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Thursday, September 15, 2011

So Long, Terra!


Goodbye to Washington Wilderness Coalition and to all of the wilderness blog followers!

As the summer comes to an end, so does my summer internship with WWC. As the conservation outreach intern, I had the privilege of going to some of the events around Washington to talk with people about WWC and the work they do in Washington. The U-District farmer’s markets, NW SolarFest, Strawberry Festival, Dave Matthews Band Caravan at the Gorge, and Tilth Harvest Festival were just a few of the events I worked this summer. At these events, I met a wide variety of people and I was able to spark up some interesting conversations with many of them about Wilderness, land preservation, and protecting the environment.

At my first event, Strawberry Festival, I was unsure, quiet, and hardly knew how to answer many of the questions people would ask me. But as the weeks passed and I continued to work with and talk to the awesome WWC employees, my understanding of WWC’s work became clear. Now, I can easily discuss Wild Olympics, WWC’s work in Wild Sky, Wilderness designations, and the Eastern Washington forest plan. Our trivia night at the College Inn Pub attracted more than 50 trivia fans and environmental enthusiasts, and now we are full of obscure facts about Washington wilderness. For example, do you know which president passed the Wilderness Act in 1964? Answer: Lynden B. Johnson.

Writing for the Washington Wilderness Coalition blog let me continue to develop my writing skills throughout the summer, while learning about some serious environmental issues. I had no idea legislation like the McCarthy or Bishop bills even existed, or that such extreme anti-environmental laws like that could even be considered. It really opened my eyes to the important work that groups like WWC do to keep our wild lands secure. This internship was a wonderful opportunity to experience environmental activism both in the office and outside with the community, and I hope to work with Washington Wilderness Coalition again in the future. Thank you for everything to Kim, my boss, who paid me in cupcakes!

Terra Miller-Cassman was WWC's exemplary conservation outreach intern this summer. She has done a wonderful job of expanding WWC's outreach efforts throughout western Washington, and will be going on to complete her senior year in UW's environmental studies program. We sincerely appreciate all of her hard work (and tolerance of Kim's bad jokes) and wish her all the best!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eastern WA Forests - Change of Plans!


Forest management is about to change for important areas in Eastern Washington. The Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests are in the process of updating their forest plans, which will determine how these eastern Washington wild lands will be managed for the next two decades. Every 10-15 years or so, National Forests like the Wenatchee-Okanogan and Colville National Forests are required to undergo revision, under the 1976 National Forest Management Act. A proposed action for the forest plan was recently released and is available for public comment through September 28, 2011.

So why should we care about an Eastern Washington forest plan? The updated plans will cover more than 5 million acres of land, including several designated Wilderness areas. It will also include important management issues, such as additional Wilderness recommendations, inventoried Roadless areas, off-road vehicle travel and land designations which could impact wildlife habitat. For me, however, an important reason is my annual summer escapes to the great weather and endless backpacking opportunities I get to enjoy there. Eastern Washington is the perfect little 3-day weekend escape for us Western Washington residents. I want to know that the plans for the next 15 years in these forest areas will preserve the natural beauty I have the privilege to enjoy when I travel east. No matter what part of Washington we call home, we all are affected by what goes on in any part of our state.

My feelings for eastern Washington run deep – my favorite getaway is Banks Lake, near the Grand Coulee Dam and just west of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The camping here is less populated then Lake Chelan, but still offers sunny weather, nearby hiking, and any water activity you could ask for. It is the perfect location for my family summer vacation- a tradition proudly carried on throughout the last 5 years. Our favorite camping spot just happens to be on a hill top, where we have the most privacy. The only problem with this location is that the winds at night turn into furious gusts, which like to blow from all angles at my very tiny 2-man tent. Every year, I fall asleep at night to the soft touch of my tent walls crumbling down on top of me. Oh, the joy of desert camping!

These upcoming forest plan revisions are quite significant – in the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act, legislation added that the Forest Service was not allowed to recommend wilderness areas in the first round of Forest planning. Therefore, the upcoming forest plan is the first time (in Washington State) that the Forest Service will make recommendations for wilderness-quality lands for Congress to consider. This is truly a chance to set the precedent for wilderness designations and give more deserving places the chance to be permanently protected for current and future generations to enjoy.

The public comment period for the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests Forest Plan Revision Proposed Action has been extended to September 28th. To submit your comments and see WWC’s recommendations for the proposed action, please visit our web site.

Terra Miller is WWC's conservation outreach intern for the summer of 2011. She can be reached at terra@wawild.org.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Adventures in Truth… Ground Truth, That Is.


Armed with maps and a camera, my mother and I set off to the Olympic National Forest. More than just hikers in the woods, on this excursion we were ground truthers assisting the Wild Olympics Campaign. We envisioned ourselves as detectives, in search of five decommissioned or to-be-decommissioned road segments. Our mission: to photograph and document the status of old legacy logging roads, which are proposed to be included in potential wilderness areas. Our camera battery was charged and water bottles filled to the brim – nothing could stop our fact-finding mission!

Only – we never found the road segments. Charting our location on the map, we slowly followed the gravel road, keeping our eyes peeled for the brown Forest Service road markers. We retraced our steps – to no avail. Not only were road markers absent, we couldn’t even find evidence there ever were road segments leading off the main road. Even as someone trained in GIS, I couldn’t see a single piece of evidence that these roads had ever existed, aside from the black lines demarcated on the original map.

Although we were slightly disappointed about our inability to find and document the road segments, our sleuthing work did provide some important information. The point of ground truthing is to provide on-the-ground data, which cannot be determined from maps. By completing the ground truthing process, Washington Wilderness Coalition can better ensure that the boundaries of the proposed Wilderness areas in the Wild Olympics campaign are accurate and defendable. By designating wildlands as official Wilderness areas, the land will receive the highest form of federal protection for land.

Generally, Wilderness areas are roadless, with minimal human presence, provide recreational opportunities, and have features of scenic, ecological, educational or other significance. However, the Wild Olympics proposal is looking to include a select group of targeted roads, which are slated by the Forest Service to be decommissioned or converted to trail, in order to stitch fragmented landscapes together. In some cases, as we found out, what appears as solid lines on a map are actually long ago reclaimed roads or trail conversions.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson couldn’t have done a better job than my mom and me. You can’t document something that doesn’t exist. The forest has grown over the decommissioned roads, taking back its right to the land, further proving the strength of the natural world and proving its worth of a Wilderness designation.

Mission: COMPLETED!

To learn more about the Wild Olympics Campaign, go here.

If you would like to participate in a Ground Truthing mission, please contact Katie Clifford at katie@wawild.org.

Sarah Gruen is WWC's summer wildlands research intern. She completed her degree in geography at UW last year and has been with WWC since June.

Picture caption: While we didn’t find the road segments, we did find a road that had been decommissioned and converted to trail. Here I am at the stunning, 130-foot Murhut Falls!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roadless Runner takes on Cutthroat Classic














In early July, I was researching events to include in the second annual Washington’s Great Outdoors Week celebration. My research focused on events that would take place in Inventoried Roadless Areas, which brought me to the Cutthroat Classic, a 11.1 mile trail race put on by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). This event made me grin for two reasons: it would take place in the Liberty Bell Roadless Area in the Okanogan National Forest and it was a spectacular trail run. Our tireless Conservation Associate, Katie, called the Cutthroat event planner later that week and I toyed with the idea of actually running the thing. STA graciously agreed to have the Cutthroat Classic included in Great Outdoors Week. I put my name on the registration waitlist (the event fills up quickly every year), figuring that nothing would come of it. Three weeks before the race I was invited to officially sign up, so I did.

Nearly a week has gone by since I ran in this event – and I CANNOT WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR!

“Utter Glee”

“Delightful”

“Delicious Runner’s High”

“Pretty Much the Perfect Morning Activity for Me”

That sums up my feelings for the Cutthroat Classic.

It wasn’t all roses, of course. Running up 2,000 ft was challenging, and I failed to remain upright during the 2,400 ft decent (I took a bit of a tumble just before mile 7, which resulted in some pretty impressive scrapes and bruises). Those bumps were minimal compared to the gratitude I felt for having a place like the Liberty Bell Roadless Area protected (for now) from resource extraction, road-building, ORV use and mining. I wish I had worn some manner of fancy head camera so that you could all see the in-your-face wildness of Cutthroat Pass.

There’s actually a lot going on policy-wise with the Liberty Bell Roadless Area right now. The Forest Management Plan for Eastern Washington forests, which includes the Wenatchee-Okanogan and Colville National Forests, is in its early stages of revision. Forest planning affects recreation, roads, vegetation and wildlife, and wilderness; it’s a big deal. To learn more about the planning process and what the current draft of the new Eastern Washington Forest plan looks like, visit our site.

Even crazier is the proposed bill to remove protections for roadless areas nationwide. Nearly 60 million acres nationwide and 2 million roadless acres in Washington may be opened up to logging, road-building, ORV use, oil and gas development and other destructive operations if roadless protections are repealed. Visit our site to learn more about how and why this threat is happening.

It is my hope that the smart actions of those concerned with protecting wild places will trump the efforts of those with more blasé or destructive attitudes towards public lands. For now, I will continue to feel lucky that gorgeous wild places exist, for my ability to get my body to these gorgeous places, and for having the time and resources to do so. And I highly recommend you all start training for next year’s Cutthroat Classic right now!

Christine Scheele is WWC's volunteer coordinator and fearless Roadless runner. For more information on the Cutthroat Classic or volunteer opportunities at WWC, contact Christine at christine@wawild.org.