, Unuk, Salmon and Chilkat in Southeast Alaska, the Skeena, Stikine and Frasier in BC, and the Quinault, Hoh and Bogachiel here on Washington’s Olympic Coast. These waterways transport fresh water, salmon, and are a major part of our water cycle which connects the ocean, land, and atmosphere.


“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

Sylvia Earle

Carry-out! Fjordlands Conservancy, BC.

You just cannot be anywhere in the Pacific Northwest without feeling the presence of Indigenous peoples. Every river, every mountain, all offer a present and permanent spirituality of those who were here for millennia. On the Emerald Edge that presence is all around us as it comprises the territories of more than fifty Indigenous First Nations, Alaska Natives, and coastal Tribes. The Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and the Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), Coast Salish, and Chinook.

Sunset Reflection on Water! Sunshine Coast, BC.

Here in Whatcom County (named for a Nooksack chief and meaning “noisy water”), centrally located within the Emerald Edge, the Coast Salish are the largest of the southern groups. Territory claimed by Coast Salish including our local Lhaq'temish, the Lummi People, and the Nooksack Tribe (whose name comes from a place name Noxws’ áʔɁaq that translates to “always bracken fern roots” and illustrates the tribe’s close ties to the land).

Roosevelt Elk. Quinnault River. Olympic National Park, Washington State.

While this area may be remote and far from where you live, it still needs your help. Salmon are scarcer, the forests are diminished and only patches of majestic old-growth forest remain. And while Alaska’s copper and gold Pebble Creek mine was stopped this January due to impacts to the world’s largest salmon run, some eighteen new coal or metal mine proposals, including a plan to reopen the Eskay Creek mine in the Unuk and Iskut river basins in BC’s coastal mountains, are in the works. Clearcutting continues on both BC’s Salt Spring and Pender Island.

Inside Passage II. Alaska.

I hope you get to visit the Emerald Edge or can continue to enjoy, learn about, and see it through my stories and images. Whether you can travel there or not, know that it exists and encompasses everything that is wild, beautiful, and full of life. Here are a few of my favorite environmental nonprofits – many work directly on the Emerald Edge, all work to protect and conserve land, water, and wildlife.

· The Nature Conservancy (direct Emerald Edge conservation program)

· Raincoast Conservancy (working throughout BC and on the Salish Sea)

· Conservation Northwest (habitat and wildlife in the PNW)

· Whatcom Land Trust (land protection in Whatcom County)

· American Whitewater (river conservation and public access)

Coast Mountains, Yukon to Fraser River. BC.

End Notes:

· The 2,260-acre Canyon Lake Community Forest in Whatcom County protects one of the oldest stands of forest in the Pacific Northwest (800 to 1,200 years old). Whatcom Land Trust holds a conservation easement on this property owned and managed by Whatcom County and Western Washington University. On BC’s Meares Island some trees (such as Cedar of Life) are estimated to be 2,000 years old.

· Lands stewarded by Indigenous Peoples hold 17 percent of the world’s remaining forest carbon and 80 percent of global biodiversity. What these figures tell us is that Indigenous stewardship and management often achieve greater conservation results and sustain more biodiversity than government-protected areas such as national parks or reserves.







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