Regional setting: Whatcom County is in the top northwestern corner of Washington State. Principal cities are Bellingham, Lynden, Everson, Ferndale, Blaine, and Sumas. The county includes two Indian reservations; the Lummi Nation on the Lummi Peninsula and Portage Island, and the Nooksack Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located along sections of the Nooksack River.
Climate: The region lies within a convergence zone with Arctic weather from the north and Pacific weather systems in the south (U.S. Forest Service 1995a). In summer the Pacific systems dominate with mild, clear weather and low levels of precipitation. In winter Arctic systems bring storms, high levels of precipitation, and occasionally very low temperatures. In the lowlands, annual average precipitation ranges from 30 to 50”. In the higher elevations, precipitation averages 70 to 140” per year with much falling as snow on the Mount Baker slopes (U.S. Forest Service 1995a). Rain-on-snow events mostly occur from late October through January (Smith 2002- Limiting Factors report).
Topography: Most shorelands of Whatcom County lie within the boundaries of the Nooksack basin. The Nooksack River empties into northern Bellingham Bay through tribal land. The Nooksack watershed covers more than one million acres with greater than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams. The western watershed is broad floodplain and the eastern part is mountainous and heavily forested. The eastern boundary is glacial headwater sources of streams in the Cascade Mountain Range. Mt. Baker lies 50 miles east of Bellingham and is the largest mountain of the northern cascade mountain range at 10,778 feet in height. The Fraser lowlands are glacial drift plains, terraces, and floodplains with low gradient meandering rivers and streams. Under current rules, there are approximately 100 miles of marine shoreline, 100 miles of lake shoreline, and 450 miles of rivers under jurisdiction of the SMA within the county.
Land use: Based on 1997 Whatcom County Planning department figures, 82% of Whatcom County lands were forest and rural lands, 9% agricultural lands, 3% residential lands, 2% urbanized lands, and the remainder consist of industrial, mining, and commercial development.
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