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Wilderness campaign and forest planning history

Wild, roadless forests on the Colville National Forest qualify to be made part of America's Wilderness Preservation System. Other large parts of this northeastern Washington national forest are best suited to restoration forestry and responsible forest management.

Columbia highlands wilderness. Photo by Eric Zamora

Advocating for the protection of prime wilderness lands in the Kettle Range and Selkirk Mountains of northeast Washington is hardly a new idea. In 1984, several proposed wilderness areas in the Colville National Forest received Congressional scrutiny. Although these high-quality wildlands deserved wilderness protection, all but the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, located in the Selkirk Mountains, were unexpectedly dropped from the Washington State Wilderness Act of 1984, which designated other new wilderness areas across the state.

Almost 30 years later, the Salmo-Priest is still the only protected wilderness in the Colville National Forest. Today, less than 1% of the protected wilderness in Washington State is in the Columbia Highlands. Only 3% of the 1.1 million-acre Colville National Forest is protected wilderness, the lowest percentage of any national forest in the greater Northwest.

Learn more about the Columbia Highlands

Today, we are working to ensure that the final revised forest plan for the Colville National Forest includes a strong set of wilderness recommendations and to engage local elected officials and other stakeholders in working together to develop a balanced plan for the Colville that includes new designated wilderness.

A positive step toward wilderness

  • In 2011, the Colville National Forest (CNF) released its forest plan revision “proposed action,” which is like an early draft of what their plan may look like, which included approximately 100,000 acres of preliminarily recommended wilderness for places like the Kettle Crest, Abercrombie Mtn, and additions to the Salmo Priest Wilderness.
  • The CNF began revising their forest plan back in 2002, including updating their roadless land inventory. The agency identified 21 inventoried roadless areas (IRAs), several of those sharing acres with neighboring national forests like the Okanogan and Idaho Panhandle. Some of these roadless areas had been identified in previous RARE (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) processes. Some, such as Cougar Mountain Roadless Area, were identified by painstaking field and map work by Conservation Northwest and later verified by Forest Service field staff.
  • Aware that Forest Service would soon begin a process for revising the Colville National Forest plan, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition crafted a proposed “Blueprint” for a balance across the forest. This proposal included recommendations for active management and restoration areas and recommended 17 of the 21 roadless areas for wilderness consideration.
  • Between 2006-2007, the Colville National Forest held a collaborative forest planning summit that included a broad cross-section of the public and various interest groups working together to find common ground around the forest plan over a series of day-long public meetings. At these meetings, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC) presented its “Blueprint” draft forest management proposal to Summit participants who endorsed the Blueprint’s Active Management and Restoration Management areas and its management principles, and agreed to support protecting “wilderness characteristics” of inventoried roadless areas (IRAs). The CNF made a commitment to Summit participants to give significant weight to their desires to protect the wilderness characteristics of the IRAs.

The Colville National Forest’s forest plan revision process is ongoing. A draft EIS is expected in early 2013, with a final decision on the plan likely later that year. Read more about the Colville’s forest planning process and wilderness recommendations here.

Columbia Highlands Initiative legislative proposal

  • August 14, 2009 –Senator Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers co-sponsored a forum on Colville National Forest issues that included representatives from diverse interest groups. This panel format discussion spotlighted collaborative successes and broadened the dialogue about a balanced plan for the Colville National Forest that included forestry, recreation, grazing, mining, tribal, and wilderness issues.
  • October 2009 - March 2010 – Conservation Northwest staff and other members of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition participated with other representatives of other interest groups in a series of Roundtable meetings facilitated by staff of Senator Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. At the table in this process were representatives of every major user group. The process yielded agreement between mining and tribal issue committees but not from rancher or recreation committees.
  • In 2010 Conservation Northwest put forward our Columbia Highlands Initiative proposal intended to engage local stakeholders and elected officials to work together and come up with a balanced plan to protect wilderness and recreation opportunities and restore forests and wildlife habitat. The legislative part of our proposal included a recommendation for designating 215,000 acres of roadless lands as wilderness and new legislated recreation and conservation areas. While the ongoing economic downturn and political polarization have created challenges, we remain optimistic that local community leaders and elected officials could still come together around a balanced proposal for the Colville National Forest.

Read more about our efforts to protect wilderness, recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitat in the Columbia Highlands here.

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