Setting the bar for environmental protection: 2023 in review

A look at a year's worth of accomplishments and inspiring moments — for longtime supporters and newcomers to RE Sources alike!
December 12, 2023

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2023 was a year for changing the conversation on regional, and even state-level, environmental protection efforts. From gathering data on unmeasured pollution sources, to developing unique youth programs, to pushing for climate-smart forest management, our team of experts are leading necessary work that wouldn’t otherwise get done.

Of course, these successes are only possible thanks to all of you who volunteer with us, contact decision makers, engage your neighbors, and donate funds to continue this work. Thank you!

Major Milestones

  • Catalyzed regional action on the #1 source of pollution in the Salish Sea: Toxic Stormwater. RE Sources amplified our impact in Bellingham Bay by joining six other cities to create a region-wide Salish Sea Stormwater Monitoring Program. Building on two years of extensive monitoring locally, we launched a wider community science-led stormwater monitoring program with over a dozen volunteers who collect and examine stormwater samples monthly from urban creeks and stormwater outfalls that dump into Bellingham Bay. This information is then used to leverage action by cities to end ongoing pollution of waterways.
  • Pushed for state-level climate and environmental solutions. RE Sources supporters sent lawmakers 5,700 actions urging passage of critical new laws in the 2023 State legislative session, including a key bill supporting climate-smart land use planning and Climate Commitment Act funding for mature forest protection as well as subsidies for low- and moderate-income households afford electric heat pumps.
  • Halted the logging of mature forests in multiple locations and secured lasted protections. 2023 was a year for catalyzing greater action with allies to “protect the best, restore the best” mature forests throughout our region. This included hundreds of local residents taking action and participating in the August rally that featured Indigenous leaders and elected officials from around NW Washington.
  • Ramped up youth action with the first-ever Youth Climate Summit in northwest Washington and 25 teens making waves through Youth for the Environment & People (YEP!), a program where high-schoolers work together to explore climate solutions. Five local high school students co-planned the climate summit in August, and almost all presenters were under 25 years old, making this an event truly for youth, by youth.
  • Completed a decade of extensive shoreline monitoring that tracked intertidal and bird species. This information, collected by hundreds of community science volunteers, feeds into policy action to protect and recover the Salish Sea.

Watch and Learn: In addition to the two films below, you can watch even more inspiring and educational videos about the issues impacting our lands and waters: Brokedown Palace: A Forest Worth Protecting, Hope for the Salish Sea.

What’s in the water flowing in to Bellingham Bay? Kirsten McDade is determined to find out.
Hop aboard with Alexander Harris to learn how forest management influences river flows.

More ways the RE Sources community made a difference

Climate Action

  • Partnered with local labor unions to better protect refinery workers as well as our air and waters. We called on Washington state to pass stronger safety rules for oil refineries (known as Process Safety Management) vital for preventing potentially deadly incidents, while also reducing the more common non-fatal incidents of toxic exposures and emergency flaring that releases toxic pollution above the usual limits. 
  • As part of a broad coalition of organizations, we successfully advocated for a new state law, HB 1181, that creates a pathway for local jurisdictions to weave carbon reduction and climate adaptation into their comprehensive plans. These plans guide how, when, and where future development happens. The bill supports counties in developing their own solutions rooted in environmental justice and tailored to their communities. Read more about the 2023 legislative session successes you helped make possible. 
  • Removed barriers to local wind power. Small wind energy systems are growing more affordable and practical to install. This summer, Whatcom County updated the county development code, allowing for local wind power facilities. RE Sources has a representative on the county’s Climate Impact Advisory Committee, and we helped urge the County Council to make this important step to expand clean energy infrastructure and build resiliency locally in the face of climate change.
Land & Water Policy Manager Alexander Harris leads a hike exploring different approaches to forest management in Blanchard State Forest.

Forest Protection and Watershed Health 

  • Successfully urged the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to pause the Brokedown Palace Timber Sale, twice — once in February and again in June, thanks to a combined 16,600 emails sent by 1,457 community members like you. UPDATE as of 12/18/23: DNR permanently protected Brokedown Palace, Bessie Timber Sale and 4 other parcels in the Lake Whatcom Watershed through the state’s new climate policy, the Climate Commitment Act. Thanks to community action both locally and across the state, we protected 650 acres of forest in Whatcom County and 2,000 acres across western Washington.
  • Supported a bill in the legislature, SB 5372, that expands the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to protect state-owned forestlands with high conservation value by revitalizing the “Trustland Transfer Program.”  Your comments to lawmakers paired with our staff’s outreach helped make this possible! With your help, we also successfully shot down bad forest bills that would have undermined the progress DNR has been able to make in the past few years.
  • Successfully advocated for Whatcom County Council to form the “Forest Resilience Task Force,” a round table with representatives from the county, Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, the Department of Natural Resources, the US Forest Service, and various stakeholder interests. The task force will meet for a two period to discuss how public forests should be managed to enhance the resilience of our communities and ecosystems. Our Land & Water Policy Manager, Alexander Harris, was appointed to the task force on December 5.
  • Partnered with the Center for Responsible Forestry to organize the “Rally to Protect Mature Forests,” which corresponded with DNR’s Board of Natural Resources visiting Bellingham for their annual retreat. Hundreds of community members turned out to hear from elected officials, Indigenous leaders, and others about the need to protect mature forests on public land while they’re still here. Here is a video put together by Cascadia Daily News.
  • Worked with the WRIA 1 Planning Unit (stakeholder group for the Nooksack Watershed) to engage Whatcom County Council, asking that the county better integrate land use planning with water resources planning to prevent future conflicts like what happened this past summer when wells serving hundreds of Whatcom County residents went dry.
  • Educated the community about ecological forestry and the climate resilience benefits it offers our region. Educational efforts included a Environmental Speaker Series lecture at WWU, multiple tours through local working forests, and some creative cinematic storytelling to convey important climate and forest science to broader audiences.
Parent and child at Beach clean up
You’re never too young to look after your local beaches.

Salish Sea Protection and Pollution Prevention

  • Held several beach cleanups where over 200 volunteers collected almost 2,000 pounds of trash.
  • Held four public tours of contaminated cleanup sites in Bellingham Bay and Blaine. Each year, our tours are attended by dozens of residents, where folks have a chance to talk directly with agency officials and our staff scientists about how past industrial pollution is getting remediated, and give input on how our communities want the sites to be used in the future. 
  • Elevated community science through our shoreline monitoring program, North Sound Stewards. Over 50 volunteers undertook 125 community science monitoring events alongside staff scientists. They helped measure shoreline ecosystem health, examine sea stars, check ocean acidification monitors, and much more. This data is used by natural resource agencies to better inform management plans of Whatcom and Skagit County’s cherished beaches. We also offered volunteers monthly trainings, presentations, and skill building opportunities. 
  • Monitored and patrolled our rivers, creeks, and marine shorelines. This monitoring, which totaled 158 hours in 2023, helps us notice pollution so we can alert local officials to clean it up. It also allows us to identify pollution hotspots for various types of pollution, and informs where the community needs to focus its pollution prevention efforts.
Youth for the Environment & People (YEP!) students held a clothing swap and raised awareness about fast fashion waste

Educating for the Environment (formerly Sustainable Schools)

  • Partnered with other local nonprofits and the Washington State ClimeTime program, 120 Whatcom County K-12 teachers joined us across our five professional development courses. One awesome highlight: every single teacher who participated in the ClimeTime “Teaching Outside” workshop reported that their confidence increased for facilitating outdoor learning.
  • Connected 25 high school students with avenues for local climate action.
    Our Youth for the Environment & People (YEP!) program, offered  825 hours of climate education and action to students in 2023. The cohorts of students implemented three semester-long projects in the community to address a different climate-related issue of the students’ choosing. YEP! led to a 48% increase in how hopeful students felt that we as a society can address climate change and create a positive future. While hope is awfully hard to pin a number onto, there’s no doubt our youth programming is showing young people they can actually make a difference.
  • Equipped 150 fifth grade students with tools to green their school.
    The students  performed a waste investigation at their school, and about 80 of the students worked to reduce food waste going into the landfill at their schools by improving waste bin signage, volunteering as “lunchroom monitors”, and installing a water bottle refill station.
  • 83 Lummi Nation School students picked up 362 pounds of trash from the beach near their school.
Community members turn out to celebrate the RE Store’s 30th anniversary

Waste reduction at The RE Store

  • Diverted 1,722,200 pounds of building materials from the landfill.
  • In 2023, 90% of our Community Jobs Training Program trainees who completed their work contact found employment or were enrolled in a local college.
  • Our Salvage Services performed 229 free pickups throughout Whatcom County and beyond, saving donors on disposal costs and stocking The RE Store with a variety of usable building materials. Additionally, we were hired for 26 deconstruction projects in 2023.
  • Partnered with Sustainable Connections to build and launch Washington state’s first official “Freedge” shed, a mini food pantry for perishables available to everyone and have helped divert over 8,000 pounds of food waste.
  • Celebrated our 30th Anniversary by having a huge store-wide sale and party with live music, games and more, with attendees completely filling our parking lot.
  • Sold over 10,000 feet of wood flooring — that’s almost three-quarters the height of Mt Rainer and twice the elevation of Artist’s Point!

It’s amazing to see just how impactful this community can be when we step up and advocate for a livable climate, clean water, healthy forests, and thriving communities. Thank you for standing up and making a difference by donating your time, talents and treasure.

With fundraising levels down this year, we need your help to keep this work going in 2024. Please consider making a year-end gift today — gifts will be matched up to $10,000!