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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Importance of Access to Wild Lands

By Tom Uniack, Conservation Director, Washington Wild

As Conservation Director for Washington Wild for the last nine years, I have been intimately involved in most wilderness and wild and scenic river proposals around the state. In many cases Washington Wild has played a leadership role in these efforts.

Recently, I have been increasingly confronted with the contention that environmental and conservation organizations are out to “lock up” land and prohibit any access to protected areas whether it be wilderness, a wild and scenic river, or just backcountry. As one local put it, environmental groups, “never saw a road they liked.” Let me set the record straight, in order for Washington Wild to accomplish our mission, we cannot, and are not, against access to the lands we protect. This requires supporting and enhancing compatible recreational access and reasonable means to get to these incredible places. It also means working in good faith with local stakeholders and user groups to craft wilderness and wild and scenic river proposals that address access concerns.

Campaigning for Access 


Access is a critical consideration in the wilderness and wild and scenic river campaigns of which Washington Wild is a part.

While advocating for the Wild Sky Wilderness which became law in 2008 protecting 106,000 acres of federal land near Stevens Pass as Wilderness, we took several steps to ensure recreational access. The Index-Galena Road, a prized access route for locals and backcountry enthusiasts, was excluded and sufficiently buffered from the wilderness boundary to ensure continued access and future road repairs. The Barclay Lake Trail, which is popular with boy scout troops and large church groups was ultimately setback 200 feet from the wilderness boundary to ensure that large-group recreation would be able to continue on this easy day hike.

During proposal development for additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and river protections for the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers (currently moving through Congress), similar accommodations were made early on in the name of access. The proposed Wilderness included no roads and made sure to draw boundaries that did not disrupt existing popular trailheads (like Granite Mountain, Denny Creek, Snow Lake and Talapus Lake) or the roads that access them. The13-mile Middle Fork Trail, which is a prized mountain bike ride every odd numbered day, was set back from the proposed wilderness boundary to ensure that this “mechanized” use could continue but was included in a wild and scenic river designation, which provided a compatible layer of protection for the scenic route. 

The Wild Olympics Campaign, of which Washington Wild is a member, has been working with local communities for the past two years on the Olympic Peninsula to build support, get feedback, and to address concerns for an ambitious wilderness and wild and scenic river proposal. The Campaign has collaborated again with mountain bikers to work toward gaining their support for the proposal as well as excluding five of the six motorized trails from the proposed wilderness. The Wild Olympics proposal does not include any Forest System roads in Proposed Wilderness to ensure that the designations will not conflict with the Forest Service’s travel management plans.

Preserving & Enhancing Recreational Access

Access to these areas sometimes means advocating for repairs to roads that have been washed out or damaged during storms. Washington Wild is currently advocating for the repair of two such roads, both of which are in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest: the Index-Galena Road, which provides access to Wild Sky Wilderness Area, and the Suiattle River Road, which provides access to the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.

Sections of the Index-Galena Road were washed out during heavy flooding in the fall of 2006. Since then the road has been closed at mile post 6.4, which is about 5.5 miles east of the town of Index. This road is a critical access road to Troublesome Creek and San Juan campgrounds, popular with families and primary access to a half dozen beloved trails and routes for hikers, climbers, equestrians, and paddlers. The Index-Galena Road repair Environmental Assessment began in February of this year and Washington Wild was one of six groups that sent a letter to the Snohomish County Public Works office in support of the road repair efforts.

Click here to read our press release regarding the Index-Galena Road repair process.

The Suiattle River Road was washed out during late fall storms in 2003 and 2006. This road is a critical access road to the western side of Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, including access to trailheads, campgrounds, river access for kayakers and rafters, and popular hunting, fishing, and gathering areas, as well as access to tribal lands. The Western Federal Lands Highway Division had come up with a plan to repair the road; however, last year, two conservation organizations filed a lawsuit to stop the road repair citing concerns about environmental impacts. The road repair was put on hold in 2011, but now there is a new 2012 Environmental Assessment for the repair of the Suiattle River Road, which takes into consideration concerns raised in the lawsuit. Washington Wild also supports the repair of this critical access road and was one of 10 conservation and recreation groups who sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration in support of repairing the road.

Click here to read our press release regarding the recent Suiattle Road repair process.

Restoring Watersheds

On the flip-side of the road repair issue is the problem of legacy roads. Legacy roads are those left over from the heyday of logging and have since fallen into disrepair. Such roads can have significant negative impacts on forest watersheds by blocking fish migration patterns if inappropriate culverts are used or are blocked with debris. Unmaintained or blown-out culverts can damage already dwindling salmon runs, habitats, and spawning grounds, and sediment from legacy roads can smother fish eggs. Landslides from damaged roads also degrade drinking water supplies to communities in the watershed. Reclaiming these failing roads through decommissioning and maintaining other access routes for recreation are two of the best ways to restore healthy watersheds, maintain access to these lands and waters, and to create jobs in rural areas. Washington Wild is also a founding member of the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI), a coalition of environmental and outdoor recreation groups and state agencies with the goal of maintaining and reclaiming forest roads to reestablish healthy ecosystems.
 

Washington Wild has always been a strong advocate for maintaining access to wild lands and waters. We want people to be able to enjoy and experience these wild areas in all their natural beauty.

Restoring for Earth Day

Conservation Intern Whitney Cox
gets excited about restoration!
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to volunteer outside! Saturday, April 21st was the Duwamish Alive Restoration Event along the Duwamish River.  This single event brought together more than a thousand volunteers to help restore forests and greenways at 13 different sites along the river, which is one of the most polluted waterways in the country.  Washington Wild staff and volunteers, along with hundreds of others, participated in the restoration efforts at the West Duwamish Greenbelt site in West Seattle.  The West Duwamish Greenbelt is the largest greenbelt in Seattle, and is a vital habitat corridor for wildlife, as it filters and cleans rainwater runoff before it reaches the river.  This site was managed by the Nature Consortium and EarthCorps, and good gracious, do they know how to throw an event!
Oregon Grape

While we pulled invasive Scotch Broom and Hawthorn, musicians roamed around entertaining us.  An exceptionally talented woman belted out melodies on her saxophone, and a tuba player, percussionist, and clarinet player joined together to create an upbeat festival atmosphere.  After lunch, our team demonstrated awesome teamwork while filling buckets and wheelbarrows full of mulch, carrying it downhill, and spreading mulch around native plantings such as Oregon Grape, Douglas Fir, and Salal. We saw wildlife, such as a garter snake, worms, a bald eagle, ladybugs, and middle school students (I kid – these students were fantastic workers).  By the end of our four hours of work, we had transformed several thousand square feet of land - a pretty satisfying feat!

The Nature Consortium employee who managed our group, Phillip, was a dream to work with.  He managed adults and adolescents with skill and humor, stressed the significance of our work on improving the health of the forest and the Duwamish River, and he kept everyone busy and interested in the work.  In his debrief at the end of the day, Phillip asked us to acknowledge that humans are a part of the environment and that we play an important role in preserving it – worthwhile sentiments to bear in mind around Earth Day and throughout our daily lives. 

The day concluded with a gigantic pizza party and more live music.  I am grateful that I was able to spend a gorgeous Pacific Northwest Saturday creating tangible positive changes for our Earth in the company of interesting and hardworking volunteers.  Many thanks to all the people who contributed to making this a fun and successful day!

Christine Scheele is Washington Wild's volunteer coordinator. When she is not wrangling volunteers, you can find her chasing her dogs up mountainsides. Interested in volunteering? Contact Christine at christine@wawild.org.

Whitney Cox shows off her skills - and her Washington Wild t-shirt!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Continued Threats to Roadless Areas

Here we are, back again, talking about impending threats to our roadless areas. At Washington Wild we were very excited when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the national Roadless Rule once again. See our press release on this important development. The court’s decision to deny a motion filed by the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association for a rehearing of the court’s October 2011 decision effectively made the Roadless Rule the “law of the land.”

So how it is possible that there can be more threats to this rule?

Recent legislative attacks are once again threatening the integrity of national roadless area protections. Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has proposed legislation that targets many of our last remaining wild and roadless areas. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581 and S. 1087), would essentially roll back protections for most of the nearly 60 million acres of roadless areas in our National Forest and eliminate the Forest Services’ decades long attempt to balance uses on our federal lands.

Here in Washington State, this legislation would eliminate protections for every acre of our nearly 2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas. These areas include the Dark Divide between Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams and the Kettle Range in the Colville National Forest. The ’Roadless Release Act’ could potentially open up these areas to destructive uses such as road building, commercial logging, mining, and other harmful developments.

Recently, Washington Wild reached out to local faith leaders and businesses in southwest Washington to write their Congressional representative opposing the ‘Roadless Release Act.’ In all more than 50 faith leaders from seven different religious denominations signed a letter expressing their support of roadless forest protections. They were joined in a separate letter by several local businesses. To read our update and both letters, click here.

But wait, there is more…

Another bill in the House and Senate that proposes threats to our national roadless areas is the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Job Protection Act (H.R. 1408 and S. 730). This legislation would give the Sealaska Corporation the ability to select public federal lands beyond what the corporation had chosen previously under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1972. Unfortunately, the lands they have chosen include old growth forests and inventoried roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest. The Sealaska Corporation is notorious for clear-cutting large swaths of mature and old growth forests in Southeastern Alaska decimating local ecosystems, and ruining the livelihoods and economies of nearby villages.

Washington Wild led efforts to produce a letter from local conservation, recreation, sportsmen and faith leaders calling for roadless areas and the old growth forests they protect be removed from the Sealaska bill. Read our press release to learn more about this legislation.

Washington Wild led efforts statewide to advocate for the Roadless Rule and it protections in 1999 and has led efforts in the state to defend it since it was established in 2001. Despite a decade of administrative and legal attacks on this balanced policy, with our national partners we have allowed only 7 miles of new roads in nearly 60 Million acres of roadless forests nationwide.

But no rest for the weary...

Washington Wild has been working hard to defend our roadless areas against these attacks by engaging supporters like you and helping to ensure the implementation of the Roadless Rule here in Washington. We are planning to stand strong against any upcoming attacks such as the ones outlined above. We encourage you to read more about each of these attacks on our Congressional Attacks webpage. Want to get involved and do your part to protect our roadless areas? Join the fight to defend our roadless forests and become a member of Washington Wild today!

Zac Eskenazi is Washington Wild's new Conservation and Outreach Associate. A Seattle native, born and raised in Ballard, he enjoys cooking with friends and family and of course playing in the great outdoors.