Lillian Buck

Senior Project Advisor

Michael Medler

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023


Fire, Soils, Lake Whatcom, Water Quality, Erosion


This study investigates the ecological consequences of the South Lake Whatcom Fire, which occurred in August 2023, focusing on soil health and water quality. Lake Whatcom, historically shaped by indigenous settlements and 19th-century logging and mining activities, is a critical water source for Bellingham residents. The fire, sparked by lightning, was managed with hand-dug lines, and contained by September 2023. Soil analysis revealed a significant reduction in the organic matter/duff layer depth in burned areas compared to unburned sections, highlighting potential challenges for soil recovery and ecosystem health. Erosion concerns were raised, emphasizing the need for post-fire management strategies. This study utilized two site visits to collect soil data along the Hertz Trail, comparing burned and unburned areas. Statistical analysis indicates a substantial difference in the depth of the organic matter/duff layer between burned and unburned soils. The findings suggest the fire, though not severe, adversely impacted the topsoil, raising concerns about erosion and soil hydrophobicity. Given the lake's significance as a drinking water source, this study recommends expanded spatial and temporal scopes for ongoing monitoring, including water quality assessments and a comparative study of seasonal streams in burned and unburned areas. The results underscore the importance of understanding the long-term impacts of wildfires on vital ecosystems near populated areas.


Environmental Sciences

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Wildfires--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Watershed; Soils--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Watershed; Water quality--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Erosion--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Watershed

Geographic Coverage

Whatcom, Lake, Watershed (Wash.)




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