Resilience is in the Details

Whatcom County’s Comprehensive Plan update may be our best shot at building climate resilience and justice as we grow. |
April 28, 2022

Update August 9th, 2022: The resolution introduced by Whatcom County Council Members Carol Frazey and Kaylee Galloway passed on a 5-2 vote. Thanks to all of you who urged the Council to act!

Take one glance at the draft resolution outlining Comprehensive Plan update priorities introduced this week by Whatcom County Councilors Kaylee Galloway and Carol Frazey and you’ll see that it’s, well, comprehensive.

We think that’s a good thing. After experiencing unprecedented damage and losses following the heat dome and extreme flooding events of 2021, it’s clear that climate impacts are here in Whatcom County and they’re already costing us dearly. Moreover, our county’s population has grown by 36 percent in the past 20 years, and accommodating that growth while balancing housing affordability, transportation, infrastructure, economic opportunity and the environment has been challenging to say the least.

It’s only natural to want quick fixes in moments of crisis, to scramble back to some semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, reactive, piecemeal responses to discrete crises tend to be costly, exhausting and less effective. They can also perpetuate or even exacerbate inequities. Those on the front lines of climate change, namely tribal communities, communities of color and low-income communities, often continue to pay the most and benefit the least. This is why comprehensive plans are so important – to provide guidance when we need it the most.

As we stated in the StoryMap we launched last fall as part of our Climate-Resilient Northwest Washington initiative, compounding problems demand compounding solutions. In this project, we illustrated our vision for what a climate-resilient Northwest Washington would look like a generation from now, and we outlined a nine-point Solutions Agenda to help us get there.

Our initiative focuses on natural climate solutions, identifying places where policy and investment could help us better protect and restore the local ecosystems – rivers, shorelines, estuaries and forests – that in turn support biodiversity and help protect our communities from climate impacts. We also identify opportunities to build climate resilience across land uses. Finding a way to balance agriculture, forestry, development and open space, without exhausting the waters and lands on which we all rely, is crucial to ensuring a thriving future for our region.

landscape illustration of a climate resilient northwest washington

We commend commissioners Galloway and Frazey for outlining detailed priorities at the early onset of the process to update Whatcom County’s Comprehensive Plan by 2025. In particular, we support their resolution to develop a climate resilience and equity lens to inform all chapters of the Comprehensive Plan, as well as their resolution to fully engage government-to-government with Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe in the development and implementation of the comprehensive plan when such efforts have the potential to have substantial direct effect on tribal governments and treaty rights. Treaty rights and tribal sovereignty must be foundational to all planning efforts.

RE Sources has helped inform and mobilize the Whatcom communities around developing their Shoreline Management Plan, Climate Action Plan and Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 1 Salmonid Recovery Plan, just to name a few. We also pushed to pass Washington Can’t Wait and the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act at the state level. We did this not because we’re unabashed policy wonks to who love reading intricate plans (well, maybe that’s part of it), but because we know that communities that are active in the public process, that take the time to consider their futures and speak up on behalf of their families and their neighbors, are healthier, stronger communities.

Everything is connected, everywhere, all the time. – Program Director Ander Russell

The people of Whatcom County have shown tremendous leadership in recent years when it comes to setting ambitious goals and passing trend-setting policies for protecting our climate and environment. Now it’s time to weave them all together with broader goals around the kind of place we want Whatcom County to be. We can and should continue to lead the state when it comes to planning and policy that benefit both people and the planet.

As our Program Director Ander Russell likes to say, “Everything is connected, everywhere, all the time.” There can be no climate resilience without climate justice.

To stay in the loop on the 2025 Comprehensive Plan update process as it evolves, be sure to sign up for our email list and opt in to Action Alerts. We’ll read those big draft documents, distill them and help identify ways we can better realize our vision of a climate-resilient Northwest Washington.

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Header photo: Brett Baunton / Wild Nooksack

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