Comments on Snoquera forest project in Central Cascades

Comments on Snoquera forest project in Central Cascades

ConservationNWAdmin / Feb 11, 2019 / Central Cascades, Forest Field Program, Forest Roads, Habitat Restoration, National Forests

As part of our work in the Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program, which works to restore habitat on public lands north and south of Interstate 90 that are vital to wildlife movement between Mount Rainier National Park, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and other wild lands in Washington’s central Cascade Mountains, we encourage policy that develops quality restoration projects and promotes the improved health and function of our local watersheds.

White River in the Greenwater area of the Mount-Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. Photo: Ralph Maughan

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has put forward the Snoquera Landscape Analysis (SLA), a plan for balancing recreational land use, terrestrial and aquatic habitat restoration, and vegetation treatment that will impact the trajectory of this forest for decades to come. This part of the national forest contains the highly-popular yet ecologically degraded White and Green river watersheds, which are high priorities for restoration.

These upper watersheds impact the health of communities downstream. The city of Tacoma depends on high-quality water from the Green River watershed, which also feeds into Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish.

Before the SLA is implemented, the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) was made available for public review and comment. During the 30-day comment period, our team reviewed the Draft EA, taking a close look at the Forests Services’ specialist reports on aquatics, wildlife and transportation to gain a better understanding of how the proposed actions will impact our watersheds and wildlife species.

We submitted a letter to the U.S. Forest Service, supporting the step forward for restoration they propose, but urging the final decision to include additional actions that will take advantage of this opportunity to move the watershed into a sustainable condition. These watersheds require a leap forward, not a step in the right direction.

Good news! This public comment period was recently extended through Friday, February 22. You can comment in support of restoration in the White and Green river watersheds for the benefit of fish, wildlife and communities downstream. Suggested talking points are available below!

The high-quality analysis done by the Forest Service and partners has established not only the need for restoration, but the case for thinning on thousands of acres to improve forest structure and connectivity. By retaining larger trees on the landscape and opening up overly-dense and dark homogenous stands, the forest’s characteristics will move toward a greater structural complexity. In the long-term, this will result in an increase in large, connected core habitat with mature trees that benefit several species of concern:

  • Marbled murrelets, who rely on broad branches for nesting, will benefit from an increase of approximately 89 percent in suitable habitat.
  • Fishers who are just starting to recover through reintroduction efforts will benefit from more complexity, as they are dependent upon foraging habitat in older, mature forests.
  • Black-tailed deer and elk (American or Rocky Mountain elk are primarily found in this forest, but some hybridization with coastal Roosevelt elk is present) will benefit from increased forage and reduced road density.
  • In-stream woody debris, ample riparian buffers, retention of shade trees near streams, and decommissioning unnecessary roads will benefit aquatic ecosystems. Puget Sound Chinook salmon, bull trout and steelhead, all listed as threatened, and other anadromous salmon species in particular will benefit from increased stream complexity and reduced sediment loading and in-stream temperatures.

Map of Snoquera forest restoration project

Map of the Snoquera Landscape Analysis Project. Click here for a larger version!

Concerns that more needs to be done

Our main critique with the proposed project plan lies in the low number of forest road miles proposed for treatment to reduce risks to fish and wildlife, including decommissioning unnecessary roads. While we support routes for important public access to remain open, less than 5 percent of the 486.6 miles of overall system roads, and about 7 percent of the 150 miles identified as a “high risk to aquatic functions”, are identified for decommissioning. This is insufficient.

High road density increases sedimentation, surface runoff and stream temperatures, all of which impair stream function and increase risks for aquatic species, such as bull trout. Additionally, scientists note that these watersheds are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including a potential increase in flood events and sedimentation, which would put both infrastructure and aquatic systems at a higher risk. A stronger commitment to making measurable improvements to these important watersheds to Puget Sound is needed.

The Snoquera Landscape Analysis plan will benefit core habitat for several species, including marbled murrelets.

We recognize the Forest Service must balance needs between providing recreational opportunities, public access, the needs of quality fish and wildlife habitat and watershed function. We support a sustainable road system that supports public use and recreational access to popular areas like the Greenwater Lakes Trails, Naches Trail and the Norse Peak Wilderness, to name a few.

The Snoquera Landscape Analysis project represents a unique opportunity to make large improvements in the White and Green River watersheds’ function. Through this public comment period, we have requested the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest considers our suggested actions that will improve watershed functions vital to downstream communities and wildlife species alike.

View our full letter here.

 

Please comment today to support increased action in the Snoquera Landscape Analysis. Feel free to copy and paste the below!

Suggested comments to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the Snoquera Landscape Analysis:

To the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest:

The Snoquera Landscape Analysis project has a unique opportunity to make large improvements in the function and health of the ecologically-degraded White and Green River watersheds. To take full advantage of a plan that will benefit wildlife, fish and downstream communities, please consider further restoration action in the final decision, including a significant increase in the number of forest-road miles proposed for treatment.

150 miles are identified as a “high risk to aquatic functions”, but only 7 percent are identified for decommissioning. The failure to restore more miles of these unnecessary roads will result in sedimentation, surface runoff and higher stream temperatures, all of which impair stream function and increase risks for aquatic species.

I support the Forest Service’s efforts to balance the needs of recreation, public access, quality fish and wildlife habitat, and watershed function. Thank you for your considering implementing a sustainable road system by restoring more unnecessary roads for the benefit of fish, wildlife and overall watershed function.

Learn more about our work for healthy forests, watersheds and communities through our Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program.