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.   

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.