Wild Cat Reach

270 acres of some of the finest salmon spawning habitat on the Nooksack River. Old growth Sitka spruce trees, two tributaries and nearly 2 miles of river frontage.
Location: Glacier

Wildcat Creek joining the North Fork Nooksack River.

Wildcat Creek joining the North Fork Nooksack River.

Wildcat Reach is a 270-acre site near Glacier on the south bank of the North Fork Nooksack River. This diverse and dynamic property provides a home to an assortment of wildlife.

More than a century ago, much of this Steiner family property was part of a small town and lumber mill. After the mill disappeared, the  family owned the land for over 100 years, managing it for timber with two small Christmas tree stands. In 2006, driven by a personal connection to the property’s magnificent stand of old growth Sitka spruce, family member Jake Steiner worked with Whatcom Land Trust to ensure permanent protection of the property. To Jake, the trees were “part of the old days,” when the hillsides and river bottoms were populated with similar giants.

Sitka Spruce on the North Fork Nooksack River

Sitka Spruce on the North Fork Nooksack River.

Born in Bellingham in 1918, Jake Steiner came home from the hospital to the Steiner family property on the now-defunct Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad. Little did he know that he was beginning a quiet, lifelong mission to protect the 12-acre stand of Sitka spruce on the family property.

As he grew, Jake went to work in the woods, moving through the ranks from choker setter to cutter. But despite a lifetime as a logger, Jake never could bring himself to cut the great spruce stand down the river from his home. “One of the reasons I left it – in a thousand years there’ll never be another crop of it like that,” he said. Even when he began to log the second growth timber in the 1970s, he didn’t touch the spruce. Years later, he reminisced that didn’t know then what a “rare find” they truly were.

“They cleared everything out down in the river bottoms. That’s about the only trees left anymore,” Jake said in an interview with The Steward in 2007. “I cut some pretty good sized stuff. I was just kind of reluctant to cut’em because I couldn’t find any more. I held my feet when it came to cuttin’em.”

The big spruce are just part of the ecosystem that make Wildcat Reach one of the largest and most important functioning salmon habitats in private ownership along the North Fork Nooksack River. Eight species of salmon and trout use the waters here, including three species listed as threatened. This one-of-a-kind tract of land along the North Fork provides incredible habitat for many other types of wildlife including cougar, bobcat, bear, coyote, elk, deer, beaver, small mammals and several kinds of owls and other birds. Whatcom Land Trust has partnered with the Nooksack Tribe to improve conditions for the fish.

Jake Steiner stands on the far left of this photo of a skeleton crew send in to finish things up at Warnick Mill after hard times hit in 1938-1939. A mischievous friend of Jake's is bending his nose over.

Jake Steiner (far left) was part of a skeleton crew at Warnick Mill after hard times hit in 1938-1939. (A mischievous friend is poking his nose.)