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.   

VICTORY FOR MOUNT ST. HELENS AND THE GREEN RIVER VALLEY!

COURT VACATES DECISIONS BY FEDERAL AGENCIES THAT WOULD HAVE ENABLED MINING EXPLORATION NEAR MOUNT ST. HELENS

NEWS RELEASE | February 4, 2022

Portland, OR – On Monday, a US District Court, in Portland, vacated agency decisions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) which had authorized mining exploration permits that would have allowed mining activities along the northern border of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington State. The Order concludes a lawsuit brought by Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC) and represented by Earthrise Law Center and the Western Mining Action Project–their third successful lawsuit challenging the legality of mining permits in the Green River Valley since 2014. 

The judgment follows a ruling filed in February of 2021 that found the Forest Service and BLM violated federal environmental law when they issued permits to drill 63, 2-3 inch diameter exploratory holes in search of copper, gold, and molybdenum from 23 drilling sites across hundreds of acres of the Green River Valley to the Canadian prospecting company Ascot Resources. It held that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not providing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public comment, issuing instead a Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) based on an Environmental Assessment (EA) that failed to accurately represent the length of time over which drilling operations would occur and to account for impacts to groundwater and recreation access.

“This is a major victory for this beautiful landscape and the many communities that would be negatively impacted by a mine,” said CFC’s Executive Director, Molly Whitney, adding that the proposed drilling operations threatened groundwater and the Green River, “a Wild and Scenic River eligible waterway and one of Washington’s few designated gene banks for wild steelhead, in addition to a source of drinking water for thousands of people living in southwest Washington.”

 

 

 

 

According to CFC, the Order is also a victory for the Indigenous communities of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation who have publicly voiced opposition to the project, and for communities of anglers, hunters, backcountry horseback riders, cyclists, and hikers who cherish the area and bolster the local economy. Thomas Buchele, Co-Director of the Earthrise Law Center, called the USFS and BLM failure to fully disclose the adverse impacts of drilling to outdoor recreational uses “troubling,” adding that “both agencies obviously knew what those impacts would have been but chose not to fully disclose them to the public.”

“As glad as we are,” warned Whitney, “companies have repeatedly applied for and obtained prospecting permits from agencies, despite our record of winning court challenges, and there is no reason to assume that Ascot Resources or another developer won’t succeed in obtaining permits again in the future.” CFC hopes that the recent victory will bolster its efforts to secure a legislative mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley, “a federal land management tool that prevents mining and prospecting activities within a given area without impacting other permitted uses,” explained Whitney.

 

 

 

 

“The substantive case before the District Court is over. We won, and the agency decisions are vacated,” said Buchele. “Now is the time for the politicians to get involved, support a mineral withdrawal, and stop this for good.”

THANK YOU 2021 VOLUNTEERS!!

From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy, thank you to the many volunteers who joined our staff on science and restoration volunteer trips in 2021. Due in part to modifications and cancellations of a majority of our 2020 volunteer trips–we had a lot of goals to achieve in 2021. Volunteers stepped up in a big way, and we had a very successful field season! In total, we had 294 volunteers dedicate  2,235 hours to studying and improving habitats throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Here is just a portion of what they accomplished:

    • Volunteers planted 7,275 Douglas fir and western redcedar at the Yellowjacket Creek/Cispus River restoration site where engineered logs jams were placed to improve salmon habitat. As the saplings grow and mature, they will help prevent streambank erosion, shade the stream, and add more nutrients into the water. Other trees, shrubs, sedges planted by volunteers this year were to improve habitat for threatened Oregon spotted frog, to help with post-fire recovery, and to revegetate areas where Hemlock dam once stood.

 

    • Volunteers removed decades of built-up debris from the bases of 105 old-growth ponderosa pines to protect these fire-resistant but shallow-rooted giants from future wildfires in dry mixed-conifer forests south of  Mount Adams. 

 

    • They improved aquatic habitat by constructing three beaver dam analogs, collected native seeds and utilized them to support natural cycles of rejuvenation in places slow to recover from a series of uncharastically high-intensity and unusually low-interval wildfires.

 

  • Volunteers trekked into some of the most remote corners of the forest to collect data from and reset 57 wildlife cameras (and placed 12 new ones) that are part of an ongoing study helping scientists better understand the needs of reintroduced forest carnivores–which will inform and guide future reintroduction efforts.

And much, much more.

The impacts of these efforts will continue to grow and reverberate through the ecosystems of our region for decades to come. We simply could not accomplish all that we do without the help of these volunteers–but that isn’t all we are grateful for. Thank you volunteers for great conversations shared around camp after hard days of work, for jokes and stories that lightened heavy loads, and mostly, for reminding us all once again that when people who care for our shared home come together to work for its benefit, there is nothing we can’t do. From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy to every single person who participated in a volunteer science and restoration trip in 2021, thank you.

THE KEY TO CFC’S NEW AQUATIC RESTORATION PROGRAM: SIMPLE TOOLS AND THE MIND OF A BEAVER

In the coming years, scientists predict our region will continue to experience more frequent and intense droughts, floods, wildfires, insect outbreaks, and other harmful effects of climate change. CFC is working strategically to slow climate change and to build climate resilience where we can now. Restoring degraded ecosystems can help mitigate the climate-related threats our region is facing at the local level. One of our newest restoration projects is helping restore aquatic habitats and ultimately benefiting the species that depend on them.

When rainfall and snowpack levels are below normal, it can lead to a water shortage that puts pressure on many species as well as downstream human communities. Additionally, a lack of water makes it easier for wildfire to spread. Droughts are not rare in the West, but climate change is making drought more prevalent and making it difficult for the landscape to recover. Washington, Oregon, and many other western states are in the midsts of potentially the longest drought in over a thousand years, coming off of one of the driest springs in the past century. Intense droughts are expected for this year and to continue for years to come.

Many of you are familiar with our beaver reintroduction project that aims to utilize beaver and their dam-building abilities to enhance the function of the surrounding ecosystem. Beaver dams help to retain more water in the form of ponds and side channels. Not only does the surface water increase, underground the water table gets replenished as well. A landscape that is well saturated above and below ground has the ability to stay wet throughout the year–even if rainfall and snowpack are low.

Due to the great benefit of beaver dams and the fact that sometimes beaver move on to new areas, researchers Michael Pollock, Tim Beechie and Chris Jordan came up with the idea to reinforce beaver dams by strategically placing wooden posts to help maintain their structure and function. Eventually, these researchers realized that they and other restoration-minded individuals could build a series of beaver-inspired dams themselves, and coined the structures “beaver dam analogues” or simply “BDAs”. Utilizing natural material to build simple, low-cost structures is a low-tech process-based restoration technique aimed at reestablishing the physical, chemical, and biological processes within a riverscape.

BDAs can be installed for a variety of reasons:

• to reinforce a pre-existing beaver dam

• to attract beavers to a particular stream

• to get the benefits of a beaver dam even if the area is not suitable for beavers  

Building a beaver dam analog takes minimal tools and the mind of a beaver. Typically a series of BDAs are needed to achieve the goal of increasing water storage capacity. The overall series of BDAs is far more important than the individual BDA. First, an analysis of your area of interest is needed to ensure the structures are being placed in the most optimal location of the stream where they will be most effective. For our upcoming project at Woods Creek, we worked with the environmental engineering firm, Interfluve, to help with the design and placement of the BDAs. BDAs can take many forms and shapes depending on the desired results within a particular system, but the type CFC will be installing is one of the more traditional designs. Untreated wooden posts are driven into the stream bed from bank to bank (Figure 1).

Once the posts are installed, natural materials like sticks and rocks are collected from around the project site to finish the dam. Branches are woven between the posts and rocks and cobble are placed at the base of the posts (Figure 2). Once the structures are completed, results should be immediate. Water will begin to pool up behind the dam while letting fish and other aquatic species pass with ease (Figure 3). The true test of your construction will come during the winter months. They are installed knowing that they will not last forever, so maintaining them as long as you can is ideal. In some cases, you’ll have beavers come in and do the maintenance for you. For any structures that do fail, the wood used will end up somewhere downstream but won’t cause any negative impact to the system because only natural materials were used. 

Low-tech restoration projects are becoming increasingly popular and are needed in many smaller headwater streams that are already seeing the impacts of climate change. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series to learn more about our BDA project site at Woods Creek and why we choose this particular location to restore.

NEWS RELEASE | February 23, 2021 Judge rules federal agencies once again violated federal environmental laws in approving mining exploration near Mt. St. Helens.

Judge rules federal agencies once again violated federal environmental laws in approving mining exploration near Mt. St. Helens. 

 A federal court ruled mineral prospecting permits issued by the Bereau of Land Management and the Forest Service violated environmental laws. The decision is a victory for conservation groups who believe that Mount St. Helens is no place for a mine.

NEWS RELEASE | February 23, 2021

Contacts: 

Lucy Brookham

Policy Manager, Cascade Forest Conservancy

801-708-9436 lucy@cascadeforest.org

Thomas Buchele

Co-Director, Earthrise Law Center

503-768-6736 tbuchele@lclark.edu

Portland, Or – Thursday, a federal court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by issuing mineral prospecting permits to a Canadian mining company. The permits would allow Ascot Resources to drill 63, 2-3 inch diameter exploratory holes from 23 drilling pads across hundreds of acres of Washington’s Green River Valley adjacent to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to search for copper, gold, and molybdenum. Environmentalists say mining in the area would cause irreversible impacts to the environment, recreation opportunities, and drinking water. The lawsuit brought by Cascade Forest Conservancy and represented by Earthrise Law Center and Western Mining Action Project is the organization’s third lawsuit seeking to block the prospecting in Southwest Washington. The agencies withdrew their approval of the drilling in 2011 after a lawsuit was filed, and in 2014 the federal agencies’ attempt to approve the drilling was also struck down by the federal court.

The 55-page opinion, published on Thursday, held that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when considering recreation impacts. The opinion stated the agencies did not take a hard look at the impacts that 24-7 noise, created by the drill pads, would have on nearby recreators and how the project closures would prevent recreational access to the area. The judge also ruled that the agencies violated NEPA by failing to properly analyze the critical groundwater resources that would be affected by the drilling.

The Cascade Forest Conservancy, formerly the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, has been fighting mining outside of Mount St. Helens in the Green River Valley for over 15 years. Once considered for inclusion in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, parcels in the Green River Valley were eventually purchased by the Forest Service through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF purchase intended to promote recreation and conservation for the area; however, the public lands in question have been under assault from mining challenges since 2005.

The parties will now confer and likely submit additional legal briefs addressing remedy issues. The Court will then rule on the appropriate legal remedy for the federal agencies’ violation of federal law.

“This is a positive step towards preventing mining in this spectacular landscape,” said Lucy Brookham, Policy Manager for Cascade Forest Conservancy. “The Green River Valley is no place for a mine, and we hope the agencies’ decision to permit prospecting in this beautiful place will be vacated following this ruling.”

”Cascade Forest Conservancy has repeatedly asked the federal agencies to fully evaluate and disclose the impacts of the proposed mineral prospecting on outdoor recreation and groundwater resources, and those agencies have now failed to do so twice, said Thomas Buchele, Co-Director of the Earthrise Law Center. “Their failure to fully disclose the adverse impacts to outdoor recreational uses is particularly troubling because both agencies obviously know what those impacts will be but have chosen not to fully disclose them to the public.”

 “Once again, the federal court correctly found that the agencies’ review and approval of this ill-advised project violated federal laws designed to protect water and public resources,” stated Roger Flynn, Director and Managing Attorney of the Western Mining Action Project, a non-profit environmental law center specializing in western mining issues.

“There are, of course, parts of the Court’s opinion that we disagree with, including its interpretation of the Land & Water Conservation Fund,” said Molly Whitney, Executive Director for Cascade Forest Conservancy. “The funds Congress allocated and the Forest Service used for the purchase of these lands exist to provide the public with opportunities to enjoy and recreate on our public lands–the opposite of what an open-pit mine would provide to this landscape. We remain hopeful that the Forest Service will reconsider its consent after it has reevaluated and fully disclosed the impacts to outdoor recreation and groundwater resources from the proposed mineral prospecting.”

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The Cascade Forest Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working to protect and sustain the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and surrounding areas. Founded in 1985 and now with more than 16 thousand members and supporters, the Cascade Forest Conservancy has led the effort to protect the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens from mining threats for over 15 years. 

A History of Leadership

As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, we reflect on the women who have led the fight for conservation in the southern Washington Cascades and who shaped our history as an organization.

We asked questions to three leaders: Susan Saul, who fought for the protection of Mount St. Helens and was a leader and co-founder of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (now Cascade Forest Conservancy); Susan Jane Brown, an environmental lawyer and the Task Force’s first Executive Director; and our current Executive Director, Molly Whitney.

(Responses have been edited for clarity and length)

What first led you to pursue a career in conservation?

Susan Saul:

I grew up in Oregon. We lived “out in the country” so I spent a lot of time outdoors and my parents took the family camping in the Cascades and at the Oregon Coast for vacations. When I was 15, I went on my first backpacking trip and was introduced to hiking and wilderness camping. By the time I entered university, I knew I wanted a career that involved both writing and the outdoors. I met a woman who was the public affairs officer for the Willamette National Forest and she mentored me with advice regarding which classes to take. I graduated with a degree in Journalism with an unofficial minor in environmental education and interpretation. 

I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 33 years in a variety of public engagement jobs, mostly with the National Wildlife Refuge System, so I had a paying career by day and a separate volunteer “career” by night and on weekends. 

Susan Jane Brown:

I grew up in a family that spent a lot of time in the out-of-doors, camping, hunting, fishing, so the environment was always something that was important to me. I also always wanted to be a lawyer, and in high school and college became aware that there was a discipline of law called environmental law. I set my sights on environmental law, and thus wanted to attend Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, which is the number one environmental law school in the country. It was only once I got to law school that I fully came to understand the nature of public interest environmental law, which is what I practice today. 

Molly Whitney:

Being a born and raised Portlander, I think an appreciation for the natural world is in my blood. Also, my father is a biologist and learning about the ecosystems around me was a part of everyday conversation. I grew up on a trail or in a canoe exploring the world around me – rain or shine. I saw negative impacts of development and human interference, but also noted that there were many groups working to stop and or mitigate these impacts… I knew which side I wanted to work for. 

Was there someone or something that inspired you to become a leader in the field? 

Susan Saul:

I moved to Longview, Washington, to take my first permanent job. I joined the local Audubon chapter and the Mount St. Helens Hiking Club to find like-minded people for outdoor recreation. Quickly, older members introduced me to conservation issues in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF), particularly around Mount St. Helens. I spent most of my free time hiking, backpacking, and scrambling with them so I got to know the places as well as the issues.

In the autumn of 1977, I saw a newspaper notice that a group called the Mount St. Helens Protective Association was holding a public meeting. I attended the meeting and joined the group. Local hikers, backcountry hunters and equestrians had formed the group in 1970 to seek national monument designation for Mount St. Helens but they hadn’t achieved much public or political traction. I had some ideas to build public support so I gradually took on a leadership role.

I was mentored by Joe Walicki, Northwest Representative for The Wilderness Society, Helen Engle of Tacoma and Hazel Wolf of Seattle, founders of many Audubon chapters in Washington state. Joe prodded me to get newspaper coverage for the Mount St. Helens monument proposal and to make my first constituent visit with Congressman Don Bonker of Washington’s 3rd District.

I attended the twice yearly Audubon Council of Washington meetings where I got to know Helen and Hazel and made presentations on conservation issues in southwest Washington. By the time Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, I had established recognition as a local conservation leader. State-wide conservation groups turned to me for leadership regarding how the conservation community should respond to the eruption.

Susan Jane Brown: 

I never intended to be “a leader,” but rather I love my job and the work that I do. I guess that passion and excitement is attractive to others, who want to share in that energy. I’m glad that I have partners who I get to work with that also inspire me to protect the wild places and critters that I love.

Molly Whitney:

I’ve been influenced by strong women in my family – to become a leader in any field. My grandmother earned her PhD when it was nearly unheard of for her generation… and my mother earned her MD. Matriarchs have led our family – they demonstrated that there is nothing that couldn’t be achieved if you worked for it and gender should never be a limiting factor. 

Susan, as you mentioned, you were an important part of the Mount St. Helens Protection Alliance that predated the creation of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force (which you went on to help establish). Susan Jane, you were the first staff person/Executive Director of the GPTF. What are the biggest changes you have noticed about conservation in the Pacific Northwest over your careers?

Susan Saul:

Women have always played a leadership role in conservation in the Pacific Northwest, but they had to fight for recognition of their skills and abilities. Men always wanted all the glory and tried to delegate women to making coffee and taking meeting minutes. I almost quit the entire conservation movement after three men from state conservation organizations drove down from Seattle, accepted my hospitality and proceeded to dictate to me a long list of tasks that I should do, without any offers of help, and unwillingness to acknowledge that I also had a full time job. By the end of the meeting they had me in tears. I called Helen Engle, who advised me: “Susan, just keep doing what you are doing and eventually they will recognize that you know more about Mount St. Helens than they do and they will leave you alone.”

Following passage of the Mount St. Helens Monument Act, my conservation leadership rolled over into working on the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984. I helped craft the campaign that was put together under the leadership of the Washington Wilderness Coalition (now Washington Wild) which was co-founded by a woman – Karen Fant. Many women were leaders in advocating for wilderness in their local areas. 

In 1984, the GPNF began work on its land management plan. I organized a meeting of representatives of all the interest groups in early 1985 to figure out how we wanted to deal with the planning process. At the end of the meeting, the group decided we needed a new, temporary organization to lead through the process and chose the name Gifford Pinchot Task Force (GPTF). Five years in, the GPTF had come up with innovative ideas, like creating our own alternative forest plan and getting it included in the Environmental Impact Statement. We had also been appealing timber sales and getting involved in other management issues so it made sense to keep the organization going.

I stepped down from leadership of the GPTF in 1993. By then, women were much more common as both volunteer leaders and paid staff for conservation groups.

Susan Jane Brown:

Probably the biggest change has been the focus of the United States Forest Service. When I started out, the agency was still clear cutting old growth in the Pacific Northwest, and despite the adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan, didn’t show signs of slowing down.  Now, a couple of decades on, the Forest Service has really turned a corner with respect to old growth logging: while it sometimes still happens, the agency is much more focused on restoration and collaboration rather than controversy and conflict.

Molly, why CFC? 

Molly Whitney:

The forests of the Pacific Northwest are iconic. I spent time in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest growing up… and I had no clue that these beautiful areas that I was experiencing were connected by being within the same National Forest boundary. I can’t remember when I was first introduced to the Task Force, but they, and then CFC, had been on my radar for a long time. When the posting for an Executive Director appeared, I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of this long-standing and impactful organization. 

Susan and Susan Jane; what excited you about where CFC is right now?

Susan Saul:

I am enthused by the continuing legacy of womens’ leadership of CFC, including not only Molly as the Executive Director but also the strong supporting roles of Lucy as the Conservation Policy Manager, Amanda as the Stewardship Manager, and Suzanne as the Restoration Manager. I think it is especially important that CFC has expanded its organizational role beyond conservation to also engage in stewardship and science and to partner with the Forest Service on shared projects and goals.

Susan Jane Brown:

CFC is in an interesting place right now: it is an organization that is changing and growing and has a lot of opportunities before it. I’m excited to see how CFC evolves and grows in the years ahead!

What do you see as the greatest opportunities for conservationists working in the Pacific Northwest in the next 5 years?

Susan Saul:

The “30 x 30” conservation target embraced by the Biden administration to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and coastal seas by 2030, with expanded funding opportunities coming through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other programs. This target and associated funding may bring renewed energy to conservation campaigns like permanent withdrawal of the Green River area from mineral exploration and development and federal acquisition of the High Lakes area northwest of Mount St. Helens. 

Susan Jane Brown:

As the Forest Service has shifted away from its commodity production emphasis, the conservation community has a great opportunity to work with diverse stakeholders to develop a new vision for our national forests. In particular, the Northwest Forest Plan is scheduled for revision beginning this year, which means that land managers and the public have the chance to build on the important ecological successes of the Northwest Forest Plan and to address pressing issues such as climate change and wildfire risk reduction.  Because forest plans guide subsequent land management decisions, it is essential that forest plans – and the Northwest Forest Plan that covers the range of the northern spotted owl – contain requirements and limitations that will deliver those societal values. But we won’t receive those values without engaging and putting forward a proactive vision, which takes time and intention.

Molly Whitney:

Maybe I’m an optimist but I think that institutions are seeing some of our policies and law as dated and/or needing revision. Take the Northwest Forest Plan. I think we have opportunities to make contributions for the betterment of these policies as they are revisited. We have seen what doesn’t work – we, as conservationists, with growing public support, are situated to address them.  

What do you see as the greatest threat we will need to overcome?

Susan Saul:

A challenge, rather than a threat, is engaging the political support of Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler where federal legislation is needed to achieve conservation goals, such as a legislated mineral withdrawal for the Green River.

Susan Jane Brown:

Bureaucratic inertia.

Molly Whitney:

There are few places that are left intact and undisturbed by human interference. I think that these places, unless protected, are on the verge of being lost forever. We can always work toward restoration, but you only have one chance to protect something before it is forever altered. I think, as demands on our natural resources continue to expand, that we will have to work even harder to make sure that these rare places aren’t impacted. 

What is one insight that you think is unique to being a woman and a leader in the conservation movement?

Susan Saul:

About 10 years ago I was interviewed for a book, “Extraordinary Women Conservationists of Washington: Mothers of Nature.” My interviewer, Raelene Gold, asked me that same question and we discussed it at length since women’s contributions have until recently been literally left out of important conservation histories. We agreed that women often are more collaborative in their approach to achieving shared goals: women frequently have strong people skills, are more inclusive, listen more, read situations more accurately, and are more likely to build teams to solve problems. They learn from adversity, often with an “I’ll show you” attitude.

Susan Jane Brown:

As a woman in a male-dominated field (both conservation and law), I frequently see and feel the power imbalance inherent in my work. Once you are attuned to that inequity, you see it everywhere and want to address it, but systemic inequality cannot be solved by one person alone, but rather by the whole community sharing power. Getting the message across that the conservation community is stronger when we share power, rather than by treating conservation as a zero sum game where some win and some lose, is a challenge. But working with others who understand this dynamic and are also working to build power by sharing it is incredibly rewarding.

Molly Whitney:

There are new perspectives that can be brought to the conservation movement by people that haven’t been historically represented. There are many voices that need to be heard and I hope that women, as well as many other underrepresented groups, are finding their voices heard and recognized as the movement expands and becomes more diverse.

What advice would you give to girls and women interested in pursuing a career fighting for the natural world?

Susan Saul:

Don’t reject volunteering. I have never been paid for any of the 45 years of work I have described in this interview. There weren’t many paying jobs with conservation groups when I was starting out, and the few jobs that existed paid very little. Joe Walicki, the Northwest Representative for The Wilderness Society in the 1970’s, could not afford to own a car so he traveled around Washington and Oregon by Greyhound bus, couch surfed at the homes of conservationists, and relied on supporters’ generosity for meals and rides.

Find mentors. Take advantage of internships, temporary and seasonal jobs to explore your career calling. 

Susan Jane Brown:

Develop a thick, but compassionate skin. Conservation is a full-contact sport, and the losses are tragic: a special place is irreparably changed and perhaps lost, or a species is harmed, or water quality is degraded when our campaigns aren’t successful, and that hurts. Sometimes people operate from a place of fear and are unkind to others who are also working to conserve nature, even though we’re all on the same side, and that hurts.  But take comfort in the wild, because it appreciates your efforts, and in like-minded advocates, because they do too.

Molly Whitney:

Do it. If you find a connection, interest, or passion stemming from something in the natural world – follow it. You will be fulfilled if you are following something you love. Challenge the status quos and don’t be afraid to ask why things have been done a particular way… just because they’ve always been done one way doesn’t mean they should continue. Speak your mind, learn from those around you, and change the landscape in which you work and live.

Thank You 2020 Volunteers

December 30, 2020

The scope of the accomplishments of Cascade Forest Conservancy’s on-the-ground restoration and conservation work wouldn’t be possible without the help of our dedicated community of volunteers. Year after year, these citizen scientists give their time and labor to make positive impacts in habitats across the southern Washington Cascades. We are always grateful for their help, but never more so than we are in 2020.

Sadly, many of the trips that had been planned for this year were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other trips were adjusted so volunteers could participate with minimal risk of exposure.

Our amazing volunteers donated over 500 hours of their time to important conservation and restoration projects across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. They did demanding work; hiking, bushwhacking, duff raking, seed collecting, replanting and reseeding—all while wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

Because of their love for our forests and their generosity, in 2020 we were able to:

    • collect thousands of images from wildlife cameras deep within the Gifford Pinchot. The data collected is helping scientists understand the distributions of reintroduced fishers (a native species that until recently had been extirpated within the Gifford Pinchot.) The camera data is also shedding a light on other wildlife throughout the region.
    • prepare ancient ponderosa pines across 95 acres for prescribed burning while collecting data to help forest managers understand the effects of fire in the unique forest near Mt. Adams.
    • plant more than 300 plants and reseed 20 acres of forest affected by three recurring burns in recent years.


The impacts of all this work will benefit ecosystems across the southern Washington Cascades for years to come. 2020 will be remembered as a uniquely challenging time, but also as one when people came together to protect and care for our common home. We couldn’t have accomplished all we did this year without our volunteers, thank you!

News Release: Cascade Forest Conservancy Launches Groundbreaking Aquatic Restoration Initiative in SW Washington

12-16-2020

News Release

      

The Cascade Forest Conservancy has launched a new initiative called the Instream Wood Bank Network. The network has the potential to revolutionize the scope, scale, and efficiency of aquatic restoration in southwest Washington and beyond.

The Instream Wood Bank Network was designed by Shiloh Halsey, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Director of Programs, to address two challenges common to restoration professionals throughout the West; a lack of wood in streams and rivers and difficulty sourcing the wood needed for restoration.

Restoration experts say that before the removal of old-growth trees along rivers and streams, waterways contained more downed trees which diversified aquatic habitat and created deep cool pools needed by many aquatic species, including salmon, steelhead, and various trout species. Climate change is warming rivers in the Pacific Northwest, creating dangerous and potentially fatal conditions for migrating salmon and steelhead, making cold water refugia increasingly important to the survival of spring and summer runs of wild fish. (See Chuck Thompson’s July 23, 2020, piece for Columbia Insight “Thermal hopscotch: How Columbia River salmon are adapting to climate change” https://columbiainsight.org/thermal-hopscotch-how-columbia-river-salmon-are-adapting-to-climate-change/ )

“There is a pressing need to restore fish habitat on a large scale. There are fallen trees and logs on timberlands that can’t be sold—all of which could be used to help build back this habitat. But, there has never been a system in place to connect these two ends,” said Halsey. “And that is exactly what the Instream Wood Bank Network is designed to accomplish.”

The network sources non-saleable wood, then employs local contractors to move wood to a series of wood banks that are set up across the region. The network then provides these logs to restoration groups throughout southwest Washington.

“This is a game-changer for aquatic restoration,” said Brice Crayne of the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, one of many partner groups benefiting from the new initiative. Other partners and stakeholders include Cowlitz Indian Tribe, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and others.

In addition to supplying wood for restoration, the network advances restoration in new areas by helping to prioritize, design, and coordinate the installation of small and medium-sized wood structures to increase restoration efforts in critical habitat areas not being addressed through existing efforts.

The network is currently focused on restoring watersheds in the southern Washington Cascades. With time, the Cascade Forest Conservancy hopes to expand the network into other areas of the Cascades.

More Information:

https://www.instreamwoodbanknetwork.com

UPDATE: MOUNT ST HELENS IS NO PLACE FOR A MINE

August 30, 2020

We have some important updates about our work to protect Goat Mountain and the Green River Valley from hard rock mining. A September 18 hearing date has been set in our case against the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Oral argument will be held remotely rather than in a courtroom. It is currently unknown who will be able to watch the arguments, but we will update you as we learn more.

Why did we sue?

In the final weeks of 2018, the Forest Service and the BLM granted a Canadian company, Ascot Resources, permits to drill 63 exploratory boreholes 2 to 3 inches in diameter on and around Goat Mountain, despite the comments and objections of Cascade Forest Conservancy and opposition from tens of thousands of concerned individuals and other organizations. In response to the decision, we filed a lawsuit because we believe the permits issued are illegal. A portion of the area in question was purchased with funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is specifically allocated for purchasing land for the purposes of recreation and conservation. Furthermore, the exploratory drilling permits were granted without the necessary analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) leading to a Finding of No Significant Impact–or a determination (which we believe to be false) that the project will not have any significant impact, negative or positive, on the environment. 

Why is an exploratory drilling permit such a big concern?

Drilling exploratory boreholes will cause significant negative impacts on the area and the people who enjoy it. The Ascot proposal involves reactivating old roads in pristine forest to transport trucks and heavy equipment to drill sites. Harmful chemicals would be used at the drill sites, some of which are located within 100 feet of waterways, and the constant noise of equipment would disturb wildlife and ruin some of the best fishing, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and outdoor recreation opportunities in Washington State.

Our biggest concern, however, is that if significant mineral deposits are found, stopping an open-pit hard rock mine may become very difficult. Our best chance of protecting this place and the surrounding areas is to stop the mining process now, not later.

What is at stake?

Goat Mountain and the Green River Valley are situated just beyond the borders of the protected Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. In fact, as you can see in the map below, the boundary lines of the monument were drawn specifically to exclude the area from protection because of the possible value of the mineral deposits that may lie there. The monument was formed in 1982. During the years of the Regan administration, excluding these areas from protection was a necessary compromise to achieve protections for the rest of the mountain, but one that left the region vulnerable to mining threats.

The slopes of Goat Mountain are home to some of the only old-growth forest stands in the area to survive both the intensive logging of the preceding decades and the 1980 eruption. The Green River flowing directly below is a recognized gene bank for wild steelhead, and an eligible Wild and Scenic River. A mine would completely decimate this landscape. We are also concerned by the toxic chemicals that are used in hard rock mining and stored in tailing ponds. These toxic ponds would pollute waterways and poison drinking water far beyond the immediate area if (or more accurately when) the pond leaks and breaches into the Green River, which flows into the Toutle, then into the Cowlitz. There is no way to mine safely on the slopes of an active volcano and in a seismically volatile landscape. If a mine is excavated the impacts of the damage will be felt for hundreds of years.

What are our next steps?

Even if we win in court, this fight will not be over. Similar permits have been approved and ruled illegal in the past. The only way we can protect this area from mining, in the long run, is to secure permanent protections for the Green River Valley. 

Cascade Forest Conservancy will make sure to keep you up to date on this issue. You can help us by making a donation to support our work to protect this landscape here.