HISTORIC NEW PROTECTIONS FOR THE GREEN RIVER

On December 18, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) announced new rules designating portions of three waterways, the Cascade River, Napeequa River, and Skamania County’s Green River, as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs). The new designations are the end result of a multi-year effort by several organizations, including Cascade Forest Conservancy, to safeguard some of Washington’s most exceptional waters.

Under federal law, individual states are directed to designate waterways of exceptional ecological and recreational value as ORWs. These designations provide a high level of federal protection under the Clean Water Act of 1972, but until now, Washington had never used this tool.

The Green River’s new protections are well-deserved. The upper reaches of this waterway flow from the foothills of Mount St. Helens. This section of the river is beloved by recreationists of all kinds, including hikers, mountain bikers, backcountry horseback riders, hunters, anglers, botanizers, foragers, and many others. The river also has unique ecological significance due to its role as a gene bank for wild steelhead—an area set aside for wild fish populations to protect genetic diversity and ultimately the long-term health and survival of the species.

“Protecting Washington’s pristine waters benefits all Washingtonians and is critical for the state’s salmon and steelhead,” said Molly Whitney, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Executive Director. The Tier III A classification assigned to the Green River means that new forms of pollution along the designated portions are prohibited.

 

 

Securing these designations would not have been possible without the help of concerned citizens, including many CFC supporters! After attending an event supporting the new rule held at the beginning of September, Tara Easter submitted written comments and attended an in-person hearing in Kalama, WA. 

“I felt it was important to show my support for these designations as a Washington resident concerned with the health and resilience of our freshwater ecosystems,” she explained.

The passion and advocacy of our community was a significant help in our efforts to see these new protections enacted. Thank you to everyone who submitted comments or otherwise supported this effort!

 

Thanks to the supporters who came out in support of Washington’s first ORW designations

 

In addition to added protections for the ecosystems and wildlife of the Green River, this designation is particularly helpful towards our long-term efforts to defend the surrounding area against the threat of mining. While these new protections do not explicitly prevent mining in this area, they will make it more difficult and costly to develop a mine here. In this way, the designation of the Green River as an ORW directly compliments our ongoing work with the Green River Valley Alliance to secure permanent protections for the area through a legislative mineral withdrawal.

We are thrilled Ecology has recognized the unique values of the waterways that have become Washington’s first ORWs—especially of the Green. Keep an eye out for an in-person celebration of these designations in the new year as we mark a successful end of this multi-year, collaborative effort.

AMPHIBIAN SURVEY TRIP REPORT

Near the Cispus River, beneath towering conifers and sheer rocky cliffs, Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers spent Earth Day weekend searching under rocks and logs, in and around small creeks, for various life stages of salamanders and frogs. 

The work was the first step in CFC’s new study designed to understand how the salmon habitat recovery projects planned at our two survey sites will affect amphibian populations. Here in the Cascades, a place defined for many by its majestic mountain peaks and its iconic species like salmon, Roosevelt Elk, Douglas fir, and Western redcedar, small things can be easily overlooked. Too little is known about current populations of many species of amphibians in the Pacific Northwest, but these creatures play vital roles in healthy ecosystems and understanding how they are being impacted by habitat restoration efforts is key to preserving biodiversity in our region.

 

CFC volunteers turning over rocks in a shallow stream searching for amphibians
Volunteers and CFC staff searched two streams and the surrounding banks for amphibians.

 

To conduct our surveys along the creeks, CFC staff and volunteers split into three teams. Two groups worked across from each other on opposite stream banks and the third worked in the stream itself. Each terrestrial team began by measuring an area 50 meters long and 10 meters back from the water’s edge into the forest, then searched for a set amount of time before measuring out a new area and beginning the process again.

 

Volunteers on either side of a beautiful stream surrounded by old growth forests in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
To conduct the surveys, volunteers split into three teams. Two terrestrial teams searched each bank, and the third team looked in the stream itself.

 

Turning over and carefully resetting the rocks and logs under which these species live meant getting low and close to the forest floor and stream bed. From these vantage points, the familiar forests look very different. The world of amphibians may be miniature, but it brims with life. The teams encountered subterranean networks of tunnels, a staggering array of mosses and fungi, and a diverse array of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. At the end of two days of searching, we found and documented 31 individuals from five species of amphibian; two terrestrial salamanders (ensatina and the western red-backed salamander) and three frogs (Pacific tree frog, western toad, and northern red-legged frog).

 

An ensatina found during CFC's amphibian survey
The terrestrial salamander, ensatina.

 

A red-backed salamander found during CFC's amphibian survey
A red-backed salamander found during CFC’s amphibian survey.

 

A volunteer's gloved hands holding a small juvenile western toad
A volunteer holding a juvenile western toad. The oils on human skin can harm amphibians, so CFC’s staff and volunteers only handled specimens with gloved or wetted hands.

 

The stream team had less luck than the groups working the banks. Based on our locations and the characteristics of the waterbodies we searched, it was possible we would find egg masses or fully aquatic species like Cascade torrent salamander, Pacific giant salamander, or Cope’s giant salamander. We did not find any amphibian species in the creeks, but after the surveys, we decided to venture to the nearby Cispus River. There we found stagnant backwater channels that, lo-and-behold, had Pacific tree frog, western toad, and northern red-legged frog egg masses! This discovery reiterated the fact that these species, among others, need slow-moving water to lay eggs.     

 

Volunteers stand in and around an area of still water beside the Cispus River
CFC’s staff and volunteers found amphibian egg masses and several species of frogs in an area of still water along the Cispus River just outside of the first survey area.

 

WSU Biology PhD candidate and amphibian expert, Julianna Hoza, with a northern red-legged frog
WSU Biology PhD candidate and amphibian expert, Julianna Hoza, found this northern red-legged frog in an area of slow-moving water near the one of CFC’s survey sites.

 

Later this year, CFC will be working to restore Camp Creek by placing more large woody debris into the stream. The lower reaches of the creek have great potential for being used as off-channel habitat for salmon. The addition of wood will create diverse salmon habitat in the form of slow-moving water for resting, cover from predators, and deposition of gravel for spawning. After our amphibian surveys, we can now hypothesize that the slow-moving water will not only benefit salmonids, but could also create more habitat for Pacific tree frogs, western toads, and northern red-legged frogs to breed since we know they are in the area. But then the question arises; if we are creating more salmon habitat and more amphibian habitat, are we just creating more food for the salmon? The impact of instream restoration on amphibian populations has not been well studied. Project partner, Julianna Hoza, with the University of Washington-Vancouver, is studying the impact of beaver dam analogs on amphibian populations, which inspired us to consider this for our upcoming studies.  

 

A fast-flowing stream flowing through a lush forest
Future restoration projects will create areas of slow water and diversify habitat to benefit salmon and other species.

 

We’ll start the restoration work with the Forest Service in August of this year. Changes to the water often occur quickly, but we’ll have to wait until spring to see what fish and wildlife have moved in. In early spring of 2024, we’ll be back out at the site to see how the placement of large woody debris has shaped the stream and to see if there have been any changes to the amphibian species that are utilizing the creek and surrounding areas.

WOLVES HAVE FINALLY RETURNED TO SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON

A long-absent keystone species has returned to southwest Washington. On April 7th, 2023, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a report that confirmed the existence of a new wolf pack in a sparsely populated area on the Yakama Reservation, east of Mt. Adams. 

Migrating wolves began returning to Washington in the 2000s from packs in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and British Columbia. Their recovery has been closely monitored ever since. Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan divides the state into three zones, Eastern Washington (where most of the state’s wolves reside), Northern Cascades, and Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. The Big Muddy Pack (named by the Yakama Nation for the Big Muddy Creek which flows east from Mt. Adams) is the first pack to establish a territory in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast zone.

 

WDFW map showing territories of known wolf packs at the end of 2022
WDFW map showing territories of known wolf packs at the end of 2022

 

So far, the Big Muddy Pack consists of only two individuals. One is a young male, WA109M, who set off from his central Washington pack in 2021 and eventually wandered more than 300 miles to Klickitat County. In April 2022, biologists observed WA109M traveling with another wolf who was later confirmed to be female. Two wolves traveling together in winter meet the state’s definition for a pack. The pair have now established a territory and it’s possible they will have pups soon.

 

WDFW photograph of WA109M

 

As modest as the Big Muddy Pack may be for the moment, the documentation of a new wolf pack in southwest Washington is historic news that many have been waiting a long time for. 

Wolves were nearly eradicated across the continental U.S., including within the Pacific Northwest, by the first part of the 20th century. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act when it was passed in 1973 and listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980. The species briefly lost its federally protected status in January 2021, but protections were restored in February 2022.

As the recent back-and-forth protection status changes illustrate, the wolf, perhaps more than any other animal in North America, elicits strong feelings and spurs passionate debates. To some, the federal government’s all-too-successful campaign to exterminate the gray wolf epitomizes the darkest and most ill-informed parts of America’s legacy of colonial expansion and the ecological destruction wrought by people who saw the natural world as something to be claimed and tamed. For them, the return of wolves is a sign that we are moving beyond old ways of thinking and allowing the natural world to heal. For others, wolves represent an unwelcome danger or a threat to rural livestock economies. There are effective co-existence strategies and compensation policies that ranchers and agencies can employ, but fear and distrust often end up taking center stage in some corners.    

 

A wolf feeding in Yellowstone National Park

 

Wherever they appear (or reappear), the presence of wolves makes an impact, but not just symbolically or politically. Wolves are a keystone species that play a vital role in and bring balance to ecosystems. For example, the now-famous 1995 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park led to a surprising number of positive impacts for ecosystems in the region. Without their primary predator, elk had overgrazed much of the park. The resulting loss of vegetation negatively impacted populations of mice and rabbits, as well as the animals that prey on them. Songbirds found fewer available nest sites. Even bears were impacted as the elk out-competed them for the berries they relied on. In riparian areas throughout the park, the absence of wolves had even more drastic impacts. Overgrazing in riparian areas led to erosion and stream sedimentation and a reduction of the abundance of beavers, fish, insects, birds, and river otters, compromising the health of entire aquatic systems. With wolves back in the mix, the ecosystem rebounded. 

We can see the impacts that a century of elk and deer populations living without their main predator have had on riparian systems here in the southern Washington Cascades as well. It will take more than one pack of wolves to really affect the feeding and movement behaviors of their prey species, but we expect this relationship to be re-established at some point in the future. We look forward to the opportunity to assess how the return of wolves impacts ecosystems here and to better understand the role the species may have to play in supporting climate change resilience in our region.

NEWS RELEASE | December 6, 2022 Local conservation groups welcome recent US Forest Service announcement as a step forward for climate-smart forest management

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 6, 2022

Local conservation groups welcome recent US Forest Service announcement as a step forward for climate-smart forest management.

The announcement signals the beginning of a process to update current federal land management policies to account for wildfire, carbon sequestration, and climate change.  

 

On December 5th, the US Forest Service announced plans to establish a Federal Advisory Committee to provide the agency with recommendations for updates to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). The NWFP was enacted during a period of intense national debate surrounding logging in old-growth forests and other unsustainable land management practices in the Pacific Northwest. It was the world’s first policy establishing a science-based, ecosystem-focused land management plan and remains the largest, affecting an area of more than 19 million acres of national forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. The committee’s recommendations will become the basis for the first significant updates to the NWFP in nearly three decades.  

The announcement calls for nominations for individuals to serve on a 20-member Federal Advisory Committee that will be comprised of representatives of the scientific community, non-governmental organizations, and individuals representing the interests of Tribes, governments, and the public at-large. Local conservation groups, like Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC), are welcoming the move as a necessary opportunity to bring federal land management policy in line with current climate science.

“In a lot of ways the Northwest Forest Plan has been a huge success. It’s one of the most important tools we have for preserving old-growth habitats and maintaining and improving water quality,” said Ashley Short, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Policy Manager. “But the plan hasn’t been updated since its adoption in 1994 and the conditions we see on the ground have changed. We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in our region, like drought, higher water temperatures, and a longer fire season, and the science indicates these changes are going to continue.” 

CFC also pointed out that when it was adopted, the NWFP focused on conserving populations of a number of species dependent on old-growth habitat, but noted that the plan leaves many old-growth and mature forests still at-risk from logging and road building. Short says that “for example, in areas currently designated as “matrix lands,” where timber harvesting is focused, there are few protections for these rare patches of old forest. The small amount of old-growth left in the southern Washington Cascades is already facing growing threats like increased wildfires and drought. These magnificent places are worth preserving for their own sake, but they also play an outsized role in carbon storage. It is vital that we protect old-growth forests whenever possible.”

This week’s announcement carries the potential to shape the future of land management in Washington for years to come. It represents one of the administration’s more significant actions affecting national forests in the Pacific Northwest since Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order directing the Forest Service to develop a definition for old-growth and mature forests and map remaining stands on federally managed lands.   

Short said that “forming this Federal Advisory Committee is an opportunity for the Biden administration to ensure the continued success of the Northwest Forest Plan by listening to experts and community leaders like scientists, Tribal representatives,  and members of rural timber communities. We are hopeful this will eventually result in an updated forest plan that benefits people in Indigenous communities and rural communities and that it will ensure that land management policies are more aligned with our current climate realities. Getting the details of the plan right will be essential to conserving biodiversity, protecting mature and old-growth forests, and addressing the impacts of wildfires.” 

########

PROJECT UPDATE: BEAVER REINTRODUCTIONS ARE IN FULL SWING

CFC’s beaver reintroduction program has been operating since 2019 and to date has released 34 individuals into carefully studied and selected locations where the animals have the best possible chance to thrive. We, along with an ever-growing number of Tribes, agencies, and organizations, are using beaver reintroductions as a way to improve degraded habitats and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Watersheds are healthier and more resilient when beavers are present. Their dams slow waterways and create deep pools, expand and improve aquatic habitats, foster drought and flood resilience, and slow or even disrupt the spread of wildfires.

 

 

At the end of the third field season in my time working as Cascade Forest Conservancy’s (CFC) Communications Manager, I had an opportunity to participate in and document the final leg of a beaver’s relocation into the forest–something that has been high on my “CFC bucket list” since I joined the team. This was my first chance to meet the iconic, indomitable, habitat-engineering North American beaver (Castor canadensis) up close.

I was also getting time to chat with CFC’s Science & Stewardship Manager/beaver wrangler extraordinaire, Amanda Keasberry, on our drive north to the release site as our passenger, a 55-pound male beaver, napped on a bed of straw in a large animal carrier in the back of the Subaru. Amanda trapped him the day before, and he had spent the night at the Vancouver Trout Hatchery, where animals are safely housed and cared for between capture and release. We are grateful to have access to these facilities thanks to new partnerships with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and our friends at Columbia Springs, a local nonprofit working to inspire stewardship through education experiences designed to foster greater awareness of the natural world.

I found it difficult to fully comprehend how it was that animals like the one snoring softly behind me had once been the driver of continent-wide change. Not so long ago, Europe’s obsession with fashionable pelts motivated and financed westward colonization and resulted in the near-eradication of beavers from many parts of North America. The loss of this once-abundant keystone species profoundly altered the character, course, and quality of unfathomably vast areas of aquatic and riparian habitat across the continent. The systematic extermination of beavers was an ecological disaster on par with the destruction of the buffalo herds of the Great Plains.

 

 

As we drove, our conversations returned to CFC’s beaver program. Now a licensed trapper equipped with advice from a few generous mentors, Amanda had been busy, to say the least. Our passenger (the mate to a beaver caught earlier in the week) was the sixth animal Amanda had successfully trapped in only ten days. These two beavers, she explained, were being moved at the request of a local landowner. It seemed that after several years of peaceful co-existence, the situation with these beavers had become dangerous. The landowner had noticed that the animals had been chewing large trees on a slope directly above their home. Just days before traps were set, the beavers felled a tree onto the homeowner’s deck. “A lone beaver can take down a large tree in a single night,” Amanda explained.

Nearly all of the beavers CFC relocates come from similar situations. Although current population numbers are still well below their estimated abundance prior to European colonization, the species has managed a remarkable recovery. Unfortunately, they have been slow to return to some areas high in watersheds where their dam-building will have much-needed positive impacts. The species is, however, becoming widespread in some places where their tendency to down trees, flood fields or roads, or block culverts, inevitably leads to conflict with human neighbors. Even ardent lovers of wildlife sometimes feel forced to resort to lethal removal. Thankfully, Amanda’s trapping and relocation efforts provide an alternative. In many instances, beaver relocations represent the best outcome for all involved.

 

 

As we neared our destination and gained elevation, the rain picked up and the temperature dropped. We stopped along an unpaved forest road south of Mount St. Helens. After zipping up our coats, pulling up our hoods, and putting on gloves and waders, we carried our cargo (who was still somehow napping) into the brush before carefully lowering the carrier to the ground a few feet back from the bank of the waterway.

 

 

I could tell from the animal carrier-sized depression in the grass and the bits of straw on the ground that this was exactly the same site where this individual’s mate had been released just days before. Amanda noted that the willow trimmings she’d left on the bank had been eaten. This was a good sign, she said. She felt reasonably optimistic that our male’s mate was still nearby.

I expected our beaver would be eager to get away from us, his strange captors, as soon as the door to the carrier opened. I walked off a few yards to set up a camera and tripod and prepared to capture what I thought would be a quick burst of action. I hit record and gave Amanda a thumbs up. The door swung open, but to my surprise, nothing happened. This male was in no hurry to leave. It seemed he’d prefer to continue contentedly napping on his warm bed of straw.

Amanda coaxed him out by gently lifting the back of the carrier up a few inches. Still, even on the bank, the beaver was in no rush to go anywhere. But a minute later, his nose began to twitch–he seemed to smell something familiar. He zeroed in on remnants of the bedding left behind from the earlier release of his mate and started to perk up.

 

 

At last, the beaver was on his way. He lumbered a few feet down the bank before slipping silently into the dark, tannin-stained waters. Watching him go, I had thought he was slow and awkward on land. Once in the water, however, he moved gracefully and with purpose.

He swam for a short distance with his head and back above the surface, then arched his back and slipped out of sight beneath the water–becoming in that instant as much a part of this landscape as the grasses, willows, and western redcedars around us. I was moved to see him set off into this wild, remote, and unnamed waterway deep in the forest, and felt hopeful in the understanding that if all goes well, the presence of this beaver and his mate will improve this area and protect it from the worst impacts of climate change for years to come.

GATHERING NATIVE SEEDS FOR WILDFIRE RESTORATION IN THE SHADOW OF PAHTO (MT. ADAMS)

Halfway through a day of collecting seeds from native plant species from forests north of Trout Lake, volunteers and CFC staff enjoyed a break with a unique view. Pahto (Mt. Adams) towered above an expanse of charred snags arranged among a green carpet of wildflowers, shrubs, berries, and new saplings flourishing in the abundant sunlight.

 

 

 

This area burned in 2015’s Cougar Creek Fire. Yet, seven short years later, it is well on its way to recovery and is currently providing valuable early seral habitat (areas characterized by the early stages of forest re-growth which are important to many plant and animal species) to the larger forest ecosystem. In dry mixed-conifer stands, like those found throughout the eastern half of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, wildfires are a natural and even necessary part of forest ecology. But not every fire-impacted area in this part of the forest is doing as well as this one.

 

 

In some instances, climate change has led to more intense wildfires and shorter intervals between burns occurring in the same stands. These high-intensity, low-interval fires can deplete buried seedbanks and the forest’s ability to replenish and rely on the supply, making it difficult for some stands to recover naturally. Not far from where we were enjoying our break another fire-impacted area is fairing much differently. The triple burn area was affected by three fires in a short period of time–2008’s Cold Spring Fire, 2012’s Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cold Creek Fire. This area is now struggling to recover, so CFC’s staff, the US Forest Service, and volunteers are stepping in to lend a hand through what could be called “assisted migration” of vegetation from healthy stands to areas that have been slow to regrow.

 

 

For the past 6 years, we have been working to gather seeds from native plant species like beaked hazelnut, wax currant, snowberry, western columbine, pearly everlasting, ocean spray, lupine, wild roses, Oregon sunshine (aka wooly sunflower), and many others. We collect these materials from forests closely resembling the triple burn area in species composition and elevation. The collected seeds are then being used to revegetate the area where seedbanks have been exhausted.

 

Guided by Evan Olson, a botanist for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, volunteers learned how to identify, collect, and label seeds from targeted species, and spent a beautiful sunny Saturday gathering among the understory.

 

 

Leading up to the trip, volunteers were given several documents to get a chance to familiarize themselves with the history of the three fires that created the triple burn area and a resource guide of native plant species that we would be encountering in the field. At each site we visited, volunteers and staff split into groups and dispersed throughout the area to find the seeds. Some worked as generalists collecting any species listed in the pre-trip materials they came across. Others specialized in finding one or two species.

 

At the end of the day, we gathered around Evan’s Forest Service pickup and handed over the last of our haul to be sorted, stored, and then used in upcoming revegetation efforts, including our upcoming and final volunteer trip of the year where many of the same seeds gathered will be spread throughout the triple burn area.

 

 

“This is vital work,” Evan explained as he thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Climate change may be altering the ecology of wildfire and the landscape’s ability to regenerate after a burn, but helpful interventions like these can make a long-lasting difference. 

READ CFC’S 2021 ANNUAL REPORT

Instead of lots of statistics and charts, this year’s annual report is a collection of narratives told by our staff about just a few of the advocacy, conservation, and restoration successes of last year. Together, these stories demonstrate how CFC continued to achieve positive impacts for the forests, rivers, wildlife, and communities throughout the southern Washington Cascades in 2021, thanks to the generous support of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers.

Enjoy!

Click here to download a PDF or read the report below

COMING SOON: A NEW VISION FOR THE THE COLDWATER RIDGE VISITOR CENTER

When the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created it was expected to host 1-2 million visitors a year. It currently receives less than 500 thousand.

Our friends and partners at the Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI), a non-profit that advances understanding and stewardship of the Earth through science, education, and exploration of volcanic landscapes, are looking for new ways to connect people to the volcano. Recently, they brought a proposal forward in response to the USFS’s public “Request for Expressions of Interest”—a major update to the former Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center that includes a small campground, cabins, 3 small lodges, staff housing, and food service to better meet the needs of their Outdoor School programs as well as meet the needs of other visitors to the Monument through overnight accommodations.

Due to a lack of USFS resources and funding to keep up with maintenance, and declining visitation, the former Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center closed in 2007. However, in 2012, MSHI began partnering with USFS on use of the site for education and community engagement programs. The number of people, primarily youth, served at the site nearly doubled every year from 2011-2017, reaching existing capacity in 2018. It became clear that the current facilities don’t have the capacity or scale of operations necessary for MSHI to operate sustainably and fully realize the educational and community-building potential the Coldwater site holds. 

 

The current Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center
An illustration of the updated exterior

In response, the MSHI developed a vision to transform the current facility into a world-class, environmentally and financially sustainable, nonprofit facility that provides outdoor school and other educational experiences while expanding access to public land. If realized, MSHI’s planned improvements will also enable Coldwater Ridge to welcome more students and outdoor schools while hosting events and retreats, overnight campers and guests, and more day-use visitors. These additional activities will provide self-sustaining funds needed for regular maintenance and educational programming while increasing access for visitors coming to connect with and experience this unique and inspiring landscape.     

MSHI’s proposal calls for the creation of new lodges to house students attending outdoor schools, improvements to the existing visitor center, 10 new cabins, staff housing, the construction of a new campground, outdoor classrooms and amphitheaters, and more, enabling visitors to experience Mount St. Helens over multiple days rather than a short visit.

According to MSHI, the new developments will be built to Living Building Challenge standards, using the most sustainable building materials and practices available. Because of the existing infrastructure (including multiple buildings and large parking area), there will be only limited impacts on the landscape outside of areas that have already experienced extensive disturbances. While increased use and development may sometimes result in negative consequences, this site, which is easily accessible from Interstate 5 and lies along the route to the well-used Johnston Ridge Observatory, already experiences significant visitation. In this instance, the upgraded facilities and environmental education provided there could actually help reduce negative impacts while increasing access.

Mount St. Helens is an incredible place that deserves to be sustainably enjoyed and cherished by all. CFC is supportive of the MSHI’s plan to increase access to and appreciation of the natural world–especially for students and outdoor schools. Once the final design and engineering work are complete, the Forest Service will present the plans and an analysis of their potential impacts to the environment for public review and feedback in compliance with processes required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CFC will participate in the NEPA process and offer feedback and comment to ensure the project will not impact ecosystems and species within the Monument and surrounding landscape.

A POSITIVE STEP FORWARD FOR CLIMATE-SMART FOREST MANAGEMENT

President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order has real potential to be the start of an important shift in the way forests on federal lands (and beyond) are managed. In the fact sheet provided by the Administration, concerns about climate are front and center. The Order recognizes that forests serve vital functions helping to slow the acceleration of climate change and acknowledges the outsized impact of mature and old-growth forests in capturing and storing carbon. 

Biden’s Order directs federal agencies to create a consistent definition for old-growth forests that accounts for regional and ecological variation and to complete an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal land. This inventory will be made available to the public and could serve as a useful tool for conservationists and scientists across the nation.

 

The Executive Order also aims to aid rural economies by supporting community-led efforts to create and sustain jobs in the outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products industries, requires agency-specific reforestation targets, and calls for expanded seed collection projects.

Additionally, the Earth Day Order is directing the government to study and evaluate the vital functions that forest ecosystems provide beyond producing extractable resources. Calculating the monetary value of the many benefits these places provide to society (such as healthy populations of pollinating insects, clean air and water, and carbon sequestration) is a key component in re-imagining how we think about resource management.

Language in the Administration’s fact sheet also recognizes the importance of nature-based solutions to habitat restoration and wildfire risk mitigation. We’re encouraged that Biden’s Order calls for a report on nature-based solutions (projects like CFC’s work installing beaver dam analogs) to slow climate change and enhance habitat resilience.

 

These are all positive steps forward. But what ultimately results from this Order will depend on us. While the Order itself does not prohibit or offer updated guidelines related to logging, it does direct federal agencies to analyze threats from wildfire and other climate impacts facing the mature and old-growth forests they inventory, and to develop new policies to “institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies.”

These new forest management policies aimed at safeguarding mature and old-growth forests will be created through a process “with robust opportunity for public comment.” That means that scientists, conservationists, organizations like CFC, and people like you who care for the future of our forest and environment will all have a role in shaping the policies that will guide how our public resources are used and stewarded for years to come.

Public lands belong to all of us and how they are managed will have an impact on all of our lives, for better or worse. Biden’s Order is an important first step in a process that is only just getting started. It represents an exciting opportunity to work together, speak up, and make a lasting positive difference for our climate, our forests, and our communities.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE GREEN RIVER VALLEY?

Once again, the Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC) has successfully fought off a corporation’s attempt to develop a new open-pit hard rock mine in the Green River Valley, located at the doorstep of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

In February, a US District Court reversed decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service that had illegally permitted the Canadian mining company, Ascot Resources Ltd., to drill 63 exploratory holes on and around Goat Mountain.

We are thrilled by this recent victory, and grateful to our council at Earthrise Law Center and the Western Mining Action Project, and the many Tribes, organizations, and individuals who have supported our efforts. However, the threat of a mine still looms.

To understand why CFC and our allies are still concerned about the potential of a mine being developed here, and the rationale for what we plan to do about it, it’s helpful to look back at some recent history. 

 

HOW DID WE GET HERE?


 

Many were working against mining interests here decades before the founding or involvement of Cascade Forest Conservancy (established as the Gifford Pinchot Task Force in 1985). Evidence of this history can even be observed in the lines and boundaries seen in present-day maps.

In 1982, Congress was working toward the creation of the country’s first National Volcanic Monument. The Green River Valley was included in the bill drafted as a middle ground between competing proposals backed by conservationists and the timber industry. Despite near-unanimous support for the compromise, the threat of a veto was still very real.


 

Newspaper clipping from The Oregonian, July 22, 1982. Text reads: WASHINGTON–A 105,400-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument won unanimous approval from the Senate Wednesday, but the preservation proposal apparently faces a veto from President Reagan.
Clipping from an article titled “St. Helens plan passes Senate but faces certain veto” Published in the Oregonian, July 22, 1982

 

Reagan had recently come into office backing the Sagebrush Rebellion movement and was wary of taking actions that protected public lands. In the end, the bill creating the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was passed and signed into law, but only after the Green River Valley was carved out of the Monument’s boundaries to protect mining interests.

CFC first became involved in the mining fight in 2005 when we formed a coalition that successfully pressured the BLM to deny a hard rock mining permit application submitted by a company then called Idaho General Mines, Inc. 

Then, in 2010, the mineral rights were sold to a Canadian company called Ascot Resources, Ltd. That same year, the Forest Service approved Ascot’s drilling plan without an Environmental Assessment and limited prospecting began that August. When Ascot filed applications for prospecting permits in 2011, CFC took legal action that ultimately resulted in an end to drilling.


 

A rusty pipe emerging from the ground surrounded by vegetation
Hardware left behind in the Green River Valley from illegal drilling that occurred in 2010.

 

But only one month after a judge dismissed Ascot’s attempts to restart their drilling operation, the company filed new permit applications which were quickly approved–despite widespread public opposition. This led to another lawsuit and another victory for CFC. But again, quickly after their second defeat, Ascot began working on another permit application, which was eventually approved by the BLM and Forest Service.

CFC once again challenged permits in court. After this latest legal battle, CFC has once again protected the Green River Valley. But history has shown us that court victories will not stop mining companies’ attempts to imperil the life that thrives in the Green River Valley and downstream communities for short-term profits. To really protect this place, we need to finally end the threat of mining here once and for all.

 

SECURING A MINERAL WITHDRAWAL–BECAUSE THIS IS NO PLACE FOR A MINE


 

The good news is that momentum is on our side and that permanent protections for the Green River Valley are within sight.

Cascade Forest Conservancy is ramping up efforts to secure a legislative mineral withdrawal. A mineral withdrawal is a federal land management tool that bans mining activities within a defined boundary. Unlike other land management tools, a mineral withdrawal would not impact other permitted activities within its boundaries. Getting this done through Congress rather than through administrative channels will ensure that these protections for the Green River Valley can’t easily be undone by the whims of a future administration.


 

An arial map showing the current boundary of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and CFC's proposed mineral withdrawal
Our proposed mineral withdrawal would protect the areas removed from the monument to avoid a veto.

 

Our efforts to convince Congress to act will succeed if we work together. CFC’s new campaign, the Green River Valley Alliance (GRVA), is working to do exactly that. The GRVA is a growing coalition of conservation organizations and businesses, including Conservation Northwest, Washington Wild, and Patagonia, who are publicly expressing their support for our proposed mineral withdrawal.

We also know that the support of community members is just as (or more) important to winning Congressional action as the involvement of partner organizations. Almost 500 people have signed a petition signaling their support for the withdrawal. Many more have attended events, shared information about the campaign on social media, and written postcards to legislators.

What’s next for the Green River Valley? Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to decide. Join us, because together, we will ensure that Mount St. Helens and the Green River Valley are no place for a mine, for good.

Go to the brand new www.GreenRiverValleyAlliance.org to add your name to our petition, check-out upcoming events, and help spread the word.