Tag Archives: Olympic National Forest

Upper Skokomish designated as ‘properly functioning’ watershed

More than 20 years of removing and reconstructing old logging roads in the Skokomish River watershed has finally paid off with measurable improvement to water quality and habitat, according to experts with Olympic National Forest where millions of dollars have been spent on restoration.

In a U.S. Forest Service project nicknamed “the Big Dig,” contract crews removed nearly 100 vertical feet of road in the South Fork of the Skokomish watershed to remove an eight-foot culvert. The work allowed a mountain stream to flow freely into the Skokomish River. Photo: Kitsap Sun, Steve Zugschwerdt.
In a U.S. Forest Service project nicknamed “the Big Dig,” contract crews removed nearly 100 vertical feet of road in the South Fork of the Skokomish watershed to remove an eight-foot culvert.
Photo: Kitsap Sun, Steve Zugschwerdt

The U.S. Forest Service this week declared that the upper South Fork of the Skokomish is now a “properly functioning” watershed, and the major road-restoration projects are complete.

After writing for years about horrendous problems with sediment washing out of the upper watershed, this news comes as a nice surprise. I’ve been hearing experts talk about water-quality improvements, but this new declaration is a major milestone in the restoration of the entire Skokomish River ecosystem.

“This is a proud and historic occasion for the Forest Service and our many partners who have worked very hard for over two decades to restore this once badly degraded watershed,” Reta Laford, supervisor for Olympic National Forest, said in a news release.

In 2010, the Forest Service classified the South Fork Skokomish as an “at-risk” watershed during a nationwide effort called the Watershed Condition Framework. Several other watersheds in Olympic National Forest also received this designation. See the map at the bottom of this page or download (PDF 5.3 mb) from the Forest Service website.

In 2012, Olympic National Forest designated the upper and middle South Fork Skokomish sub-watersheds as “priority watersheds.“ Forest Service officials pushed forward with action plans containing a list of restoration projects designed to put the watersheds on a path to ecological health.

For your review:

Completion of the key restoration projects in the upper South Fork allowed for the new designation as a “properly functioning” watershed. This marks the first time that any watershed in Olympic National Forest has been upgraded due to completion of all essential restoration projects. Watershed conditions and aquatic habitat will continue to improve as natural processes roll on.

Restoration in the South Fork actually began in the early 1990s, when the Forest Service acknowledged that the region was criss-crossed by a damaging network of logging roads. At nearly four miles of road for every four one square mile of forest, it was one of the densest tangles of roads in any national forest.

In 1994, the Forest Service designated the South Fork Skokomish as a “key watershed” in the Northwest Forest Plan, which called for major cutbacks in logging and received support from President Bill Clinton. Between the early 1990s and 2005, Olympic National Forest completed $10.6 million in restoration work, including $7.9 million for road decommissioning, road stabilization and drainage improvements.

In 2005, the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) was formed among a coalition of more than 20 government agencies, environmental organizations and business groups with diverse interests. The SWAT developed a unified front for promoting restoration projects and seeking funds. Members agreed that the focus on roads should begin with the upstream segments, later moving downstream, while other work was coordinated on the estuary near Hood Canal. Much of the lower area was owned or acquired by the Skokomish Tribe, a critical partner in the SWAT.

Between 2006 and 2015, the Forest Service continued with $13.2 million in restoration projects in the South Fork, including $10.9 million on road problems. In all, 91 miles of roads were decommissioned, closed or converted to trails, and 85 miles of roads were stabilized or improved with new culverts and drainage features.

In 2008, I wrote about the problems and response of the SWAT in a Kitsap Sun story: “Taking (Out) the High Roads to Save the Skokomish.”

Much of the road restoration work was funded by Congress through the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails Program. Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks was instrumental in creating that program, and congressional support has continued under the leadership of Norm’s successor, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Key funding for restoration also has come from the Forest Stewardship program, which uses receipts from commercial timber thinning on forest lands. Other financial support — especially in the lower watershed — has come from the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, I wrote a story for “Wilderness” magazine about how these programs were bringing “green jobs” to the region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an in-depth study of the river’s ecosystem last year and is now seeking funding from Congress for a series of projects in the watershed. Check out Water Ways, April 28, 2016.

To celebrate this milestone for Olympic National Forest, the SWAT will recognize the work at its general meeting Friday at the Skokomish Grange Hall, 2202 W. Skokomish Valley Road. The meeting begins at 9 a.m., and the public is invited.


A tribute to veterans with visits to public lands from coast to coast

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Interior requested photographs of veterans enjoying America’s public lands. Many responded, and the result is the following video, which covers the entire nation. In Washington state, veterans are featured at three locations:

  • Margaux Mange, Army veteran, Mount Rainier National Park
  • Mike Polk, Air Force veteran, Grand Coulee Dam, and
  • Maxine Gresset, Army Nurse Corps veteran, Olympic National Forest

As one YouTube commenter said, “A perfect combination — all those spectacular places and the brave people who defended them.”

Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, entrance fees are being waived at most national parks, national forests, national monuments, national wildlife refuges and other federal lands in Washington state. For details, visit the website of the agency in charge.

Dicks, Murray embrace Olympics wilderness plan

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray have announced their support for a plan that would add 130,000 acres of land to wilderness areas in Olympic National Forest, designate 23 rivers as “wild and scenic” and open the door to adding 20,000 acres to Olympic National Park.

This map shows areas proposed for public wilderness, park and river designations. / Click on image for full map (PDF 10.6 mb).

As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, the proposal is based on a plan put forth by a coalition of 10 conservation groups called Wild Olympics.

Connie Gallant, chairwoman of Wild Olympics, told me that the group has been working with stakeholder and community groups to consolidate support on the Olympic Peninsula. Quoting Gallant’s statement on the website:

“Over the past two years, Wild Olympics has been reaching out to Peninsula communities to build support from diverse local voices, listen to concerns and get feedback on our draft proposal. More than 4,500 Peninsula residents have signed our petition, and nearly 200 Peninsula businesses, farms, faith leaders, hunting and fishing groups, elected officials, conservation and civic groups support Wild Olympics.”

It is not obvious that wilderness is a true water issue — the focus of this blog — but Bill Taylor, vice president of Taylor Shellfish Farms, is fairly convincing:

“The two largest shellfish hatcheries that supply seed to the West Coast industry are located on Hood Canal. Well over 150 jobs are provided in Hood Canal alone by the industry, not including the indirect jobs such as processing, sales and shipping. By protecting Olympic Peninsula forest and river watersheds, we ensure clean and safe water so that shellfish companies can continue to grow and further benefit the economy and ecology of Washington state.”

The above is one testimonial on the Wild Olympics website, which also includes statements by Bremerton’s Mike Hank of Veterans Conservation Corps, Mayor Michelle Sandoval of Port Townsend, Sequim author Tim McNulty of Olympic Park Associates, Hoodsport’s Ron Gold of RG Forestry Consultants, Aberdeen’s Roy Nott of Paneltech and Gardiner’s Dave Bailey of Greywolf Fly Fishing Club and Trout Unlimited.

Wild Olympics was started by Olympic Park Associates, Olympic Forest Coalition, Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and North Olympic Group – Sierra Club. Added later were Washington Wilderness Coalition, The Mountaineers, Pew Environment Group, Sierra Club, American Rivers and American Whitewater.

To counteract the work of the Wild Olympics Campaign, Dan Boeholt of Aberdeen founded Working Wild Olympics, because he does not believe wilderness designations will be helpful.

“We’re arguing that if you put these lands into wilderness, it will restrict public access,” Boeholt told me. “There are miles and miles of roads that would be affected.”

Dicks and Murray say they will propose specific legislation after listening to the public. These meetings have been scheduled:

Port Townsend: Dec. 1, 5 to 7 p.m., Chapel Building, Fort Worden State Park Conference Center.

Shelton: Dec. 2, 5 to 7 p.m., Shelton Civic Center, 525 W. Cota Street.

Port Angeles: Dec. 3, 3 to 5 p.m., Museum at the Carnegie, 207 S. Lincoln St.

Hoquiam: Dec. 4, 3 to 5 p.m., Central Elementary School Library, 310 Simpson Ave.

Skokomish can be considered ‘poster child’ again

In 1988, I took a flight in a Cessna single-engine airplane over the South Fork of the Skokomish River. The trip was offered by Project Lighthawk, an organization that used small aircraft to provide a bird’s eye view of environmental problems throughout the West.

We flew over Hood Canal before reaching Olympic National Forest, where the scene was dominated by extensive brown patches — clearcuts, where all the trees had been removed from mountaintops, valleys and even steep, impassible slopes. Gone were old-growth trees, with trunks up to 6 or 8 feet across.

At the time, The Wilderness Society was working with Lighthawk to estimate how much land had been logged over and how much remained. Their conclusion was that the Forest Service had overestimated the amount of standing timber remaining in the area. Check out the Time magazine article by John Skow from Aug. 29, 1988.

Pictures taken from Lighthawk airplanes helped awaken people across the country to the need to protect remaining old-growth forests, recalled Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. I quoted Mike in a Kitsap Sun story from February of 2009:

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Skokomish issues will get attention this week and next

The Skokomish River is the largest river in Hood Canal and vitally important to the canal’s health. It’s also the most flooded river in the state and home to the Skokomish Tribe. At the moment, there’s a lot of activity taking place with regard to ecosystem restoration.

The Skokomish River is the focus of a reporting project that has been consuming my time lately. Planned as a four-part series, the stories will examine natural values plus the history and future of the Skokomish watershed. The project is scheduled to begin on Sunday and run through Wednesday.

I’d like to apologize for the lack of postings on “Water Ways” last week. As deadlines approached on this project, I seemed to put everything else aside. Now, you’re likely to see a flurry of posts as I catch up on things I’ve been wanting to talk about.

As for the Skokomish, a public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in the Skokomish Valley. For details, check my story in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, which mentions several issues up for discussion: the General Investigation of the river’s functions, a new plan to anchor trees into the banks of the South Fork of the Skokomish, ongoing decommissioning of roads in Olympic National Forest, a study of the functions of Vance Creek and dike removals on the Skokomish delta.

Not listed on the agenda is a discussion about the recent agreement between the Skokomish Tribe and city of Tacoma over the Cushman Dam project. I’d be surprised, however, if this didn’t come up in some fashion. (See my personal observations and details of the agreement in my Jan. 13 blog entry.)

The majority of the real action at the moment involves removing culverts and decommissioning roads on Forest Service lands. I wrote a story about some of these projects for the Kitsap Sun last August.

As an aside, I’m not sure I like the term “decommissioning” when it comes to roads, but I may be stuck with it. The project is usually more than “abandoning” a road, but less than “removal.” Anybody got a better term for it?

Olympic National Forest is now on the flip side

The economics of Olympic National Forest has been turned upside down.

The forest was once the wood basket of the Northwest, generating enough money from the sale of massive fir and cedar trees to build roads, trails and campgrounds — and more roads. The forest generated enough money to support a large staff of foresters and forest rangers and have money left over to support other forests.

Over the years, experts have come to realize that natural systems were often ignored in the effort to get the wood out. And this isn’t just the view of tree-huggers and spotted-owl lovers.

Farmers and residents in the Skokomish River Valley have paid the price of too much logging and road-building in the upper watershed. Shellfish-growers and others who depend on natural resources have suffered, along with fish and wildlife best suited to old-growth conditions.

And so the economics has turned. Now, much of the logging involves commercially thinning second-growth forests to restore old-growth conditions at a faster pace. Under new stewardship programs, the money can be used to decommission roads that are still sending massive amounts of soil and gravel downstream into the Skokomish River and other waterways. Congress is now putting money back into the forest for ecosystem recovery rather than taking money out.

There is a lot more to this story than I was able to tell in today’s Kitsap Sun. It’s a story I’ll be telling for a long time to come.