Transition is about how to meet the challenges of a changing climate and resources in the future. It is very valuable to see how people have adapted to such challenges in the past. By looking at the archaeology, geology and historic record of our area we can see how much has changed over the last 15,000 years and how humans responded to those changes.
During the last Ice Age, Western Washington was covered with ice two miles thick as far south as Olympia. As it melted and retreated northward, the water pooled in the Puget basin and flowed over a low pass near Shelton and flowed down the present Chehalis drainage to the ocean. Further warming of the climate had the glaciers retreat north of the strait of Juan de Fuca. As the oceans rose with the melted ice water the ocean penetrated the strait and flooded the land below the present 400 foot land level. About 9000 years ago all the lower elevation land of Skagit and Whatcom county was under salt water. The Chuckanut and Blanchard hills were islands surrounded by ocean. The calving icebergs from the glacier were melting and depositing a hundred feet of marine clays over the present Alger valley. The Samish river drained the entire west flank of Mount Baker. The enlarged river carved and filled a large valley and deposited the hundred foot tall hills of gravel near Butler Hill where the river met the edge of the ocean.
The climate was cold and dry near the retreating face of the glaciers. Dry grassland supported Mammoths, mastodons and other mega-fauna. Archeological digs from 9000 years ago point to human activity over a wide range of Western Washington. Near Sequim a dig uncovered a mammoth skeleton with a stone spear point logged in it's spine. Beautiful Clovis spear points were found in an orchard near Wenatchee. Charcoal from campfire rings near Cascade Pass between Lake Chelan and the Skagit drainage show travel between the regions. It shows that humans were hunting large game and surviving under these conditions.
Digs near Granite Falls 7000 years ago show evidence of charred remains of acorns in a campfire. The forest had returned from further south but was adapted to a drier climate than present. Hunter gatherers had lost the mega-fauna and dry steppes but adapted to dry forests and prairies to forage.
4500 years ago the ocean was still 30 feet higher than present. The entire present delta was a shallow saltwater bay. Large shell middens of that age show that humans were starting to take advantage of the shellfish now available. It is uncertain if a new group moved into the area or if new ideas of harvesting spread to the people already there. In the same era the climate was getting wetter and the red cedar that is associated with northwest native culture was just starting to be found over much of Western Washington. Prairies that had formed during a dryer time that was used for harvesting game and root crops had to be periodically burned to keep the trees and shrubs from taking over.
By 4000 years ago much of the present coastline and river deltas were formed. The forests and vegetation were similar to what the earliest white settlers encountered. The natives utilized the cedar trees for housing, canoes and storage containers. A village buried by a landslide near Ozette shows the wide range of artifacts used in a more sedimentary subsistence life.
Over 200 years ago Europeans brought a wide swath of changes to the area. Traders from the Hudson Bay company brought trade goods of iron and different domestic plants like potatoes that were acquired by the natives. But the biggest changes were the introduced diseases. Smallpox and measles killed all but one child from two villages on the Samish River prairies in the 1830. Further epidemics in 1847 reduced the Samish population to 150 people. They moved from Samish Island to a homestead on the west shore of Guemes Island in the 1870's. The earliest white homesteaders encountered a depopulated landscape. Blanket Bill Jarmin homesteaded with his Klallam wife in the 1850s on what is now Jarmin or German Prairie on Prairie Rd. This was the site of the former Samish Indian village.
Most of the land was covered by large cedar and fir trees. In the 1890's much of this land was acquired by large lumber companies. A sawmill was built in Blanchard to start turning these big trees into lumber. The Bloedel Donavan timber company bought 10,000 acres that extended from Lake Whatcom to the Samish river. Lumber camps were set up at Alger and Belfast and tied together by rail to bring the logs to the sawmill in Bellingham. As the trees were cleared the land was sold for Chicken and dairy farms in the flatter areas of Alger and Belfast. The barns and older houses in the area date to the early 1900s as the land was converted to pasture. The lumber camp of Alger changed into a village for the area farmers. The school, grange, church and businesses served the area while the local towns of Burlington and Sedro-Woolley were a long trip away.
As old 99, and I-5 roads were built much of the economic activity shifted to outside the area. New residents could commute to jobs and shop further away. Farming of some land was abandoned on the wet clay soils. Limited haying was continued in Alger and larger farms still work the more fertile land of the Samish River delta lands. Logging of second growth forests provide a few jobs as the logs are taken longer distances to be milled. Small businesses and larger ones like the casino and Skagit Speedway are dependent on people traveling from outside the area.
Presently there is a population of several thousand who are mostly supported from income outside this area and fed from farms far afield. As the climate changes to a dryer summer and wetter winter and the cost of transportation increasing we will have to look to the resources of our local area to support ourselves. The geologic and historic land use determine what resources are available. People have adjusted to extreme climate and resource changes before and we and our descendants will in the future.