Nestled in the scenic Pacific Northwest amidst wetlands, streams, ponds and shoreline habitats, BP’s Cherry Point Refinery opened in 1971 with the primary purpose of refining crude oil into transportation fuels.
Though the business of refining has changed quite a bit over the years, one thing has remained constant – Cherry Point’s commitment to conducting its business in a way that respects the environment we all cherish. The refinery and its employees have engaged in a variety of important environmental initiatives in Whatcom County.
Pete Sim, environmental engineer at the refinery, leads BP’s initiative to partner with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) to restore valuable salmon habitat. “Our partnership with NSEA demonstrates our long-term commitment to environmental restoration, and it has proved very fruitful over the years,” said Sim.
“In 1999, I was asked by the head ranger at Birch Bay State Park why there weren’t any salmon in Terrell Creek,” says Rachel Vasak, Executive Director at NSEA. “It was natural for us to begin working with BP Cherry Point as they own part of the property through which Terrell Creek runs.”
In 2003, BP started working with volunteers and NSEA to restore portions of the 8.2-mile segment of Terrell Creek that falls within BP’s property. Other landowners along Terrell Creek were supportive as well, including the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and Washington State Parks who became partners in the salmon habitat restoration effort.
Vasak explains the mission of NSEA is to “strive to recover salmon by engaging our community in restoration, education and stewardship.” NSEA is an apolitical non-profit organization tied to environmental work, finding common ground with community members and their goals while improving salmon habitat.
Working alongside NSEA, BP employees and their families have planted thousands of native trees and shrubs along the banks of Terrell Creek. The project has also included removal of invasive vegetation and removal of various fish barriers. After a decade of hard work through community partnerships, salmon are utilizing the waters and gravel beds of Terrell Creek to spawn once again.
“While BP Cherry Point specifically supported the Terrell Creek Project because of the property ownership, they’ve also invested in other projects that have seen successful outcomes,” says Vasak, further describing BP’s involvement in local salmon habitat efforts.
In fact, for more than 10 years, BP has been a primary sponsor of NSEA’s Students for Salmon program, which introduces 4th grade students in Whatcom County to salmon habitat through in-class presentations, hands-on research in the field, and follow-up visits.
BP Cherry Point has also identified other opportunities for utilizing their vast property here in Whatcom County to study and help improve the environment.
For the past 15 years, BP has been working to develop an advance wetland mitigation area on its property. The 220-acre wetland mitigation site has transformed degraded fields into highly functioning wetland habitat. Sim says that the site, which is one of the state’s largest private wetland mitigation areas, has quickly transformed into habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
Sim says the mitigation includes seasonal ponds that are utilized as breeding habitat for frogs and salamanders. “This is a great thing,” he says. “Amphibians are a good indicator of how well the environment is working.”
With this discovery, the BP Citizen Science Amphibian Census Team was created about five years ago to study the population of amphibians within BP-owned property. More than 25 volunteers collect data and identify egg masses to determine the species types and population levels. Four species have been found, including tree frogs, red-legged frogs, northwestern salamander and long-toed salamander. Because amphibians are very sensitive to water quality, these findings are significant. A growing population of amphibians means the water quality is very good.
The Citizen Science program is still very popular thanks to the strong partnership between BP and the Whatcom County Amphibian Monitoring Program (WCAMP). BP hopes to continue to build programs like this one to help raise public awareness around the importance of good environmental stewardship.
This is still only a portion of the extensive BP Cherry Point property that is being utilized for community programs. Sim adds that a large percentage of the land is leased to local farmers at no cost. The farmers work with the Whatcom Conservation District to develop a Farm Plan which focuses on the utilization of best management practices to protect water quality and wildlife habitat. “Some of the farmers have been leasing land from BP Cherry Point for their own purposes for more than a decade”, says Sim.
While much of BP’s environmental efforts are seen in the utilization of its property, BP is a major supporter of community environmental stewardship. The BP Heron Center for Environmental Education at Birch Bay State Park opened in July 2014. The center was a dream of Birch Bay State Park Manager, Ted Morris. The interpretive center, featuring a classroom setting adjacent to Terrell Creek, provides environmental programs for school groups and the community. Park rangers and community members lead educational programs about the local wildlife in the Birch Bay ecosystem.
As it has demonstrated for more than 45 years, BP Cherry Point Refinery is committed to environmental protection and restoration, and looks forward to supporting environmental efforts in Whatcom County into the future.