We are excited to share some recent developments from the Instream Wood Bank. Since 2020, the Instream Wood Bank has supported aquatic restoration and salmon habitat improvement projects in the region by sourcing non-lumber wood and supplying it to partners at discounted rates. Our partners use these logs to return streams to conditions that existed before streamside logging and development resulting in oversimplified waterways lacking instream wood and pools for habitat.
Our latest endeavors have taken us from the pine-dominated landscapes of Husum, WA, westward to the forests of Merrill Lake and the industrial timberlands around Toutle, WA.
We recently completed a movement of wood near Husum, WA for the Yakama Nation and Underwood Conservation District. Our partners from Mount Adams Resource Stewards identified the available wood for us and initiated the effort. We sourced around 200 logs with rootwads attached—ideal for instream placement. These logs will be used to build fish habitat on White Creek, which flows into Klickitat River, and Rattlesnake Creek, which flows into White Salmon River. We hired a local hauling team to pick up the wood and deliver it to our partners.
We have also procured approximately 150 cottonwoods and spruce for our long-term partners at the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group. Rather than heading to the burn pile or pulp mill, these trees are enhancing habitat in the South Fork Toutle River. Remarkably, these logs hail from Weyerhaeuser timberlands, signifying an uncommon collaboration forged through numerous deliberations between our organization and one of the nation’s most prominent timber companies. We envision a future where such synergistic partnerships thrive, given the diverse array of prospects for utilizing this non-lumber wood in habitat restoration endeavors.
In addition to these two large wood movements, the Wood Bank was recently featured in a Washington Department of Natural Resources newsletter and another from Washington State University, which is distributed to small forest landowners in the state. This has led to a number of new connections, including recent conversations with private landowners near Merrill Lake who have several large truckloads of hemlocks that had fallen or were felled as hazard trees and were going to be sold as pulp. With the pulp market low at the moment, these landowners reached out to the Wood Bank and are finding a new home for their trees. We are currently ironing out logistics to carry out the haul later this month.
We are immensely pleased with how the Wood Bank has been going. This is exactly the niche it was intended to fill. We are identifying sources of non-lumber wood (or having landowners reach out to us as word of the Wood Bank has gotten around), and we are sending these logs to aquatic restoration sites across the region. This helps our partners carry out their important instream work for less money and with fewer trees being cut for those purposes.
Last month, Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers ventured out to the forests and meadows between the Dark Divide and Spencer Ridge roadless areas to capture on-the-ground information for a potential future protected area. This part of the forest, which we refer to as the Clear Creek area, has been part of internal discussions at CFC for the last several months as we have been refining conservation recommendations that will be included in our soon-to-be-published second-edition Climate Resilience Guidebook.
While out in the field, participants ground-truthed old-growth maps to ensure we are protecting these rare habitats and surveyed roads that may be candidates for decommissioning. In addition to finding swaths of large Douglas-firs on the hillsides and groves of giants standing next to wet meadows, we toured miles of the forest road system to collect information about vegetative regrowth, culvert function, and general observations of use and disrepair.
Our Guidebook will examine the impacts that climate change is expected to have on southwest Washington’s ecosystems and outline recommendations to build resilience and increase carbon storage. We identified the Clear Creek area as a priority area for protection for a few reasons.
A LARGE ROADLESS REFUGE
First, because of its location between two roadless areas, protecting this area represents an opportunity to create a large, connected roadless area that can serve as high-quality, connected habitat for wildlife. It is already an area with relatively few roads, and most that do exist here are maintenance level 1 roads, meaning they are likely remnant roads from the timber heyday and not open for public use. These remain in the system in case they are needed for future timber harvests. There are also a handful of maintenance level 2 roads. These are backcountry roads, which in some cases are well used and appreciated and in other cases are under-maintained and already starting on a process of natural recovery where trees and other vegetation are reclaiming their foothold. These roads can be good candidates for closure and if old culverts remain along the route, they are good target roads for more thorough decommissioning where natural water flows are re-established and the area is set back on a trajectory toward wild-ness.
Over the next few years, we plan to work with volunteers to better understand which roads are suitable candidates for closure or decommissioning and to work with agency staff to advance these efforts. As a large roadless area with beautiful meadows and ancient old-growth forests, we will also explore opportunities to increase backcountry recreation opportunities like hiking and backpacking. There are many defunct roads which could be good candidates for a road-to-trail conversion.
A DENSITY OF OLD-GROWTH
Another reason this area became a top contender for protection is the presence of large tracts of intact old-growth and mature forests that exist here. Old-growth forests are a relatively rare ecosystem in the region, so we work diligently to ensure that all old-growth is retained and mature forests are protected to serve as our future old-growth.
In the coming months, we will be publishing the Climate Guidebook with pinpointed strategies for improving the health and resilience of the landscapes of the southern Washington Cascades. Stay tuned!
In August 2022, with the help of eight dedicated volunteers, we built a series of instream structures along Stump Creek to improve habitat for coho, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey. In mid-May of this year, we visited the restoration area and were immensely excited by what we saw!
Stump Creek is a tributary of the South Fork Toutle River, which flows from the western slopes of Mount St. Helens down to the Cowlitz River then into the Columbia River and out to the ocean. As an undammed waterway, it is a relative rarity as far as large river systems in this region go. Heavy logging and the lahar flow from the 1980 eruption has etched a distinct stamp on the landscape of this watershed. Where giant conifers once lined these banks and provided habitat-diversifying instream wood, there are now rows of younger trees waiting their turn to fall in the stream. In addition to the severe impacts of streamside logging and the eruption, the waterways of the South Fork Toutle watershed were also impacted by road building and stream cleanout activities of years past.
We are working with our partners at Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, who are leading the charge with large wood placement throughout the South Fork Toutle River watershed, to rebuild habitat for anadromous fish and other wildlife. We are hoping that future generations of juvenile coho and steelhead will one day have a wide array of deep water pockets to call their home before they swim downstream to the ocean.
Our approach for this project employs a method called low-tech, process-based restoration (LTPBR). This can mean a number of things but can generally be understood as a method of instream restoration that doesn’t require heavy machinery or expensive engineered designs and is intended to initiate ecosystem processes that will continue to evolve naturally over time. The restoration consists of using wood and plant materials to create habitat pools, direct streamflow into new areas, and increase overall stream complexity and sinuosity. The continually-evolving processes result because water is moved into new areas of the adjacent floodplain. The instream wood and changing landscape creates deep pools. As more water is held back, the channel gets overfilled and spills out horizontally across the landscape and can form side-channels and wetland areas. Inundating the nearby riparian forest can help expedite the recruitment of new instream wood by causing the banks to become unstable and the trees eventually fall and become instream wood.
On our visit in May, we were pleased to see that our structures are creating fantastic new habitat for our species of interest – coho, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey. In the summer months, many reaches of Stump Creek can become dry and strand fish into tiny pools where they ultimately run out of dissolved oxygen and unfortunately die. Thanks to our work, there are numerous additional pools and new side channels! There is more sinuosity in the system, and other areas are holding a lot of water which will hopefully recharge the groundwater table and help pools stay longer into the summer. These pools will allow for safe refuge for the salmon and steelhead that utilize Stump Creek as juvenile rearing habitat.
Another positive change to the system was the retention of fine sediments behind some of the structures (several feet at some sites!). On previous lamprey habitat surveys, we concluded that there was a lack of habitat for the species. Our environmental DNA results from last year came back negative for the presence of Pacific lamprey, suggesting a similar finding. The buildup of fine sediments is necessary for Pacific lamprey’s long 3-7 year stay in sediment while in their larval stage. Instream structures can also help finer sediments separate from gravel, which is needed for lamprey (and salmon) spawning. We hope that this newly created habitat will attract Pacific lamprey to use Stump Creek when spawning and while in the larval stage. Pacific lamprey do not return to their natal stream, so there is a decent chance that they will find their way to Stump Creek!
We were glad to see that our work has also created new beaver real estate for populations already living just downstream from the restoration site. We have good reasons to be hopeful that the habitat improvements now underway will attract beavers who will do even more for the area.
We will be working in the Stump Creek area and other parts of the South Fork Toutle watershed over the next few years, and we will continue to monitor and measure changes over time. We have multiple volunteer trips in August and September. If you want to join in on this exciting restoration project – sign up here!
It’s been a busy season for the Instream Wood Bank Network. We have a lot of plans in the works and a few big movements of wood now under our belt.
THE INSTREAM WOOD BANK NETWORK
Across the Pacific Northwest, many fish populations are struggling due to compounding challenges, including degraded habitats lacking in complexity. Streamside logging and efforts to straighten channels and clear obstacles resulted in a massive reduction of instream wood—a habitat feature that helps support fish throughout their life cycles by slowing flows, creating shallow gravel beds and deep pools, and cooling water temperatures.
In response, many agencies, Tribes, and restoration professionals are reintroducing woody debris and logjams into aquatic systems. Aquatic ecosystems are healthier—and more resilient to the impacts of climate change—when these habitat features are restored. However, some of our partners often face difficulties sourcing the wood needed for restoration projects due to expense or availability.
These are the problems the Instream Wood Bank Network was created to address.
The innovative project is a highly collaborative program that functions as a set of partnerships to supply wood for restoration projects and create a better use for trees that would otherwise become wood chips, cut for firewood, or burned on-site. We work with a wide variety of landowners, local contractors and haulers, and agencies to source and haul materials. Wood is then provided to complement and advance the instream wood placement projects being managed by various restoration partners, including the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, Friends of East Fork Lewis River, the U.S. Forest Service, and others. Having extra or less expensive wood materials for their projects allows these groups to expand their impact. In short, the Wood Bank allows our restoration partners to do more work for less money and represents an encouraging win-win for rural economies and communities, conservationists, and (of course) fish.
AN EXPANDING IMPACT
The Instream Wood Bank Network is still a relatively new endeavor, but it’s already producing major results. So far this year, we’ve moved approximately 360 trees and delivered them to partner organizations who will be using them to restore habitat for salmon and a variety of other wildlife. We are also using some of these trees for one of our own habitat improvement projects later this year, on a tributary of the South Fork Toutle River where we will be employing low-tech, process based methods to restore aquatic and riparian health along a waterway that flows through degraded timberlands.
Earlier this spring, we facilitated the transfer of 50 Douglas firs that were laying on the ground in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area that had been pushed over as part of a road realignment project and were slated to become firewood. These trees had root wads attached and would make perfect instream habitat trees for fish. We contacted the Forest Service just in time and instead arranged for the transfer of these trees to support the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s upcoming instream work on Wildboy Creek.
The logistics of transferring wood, especially salvaged wood of this sort, are complex and require working through a number of agency steps and with a number of different contractors in the stacking and hauling of logs. The end results will be worth the effort. The Tribe will be removing a dam and installing instream wood. The project will dramatically improve habitat potential and restore fish passage to upstream reaches of this currently fragmented waterway. The addition of instream wood will also benefit the area as it recovers from the ground and waterway disturbance caused by the removal work, helping restore health to the waterway.
Recently, the Wood Bank also successfully sourced 284 logs for our partners at Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group. These were sourced from a Department of Natural Resources location where trees are grown for seed production. Due to their growth patterns, these trees are not able to be sold as lumber and were going to be chipped up for pulp. We thought a better use for these trees would be building fish habitat in the Coweeman River and various tributaries of the South Fork Toutle. So we worked with the logger and the landowner and coordinated this movement of wood. Not only are these salvaged logs finding a new home where they are able to serve as habitat, but we were also able to supply them to our partner for around half of what they would have otherwise paid to acquire trees from an intact forest.
As the impact of the Wood Bank Network grows, we are looking ahead and creating new opportunities to make downed trees available for river restoration projects. In addition to ongoing conversations with timberland owners, such as Port Blakely and Weyerhaeuser, we are looking across the region for trees being cut for urban development.
As one can imagine, the logistics involved in building new partnerships and coordinating successful wood movements are demanding. This is a complex endeavor that is bringing people together from across a wide range of interests and ideologies. It seems to be that a project designed to restore rivers through cooperation, partnership, and the creation of economic opportunities, is something we can all get behind.
The laws and guidelines regulating the way public lands are managed have come a long way, but the challenges we face today require an updated approach.
The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was implemented almost thirty years ago. The plan–a series of federal policies and guidelines governing land uses within federally managed areas of the Pacific Northwest–was adopted at the height of the confrontation between environmentalists and the timber industry around over-harvesting practices that decimated old-growth forests in the 1980s and early 90s. The plan was shaped by hundreds of scientists from a wide range of fields of expertise. It was designed for the purpose of preserving the health of entire ecosystems, including the people that rely on our forests, rather than focusing solely on the preservation of individual threatened or endangered species.
The NWFP was an important and ground-breaking piece of federal policy. When it was adopted in 1994, it created new guidelines for federal agencies and fundamentally changed the nation’s approach to resource management on public land for the better. But when the policy was adopted, our understanding of climate change was just beginning to emerge and was not yet a factor in shaping policy decisions.
Now, scientists, policymakers, and the public all have a better understanding of the urgent need to slow and mitigate climate impacts, as well as the role that forests in the Pacific Northwest play in capturing carbon and slowing global climate change. In light of these factors, CFC and many leading scientists believe our national forest land management policies could use some updating.
HOW ARE FEDERAL LANDS CURRENTLY MANAGED?
Part of the way the Northwest Forest Plan set new guidelines for resource management was the creation of several different land allocation designations that set management objectives for specific areas. The goal was to balance competing land use objectives and to protect the long-term health of forests, wildlife, and waterways.
Since the NWFP was adopted, timber harvests have mainly been proposed and discussed in areas within four of these designations:
Late-Successional Reserves (LSR)
Late-Successional Reserves are areas set aside to support or advance old-growth characteristics. It should be noted that this old-growth-focused management objective still allows some logging (mostly thinning) and this has been a source of conflict and disagreement through the years.
Under the NWFP, forest management in Riparian Reserves (habitat areas near streams and rivers) is supposed to support riparian health, but how one interprets this goal varies and management can also include thinning.
Adaptive Management Areas
Compared to other designations, Adaptive Management Areas are smaller and intended to allow the US Forest Service a degree of experimentation with management interpretations. These are places where the impacts of restoration and harvest techniques are tested, implemented, and measured. But, of late, we have seen a rise in fairly intensive logging projects in these areas, mostly under the stated goal of bringing back huckleberry picking areas.
Matrix lands were intended to meet multiple objectives within the landscape, including the production of commercial yields of wood, diversification of habitat areas, and corridors between dispersed mature and old-growth habitat areas. The vast majority of timber harvest in national forests occurs on Matrix land. Unfortunately, that has led some to misinterpret the management objective of Matrix lands as places solely intended for free-for-all timber production.
RETHINKING THE MATRIX
In our Climate Resilience Guidebook, published in 2017, we outlined land management recommendations and restoration strategies that can be implemented at the local level to build resilience and limit the impacts of climate change. The Guidebook looked into how the different designations created by the NWFP relate to the conservation of species and habitats.
As we prepare to publish a new edition of the Guidebook, we are digging deeper into the role of these designations, especially that of Matrix lands. It’s vital to do that work now. The NWFP will be undergoing a long-anticipated update in the coming years, and scientists and conservationists will have opportunities to influence the new guidelines and objectives. We are interested in exploring how our knowledge of climate change and carbon sequestration may influence how we, collectively, may want to view the role of Matrix lands in national forests.
There are many questions that require investigation. Is it time for management conversations to more directly consider how carbon sequestration in Matrix lands can influence future climate impacts? Since drought and fires impact the entire forest, do we need to update our thinking about the management goals of Matrix lands to include their potential value as habitat refugia (importantplaces where plant or animal populations can survive periods of unfavorable conditions), even if these Matrix lands make imperfect substitutes for areas designated as LSRs or Wilderness?
A selection of images from CFC’s wildlife cameras taken on Matrix lands
The new edition of the Guidebook will help elucidate answers to these questions and more. It will do so by synthesizing our knowledge from on-the-ground experience, insights from the latest scientific research, and data from mapping layers. All of this will allow CFC to gain a better idea of what changes to the Northwest Forest Plan may be needed to sustainably manage public resources while preserving ecosystem health and biodiversity in a changing world.
Locally, the insights we gain will impact our recommendations and priorities related to our work discussing and negotiating timber sales in forest collaboratives and our work, generally, with federal and state agencies. We will also use these insights to influence the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Plan and the Mount St. Helens Comprehensive Management Plan, two federal planning documents that will be updated after the NWFP and that will both be critically important to how our local federal lands are managed well into the future.
It’s time to revisit how we think about Matrix lands. We aim to publish a set of recommendations for this revision process and an outline of strategies we can all push forward through the various levels of conversation and public involvement, from the individual on up to the national stage.