Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Human Ecology on the Olympic Peninsula: Mapping Visitor Values

7-9 pm, November 14, 2012
The Mountaineers Program Center, Goodman B
7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

Trail registers, backcountry permits and campground reservations provide the Forest Service with only limited insight into how the public enjoys the land and water resources on National Forests. 



 Human Ecology Mapping or "participatory mapping" offers a promising new, more robust approach to gathering social and cultural data on how National Forests are utilized for recreation and conservation.  On November 14, the public is invited to learn about new methods for mapping human-centered values on our public lands and participate in an interactive mapping session of landscape values and activities of visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, conducted by researchers from Portland State University and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. 
U.S. Forest Service Day Use and Areas of Interest Map,  www.fs.usda.gov

  Bring your personal stories and thoughts about the places you love on the Olympic Peninsula.  Results from the research will be used to identify areas of high value and intense use for future land management and planning activities. 

For more information about this event, contact Sarah Krueger, sarahk@mountaineers.org.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Calling ALL Volunteers

  OLYMPIC HOT SPRINGS CAMPGROUND REVEGETATION VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

  The Olympic Hot Springs campground, located at Boulder Creek in the Elwha
  River valley, is being transformed into a wilderness camp area.  This
  year we have 12,000 plants to plant on-site.  The work at Boulder Creek
  campground is preparing the soil for planting (tilling by hand), planting
  the plants that have been raised in the park greenhouse/nursery, hauling
  water and watering the transplants.  We fit the work to the interests and
  level of physical labor that people are comfortable with. 

  If you can  help us with any of these tasks you would be contributing to an exciting
  project and your work would be greatly  appreciated!


We'll be working on the project in October and likely November.  


  
Friday, October 12-14, then Wednesday, October 17 through Saturday October 20.  People can come
up and back daily with a National Park Service representative or camp on-site and work several days.  Volunteers in the past weeks have been doing all such combinations. 

It is a two mile gentle hike from the trailhead to the campground where we are working.  The trailhead access is closed other than with an NPS representative so volunteers meet in Port Angeles or the Elwha Ranger Station and travel together. 

 If you are interested please contact Ruth Scott, Wilderness Resources Office, Olympic National Park:
  (360) 565-3071 or ruth_scott@nps.gov.


On Arctic Ground: Paddling the Wild Rivers of Northwest Alaska



Come join The Mountaineers for a multimedia exploration of the wild rivers in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve on November 15th, 2012. Experience Alaska's frontier with video, audio recordings and still images presented by an Alaska based author and adventurer, Debbie S. Miller as she shares stories from the largest single unit of public lands in the United States.


Based on Miller's newly-released book, On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, this presentation will showcase highlights from the last 37 years Miller has spent travelling, whitewater canoeing and exploring throughout Alaska's wilderness. 

Image (c) Florian Schulz
Please come enjoy an evening of travel and adventure across the 23-million acre expanse of land known as "the Reserve." 


On Arctic Ground: Paddling the Wild Rivers of Northwest Alaska
November 15th, 2012, 7 pm The Mountaineers Program Center
7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA


Free Admission and Book Signing
Beer and Wine by donation, provided by Alaskan Brewing.
Proceeds benefit Braided River

Event sponsors include The Mountaineers, Braided River, The Alaska Wilderness League, The Sierra Club and American Whitewater.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The North Cascades Get Wilder

The new Thunder Creek Wilderness Area.
Image courtesy of National Park Service
Posted by Sarah Krueger, Public Lands Programs Manager

The North Cascades just got a little wilder.  On September 14, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar administratively added 3,559 acres of Wilderness to the Stephen Mather Wilderness area, which includes parts of North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas.  The newly protected area encompasses the Thunder Creek valley follows Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake, harbors lush low-elevation old-growth forest, and provides shoulder-season hiking opportunities out of the Colonial Creek Campground.
The Washington Parks Wilderness Act of 1988 originally identified the Thunder Creek Valley as potential wilderness, but the area was not federally protected due to plans by the City of Seattle to harness Thunder Creek’s aquamarine glacial waters for hydropower development.  However, the 1988 act that created a swath of protected wilderness areas within Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park Service Complex, also included a provision that the Thunder Creek Potential Wilderness Area could be could be administratively designated at the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, if and when non-conforming uses are terminated.  Since the City of Seattle abandoned plans to develop hydropower on Thunder Creek, and with no other uses planned for the area, the Secretary was able to designate this area as Wilderness, as directed by the 1988 Washington Parks Wilderness Act.   

The Mountaineers, along with 12 other conservation and recreation groups representing Washington State, sent a letter to Secretary Salazar, supporting an administrative decision to designate Thunder Creek as Wilderness. The wilderness addition marks the first lands managed by the National Park Service that have been added to the National Wilderness System in 14 years in Washington State.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wildfires continue to affect Eastern Washington trails and forests

As most of us have been enjoying late summer sunshine and blue skies over on the Western side of the state, our fellow residents in Eastern Washington have been fighting wildfires. Lack of rainfall and severe lightning has resulted in over 100 wildfires in Yakima, Kittitas, Chelan, and Okanogan Counties.
Okanogan burn area

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag for much of Western Washington and Oregon as well due to historically dry conditions.
Since initial lightning storms in early September, many roads, trails and large areas of forest have been closed to recreation. As several of the wildfires become better managed or contained closure boundaries are being changed. Before heading to your destination east of the Cascade Crest check on the latest fire updates at www.fs.usda.gov/okawen.

Active fires in the Entiat and Wenatchee River Ranger Districts mean several key access roads and trails remain closed. Just south of Leavenworth, the 2,609 acre Cashmere Mountain Fire in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness has been closed.

Monitoring a controlled burn at Table Mountain
Closures are still in effect for the following areas near the towns of Wenatchee and Cashmere, including Mission Ridge, Beehive Reservoir and Devil's Gulch. These closures are along the boundary lines of the Table Mountain Fires within the Cle Elum Ranger District.


Entry into closed areas by anyone other than law enforcement or firefighters into these closed areas may result in a fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment.

Please consult your local Ranger District for closures and updates, and information on ways you can give your support to firefighting efforts.
 

Methow Valley Ranger District at 509-996-4003
Tonasket Ranger District at 509-486-2186
Chelan Ranger District at 509-682-4900
Entiat Ranger District at 509-784-1511
Wenatchee River Ranger District at 509-548-2550
Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100
Naches Ranger District at 509-653-1401
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters at 509-664-9200


Visit the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website for up-to-date information at http://www.inciweb.org/state/49/


DNR Fire Alert http://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/firedanger/BurnRisk.aspx

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tracking Invaders from Stevens to Snoqualmie


By Andrew Allison and Aaron Hunter

By way of introduction, Aaron and I are Habitat Restoration Technicians recruited by The Mountaineers for an 8-day expedition survey to identify invasive and non-native plant species in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.   Our task was to supplement the volunteer efforts of the Alpine Lakes Weed Watchers Program by surveying an iconic, high-priority trail: the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Stevens to Snoqualmie Pass. 

I have logged multiple backpacking expeditions within the Appalachian Range and the Cascades, and Aaron has spent time exploring the wilderness in Jamaica and the Olympic Peninsula, but the experience before us became a trip all to itself. Armed with five maps, four shoulders sagging under 65-pound packs, two GPS units, and one fly rod, we set off from Stevens Pass for a 75-mile climb toward Snoqualmie.

Our first two days were beautiful September gems: blue skies, warm sun, and no appreciable humidity. We spent one night at Mig Lake and went as far as Deception Lakes on day two.  Tipped back in a Crazy Creek chair, sipping hot coffee, and watching the Milky Way flow between towering mountain peaks, it was hard to believe we were getting paid.  On day three we excitedly encountered our first non-native, a small patch of Wall Lettuce. We continued on to Deep Lake, weathered an all-night thunderstorm, and began our fourth day in chilly but fragrant wisps of early morning fog. Seven miles later we set camp at Waptus River. Though peppered by another night of rain, we enjoyed the company of local waterfowl, two stream-darters, and a fat brown crayfish.

Day five the weather became menacing in earnest. We climbed to 5,530 feet under squalls of snow and sleet with heavy winds, and pushed an 8-mile descent to the Lemah Creek valley looking for shelter. The day proved the most physically challenging and the most important for our work: northeast from Escondido Lake we discovered nearly one acre of flowering hawkweed in a rocky meadow.   Hawkweeds are difficult to key and the yellow flowers concerned us – if the plants were indeed the non-native European hawkweeds, the meadow needed prompt control methods in the coming months.

With three days remaining in our adventure the sky opened to a brilliant blue. Dry and morale improving, we climbed 3,000 feet from our campsite at Lemah Creek to the Parks Lake Basin finding only one suspected non-native, a tall stalk of thistle that looked suspiciously like the invasive Canada thistle.  The following morning we woke to an early winter preview. A quarter-inch of heavy frost lay on our tent, water in our bottles froze, and ice crept out a few feet from the lakeshore; truly an unexpected moment of alpine beauty. We concluded the trip with two sunny days cat-walking trail carved into cliff sides and scraped out of talus slopes. Smoke from a long season of forest fires filled valleys west and east, creating an unforgettable sunrise, and reminding us that not all wilderness areas were as tranquil as those we’d left behind.

Overcoat Peak with Andrew
in foreground

In total, we mapped six locations of suspect and confirmed non-native species—a relatively good prognosis for nearly 8 million square feet of survey area.  GPS’s holstered, Aaron and I, our legs, and our backs were unanimously pleased to see Betsy-Blue the faithful Volvo waiting where we’d left her in the Snoqualmie Pass parking area. A whir of the engine, a quick stop at Subway in North Bend, farewells in Issaquah, and the last step of the expedition found its footing.    

Friday, August 31, 2012

Volunteers Needed at Ira Spring Memorial Trail

Post by Andre, Public Lands Policy Intern

Ira Spring Memorial Trail and culvert damage

September 29th is National Public Lands Day (NPLD), and is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands! What better time of year to roll up those sleeves and spend a day or two doing some hands-on volunteer work with the Mountaineers!

The Foothills Branch is rallying folks for volunteer work parties on September 8th & September 29th to repair and restore sections of the Ira Spring Memorial Trail to Mason Lake.

The trail is near North Bend, and takes hikers high above the Snoqualmie Valley. Volunteers will receive a United States Forest Service day pass that can be redeemed for a full year permit.
Registration and details online.

Ira Spring


The trail was named for the late Ira Spring, a tireless advocate for Washington trails for over fifty years. He lobbied for trail funding, wrote hundreds of letters to the state and federal government, served on planning committees, and gave numerous speeches in an attempt to raise awareness of the need for trails and problems associated with their maintenance and funding.

In 2000, with the support of his wife and children, Ira established the Spring Trust for Trails. From that time on, he donated his book royalties and monthly Social Security checks to fund grants for the maintenance and repair of the Pacific Northwest's hiking trails. In 1997, Ira became the 33rd person to be named an Honorary Member of The Mountaineers.

You can help honor Ira Spring's dedication to our state's trails by helping out during one of the work parties on September 8th or September 29th. Many hands make light work!

Questions? Contact Annik: annikw@gmail.com or 206-368-2688.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mt. Rainier National Park Considers Improvements to Camp Muir

Post by Andre, Public Lands Policy Intern






Camp Muir, looking west from the helipad. The historic Guide Shelter is on the right;
the Client Shelter is on the left.

The National Park Service (“NPS”) has proposed several site rehabilitation plans at the Camp Muir Historic District, located in Mount Rainier National Park.

Camp Muir is the primary base camp for west-side ascents to the summit of Mount Rainier and is a common destination for day hikers. Up to 500 climbers and hikers visit Camp Muir per day during peak use months. The popularity of Camp Muir as a climbing base camp and destination day hike strains existing toilet and overnight facilities, and has contributed to erosion of the pumice soils on the ridge. Extreme environmental conditions also contribute to the deterioration of structures and challenge Park managers in their efforts to maintain the site and its public facilities.
  
Structures at Camp Muir like the “big black box” sleeping shelter would be modified, replaced or removed, and the purposes of structures would be optimized to improve visitor and employee safety while protecting natural resources, adjacent Wilderness, and the National Historic Landmark District. The NPS has prepared an Environmental Assessment to analyze four potential rehabilitation plan Alternatives. Alternative 1 (No Action), which would result in no change in the facilities available at Camp Muir; Alternative 2, representing minimum development, in which structures that are not historic would be removed; Alternative 3 (preferred), in which non-historic structures would be replaced with new structures compatible with the Historic District near their current locations; and Alternative 4, which would also replace non-historic structures with new structures, but with a modified spatial arrangement.  

Alternative 3 is the NPS preferred course of action. The preferred plan calls for the replacement of non-historic shelters with new structures that are more compatible with existing Historic District structures and landscape.  The new shelters would be designed to consider enclosures for utilities to minimize visual impact to the Historic District, provide increased safety to users (i.e. a new cooking area partitioned within the building to provide separation between sleeping and cooking functions), and the replacement of existing toilets. Utilities and support infrastructure would be similar to present conditions, but new technology may be used to decrease the size of equipment and reduce energy consumption. 

PUBLIC COMMENTS DEADLINE: September 10, 2012:



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Safety first at Mailbox Peak in Middle Fork Snoqualmie

Guest post by Diana Lofflin

Can you imagine going to your favorite hiking spot, taking a wrong turn, and getting stranded overnight? A few weeks back this happened to hikers descending from Mailbox Peak in Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), just outside of North Bend in East King County.
Mailbox Peak
The Mailbox Peak Trail gains 4,000 feet elevation in miles. Photo: DNR 

Hikers are drawn to the beautiful forests, streams, wildlife, and views of Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area from the Mailbox Peak Trail, but many have stayed away because of safety concerns and environmental damage on the trail.The current trail is very steep, with a 4,000-foot elevation gain in just 2 miles. This grade causes significant erosion along with dangerous conditions where hikers can become injured or lost.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with the help of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, has broken ground on a new trail and trailhead that is being built with safety and sustainability in mind. DNR looks forward to hosting a celebration for the completion of this 18-month project on National Public Lands Day, September 2013.

So, what can you do? Here are three things you can do today to stay safe on the trails—and also lend a hand.
1. Safety is always first. No matter the length of your hike, always make sure you tell someone where you are going and pack the ten essentials.
2. Get dirty! Get your hands dirty and volunteer to help build the new trail at the following work parties:
July 28
August 11
3. Speak up. Mailbox Peak is in the Snoqualmie Corridor recreation planning area that is currently underway with the help of a citizen-based planning committee. We are asking for feedback on what recreation opportunities the public would like to see on DNR-managed state trust lands and conservation areas within the corridor.  Read the DNR blog for more details and take a few minutes to fill out the survey.  

Questions? Contact DNR Representative, Diana Lofflin at 360-902-1169 or diana.lofflin@dnr.wa.gov.  Stay current with what’s happening on DNR-managed recreation sites by subscribing to their blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter Fire pages.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wild Olympics Bill Introduced


Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Patty Murray recently introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries, a total of 464 river miles, as Wild and Scenic Rivers.  If enacted, the legislation would designate the first new wilderness on Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic peninsula.

The bill would offer permanent protection to some outstanding backcountry destinations, including lands in the areas of Moonlight Dome, South Quinault Ridge, Rugged Ridge, and Lost Creek, as well as additions to existing wilderness areas including Buckhorn, The Brothers, Mt. Skokomish, Wonder Mountain and Colonel Bob Wildernesses.  Read the bill & check out the Wild Olympics Campaign homepage for more information.

Congressman Dicks and Senator Murray have worked tirelessly to craft this proposal.  Please take a moment to send a personal letter to thank them for their work on the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  Contact Congressman Norm Dicks or Senator Patty Murray & let them know you support the Wild Olympics!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hydro dam on the North Fork Snoqualmie?

Over the objections of the recreation and conservation community, including The Mountaineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a preliminary permit last fall for the proposed Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project that would construct a new dam  on the North Fork Snoqualmie River.

The river forms the border for the Department of Natural Resources Mt. Si Natural Resources Conservation Area that includes some of the best remaining intact old-growth riparian forest at low elevation in the western Cascades. The river section proposed for development has been found eligible and recommended for designation as a Wild and Scenic River by the U.S. Forest Service, and is identified as a protected area from hydropower development by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Finally, the lands along the river are protected by a conservation easement held by King County that specifically prohibits hydropower projects of the scale proposed. Despite these concerns, FERC concluded that these issues could all be evaluated once a formal application was filed.

Want to help keep the North Fork Snoqualmie free-flowing? FERC needs to hear from you during the current public comment period.  Mark your calendars & tell your friends – you can attend either the daytime or evening scoping meeting on Tuesday, June 19 to learn more and raise issues and concerns. The virtual site review will provide an opportunity to get a more in-depth overview of the project.  
Daytime scoping  meeting, Tuesday, June 19 11:00 a.m.
Virtual site review, Tuesday, June 19 2:00 p.m.
Evening scoping  meeting. Tuesday, June 196:00 p.m.
All meetings will be held  at the Cedar River Watershed Education Center Auditorium, 19901 Cedar Falls Road SE, North Bend, WA 98045.

A public comment period is now open with comments due by July 24, 2pm (PDT).  For more background and information about how to weigh in this proposal, visit American Whitewater’s webpage on the proposed North Fork Snoqualmie hydro developments.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vantage Toilet Fundraiser!

Those of you who love the basalt and sunshine at Vantage (a.k.a. Frenchman’s Coulee) know that Eastern Washington's most popular climbing destination is in desperate need for a permanent toilet. 

This remarkable desert recreation area is a long way from the nearest rest stop. The area is used by hundreds of climbers on busy weekends during the spring and fall climbing season, and concert goers headed for the Gorge Amphitheater also camp here during the Summer concert season. This area is popular in large part because it is a unique bit of desert landscape and easily accessible because it is close to Interstate 90. It is also a fragile area. The desert environment does not support rapid decay of human waste and toilet paper left under rocks or even on the surface; human waste presents not only an unsightly mess but an environmental threat. 

The Washington Climbers Coalition, American Alpine Club & The Mountaineers are joining forces to help establish a toilet at Vantage - your dollars are appreciated, we have just $40k to go to reach our fundraising goal! Donate to WCC 's Vantage toilet fund today - $5 or $50, anything helps!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 12th Open House regarding seasonal closure of Exit 38 for peregrine falcon nesting
By Kim Brown

Deception Wall and nesting site
The public is invited to an open house June 12, 6 p.m. in North Bend at the Snoqualmie Ranger District, 902 S.E. North Bend Way to learn more about the temporary, seasonal closures of Deception Wall at Exit 38 for peregrine falcon nesting. Representatives from State Parks, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife will be on hand to discuss occasional seasonal closures, and gather ideas from the public on formalizing a process for future seasonal closures.

Insecticides containing DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) used from the late 1940’s to the time of DDT's ban in 1972 caused eggshell thinning, which resulted in high mortality for peregrine falcon chicks. In 1970, the US Fish & Wildlife listed the peregrine falcon as endangered, and Washington State Fish & Wildlife Commission listed it in 1980. See more information on the history of the listing here, and read more about peregrin falcons here.

Though peregrine eggshells are much healthier today, and the birds are more plentiful, peregrines are listed as a sensitive species in Washington and are federally-listed as a species of concern, because of their small numbers.

The nesting season for peregrine falcons typically ends in late June.

For more information about the closure or the June 12th meeting, contact Sonny Paz Paz at 425-888-8757 or Andrew Fielding at 509-665-4312.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paving the Middle Fk Snoqualmie River Rd

Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern


A hiker sunbathes on shore of Mid Fk Snoqualmie River
Through Federal Highways, King County and the USFS have published an Environmental Assessment (EA) for proposed plans to upgrade and pave the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road from milepost 2.4 to the new(ish) Middle Fork Campground, a short distance beyond the Middle Fork Trailhead at milepost 12.4.

There will be an Open House at the North Bend Ranger Station on Thursday, April 18th , from 5:00pm-7:30pm at the Snoqualmie Ranger Station in North Bend at 902 Southeast North Bend Way. Engineers and staff from FHWA, King County and the Forest Service will be present to answer questions and discuss the preferred alternative.


There are two alternatives in this EA – a No Action alternative, and the Preferred Alternative (to upgrade and pave). Upgrading the road will :

  • Provide better Aquatic Organism Passages (culverts)
  • Include better signage
  • Narrow those portions of the road where a wider corridor was created by drivers wishing to avoid potholes and washboarding.
  • Replace three bridges
  • Soften sharp curves
  • Lower maintenance costs (King County reports in the EA that the road maintenance costs an average of $8,000 per mile each year, and nearly $500,000 total for years with high flood damage).

During the Open House in June, 2011, I spoke to an engineer who advised a non-permeable surface will top a coarse material on top of “better-than-native” material (used when native soils aren’t suitable). The non-permeable surface will better direct water to road ditches, and not percolate underneath the pavement, which is a major factor in the deterioration of roads.

During the scoping (planning) phase, the public made it known to the agencies that aesthetics are important to drivers. As a result, the road design is much narrower than the 28 feet originally proposed. Rock faces blasted for construction will be resurfaced to ensure a natural look. Native plants will be planted and monitored afterwards to minimize mortality and the establishment of invasive vegetation.

It is projected that the paving will invite more recreation in the Middle Fork watershed, and that there will be some increase in traffic – up to 24 vehicles per day by 2031 – that will somewhat impact the solititude of some trails, but the Middle Fork Snoqualmie should be inviting to everyone - and the road condition has been a limitation toward attaining that goal.


During construction, hikers can expect periodic closures and limited access in some areas. It is hoped that the road will be open during weekends; however that is not guaranteed. Closures will be posted on Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest's  (MBS) website, or hikers can call the North Bend District of MBS at (425) 888-1421.

This will not impact recreation this summer, however! Construction is not expected to begin until sometime in 2013.


The paving of the Middle Fork, along with the reconstruction of the Mailbox Peak trail, the on-going planning of improvements to DNR’s Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Plan, and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Recreation Area, families and other recreationists in the Puget Sound area are guaranteed reliable recreation practically every day of the year!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Suiattle River Road Alternatives

Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern.

My buddy, Randy, atop Green Mountain
As a part of the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) process, the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposal to repair the Suiattle River Road (has been prepared and is ready for public commenting. The public comment period ends April 20th

The proposed repairs will be funded by Federal Highway’s (FHWA) Emergency Repair for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO). The Western Federal Lands Highway Division of Federal Highways (WLFHD) is the lead agency for ERFO funded projects in Washington.The EA includes 3 alternatives; the No Action Alternative, Alternative B (Preferred Alternative), and Alternative C. 

In parenthesis within this blog are page numbers of the EA where information in this blog can be found. Bewarned! The EA is a page-turner! Have snacks handy.

The No Action Alternative leaves the Suiattle River Road “as is,” gated at milepost 12.5. If no action is taken on the damaged road, hikers, bikers, and equestrians will continue walk 12 miles to the Suiattle Trailhead. Due to lack of administrative access, the campgrounds and trails will receive less and less maintenance, and numbers of visitors to trailheads will diminish. According to trailhead registers, in the years 1998-2003, Downey Creek, Suiattle, and Green Mountain trailheads reflect an average of 374, 1650 and 1765 annual visitors respectively. After 2006, when more floods closed the road at milepost 12, annual visitation to these trailheads dropped to 60, 93, and 19 (EA page 63).

Issues common to Alternatives B and C 

The road repair proposal for Alt’s B and C are the same regarding washout sites #1 through #5. The road re-routes are outside of the river’s channel migration zone. All repairs comply with federal environmental regulations, the Wild & Scenic River designation of the Suiattle River, standards and guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan, and recommendations by the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (EA page 88).

Road repair at various sites for Alternatives B and C will impact wetlands. Providing habitat and food for wildlife, wetlands also benefit fish by reducing sediment deposition into rivers when watercourses entering them slow down and drop their sediment before discharging into the river. Because wetlands are important to our ecosystem, there is a federal no net loss policy on wetland mitigation. As a result, 0.66 acres of wetlands impacted by the road construction will be mitigated (EA page 105).

It is folly to think that there will be no environmental affects when making repairs  the scale of the Suiattle project. However, the environmental regulations and their compliance mandates ensure that during the last decade, the roadbed (or what's left of it) has been bristling with environmental engineers and  regulatory agents and scientists in order to balance the solution that best addresses environmental impact while providing benefits to the greatest number of people, given the land agencies policies and budget.  It is important to look at these affects on a watershed and landscape scale and not solely on a site scale. The EA discusses both the local affects and large scale affects upon the watershed by the road construction.

Beginning on page 108 of the EA is a great overview of some techniques planned to mitigate environmental affects, such as construction taking place during “work windows” when soils are drier, and taking care to not work during the hours of the day marbled murrelets or other birds are likely to be feeding. The affect that construction and the road design will have on wildlife has been studied by FHWA and the Forest Service, and consultations with National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service have taken place frequently during the last 8 and a half years the road has been damaged, and any recommendations they have regarding construction will be followed. See the discussion regarding wildlife considerations beginning on page 124 of the EA.

Differences between Alternative B and C

Alternative C repairs the Suiattle Road to approximately milepost 20 where it would be gated just beyond the Green Mountain Road (Forest Road 2680). The Suiattle River trail is a nearly 5 mile road walk from there. (EA page 67). There are no plans for a reliable, sustained crossing of Downey Creek in Alternative C. There is no funding for a parking lot, road-to-trail conversion, and no plan to maintain at-capacity outhouses at Downey and Sulphur Creek campgrounds.

Alternative B (the Proposed Action), repairs the road beyond the Green Mountain Road, to its pre-2003 end, at the Suiattle trailhead. This alternative restores full access to the Sulphur Creek campground and the Downey Creek, Sulphur Creek, Sulphur Mountain, and Suiattle River trails.

Alternative B’s proposed repair at milepost 20.8 is likely to require routine maintenance to keep it in good working  order. Loose material from the steep slope above the cut bank will occasionally slide onto the road and will need to be removed (EA page 53).  If repaired, the Suiattle River Road in the future will receive as much attention as it has in the past due to its popularity - and because of federally mandated requirements for monitoring the work and its affects upon the environment, we can expect more USFS personnel on the Suiattle in the upcoming years.

Alternative B also includes an already-funded opportunity to build a Downey Creek crossing more suitable to natural watershed processes and fish habitat than the current bridge site. Old construction techniques installed fill that narrowed the creekbed at the bridge site (EA pages 91, 101), which causes sustained energy capable of carrying large woody debris. The new design excavates 3500 cubic yards of old fill material, and adds three 70 foot long spans to the existing 115 foot bridge, allowing Downey Creek to move around its alluvial plain once again and the water to flow under the bridge, rather than fight against the road as it finds its way to the Suiattle River (see drawings on pages 102 and 103 of the EA). Widening the mouth of Downey Creek will also diffuse the energy of the water large flood events, reducing the likelihood of woody debris slamming into bridge pilings and damaging them.

Conclusion

In making design decisions and the decision to go forward with the repair, a land manager weighs the impact of making the repair as well as the impact of not making the repair - "environment" includes the the impact upon the human environment - hikers, climbers, equestrians, fishermen, car campers, nature photographers. The No Action Alternative is discussed throughout the EA so that a reader can understand the implications of the land manager not taking any action.

How do you make a comment?  Whichever Alternative is your choice, just write a few lines and send it in to the address below. The NEPA process is for everyone; no one need be a literary or grammatical genius - heck - more than half the people who recreate from the Suiattle River Road don't even know how to pronounce it! (Soo AT tl).  But one thing is sure - if you don't make a comment, your voice will not be heard! 

The Environmental Assessment can be found here, and comments may be sent by email to wfl.suiattleriverroad@dot.gov or by mail to Federal Highway Administration,610 East Fifth Street, Vancouver, WA 98661-3893 by April 20, 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Burning Question: Do you have fires in the backcountry?

By Sarah Gruen, Recreation Resources Intern

Campfires provide warmth, light, security and a somewhat effective way to cook food. But there is a dark side of fires; campfires can lead to degradation of the ecosystem and to future user’s experience. Blackened rocks and trashed fire pits are an eyesore, but a more significant consequence of campfires is the development of patches of barren ground. Repeated campfires in an area will remove organic matter and sterilize the soil. Compounding the problem is that the use of downed wood as fuel deprives the ecosystem of an important source of nutrients.

To help determine when it is appropriate and responsible to have a campfire, here is a list of questions you should ask yourself:

Are there any restrictions from the land manager? What is the fire danger for the time of year and the location you are in?

Many areas have regulations restricting the use of campfires. Pay attention to these! Restrictions are reactions to specific conditions such as massive forest fuel buildup coupled with unpredictable winds or to other scenarios that set the stage for out of control fires. During these periods, even if you follow the normal precautions like locating your campfire away from dry grasses, tree branches, and root systems, making a fire still presents a great risk.

Different destinations have burning regulations that take site-specific characteristics into consideration. For instance, in Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest, the general guidelines state that fires in the wilderness and backcountry are not allowed above 3,500 feet elevation. Within Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest your destination may have additional restrictions due to unique conditions. Take care to learn and respect the local regulations and prepare accordingly.


If you are unsure what restrictions are in place you can contact the land manager for the up to date information. That is what I did to learn about the nuanced set of restrictions in place in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Guidelines differ between land managers: if you are in the Wenatchee National Forest fires are not permitted above 5,000 feet elevation while if you are in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest fires are not permitted above 4,000 feet elevation.

Is there enough appropriate firewood to use as fuel?

Appropriate firewood is dry, found on the ground and small in diameter (this means one or two inches thick or about the size of your wrist). The reasoning is that small wood is more likely to burn to ash and that it is less critical to the ecosystem. “Less critical” is key: woody matter and downed wood is still important so make sure you leave some behind. Fallen trees and decaying wood serve many functions, including providing animals with food and shelter, recycling nutrients that increase site productivity, acting as germination sites for certain plants (have you ever seen a “nurse log”?), and increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil.

The areas immediately surrounding designated campsites are often stripped of downed wood and branches from trees. You may consider collecting firewood as you travel to your campsite.

Can the regeneration of wood sources keep up with the demand for firewood?

In certain environments, such as alpine and desert, harsh growing conditions mean it takes a long time for the trees and shrubs to regenerate. These environments cannot sustain high levels of firewood collection. Even if you are in a highly productive and resilient area, if the area is heavily frequented by campers the intensity of fuel collection may outstrip the ability of wood sources to regenerate.

Is there a fire ring or fire grate present?

It is best practice to concentrate use by building a fire in an existing fire ring or campfire scar. Repeated campfires can kill the microorganisms responsible for breaking down organic matter and sterilize the soil up to four inches deep. This results in barren dirt patches that remain without plant life for years.

Do I have enough time to properly clean up?

Low-impact techniques focus on maintaining the natural appearance of the site. Burning all wood completely to ash is recommended. Once the ash has been thoroughly saturated with water it should be scattered over a large area.

Is there a better option?

The low-impact camper or backpacker may choose to construct a pan or mound fire. Visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Education for more information about these options and for techniques to minimize the impacts of fires: http://lnt.org/programs/principles_5.php

Or you could forgo a fire altogether. Instead opt for a stove for cooking and a lantern for ambiance. Rick Curtis, an experienced low-impact backpacker, offers some sage advice: “I always plan trips with a stove, and if I find the right conditions to build a fire, I’ll think about doing it” (123).

Sources Cited:
Curtis, Rick. The Backpackers Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills. 1st ed. New York: Three Rivers, 2005. Print.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Forest Service Volunteer of the Year Award

Dennis and volunteers on trail. Photo by Tom Davis, USFS
By Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern


Next Thursday evening, April 11th, at the Iron Goat Season Opener for Volunteers for Outdoor Washington event at The Mountaineers Program Centre, Mountaineers member Dennis Evans will receive a Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region Trails Volunteer of the Year Award for his work on the Iron Goat Trail, a rail-to-trail project at Steven Pass. Thanks to countless volunteer hours by Dennis and many others with Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, hikers can enjoy the rich history of the old rail, including tunnels, snowsheds, and Wellington the site of a famous avalanche incident, and poignant memories.
 
Dennis got his start by volunteering to work on the Iron Goat through an annual Mountaineer Presidents Day trail work party event on the Iron Goat trail, 20 years ago! “I am a bit of a history buff,” Dennis says. “It was the history of the Iron Goat that got me interested, rather than the other way around. It fascinates me to stand in an area that has been abandoned, particularly if there are still signs of whatever used to be there, and think about what it must have been like and why it was abandoned.”

Tom Davis, Skykomish Ranger District Trails Specialist with the Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) writes of Evan and his dedication, “Initial thoughts that this would be an easy rails-to-trails project were soon dispelled when it was discovered the grade was covered with trees, brush, avalanche debris, and wetlands and crossed a myriad of flood prone streams and streamlets,” Davis writes. “Dennis’s contribution is staggering with 4,538 work party hours and leading 648 work parties since 1992, plus countless additional hours in administrative duties.” Evans also took courses in trail design and ADA accessibility (half the trail is built to American Disability Act [ADA] standards). Without Dennis Evans at the helm,” Davis added,”it’s hard to imagine the trail being built to such a high standard.”

Hiker reaction to coming upon a volunteer trail crew has been very positive. “Usually they just say thank you as they pass by,” Dennis says, “but the most bizarre thing that happened occurred several years ago to one of our regular volunteers. He was working and someone passed by. The person walked about a hundred yards, then turned around, came back and stuffed something in the worker’s shirt pocket, turned around and left again. When the worker took it out, it turned out to be a $100 bill.”

Thanks to Dennis for his dedication to providing a great place to visit history and nature!