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Agreement reached in the Manastash

Nov 30, 2012
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Nov 30 - Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Conservation Northwest and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest resolved concerns for wildlife, water, and forests in the Manastash near Ellensburg, allowing the Walter Springs Project to move forward.

Agreement reached in the Manastash

South Fork Manastash Creek. Credit: Dept. of Ecology

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Conservation Northwest met with staff from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to resolve the concerns we raised in an appeal to the Walter Springs Project. "We both came to the table looking for a solution rather than a debate," said conservation associate Jen Watkins. "The end result of our agreement is a better project that benefits fish, wildlife, and nearby communities."

"The end result of our agreement is a better project that benefits fish, wildlife, and nearby communities."

That’s good news for wildlife. The Manastash area, just south of Interstate 90 near the city of Ellensburg, is important to wildlife moving within the Cascades, from the Yakima elk herd to cougars to spotted owls. The importance of the Manastash was recognized early on. It was included in the land conservation successes of The Cascades Conservation Partnership.

Today, according to the Forest Service, the Manastash watershed is in poor shape. It functions at "unacceptable risk" to aquatic resources, reducing water quality and storage: "native surface roads in the watershed are believed to be contributing to high sediment levels." It needed help.

The Walter Springs Project, originally proposed in 2007, aimed to reduce the risk of large-scale fire by reducing small wood on the ground and other fuels that “ladder” fire upward. We’ve been engaged since the project’s inception to ensure that the project restores the forest, reduces the number of roads, and improves the health of the watershed.

The project presented an opportunity to display what "restoration" projects would look like under the forest's 2010 Forest Restoration Strategy.   

Unfortunately, the decision released this September fell short, and we filed an appeal in hopes of reaching a better resolution for the forest. In an appeal resolution letter received this week, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest said, "we heard your concerns and interests that this legacy project missed the mark with the Forest Restoration Strategy (both on paper and in design) and as such, would not serve as a good example for other legacy projects."

The result: The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest offered to remove acres from commercial harvest that were in suitable spotted owl habitat and aquatically risky locations, preventing loss of canopy coverage and impacts from construction of two temporary roads. They also offered additional measures to reduce the risk to aquatics and wildlife habitat, while committing to restore several segments of unauthorized roadway before any project disturbance begins. They will conduct a Minimum Roads Analysis for the Manastash watershed in 2015, with the intent to follow this with a decision document pending funding.  

"We resolved our most important issues through this process, allowing the project to move forward," concluded Jen Watkins. "The agreement improves the Walter Springs Project, while committing the Forest Service and Conservation Northwest to continued collaboration in the larger Manastash landscape."

Learn more about our work to restore national forests.
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