After John Beal returned to Seattle from the Vietnam War, he and his family often picnicked on a wooded hillside where a large pond fed a meandering stream. Twelve years ago, developers bought the property and sold it to a sand-and-gravel pit operator.
"I watched over a period of five years
as it was absolutely devastated," says Beal. "No one said a word
about it and then it was just gone. That's what made me decide that
I was going to start standing up for these water systems."
Since then, Beal and his I'M A PAL
(International Marine Association Protecting Aquatic Life)
foundation, which works to restore streams, have received awards
from the United Nations and Seattle Audubon Society. Beal is an
innovator in two areas: urban habitat restoration and forging
cooperation among business, government and environmentalists. His
labors have taken place in one of the Pacific Northwest's most
industrial areas: the South Park district of
Fifty years ago, the Duwamish River,
which runs past Boeing and other major industries in Seattle, was
home to mighty fish runs of coho, chum and king salmon, and
steelhead and cutthroat trout. The fish swam out of the Duwamish
into the spawning channels - Hamm Creek and Ninety-Sixth St. Stream
- that crisscross Beal's neighborhood.
Seattle's industry rapidly expanded during World War II, the
resulting pollution virtually destroyed the fish runs. The spawning
streams were turned into a wasteland until Beal began to restore
Beal, a big man with shaggy-dog gray hair,
has made almost daily visits to his streams for over a decade.
There, he has performed all the nitty-gritty tasks of habitat
restoration: taking away tires, refrigerators and hazardous waste;
bringing in trees, plants, fish, birds and mammals.
Now the three-and-a-half miles of stream once
again host beavers, great blue herons, catfish and frogs. This year
Beal counted 60 spawning salmon making their way up the
In cooperation with the State Department
of Wildlife and regional water quality agencies, Beal has taken a
number of steps to clean up pollutants and reduce sediment in the
streams. Sediment is the enemy because it can smother eggs which
salmon or trout deposit in a stream's gravel. Beal constructed a
series of small dams and ponds to trap sediment at the top of
Ninety-Sixth St. Stream.
The dams "slow the water
down and allow the sediment to fall out," says state biologist Phil
Schneider. Eventually, Beal says, he'll dig out the soft gray mud
which is filling up his ponds and haul it
Beal also combats sediment, erosion and
pollution by planting native vegetation like watercress, lady fern
and water lily in and around the streams. Schneider says watercress
"can trap sediment and actually uptake pollutants and improve water
quality." He also says the plants provide the stream with a scent
for salmon to home in on and follow when they are returning to
When Beal began his cleanup efforts he
discovered that some businesses were illegally dumping hazardous
waste into the streams. So he went door-to-door in his
neighborhood, talking with area companies about their
waste-disposal practices, and discovered that many felt overwhelmed
by the complexity and expense of
Beal responded by putting together a
coalition of local businesses and government agencies which set up
the Environmental Co-op of South Seattle. The idea behind the co-op
was simple. Through forming a kind of buyers' cooperative, the
businesses hope to negotiate better prices from hazardous waste
handlers than any single company could receive on its
The co-op is trying to set up milk runs,
where a hazardous waste hauler will go from one member's business
to another's, all on the same day, and pick up enough waste to
qualify for a bulk discount. Lower prices will reward the
businesses which are in compliance and, the co-op hopes, attract
those that are illegally dumping.
Though still in
its infancy, the co-op represents a promising trend in an era where
business, government and environmentalists are so frequently mired
in conflict. Last fall, the co-op received public and private
grants to expand its activities.
Does this mean
Beal will end up spending more time in co-op meetings than out on
the stream? It doesn't seem likely. Beal says he needs to work
outdoors to feel right with the world.
information, contact I'M A PAL at 742 South Southern, Seattle, WA
* George Howland
The writer free-lances out
of Seattle, Washington.