Thursday, April 10, 2014

Start of the Fire Lookout Season

The Mountaineers Everett Branch's Lookout and Trail Maintenance Crew’s 2014 season has begun! Member Bruce Wolverton describes 'opening season' at the Mt. Pilchuck lookout:

In my world, spring means the beginning of another amazing season of maintenance work some of our State's lookout towers. This weekend marked our last big haul to get foundation lumber and supplies moved up to Mt. Pilchuck for a week’s worth of work. We started at the Verlot Ranger station, getting the materials and supplies at large beams ready to be helicoptered up to the lookout. This was quite a logistical undertaking, as everything had to be weighed and marked so that pilot would know exactly how much he could take with each flight.
Replacement beams ready to be weighed.
More materials for work on the Pilchuck Lookout
Our hike up started early in the morning as we wanted to get a spot ready for the pilot to land the equipment and large beams. Unfortunately, as soon as we got up there, clouds surrounded the area, making it impossible for the pilot to drop off our needed supplies. There was plenty of other smaller prep work to be done, so we all got busy until evening. 
Clouds surrounding the Lookout - beautiful!
Two Mountaineers members replacing decking.
We woke up the following morning and radioed the helicopter to see what time they could try to make the drop. After a short breakfast we could hear the chopper coming up through the valley carrying the load - and then the clouds came in again. Communication around this went back and forth all morning, until our batteries started to run out. The chopper was able to fly up, with no load, to bring us new batteries so we could continue to communicate. Dropping off the radio equipment, visitors and sightseers went running towards the helicopter like it was Santa giving away pieces of candy – a very funny sight!

Some of the 'smaller' projects we took care of over the weekend included painting and replacing decking and railing pieces. A low point of the weekend was finding a section of decking that leads out onto a large rock which some campers decided to use as a fire pit. What a bummer that some folks chose to leave such a negative impact. We worked on this section, too – it’s safe to walk on again!
Vandalized section of decking 

The loads were finally able to be dropped off during the week when there was clear weather and we look forward to tackling some of the bigger projects up there! 

Hope these photos help illustrate the beauty that Washington's lookout towers offer to all of us!

- Bruce Wovlerton, Mountaineers member, Everett Branch

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Full Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2015?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the nation’s premier conservation and outdoor recreational access funding program, established by Congress 50 years ago. 

photo: American Whitewater
Since then, more than $530 million of LWCF has been used to protect Washington's most iconic outdoor places like Mount Rainier, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Columbia Gorge, and wildlife refuges across the state. At all levels of land management – federal, state and local – LWCF investments are essential to outdoor recreation, economic growth, and protecting natural areas important to us.

LWCF is unique from other public lands funding in that it doesn't use any taxpayer dollars – it is completely funded by a small part of royalties that come from offshore oil and gas drilling. 

Every year, $900 million of the billions of dollars that US Treasury gets from offshore drilling is set aside for Fund. However, many of these funds, over $ 18 billion, have been diverted elsewhere. 

The Mountaineers considers LWCF a vital resource for outdoor recreation and conservation, and we advocate for full funding through our partner, Washington Wildlife and RecreationCoalition. (You can learn more about the LWCF on their website.)

Currently there is significant support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the federal level:

Needless to say, there is a lot of positive work being done towards fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. You can join in by asking your elected official to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2015 and thank Senator Murray for her work. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Olympic National Park: Wilderness Draft Alternatives

Olympic National Park (ONP) recently moved up the 5th most visited National Park in the United States! ONP had 3,085,340 recreational visitors in 2013. In comparison, Mt. Rainier National Park reported only 1,148,552. (For more, check out this Seattle Times article). For those that know the park, this probably comes with no surprise. As the Park Service often boasts, stunning mountain vistas, ocean tidepools, and some of the largest tracks of ancient forests left in the U.S., make spending time in ONP like visiting three parks in one!

Based on this popularity, finding a balance between minimizing recreationists’ impact while continuing to have recreational access is a priority for The Mountaineers. Read on for information on the Park's Wilderness Stewardship Plan.

Olympic National Park Stewardship Plan Draft Alternatives

With 95% of the Park being designated Wilderness, the Wilderness Stewardship Plan and Environmental Impact Statement that the Park is working on will have long-term impact on conserving this amazing place. The Park undertook public scoping for the plan in the spring of 2013.  The Mountaineers submitted comments on the plan (dated 05.14.13). The Park received 260 total correspondences, from which they developed a range of draft alternatives. Read their summary of alternatives and read more about their planning process on their website

The Park Service is asking you to weigh in!
You can submit comments on the draft alternatives:

- Mail them to: 
Sarah Creachbaum, Superintendent
ATTN: WSP Preliminary Draft Alternatives
Olympic National Park
600 E. Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362  

- Attend one of a series of public meetings 

Comments are being accepted through May 17, 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dirt roads, clean water and national forests? Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative to the rescue!

By Marlies Wierenga, Pacific NW Conservation Manager for WildEarth Guardians and WWRI Coordinator

Passage of the Northwest Forest Plan in the mid 1990s was a turning point for conservation. Not only did spotted owls and salmon begin to have a chance at survival but the land and water they depend on were given the ability to heal. Federal, state, local, private landowners across the state stepped up to do their part and everyone lived happily ever after. Right?

Well, not exactly. In 2006, six years after the Forest Service signed an agreement with the Washington State Department of Ecology (WSDE) to bring its roads up to standard by 2016, little work had been done.  SWDE – as the administrator of the Clean Water Act in the state – was obligated to do something. State and large private timber landowners were well underway with meeting their road agreements in the Northwest Forest Plan, but federal lands were falling far behind.

Instead of slapping the federal forests with fines, WSDE joined a coalition of state agencies, tribes and recreation/conservation NGO’s (including The Mountaineers) – which became the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI). The coalition agreed that the Forest Service wanted to uphold their agreement – they just didn’t have the funds to do so. The WWRI met with Congressman Norm Dicks and soon “Stormin Normin” was providing the lead (and Congress followed) to secure federal funding for road management. The Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program (LRT) began! This funding provided the Forest Service the help they needed to get started.  In the first year, Congress appropriated $40 million to the program, of which $3.5 million came to forests in Washington State.

Before: Mt. Loop Highway in the Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. By the white poles on the left is a culvert that was rusted out. The road slope was caving in, making the roadway too narrow and adding sediment of the river.
After: LRT dollars were used to replace the rusted culvert with a bigger one that can handle more water during storms and will prevent the road from washing away. The side of the road was reinforced with a rock wall to gain back road width and make it safer to drive.
But how does this program help clean water? 
Forest roads were first built decades ago to access timber harvest sites and were not designed to last forever. With all the rainfall in Western Washington, water is a problem. Water runs along ditches along the sides of the road, over the road, through culverts under the road and often pours straight into streams – carrying all the dirt it picks up along the way. This can add up to dumptruck after dumptruck of sediment, which not only pollutes the water but buries spawning grounds of threatened salmon. Because these roads are old and often built in the wrong places, when winter storms come through, the roads can wash away or become victims of landslides. Dirty streams, buried fish eggs and loss of access to trails and campsites – rather bleak picture.

The good news is that these problems can be solved – through programs such as Legacy Roads and Trails. LRT is a targeted program, aimed at improving water quality, but funds multiple road-related projects, such as:
  • Road maintenance and storm-proofing projects – to increase the ability to ‘weather’ powerful storms and ensure access to places we love.
  • Road decommissioning projects – to remove unneeded roads and reduce the delivery of sediment to streams (often these roads are spur roads or old roads that are already closed).
  • Road relocation projects – to move roads out of the floodplain where they can be washed out. 
  • Aquatic passage projects – to replace small culverts under roads with much larger culverts which allow fish to move easier up and downstream (and also improves the roads resilience during a storm).
  • Bridge projects – to replace old bridges with newer bridges that are safe for our cars to use.
  • Trail projects – to maintain/improve trails or convert roads to trails where it makes sense.
Legacy Roads and Trails is not a permanent program.  Each year the WWRI coalition shows its support and encourages our Senators and Congresswomen/men to continue funding for the program.  In last years budget, the program was cut by 22%, which makes it even more difficult to get projects done.  Ongoing, reliable funding is desperately needed.

If you’d like to help, here are some ways to get involved:
  • Contact Senators Murray or Cantwell, or your Congressional representatives and let them know you recognize the problem, you use roads to access many places in federal forests, and you support adequate funding for Legacy Roads and Trails.
  • Be another set of eyes for the Forest Service: with thousands of miles of roads, they can’t keep track of everything.  If you see a plugged culvert or road washout or other road maintenance problem, let your local district ranger know.
 For more information and numbers on these issues and project, visit the WWRI website or read this great report on the first five years of the Legacy Roads and Trails program.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hurricane Ridge Road Winter Access

Snowshoeing in Olympic National Park; photo credit NPS 
As winter is still in full effect in most of our mountains, access for recreational opportunities in ONP continues to be a priority for many folks.

Hurricane Ridge Road is the primary access point for winter recreation in Olympic National Park. The road is open throughout the summer, and on weekends, weather-permitting, in the winter. Historically, the Park was able to keep the road opened and plowed throughout the winter, but budget cuts over the past decade have limited access. 

Limited access to the park in the winter impacts outdoor recreation and the economic multipliers recreationists bring to local communities. A coalition of local and regional citizens, elected officials, and business that are advocating for seven-day a week winter access to Hurricane Ridge. For more information, visit Access the Ridge and Olympic National Park’s website.