ACTION ALERT: IT’S TIME TO SPEAK UP FOR HARDRCOK MINING REFORM

Mining reform is currently a hot topic, particularly in Washington D.C. There is a growing national conversation about how best to obtain critical minerals needed to fuel the green energy transition while protecting the environment and communities. There are major challenges that we must address to do so. The laws currently governing mining on federal public lands are a patchwork of requirements that make it extremely difficult to ensure hardrock minerals are mined responsibly on those lands.

Policymakers are grappling with what to do about these badly outdated laws, many of which are rooted in a historical legacy of colonial racism and antagonism against the natural world. We know better alternatives to those laws are possible. Change is on the horizon, which means this is the time for the public to get informed and get involved.

 

HISTORY OF HARDROCK MINING LAWS IN THE U.S.


 

In the 1800s, the United States enacted policies to encourage people to “develop” and colonize the West, including the General Mining Law of 1872. This statute was grounded in manifest destiny and other beliefs we recognize as racist, harmful, and wrong. The 1872 law gave lands to mining developers (at very little cost) that had been taken from Indigenous communities.

 

The now-abandoned mining town of Carbonado, WA in 1900. Image courtesy of westernmininghistory.com

Once a claim was patented, the government would recognize a miner’s right to extract minerals –regardless of any other considerations. When the law was passed, the value of the nation’s currency was tied to physical gold (and would remain so until 1971). It’s not surprising then that in addition to giving away land, this statute gave preferential treatment to mining over other land uses. 

Over time, small changes were added to the mining regulatory structure. The government created a different structure for regulating mining on federal lands acquired after the act was passed. Mineral rights in these areas can be leased rather than claimed–which gives land managers limited discretion over mining activities compared to claims on lands regulated by the original 1872 General Mining Law.

The last significant update to the system of regulations governing hardrock mining activities was the Mining and Mineral Policy Act of 1970. 1970 was also the year of the first Earth Day. The conservation movement was gaining momentum and there was broad bipartisan support for laws protecting the environment–but the gold standard had not yet been repealed and the government continued to place a high priority on extracting hardrock minerals.

The 1970 policy made it clear how important extracting hardrock minerals remained to the US government. It stated “that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in the national interest, to foster and encourage private enterprise in (among other goals) the development of domestic mineral resources and the reclamation of mined land. This Federal policy obviously applies to National Forest System lands.”¹

 

Colorado’s Gold Kind Mine Disaster in 2015 was the result of an accident that occurred as EPA crews were working to clean an abandoned mine

Centuries of bad laws regulating mining caused a massive amount of legacy pollution that is still around today. Abandoned hardrock mines have been a known problem for years and a strain on taxpayers due largely to the fact that the General Mining Law of 1872 did not include any environmental protections or cleanup requirements. And unlike regulations governing other extractive industries like oil and gas, the law does not require royalty payments to the government, which could have helped offset the costs of pollution and cleanup taxpayers incur.

Unsurprisingly, the West is littered with abandoned mines. According to the Environmental Protection Agency “[m]ining in the western United States has contaminated stream reaches in the headwaters of more than 40 percent of watersheds in the West.” Sadly, it is often the wildlife and communities living nearby who suffer the environmental and health consequences.

 

HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS TODAY


 

Today, hardrock mining is still primarily regulated by the 150 year-old General Mining Law and the 1970 policy. In other words, mining continues to get preferential treatment over other land uses and mining companies continue unnecessarily harming environments and communities while facing little or no accountability. This has been true even in many cases when the decision-making agencies have some discretion. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have the discretion to deny mining operation permits in mineral leasing applications. A long and contentious decision making process about mineral leases near the Boundary Waters may become a sign that positive change is starting, but the use of discretion has not been the norm. As the authors of a 2016 Government Accountability Office Report note, although “[t]he agencies may . . . withhold approval of the mine based on the findings of the environmental analysis. . .BLM and Forest Service officials told us that they were not aware of any instances where this had occurred.” 

 

The Green River Valley near Mount St. Helens has been a long-time target for corporations seeking to develop a new open-pit mine

In cases where the General Mining Law directly applies, the USFS and other agencies have stated in official documents that they don’t have the authority to say no to mining if all other requirements can be satisfied. 

It’s worth noting the loopholes in other environmental laws and policies that help enable irresponsible hardrock mining projects, including specific exemptions for mining within sections of the Clean Water Act.

 

Loopholes for hardrock mining in the Clean Water Act put places like the Green River–a source of drinking water and a critical gene bank for wild steelhead–at risk

Given all this, and since the BLM and USFS have only rarely exercised their discretion (when they have it) to deem a mine inappropriate, one of the only ways to protect specific federal lands from mining is with a mineral withdrawal–a federal land management tool which essentially disallows mining as a land use in a set boundary in order to maintain other public values in that designated area. A mineral withdrawal lasting for a 20 year period can be executed administratively through the executive branch, but a mineral withdrawal enacted in Congress is harder to reverse and has no expiration date. 

CFC is currently working on securing a legislative mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley bordering the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, to permanently protect it from the threat of an open-pit mine. 

 

 

NEEDED REFORMS


 

Given all of these known problems and the colonial history of laws regulating hardrock mining on lands managed by the Federal Government, CFC supports reforms that would ensure mining is done responsibly, sustainably, and with the consent and involvement of the affected communities–especially Indigenous ones. 

Momentum is building, but reform efforts for hardrock mining have been underway for decades. CFC agrees with many of the suggested reforms including efforts to: close loopholes for mining that currently exist in environmental laws like the aforementioned Clean Water Act; ensure Tribes and local communities have a robust say in the planning of mining operations; create a reliable fund for the cleanup of abandoned mines; give land use managers the ability to say “no” and encourage them to do so in response to mining when other competing land uses and values deem a mine inappropriate in a particular area. 

Towards that goal, we’ve been supporting several efforts to achieve these important reforms including signing on to express our support for bills in Congress such as the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022. We’re also engaging with the administration in the Interagency Working Group on Mining Regulations, Laws, and Permitting. This process is being undertaken by the administration to identify regulatory and congressional actions needed to update our hardrock mining regulatory structure to meet the principles for reform set out by the Whitehouse. 

 

TAKE ACTION


 

It’s long past time to rethink how we approach hardrock mining. As we move beyond a fossil fuel economy, we may come to rely on materials provided by hardrock mines even more than we already do. We will have to meet these needs while also protecting communities and our environment. 

Mining reform is needed now because our current system is setting us up to fail to achieve that goal.  It’s going to take a lot of feedback and grassroots work to get the needed reforms over the finish line. Here are a few ways you can help. 

First, use existing systems to secure a mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley. Learn more here.

Next, submit your own comments to the Interagency Working Group. They are accepting public input through July 31st, 2022.  

When you submit comments to the Interagency Working Group, please include some of the talking points here. Ask the Working Group to:

  • Recommend a legislative withdrawal for the Green River Valley in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and ask them to execute an administrative legislative withdrawal as well.  
  • Close loopholes for mining in environmental laws like the Clean Water Act. 
  • Add royalty payments for hardrock mines to help ensure cleanup of mines when all the extraction is done.
  • Ensure strong environmental protections for all hardrock mining operations. 
  • Allow land managers to have discretion to decide where other resource values outweigh mining in particular areas. 
  • Create strong public participation, Tribal consultation, and community involvement processes in mining proposals on all Federal lands. 
  • Ensure responsible and thorough cleanup of abandoned mines.
  • Create and fund an abandoned mine program to ensure government agencies have the resources they need to clean up all abandoned mines.

To comment either email comments to this address (miningreform@ios.doi.gov) or submit directly to the Federal Register here.

 

¹ Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970

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.”

KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR PIKA! A NEW INDEPENDENT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY

Which local high-altitude specialist is the size of a potato, has a teddy-bear face and large round ears, enjoys picking wildflowers, and screams “EEEEEE” like a squeaky plush toy? You guessed it–the American pika.

Pika are the smallest members of the lagomorph (rabbit) family. They are covered in a thick tan, brown, and black coat that acts as camouflage among the rocks and allows them to stay warm in the subalpine and alpine terrains they typically inhabit. Rock faces, rock slides, talus slopes, and cliffs are their preferred home.

 

An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest
An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in the Indian Heaven Wilderness within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

It’s easy to understand why the American pika is a favorite of many hikers in the western United States and Canada. But these undeniably adorable animals are in trouble.

Pika are sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. The summer months are an important time for collecting grasses and wildflowers, which are then dried into distinctive hay piles that will sustain the pika through the alpine winter. But foraging in high temperatures can be deadly for pikas. They have a temperature threshold of 78 degrees Fahrenheit and will not survive if they are exposed to high temperatures for too long. On hot days, pika are forced to limit the time they spend foraging to avoid over-exposure. The warmer temperatures brought about by climate change are making it more difficult for pika to gather enough food for the winter.

An American Pika perched on a rock
American pika photographed by supporter and volunteer, Michael Sulis

These changes are causing pika to move to even higher elevations. But many populations will soon find that they cannot go any higher. 

In many places, pika populations are declining. Gathering more data about current numbers and population trends is essential to understand what kinds of protections this species may need. Additionally, the ways in which pika respond to changes in the climate make them the perfect climate indicator species. Their climate sensitivity helps scientists infer the conditions in a particular habitat. That’s why Cascade Forest Conservancy has decided to join the Cascades Pika Watch collaboration and why we are launching a new program–a way for volunteers to make a difference for pika, independently and on their own schedules! 

Cascades Pika Watch is a collaboration between the Oregon Zoo and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. They have led highly successful projects counting and studying pika for many years in the Columbia Gorge (the Columbia Gorge pikas live at lower elevations than anywhere in the United States!) and in the North Cascades. Unfortunately, there is currently a gap in pika data between those two project areas. Cascade Forest Conservancy will lead the efforts in southwest Washington to expand the study across a larger geographic area.

Watch Oregon Field Guide’s segment about Cascade Pika Watch and the pika in the Columbia Gorge

Help from volunteers will be critical for Cascade Forest Conservancy’s efforts to study pika in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Unlike CFC’s group trips, pika research offers volunteers the chance to make an impact while setting their own schedule and pace! No experience is necessary and any level of participation will help us fill in the data gaps about this charismatic climate change indicator species!

Pikas are a natural fit for independent citizen science. They are easily identifiable, are found in beautiful places, and offer invaluable information about environmental changes. We will be hosting volunteer training on June 11th. You can attend in person at our office in Vancouver or by joining our livestream (registration will open in February). During the training, we will go over:

  • Pika and habitat identification
  • Opportunistic observations vs. sitting surveys
  • Equipment checklist
  • Safety procedures
  • Volunteer guidelines 

Whether you’re going on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to opportunistically observe pika, or you want to claim a survey spot within the forest to look and listen for pika (the sitting survey) this independent volunteer opportunity is just for you! 

If you have any recent pika observations that you’d like to share or if you want to get started before June, please email Amanda Keasberry, CFC’s Science and Stewardship Manager, at amanda(at)cascadeforest.org.

 

VICTORY! THE FOREST SERVICE HAS REMOVED MATURE STANDS FROM PLANS FOR THE UPPER WIND TIMBER SALE

Victory! We are pleased to announce that the U.S. Forest Service has listened to concerns raised by Cascade Forest Conservancy about the Upper Wind timber sale. Our efforts lead to the removal of more than 150 acres of mature stands of 120-year old trees from their proposal.

While this may seem like a small win in a time when victories in the fight to protect our climate are few and far between, its impact will last generations and it is still important to celebrate.

There is no ecologically-sound reason to harvest mature 120-year old trees; they are poised to be the next cohort of old-growth forests and to provide habitat that is critically lacking in the forests of the southern Washington Cascades. By protecting old-growth and soon-to-be-old-growth forests, we are safeguarding vital habitat for the many species that depend on these habitats, such as the iconic northern spotted owl and the rare fisher. Maintaining these unique ecosystems is also a vital component to addressing climate change. Compared to younger forests, large trees capture and store a disproportionate amount of carbon, and the cooler micro-climates they create are becoming important refuges for species working to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.     

For the past two years, CFC has taken multiple approaches to oppose parts of the Upper Wind timber sale in the Mount Adams Ranger District (MARD) of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This victory was achieved through collaboration, conversation, advocacy, and the help of people like you who commented during the project’s public feedback period required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Thank you!  

The process of planning timber sales on federally managed land often spans many years. To weigh in on projects as early as possible, CFC participates in Forest Collaboratives: organizations that bring together representatives of the Forest Service, Indigenous communities, timber companies, conservation organizations, rural communities, and outdoor recreation interests. It was over two years ago in a meeting of the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative (SGPC) that Forest Service representatives first floated the idea we came to oppose—creating a large amount of early seral habitat (forest characterized by the initial stages of regrowth following stand-replacing disturbances like fires and majors windstorms) using a clear-cutting method somewhat misleadingly referred to as regeneration harvest.

There is a need for early seral habitat on the landscape. Plants, animals, and other lifeforms have evolved to depend on and flourish in every stage of the natural cycle of destruction and renewal that characterizes forests in the Pacific Northwest. When the conversation in the SGPC about regeneration harvests began, the percentages of early seral on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest were on the low side. 

Initially, these talks were theoretical because no actual proposal was on the table. We know that wildfire does a fantastic job of creating quality early seral habitats on the forest. We also know that–due to climate change–wildfire activity on our forests (especially in the east side forests that the MARD manages) is increasing. However, we didn’t know where the proposed creation of early seral via regeneration harvest would take place within the planning area, how old the potentially impacted trees were, or how big of a patch size they were targeting. The questions were whether achieving the quality of habitat early-seral-dependent species rely on is even possible without fires or other natural disturbances and, if so, what is the cost of creating this habitat with chainsaws instead of waiting for a natural disturbance?

When CFC found out that the cost would be harvesting 152 acres of 120-year old trees, we opposed that portion of the proposal. In addition to expressing our concerns within the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative, CFC participated in further discussions by sitting in on the Zones of Agreement (ZOA) policy committee meetings. Even after the Big Hollow fire of 2020 resulted in more early seral than the agency had hoped to create, the Forest Service put forward an initial scoping plan that included large amounts of regeneration harvest in mature stands. 

We responded by submitting comments representing the interest of our large base of supporters and worked to raise public awareness about the threat. Thanks to our collaborative relationships, advocacy work, and grassroots support, we stopped a major clear-cut without having to progress to further objections or lawsuits! 

There are no small victories in the ongoing fight to protect old-growth and mature forests, to slow climate change, and to safeguard critical mature and old-growth habitats. We cannot allow these places to be sacrificed for economic gain or for unsustainable logging practices to be justified as tools for creating a habitat that is already becoming increasingly abundant due to the growing prevalence and severity of wildfires. To meet the challenges we are facing, climate policy and natural resource management need to progress toward respecting the latest science and prioritizing the protection of mature and old-growth habitats. However, we have reasons to be concerned that large-scale regeneration harvest proposals will still be proposed in the future.

Successfully removing these clear-cuts from the Upper Wind timber sale now is helping set an important precedent. In addition to protecting these specific trees, our work on the Upper Wind timber sale solidifies and demonstrates our policy stance to the agencies and organizations that Cascade Forest Conservancy works with. We do not support and WILL continue to oppose large-scale regeneration harvest (and any other cleverly-named clear-cuts) impacting old trees.

2021 BEAVER PROJECT UPDATE: HOW ARE A FORMER “NUISANCE” FAMILY DOING IN THE FOREST?

On November 8th, I joined our project partners from Washington State University to check on a family of three beavers that we released in a tributary of the Lewis River earlier in the year. This was our last check of 2021.

On the morning of the trip, we were excited to find out that the forecast had changed. Instead of rain, it was going to be a cold but sunny day!  Typically, we can drive right up to the release site—a beautiful headwater pond with a view of Mt. St. Helen’s in the distance. As we rounded curves and gained elevation, we began to see some snow. At first, we weren’t concerned—it is not bizarre to see a couple inches of snow going into the mountains in early November. But as we made our way past a sno-park, that two inches of snow quickly grew to 4 inches and then to 8 inches. We no longer felt comfortable driving the SUV further up the road, but that wasn’t going to stop us from this final opportunity to check on this family of beavers.

We backtracked to the sno-park where we each confessed that we had not looked at the snow report. To reach the release site now meant we had to walk 5 miles in the snow. I was ill-equipped for this journey (I did not pack my snow boots for this trip), but we really needed to take environmental eDNA samples and place the wildlife camera. We all bundled up in the gear we had brought, and made our way to the snowy creek.

Image: A snowy pond near the beaver release site.

The beavers at this site had been released in the summer. We trapped them from a landowner’s property in Vancouver, WA. The beaver family had actually been causing damage for years; a culvert that was supposed to drain any excess water was completely underwater due to all of the dams that the beavers had created and maintained. The dams also caused flooding during parts of the year, blocking a county road that a neighbor needed to access their driveway. We believe in promoting solutions that enable people to live harmoniously with beavers. But in an urban environment, that isn’t always possible. The homeowner had a permit to notch the dams, but beavers will repair a dam overnight. For any substantial changes to be made to this overflowing wetland, the beavers were going to have to be removed. In a situation like this, relocation is the best option for the animals, which made it the perfect case for CFC to step in and move the family to the national forest where their construction work can be better appreciated confer beneficial effects to the surrounding areas. 

We worked with a local wildlife conflict specialist and set traps near one of the dams, an area that we knew the beavers would be frequenting. We got one beaver only a few days after setting the traps, but then things began to slow down. It sometimes takes a bit of time to trap beavers, and we can only house them in our holding facility for two weeks. We decided to release the one that we had, hoping it would get its family members shortly after. Luckily that is exactly what happened! We were able to reunite the three family members at the release site in August.

Image: A beaver in a live trap that was caught in Vancouver and moved to a new home in the forestRight before the releases, we outfitted the beavers with radio transmitters, so our WSU partner, Jesse Burgher, could track them via radio telemetry. The transmitters each have their own frequency, so when Jesse is out with the antenna, he can triangulate the location of each beaver. Beaver #1 was released in late July and was tracked for a week straight. Jesse would get her location during the day and at night. On two occasions, he ended up very close to her. Once he saw her climb up rocks in the creek and another time she ended up walking straight towards him on land. Beavers don’t have great eyesight and Jesse was standing very still, so it’s likely that she didn’t notice him. In that week of observing, beaver #1 made multiple bank dens (burrows in the stream banks) and food caches about a mile down from the release site.

Beaver release video

A couple of weeks later we released the rest of the family. Now all three beavers were being tracked via radio telemetry. Beaver # 2 decided to go off and explore soon after he was released, and we have not been able to track him since. Beavers are rather transient creatures and like to explore, especially in the summer and fall. Beaver #3, the youngest of the bunch, stayed right in the main pond where we had released him! Beavers become self-sufficient at a young age and this little one really proved that. For the next couple of months, beaver #1 and beaver #3 created even more food caches around the pond and downstream. Beaver #1 created a couple of more bank dens and beaver #3 took advantage of using a downed tree in the pond as refuge. Beaver #3 also repaired some holes in an old beaver dam near his downed log home. 

By October, Beaver #3’s transmitter was found tangled in the grass so we assume it fell out and that he was not preyed upon. There was also an increase in activity after the transmitter was found, including tiny lodges, so it’s safe to say he is still there continuing to make his home. A few weeks after that, Beaver #1’s transmitter also fell out. We hypothesize that the increase in creating food caches for the winter likely leads to the transmitter being pulled out. They are moving through more trees, brush, and/or grass, so the transmitters are getting caught. Even when a transmitter falls off, we still have beneficial data about the beaver’s movements for the first few months. We can still rely on visual surveys of the area to look for beaver activity like food caches, fresh chew, beaver slides, dams, and lodges. We will revisit the site in January (with snow gear!) to conduct visual surveys and check our wildlife cameras.

Image: a relocated beaver in its new forest home

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.

WHAT’S A MINERAL WITHDRAWAL?

A proposed mine here would be an environmental and social disaster–it would be a threat to world-class recreation opportunities and the southwest Washington economies that depend on them. It would negatively impact threatened salmon and steelhead, harm local wildlife populations, and risks contaminating the drinking water of downstream communities. 

To stop this from happening, we’ve built coalitions to oppose this mining effort, raised public awareness about this issue, and stopped a number of attempts to prospect in the area through challenges to permits in federal court. So far, our efforts have succeeded in preventing the development of a mine–but court challenges may not be enough to protect this special part of the Cascades forever. A long-term way to safeguard this landscape is needed. That’s where you come in.

We recently launched a new campaign to secure much-needed legislative action that will grant the Green River Valley permanent protection from mining. The goal of this campaign is to secure a mineral withdrawal for the Green River Valley. In spite of its name, a mineral withdrawal is simply a federal land management tool that prohibits mining activities within a given boundary. It does not impact any other regularly permitted activities within the boundary such as recreation, trail maintenance, camping, or timber harvests. A mineral withdrawal enacted by Congress is the best permanent way to protect the Green River Valley. Take action by joining the growing number of individuals who are signing this petition–tell Congress to act!

Our campaign is just getting started. In addition to signing and sharing the petition above, you can join in other ways too. Attend info-sharing events like the one we hosted earlier this month at Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, WA, or our upcoming event at Oakshire Beer Hall in Portland, OR (November 17), and keep an eye out for more events, news, and updates in the coming weeks and months. We are grateful for your support. Together with individuals like you, businesses, organizations, and policymakers from around the region, we will show the Green River Valley by Mount St. Helens is #NoPlaceForAMine!

 

BEAVER DAM ANALOGS AT WOODS CREEK

 

As a quick recap, beaver dam analogs are man-made structures that are created to mimic the form and function of natural-made beaver dams. Check out the first blog post in this series to learn more about beaver dam analogs and the benefits they provide to an ecosystem. There are a variety of reasons why you might install a BDA, but for us, it was to help the beavers that currently inhabit Woods Creek and hope that they help us in return.

Beavers have been in the Woods Creek watershed for a long time. Different families move in and out of the mainstream and side channels. They repair old dams or create new ones in locations that they would like to see more water. In August of last year, as we were surveying the area to determine if Woods Creek would be well-suited for BDAs, we found three newly built beaver dams. At first we thought, “Do we need to put BDAs where beavers are already building?”. The answer was yes because by installing a series of BDAs where there were already beavers meant that there was a possibility that the beavers would improve upon and maintain what we create. BDAs are created knowing that they will only last a couple of years because the design and implementation of these structures are non-technical. Restoration practitioners often hope that installing BDAs will attract beavers to the area to provide maintenance, but have the benefit of already knowing that beavers are there.

On the week of August 9th, we set out to Woods Creek to see our plan come to life. Donning full-body waders and manual post drivers, Forest Service specialists and CFC staff spent two days building the skeleton of the BDAs. We drove six-foot wooden posts halfway into the ground to serve as a stronghold for the branches that were going to be woven in between. Once the posts were in place, we had a group of volunteers gather alder and maple branches to use to fill in the gaps between the posts. Various thicknesses and lengths of branches were used to ensure any large gaps were filled with natural materials. Beavers are fans of alder and maple, so utilizing those species is another way to ensure that the beavers at Woods Creek would come to check out our work.

One of the recent beaver-made dams was doing a fantastic job at holding back water. While we were out there, we noticed that there was a relic beaver dam that was mostly covered with sediment and vegetation but was still built up higher than the surrounding landscape. It seemed that the beavers were trying to connect their new dam to the old dam, but were about eight feet away from making that happen. We decided to connect the two dams and added more plant material to the top of the beaver dam to get it closer to the height of the old dam. On the other side of the relic dam, we built another BDA that connected to the old dam, through a side channel, and to the tree line.

By Sunday afternoon, volunteers and CFC staff wove their last few branches into the final BDA. Because there isn’t much water in the system right now, we have to wait until the rains come to see how our structures hold up. Until then we have a camera out to see if the beavers are enticed or offended by our work!