Friday, March 16, 2012

Suiattle Road Environmental Assessment - published

Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern

I'm pretty excited about this - I've waited so long!  No time to write a sappy and poignant blog right now - I wasn't expecting this 'til Monday, so I'll just cut to the chase:  the Suiattle River Road repair project Environmental Assessment has been posted, and the 30-day public comment period has opened.

The Mountaineers will post more information later, but we wanted to get this to you immediately!

 I copied and pasted this entire notice from Federal Highway's website. Plan to attend the Open House in Everett on March 29th (see notice below).

Public Notice of Availability of the Suiattle Road Project Environmental Assessment and invitation to the Public Meeting

The Western Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in partnership with the Mount Baker -Snoqualmie National Forest propose to repair flood washout sites on the Suiattle River Road, and have developed an Environmental Assessment to analyze the impacts of the proposal. The Environmental Assessment can be viewed or obtained below (or at

From this date (March 18, 2012) you will have the opportunity to review and comment on the Suiattle River Road Environmental Assessment. The comment period will end April 20, 2012.

Comments may be sent by email to or by mail to the address below by April 20, 2012.

A Public Meeting is planned.
Everett Firefighters Association
2411 Hewitt Avenue - Everett WA 98201

Thursday March 29, 2012
6:00pm to 8:30pm
The Public Meeting will be informal for one-on-one exchanges between interested persons and public agency officials. Representatives from the FHWA, and the Forest Service will be available to answer questions and receive comments.

Please inform this office of any special concerns or interests regarding the proposed road improvements.

Federal Highway Administration
610 East Fifth Street
Vancouver, WA 98661-3893

The Environmental Assessment is also available in hard copy at the following locations:
Darrington Ranger Station
1405 Emens Avenue North
Darrington, WA 98241
Everett Public Libraries
2702 Hoyt Avenue and
9512 Evergreen Way
Everett, WA
Darrington Library
1005 Cascade Street
Darrington, WA 98241

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How fish affect repairs of the Suiattle River Road

By Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern

Downey Creek bridge, June 2004.
It’s not likely you resisted a visit to see the odd-looking Boundary Bridge after the last blog about the repairs of the Suiattle River Road.  As promised, it’s time to talk about fish.
All federal projects are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure compliance with environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act (CWA), Section 404 of the CWA (wetlands), and the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  Additional local considerations for the Suiattle Road project include tribal rights, the Northwest Forest Plan, and the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest Management Plan.

Fish and fish habitat are a consideration in each of these laws and policies, and can drive decisions to repair or close a road, dictate bridge design features, and affect project costs.
The Suiattle Road project requires consideration for threatened or endangered (listed) as well as non-listed fish:
·         Endangered Species Act (ESA) , Section 7 requires Federal agencies to consult with National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FSW) when a project might adversely impact a listed species or their designated habitat.  NMFS manages for listed anadromous fish (salmon), and FWS manages for listed freshwater fish. The Suiattle River contains listed and non-listed salmon, and Downey Creek provides important spawning, and rearing habitat for Suiattle spring Chinook (anadromous) as well as bull trout (freshwater).  
·         The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act  is administered by NMFS, and addresses the sustainability of commercial economics and private recreation that coastal fishing provides. Magnuson-Stevens considerations are triggered when a Federal project may adversely impact habitat areas designated under the Act. The Suiattle watershed has been designated essential fish habitat for several non-listed salmon species, and habitat protection is considered in the design of the road repair.
The funding source for the repair, Emergency Repair for Federally Owned Roads originally proposed an in-kind replacement –i.e. re-building the bridge site as it was before October 2003. However, the Forest Service saw the opportunity for a design that better addresses the needs of listed fish species, meaning the Forest Service was on their own to obtain funding for the Downey Creek crossing.    
In December 2011, Skagit River Cooperative, which provides fisheries consultation and studies for local tribes, submitted a grant proposal with Washington State’s Salmon Recovery Board approved a grant for the design of an improved Downey Creek bridge.  The grant was approved in December, 2011.  The proposed bridge will be longer, in order to give Downey Creek sufficient room to roam on the alluvial fan through which it flows into the Suiattle River.

The Darrington District of Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has struggled with the repair of the Suiattle Road. The multiple floods and environmental concerns on the District have been good for the aspirin industry, but according to Phyllis Reed, MBS Biologist, there are some happy fish at Downey Creek. “The river shifted to the south side of the river channel following the 2006/2007 high flows,” Reed says. “This allows Downey Creek to flow a longer distance in the river channel as a clear stream (attractive to spawning fish) before joining the Suiattle River,  which, during much of the year,  has a higher sediment load from glacial input than Downey Creek.”
We’re looking forward to the upcoming Environmental Assessment on the repair of the Suiattle River Road, expected to be published on this link after March 16.

Victory for outdoor recreation in the Senate Transportation Bill

Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a significant measure to protect land for outdoor recreation, critical wildlife habitat, and rivers and streams across the nation. The amendment to the Surface Transportation Bill would provide $1.4 billion over two years for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and would also fund the RESTORE Act to restore the Gulf Coast. The amendment passed 76-22 with bipartisan support (a big accomplishment right now!)

Land and Water Conservation Funding will support numerous Washington projects, including restoring scenic areas along the Pacific Crest Trail, protecting forests along the Carbon River at Mount Rainier, acquiring checkerboard inholdings within Wenatchee National Forest and conserving working forests on the Olympic Peninsula.

The amendment would require dedicated funding at $700 million for two years and reauthorize the program for a decade. It would also channel 1.5 percent of LWCF funds to help increase access to our existing public lands.

The President recently released a budget requesting $450 million for LWCF, a significant increase over last year’s funding level and a show of support for land conservation. So the Senate and the White House have spoken up in support of LWCF. Now, its up to the U.S. House of Representatives to pass its own transportation bill or a version of the Senate bill before the bill becomes law. The House version of the bill does not currently include a provision to fund LWCF.

That funding isn’t from taxpayer dollars. Instead, LWCF uses funds generated by the depletion of one public resource – oil and gas royalties from the Outer Continental Shelf – to protect our irreplaceable natural heritage on land. Congress has routinely diverted LWCF funds for other uses, and has only fully funded the critical conservation program once.

Recreationists know that protecting our public lands not only preserves irreplaceable areas to get outdoors, but also supports our local economies. Outdoor recreators who, for example, head to the mountains to hike or camp buy gas at local stations, gear and food, supporting 115,000 jobs across Washington and contributing more than $11.7 billion annually to the state’s economy (Outdoor Industry Foundation).

Contact your Representative today and ask them to support our access to the great outdoors through protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leave No Trace Quiz: What is your strategy for keeping your pearly whites clean in the backcountry?

By Sarah Gruen, Recreation Resources Intern

My dentist has trained me in the importance of good dental hygiene; rarely a day goes by where I do not thoroughly brush my teeth twice a day and floss. While out in the backcountry I embrace most changes to my daily routine, but that doesn’t mean I want to give plaque a chance to build up. Besides, after a long day of building up a layer of sweat and dirt on my body and a layer of sugary trail mix on my teeth, a good brush makes me feel infinitely cleaner.

What is the recommended best practice for brushing your teeth in the backcountry?

Leave No Trace experts agree that the key to brushing your teeth in the wilderness is all in the spray. After a thorough brushing, swish some water in your mouth and spray, spew and spit the toothpaste over as large an area as possible. The most effective strategy is to mimic the rotating motion of a water sprinkler. This practice is encouraged because it diffuses the toothpaste over a large area, rather than depositing a wad of toothpaste and in a localized area. The biggest concern with wads of toothpaste is that it may attract animals to a campsite.

If spraying your toothpaste รก la a water sprinkler doesn’t seem like something you want to do, there are other options. When deciding what method you want to use, it is most important consider the impact it will have on wildlife.

  • A popular method is to brush sans toothpaste. Studies suggest that rather than the ingredients in the toothpaste it is actually the brushing motion that is key to removing plaque.
  • Or, if you like the foamy feeling of toothpaste, go ahead and wash your mouth out with soap. Low-impact backpackers have reported using baking soda, or a mixture of baking soda and salt to scrub their teeth and then they swallow the mixture.
  • Some people recommend using commercial options such as Oral-B Brush-ups, a textured wipe that slides over your finger. If you go this route, remember the maxim, “pack it in, pack it out”

Experiment with these different methods and find out what is the best option for you, your pearly whites and the environment. With Leave No Trace there is often not one clear answer so use your best judgment to determine how to act. The low-impact camper has many decisions to make (campsite location, whether or not to build a fire) and in the grand scheme of things choosing how to brush your teeth is not the most important, but it is always useful to think about your footprint.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ORV bill addresses illegal trails, improves enforcement

By Robert Dengel, Mountaineers member

The Washington State legislature is considering an Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) bill that has support from members of both the environmental and ORV communities, SSSB 5366. In short, the bill allows ORV riders increased access to roads, but prohibiting their use in undesignated areas. This is a bill that Conservation Northwest has put a lot of effort into improving.

The bill would allow ORVs (specifically quads) on roads which have a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less in areas with smaller populations. There are a host of safety measures called out in the bill that an ORV rider must meet to use the roadway, including: a) a driver's license, b) large license plates, c) retrofitted lights (turn and stop signals), d) helmets and e) insurance. This is a similar set of safety measures already in place for dual sport motorcycles, which can currently be used on and off-road. One concern is that this bill would allow ORVs access onto non-ORV areas more easily, even though access to those areas would still be unlawful. However, the large license plate will make it much easier to hold accountable those ORV riders who choose ride irresponsibly in areas where ORVs are not allowed.

The second piece of the bill is that trails would be closed unless posted open for ORVs. Currently Washington State is unique in that state land trails are open unless posted closed, see WAC 332-52. This creates the situation where an unlawfully-built ORV trail can be ridden on, unless the state takes action to post it closed. Needless to say, this promotes illegal trail building and useage, which can cause significant environmental impacts. This bill changes ORV management for the protection of the environment. Enforcement staff will be able to easily identify (via the larger license plates) and take action against those riding on illegally built trails without having to take the prior action of posting the area closed. In addition, responsible ORV riders will be able to ride on the road after following multiple safety measures. This bill is a win-win.

Learn more about the bill and track its progress. You may also wish to take action, check out Conservation Northwest's alert.