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!

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.

Mature Forests, Wildfire, and Regeneration Harvests

2020's Big Hollow fire burning in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 2020

In October of last year, the Big Hollow Fire swept through over 40,000 acres of forest in the Mount Adams Ranger District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Following a disturbance event like the Big Hollow Fire, stands that burned at high severity, causing a high degree of tree mortality, will revert to the earliest stage of forest development, creating complex early seral habitat. 

Link to first early seral blog.

The idea of early seral creation on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest surfaced over a year ago when the Mount Adams Ranger District began to release Forest Service proposals for large-scale regeneration harvest in the Upper Wind watershed for the purpose of recreating early seral habitat. This proposal was alarming to CFC for several reasons:

• First, regeneration harvest, simply put, is a “sloppy clear-cut”a silvicultural practice that has immediate, short-term, and long-lasting detrimental impacts on soil health, water quality, and wildlife. 

• Second, the Upper Wind proposal included the clear-cutting of mature forest stands over 120-years-oldsoon-to-be old-growth forest that would take over a century to replace.

• Third, with the increasing prevalence and intensity of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, it seemed like only a matter of time before a wildfire would create large patches of early seral habit on its own. And it did. 

CFC submitted all of these concerns to the Forest Service last summer when the project came up for scoping before Big Hollow Fire happened. Given the purpose of the Upper Wind proposal was to create early seral habitat determined to be lacking in the forest, we fully expected this part of the proposal to be removed following the fire. 

The Big Hollow fire created upwards of 4,000 acres of complex early seral habitat within the Upper Wind watershed and project area. The Forest Service’s proposal for the creation of 400 acres through regeneration harvesta tenth of the habitat the fire had just created no longer made ecological sense, especially at the cost of older forest stands. Forests in the 80-120 year age range are poised to be the next cohort of old-growthhabitat we are losing at alarming rates from the impacts of climate change. 

Big Hollow Fire Map:

Protecting mature forests and reducing the scale of regeneration harvest has been at the forefront of our timber work over the last year. This project is unlikely to be the last threatening large-scale clear-cuts on federal lands. Once more abundant in our Pacific Northwest forests, early seral habitat is returning quickly as the prevalence and size of wildfires return to our landscapes. Preserving older forests is our best chance of protecting our forest ecosystems from the accelerating impacts of climate changethey are not suitable candidates for clear-cutting.

A History of Leadership

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

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

(Responses have been edited for clarity and length)

What first led you to pursue a career in conservation?

Susan Saul:

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

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

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

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

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

Susan Jane Brown: 

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

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

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

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

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

Molly, why CFC? 

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

Susan Jane Brown:

Bureaucratic inertia.

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

Molly Whitney:

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

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

Susan Saul:

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

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

Susan Jane Brown:

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

Molly Whitney:

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

ALERT: CFC and coalition files lawsuit protect the Pumice Plain

Monday, March 22

Today, Cascade Forest Conservancy and a coalition of scientists and conservation groups challenged in federal court a U.S. Forest Service plan to build a road through the Pumice Plain, the blast zone of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, to assess the integrity of a natural dam on Spirit Lake created by the volcano’s eruption in 1980. The road would end dozens of irreplaceable scientific research projects, many dating back 40 years to just after the eruption, by destroying research plots and permanently changing the unique ecological conditions in the vicinity.

“Callous land managers are seeking to exercise dominion over the landscape at Mount St. Helens, but this landscape is more than just special, and more than just delicate,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, and Cascade Forest Conservancy Board Director. “The Pumice Plain is teaching the world new things we couldn’t learn in any other way, in any other place, which is what Congress intended when it created the National Volcanic Monument. Prudent planning can achieve a win for everyone: to ensure public safety while preserving this scientific jewel and the future discoveries that require its continued existence.”

The 1980 eruption provided scientists and researchers a unique and rare opportunity to study ecosystem recovery and formation, available nowhere else on earth. Nearly all aspects of terrestrial and aquatic ecology are under investigation at Mount St. Helens generally and on the Pumice Plain and in Spirit Lake specifically. This research could prove enormously beneficial to science, nature, and even to society.

Many ongoing studies rely on a single plot at the location of the first known plant to establish on the Pumice Plain, which was found to host a previously unknown species of moth. The proposed route for the road would go directly through this plot, destroying it and forestalling the insights it would provide us about biodiversity and landscape regeneration.

“Over the past four years, we have offered the Forest Service many alternatives to this project that protect public safety, preserve research plots on the Pumice Plain, and mitigate environmental impacts. Instead, the agency is pushing this project forward without adequate environmental analysis, or consideration of the permanent impacts the construction of a road will have on this incredible landscape,” said Lucy Brookham, Policy Manager for the Cascade Forest Conservancy. “Our members will see 40 years of research destroyed, recreation in a no-longer roadless landscape permanently altered, as well as the progress of newly forming wildlife, watersheds, and plant species halted in their tracks.” 

In addition, the project would build a road on top of the Truman Trail, one of the most popular hiking trails in the Monument. This road would damage newly forming streams and watersheds, introduce invasive species, and severely detract from the experience of hikers on the only trail that connects public access from Johnston Ridge to Windy Ridge across the Pumice Plain.

The safety of residents downstream of Spirit Lake is extremely important, which is why thoughtful planning is essential. However, the Forest Service has not yet developed a comprehensive approach to ensuring the safety of downstream communities as well as protecting the internationally known research occurring at Mount St. Helens. Instead, the agency is piecemealing its management of this area. The Forest Service must achieve the shared goal of ensuring public safety while maintaining the Congressionally designated purpose of the monument: scientific study and research

“Insights from the scientists working at the monument inform ongoing restoration projects across Washington. Further understanding of these processes will be permanently destroyed if the proposed project is implemented as planned” said Becky Chaney, conservation chair of the Washington Native Plant Society. “The work is significant enough for WNPS to help fund the research through its grant program. The science on recovery and succession has resource and restoration applications to the conservation of native plants, to wildlife habitat recovery, and to my own work as a forest planning consultant.”

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

NEWS RELEASE | February 23, 2021

Portland, Or – Thursday, a federal court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management 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, released 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.”

Thank You 2020 Volunteers

December 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

12-16-2020

News Release

      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information:

https://www.instreamwoodbanknetwork.com