Lummi Nation accounts for all tideland species

Lummi inventory Delanae EstesThe Lummi Nation is surveying every species living in more than 7,000 acres of tidelands on the tribe’s reservation.

The Lummi Intertidal Baseline Inventory (LIBI), funded by the energy company BP, will be crucial in the event of a catastrophic oil spill from activities associated with four nearby oil refineries: BP and ConocoPhillips in Ferndale, and Tesoro and Shell at Anacortes.

“We want to know what’s living here now, so if there is a spill, we will know the extent of the damage,” said Merle Jefferson, Lummi Natural Resources director. “After the Exxon-Valdez spill, they had no pre-disaster data to compare it to.”

Lummi Natural Resources Department staff inventoried the tidelands in four ways:

  • Monthly shorebird survey;
  • Monthly finfish sampling using a lampara net (similar to a purse seine);
  • Visual survey of geoduck and horse clams; and
  • Dig survey of other species such as hard shell clams, crabs and worms.

They also contracted with the Oregon-based firm Watershed Sciences to measure tideland elevations from the air using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging).

“It’s incredibly ambitious to include everything,” said Craig Dolphin, the tribe’s shellfish biologist coordinating the inventory. “But the LIDAR data and the four surveys have come together to give us great results.”

The dig survey was conducted over a period of four months by four teams of two: a scientist paired with a seasoned clam digger who had traditional ecological knowledge of the area.

The teams dug samples at 366 sites, collecting bags of sand containing eelgrass, clams, worms, and other organisms. The collected samples were taken back to the lab, identified, and counted. So far, at least 150 different species were counted from the dig survey alone, including varieties of clams such as native littlenecks, manila clams, and invasive mahogany clams.

Samples are being preserved and will be used in the native environmental science curriculum at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Indian Reservation.

Lummi tribal member Jessica Urbanec, the first to receive a bachelor’s degree in native environmental science from the college, is helping sort the samples. She plans to do additional research about native littleneck clams.

“Littlenecks were one of our main staples, a traditional food,” she said. “I’m looking at where they live, what substrates they like, what other species affect them.”

The tribe expects to have a final report by the end of the year.

“Eventually, we’d like to expand the baseline inventory off reservation to encompass all of our usual and accustomed fishing areas,” Jefferson said.

For more information, contact: Craig Dolphin, shellfish biologist Lummi Nation, 360-384-2267 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].