The Little White Salmon watershed is a 86,000-acre area spanning the transition zone between the wetter west-side forests and drier east-side forests of Washington’s southern Cascades, 80% of which is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Due to its location, the watershed contains a unique mix of forest types and a high level of biodiversity, but it’s also at risk from significant climate impacts.
It’s no surprise then that this watershed is at the center of conversations about how to best manage forests on the verge of change, or that there are differing opinions about what that means.
The U.S. Forest Service is contemplating treating a huge area within the watershed through a combination of commercial and non-commercial thinning. In a break from other recent timber sales in the forest, the initial scoping plans for the Little White Salmon timber sale include considerations to thin thousands of acres of mature and transitional forests, although planners have publicly acknowledged they expect the amount to decrease as the agency moves closer to creating a final version of its plan.
The agency is proposing thinning in mature forests to mitigate the increasing impacts from drought, insects, disease, and wildfire that this area is likely to experience.
Generally, Cascade Forest Conservancy doesn’t support plans that involve thinning activities in mature forests, as these are areas of high ecological and carbon storage value and it is unclear whether the potential benefits of thinning would offset the more immediate negative impacts of harvest.
However, we understand the situation is nuanced and there is a lot of complexity and uncertainty – particularly in this transitional watershed. Because of this, we have been visiting these stands and collecting data to help inform our efforts ensuring that forests and wildlife remain resilient to the threats of climate change.
On the last weekend of September, CFC staff and volunteers ventured off the beaten path in the Little White Salmon watershed to collect on-the-ground information.
We targeted some of the older stands (those between 120 and 300 years of age) for our data collection efforts to see for ourselves if the on-the-ground conditions matched up with age estimates and to gain information about forest conditions that spatial analysis cannot provide.
Teams of volunteers spread out and conducted surveys collecting information about tree species, tree densities, tree diameters, the presence and amount of large downed wood, and species diversity in the understory in 30-foot radius circles.
Each team worked hard to collect as many plots as possible and everyone gained some skills in estimating tree sizes and types by the end of the trip. Each team found well-functioning mature forest stands and a number of large trees in the survey area, with the biggest coming in at 57 inches in diameter.
In the coming weeks and months we will be discussing this timber harvest proposal with the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative and the Forest Service and working to make sure that critical habitats are protected and that management plans are well-tuned to ecosystem resilience.
Thanks to all the volunteers who gave their time and energy to this project!
I recently joined Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers in the field to survey big huckleberry fields in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Huckleberries are an important (and delicious!) source of nourishment for many species in the Pacific Northwest–including us humans. However, huckleberry production levels today are well below historic numbers.
Like most fruit-producing species, big huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) fruit production is heavily influenced by the amount of sun a plant receives. Because the plant’s foliage is naturally resilient to low-intensity fires, Indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest set fires to clear and maintain huckleberry fields and maximize fruit production for centuries until their lands were taken and the US government adopted a policy of aggressive fire suppression.
The fire suppression policies that began more than a century ago have allowed conifers and other species to encroach on what were once carefully maintained and incredibly productive huckleberry fields that had sustained people and animals for generations. But in the past couple of decades, there has been a growing interest in restoring some historic huckleberry picking sites–including areas in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Between 2010 and 2016, the U.S. Forest Service worked with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and other stakeholders to perform thinning activities designed to benefit huckleberries and CFC was tasked with monitoring the forest stands post-harvest to assess how effective these efforts have been in enhancing huckleberry.
To execute these surveys, CFC has enlisted volunteers since 2017 to collect data throughout the previously harvested forest stands to collect hundreds of data points. This year’s trip was a follow-up to an initial survey conducted at the Sawtooth Berry Fields in 2017 and 2018. The berry fields are just north of Indian Heaven Wilderness and are regarded as one of the most productive berry fields in the Pacific Northwest. To conduct the surveys, we started with a map of plot locations and a kit that included an iPad for collecting data, a rope to ‘draw’ the plot, a stake to mark the plot, a densitometer (a tool to measure canopy density), and a few other nifty gadgets.
After an overview of the project and a tutorial on how to do the surveys, we had to figure out who should do what job. I felt prepared, but also stressed since I was leading the group. The past few days I had practiced doing each job, but now it was time to put it into action. Learning how to use a compass was, interestingly enough, no easy feat. Still, I felt nervous because I wanted to ensure our group collected all the data we needed, without becoming a ‘dictator of the plot,’ so to speak.
Soon, we fell into a routine where we each had our designated jobs and could rely on each other. If I was tired, someone would trade jobs with me so I could rest, and vice versa. One of my favorite areas we visited was a mossy grove, with golden sunlight streaming through. If only I could catch that sunlight, bottle it up, and create… gold. No, not even gold shines like that. Purple lupine leaves gathered water and sparkled like otherworldly jewels. The leaves of one tree seemed to reflect the sunlight and created jade and emerald-like leaves. I smiled, realizing with these jewels, I must be one of the richest people in the world.
Our next plot had the most delicious and red wild strawberries anyone could imagine. I couldn’t resist picking a few. Gabe asked if I got the densitometer reading, but he mixed up the word, calling it an appendectomer. I smile and take the reading as Gabe asks what it’s called again. “A densitometer,” I say, pronouncing the word.
We all offered up a collective sigh of relief as we finished what would be the last plot. Tired but satisfied with our work, we walked along the road, stopping to eat huckleberries on the way. A truck passed us with kids riding in the back who smiled and waved at me. I waved back, wondering why they thought they knew me. Well, maybe they don’t have to know how to wave. Maybe it’s enough we’re all out here to search for huckleberries.
The next day was damp and misty, giving the forest an almost ethereal mystery. We trekked through a new project site, and by late afternoon, we finished our final plots. After two days of conducting huckleberry surveys, we could find north at the drop of a hat, establish the plot with the rope in no time, and whip out the iPad to collect data like no one’s business. We were a certified team and an efficient one at that. The feeling of accomplishment was palpable, and I think we all could agree that it was a successful two days (and one night) in the field! Our great volunteers and staff make this kind of great work possible, and it made me feel so proud to be able to become a part of the cause.
Last month, Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers ventured out to the forests and meadows between the Dark Divide and Spencer Ridge roadless areas to capture on-the-ground information for a potential future protected area. This part of the forest, which we refer to as the Clear Creek area, has been part of internal discussions at CFC for the last several months as we have been refining conservation recommendations that will be included in our soon-to-be-published second-edition Climate Resilience Guidebook.
While out in the field, participants ground-truthed old-growth maps to ensure we are protecting these rare habitats and surveyed roads that may be candidates for decommissioning. In addition to finding swaths of large Douglas-firs on the hillsides and groves of giants standing next to wet meadows, we toured miles of the forest road system to collect information about vegetative regrowth, culvert function, and general observations of use and disrepair.
Our Guidebook will examine the impacts that climate change is expected to have on southwest Washington’s ecosystems and outline recommendations to build resilience and increase carbon storage. We identified the Clear Creek area as a priority area for protection for a few reasons.
A LARGE ROADLESS REFUGE
First, because of its location between two roadless areas, protecting this area represents an opportunity to create a large, connected roadless area that can serve as high-quality, connected habitat for wildlife. It is already an area with relatively few roads, and most that do exist here are maintenance level 1 roads, meaning they are likely remnant roads from the timber heyday and not open for public use. These remain in the system in case they are needed for future timber harvests. There are also a handful of maintenance level 2 roads. These are backcountry roads, which in some cases are well used and appreciated and in other cases are under-maintained and already starting on a process of natural recovery where trees and other vegetation are reclaiming their foothold. These roads can be good candidates for closure and if old culverts remain along the route, they are good target roads for more thorough decommissioning where natural water flows are re-established and the area is set back on a trajectory toward wild-ness.
Over the next few years, we plan to work with volunteers to better understand which roads are suitable candidates for closure or decommissioning and to work with agency staff to advance these efforts. As a large roadless area with beautiful meadows and ancient old-growth forests, we will also explore opportunities to increase backcountry recreation opportunities like hiking and backpacking. There are many defunct roads which could be good candidates for a road-to-trail conversion.
A DENSITY OF OLD-GROWTH
Another reason this area became a top contender for protection is the presence of large tracts of intact old-growth and mature forests that exist here. Old-growth forests are a relatively rare ecosystem in the region, so we work diligently to ensure that all old-growth is retained and mature forests are protected to serve as our future old-growth.
In the coming months, we will be publishing the Climate Guidebook with pinpointed strategies for improving the health and resilience of the landscapes of the southern Washington Cascades. Stay tuned!
Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service released scoping plans for the upcoming Little White Salmon timber sale. The project, which is officially called the Little White Salmon Forest Resiliency and Fire Risk Mitigation Project, is still in the early planning stages. The agency is seeking public input, which is due May 8, 2023. Public input, as well as further agency review, will be used to refine the plan before a more detailed Environmental Assessment is published for further public input in the future. Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC) has been discussing the details of this project with the Forest Service for several years as part of our work within the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative and will be submitting our own comments to the proposal. We ask that you take a moment to join us in speaking up for mature forests in the Little White Salmon Watershed.
The Little White Salmon watershed extends northward from the Columbia River toward high elevation meadows in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, the majority of which (79%) are located within the Mt. Adams Ranger District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This area is an important transition zone between drier eastside forests and moist westside forests containing a high level of biodiversity and many high-value habitat areas. Its transitional characteristics also make it uniquely vulnerable to climate change disturbances.
The project described in the scoping notice proposes active management (including commercial and non-commercial thinning, fuel reduction activities, road decommissioning, and aquatic habitat restoration actions) on 15,600 acres. This includes thinning activities in 7,100 acres of middle and mature forests, 2,000 acres of which are described as complex stands.
CFC has concerns about the intensity of thinning activities proposed in mature forest stands and several other issues, which we outline below.
HIGH-INTENSITY THINNING IN MATURE FORESTS:
CFC is concerned that the treatments described in the scoping plans in mature forest stands are unnecessarily aggressive. The agency is proposing logging activities in over 3,000 acres of forests where trees are over 120 years old that would reduce total canopy cover to 40% or 45-55%. These mature forests are on the cusp of becoming much-needed old-growth habitat.
The intensity of the proposed logging activities in these stands will not confer fire-risk mitigation benefits (especially in the wetter west-side stands) that outweigh the negative impacts of the proposed activities to the health of the intact ecosystem, carbon sequestration capacity, and the development of old-growth forest stands. CFC is asking the Forest Service to employ less intense thinning activities for the older stands included in their plans.
We are also asking the Forest Service not to cut any old-growth in the 32 units included in the plan where these important and rare habitat areas are present. Although we acknowledge that the scoping brochure mentions “no old-growth forests are proposed for treatment,” we are formally commenting in support of that promise to ensure that all old-growth stands are dropped from treatment plans and allowed a no-cut buffer.
THINNING IN NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL HABITAT:
The proposed harvest overlaps with several northern spotted owl circles (areas around locations where northern spotted owls have been observed nesting in the past), and many of those units are proposed for thinning the canopy to 40% cover. Northern spotted owl numbers are already drastically dwindling due to the lack of available preferred habitat and competition from barred owls.
Thinning the canopy down to 40% is a heavy disturbance that will likely lead to decreased reproduction and/or site abandonment, impacting the recovery of this highly threatened species. There have been suggestions that northern spotted owls may not inhabit some of these areas any longer, and this has been used as a justification to underplay the importance of owl circles. However, critical habitat for NSOs, updated in 2021, still includes most of the project area as critical habitat. In the absence of new monitoring data, the Forest Service should continue protecting known historic nest sites.
RIPARIAN FOREST MANAGEMENT:
Many of the proposed units appear to be within Riparian Reserves. These stream-adjacent forests and aquatic habitats are migration corridors and serve as important refugia where habitat resilience is frequently best improved or maintained by leaving these areas to grow unencumbered and intact. CFC believes commercial thinning is not appropriate within Riparian Reserves and is likely not compliant with current forest management policies. CFC is asking that any management within Riparian Reserves be non-commercial in nature and tailored to the aquatic habitat needs of the specific sites.
LOST CREEK AREA:
The Lost Creek area on the southwestern edge of the watershed is special to CFC and many others. It includes ancient cedar trees that are some of the largest in the Forest. Due to the special nature of this place, we have questions and concerns about the intensity of the proposed treatments in this area and request special attention and consideration be paid to ensure the features that make this site unique are protected. We are concerned that logging near this area will result in more open canopies, higher understory temperatures, less moisture retention, and therefore higher fire risk for the old-growth stands in the area. We request that any treatments in this area focus on the protection of this unique and important ecosystem and that the impact of logging on increased fire risk and forest resilience in this type of forest be sufficiently considered.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED:
Public input from concerned citizens like you can have a positive impact on the end result of projects like the Little White Salmon timber sale. Please use the talking points above as an outline to write and submit your own comments to the Little White Salmon scoping plans by May 8th, 2023.
Comments may be mailed to Jessica Hudec, Mt. Adams Ranger Station, 2455 Hwy 141, Trout Lake, WA 98650.
Electronic comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit comments within the e-mail message or as an attachment in .pdf, .doc, or .rtf format and specify in the subject that it pertains to the Little White Salmon Forest Resiliency and Fire Risk Mitigation Project.
We are disappointed that our lawsuit to protect the Pumice Plain from an ill-conceived road was not successful. A federal appeals court will allow the Forest Service to build a road across the Plain as early as this summer.
Since 2017 we’ve been fighting the Forest Service’s short-sighted plan to construct a road through the Pumice Plain in order to access the Spirit Lake tunnel, which is in need of maintenance and repairs. We never questioned the need to maintain the infrastructure of Spirit Lake, however we strongly opposed choosing the option that created a road across the Pumice Plain without first duly considering all access options. The Pumice Plain is a place affording researchers with opportunities available nowhere else on Earth to study ecosystem recovery. The road will now compromise a large number of long-term ongoing studies, will infringe on the public’s right to experience a unique volcanic landscape by accessing the Truman trail, and will threaten the fragile watersheds and ecosystems that exist there.
We maintain that the Forest Service did not adequately study alternatives to access the Spirit Lake work site. The agency did not provide an Environmental Impact Statement, which we believe, should have been required for this project based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They failed to adequately account for a number of impacts in their Environmental Assessment including impacts to the world-class research happening in this Class 1 Research Area, impacts of road construction and runoff, and the increased likelihood of introducing invasive species, all of which will impact recreation, wildlife, watersheds, and fundamentally alter the unique character of the Pumice Plain. Additionally, the project was complicated by adding drilling to obtain information for long-term management to the tunnel repair project, making the need for an access road seem more urgent and necessary than it is and stifling the review of reasonable alternatives.
We are disappointed in the Court’s decision, and especially in the disregard for the long-term value and health of a world-renowned natural laboratory displayed by the actions of the Forest Service. This project needs more analysis and study. We will continue to stand with our coalition of partner organizations and members of the research community to continue putting pressure on the Forest Service to re-examine this decision and choose another access alternative to complete the repair work at the Spirit Lake tunnel before it’s too late.
Local conservation groups welcome recent US Forest Service announcement as a step forward for climate-smart forest management.
The announcement signals the beginning of a process to update current federal land management policies to account for wildfire, carbon sequestration, and climate change.
On December 5th, the US Forest Service announced plans to establish a Federal Advisory Committee to provide the agency with recommendations for updates to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). The NWFP was enacted during a period of intense national debate surrounding logging in old-growth forests and other unsustainable land management practices in the Pacific Northwest. It was the world’s first policy establishing a science-based, ecosystem-focused land management plan and remains the largest, affecting an area of more than 19 million acres of national forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. The committee’s recommendations will become the basis for the first significant updates to the NWFP in nearly three decades.
The announcement calls for nominations for individuals to serve on a 20-member Federal Advisory Committee that will be comprised of representatives of the scientific community, non-governmental organizations, and individuals representing the interests of Tribes, governments, and the public at-large. Local conservation groups, like Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC), are welcoming the move as a necessary opportunity to bring federal land management policy in line with current climate science.
“In a lot of ways the Northwest Forest Plan has been a huge success. It’s one of the most important tools we have for preserving old-growth habitats and maintaining and improving water quality,” said Ashley Short, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Policy Manager. “But the plan hasn’t been updated since its adoption in 1994 and the conditions we see on the ground have changed. We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in our region, like drought, higher water temperatures, and a longer fire season, and the science indicates these changes are going to continue.”
CFC also pointed out that when it was adopted, the NWFP focused on conserving populations of a number of species dependent on old-growth habitat, but noted that the plan leaves many old-growth and mature forests still at-risk from logging and road building. Short says that “for example, in areas currently designated as “matrix lands,” where timber harvesting is focused, there are few protections for these rare patches of old forest. The small amount of old-growth left in the southern Washington Cascades is already facing growing threats like increased wildfires and drought. These magnificent places are worth preserving for their own sake, but they also play an outsized role in carbon storage. It is vital that we protect old-growth forests whenever possible.”
This week’s announcement carries the potential to shape the future of land management in Washington for years to come. It represents one of the administration’s more significant actions affecting national forests in the Pacific Northwest since Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order directing the Forest Service to develop a definition for old-growth and mature forests and map remaining stands on federally managed lands.
Short said that “forming this Federal Advisory Committee is an opportunity for the Biden administration to ensure the continued success of the Northwest Forest Plan by listening to experts and community leaders like scientists, Tribal representatives, and members of rural timber communities. We are hopeful this will eventually result in an updated forest plan that benefits people in Indigenous communities and rural communities and that it will ensure that land management policies are more aligned with our current climate realities. Getting the details of the plan right will be essential to conserving biodiversity, protecting mature and old-growth forests, and addressing the impacts of wildfires.”
Just over a year ago, on October 5, 2021, we came together with supporters at Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, Washington for our first ‘No Place For A Mine’ event under our new revamped campaign. That evening we formally announced the creation of the Green River Valley Alliance – a coalition of individuals, businesses, organizations, and policymakers organized to achieve the common goal of protecting the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens from the threat of mining. In the year since, the Alliance has continued to grow so we wanted to take a moment to provide an update and acknowledge our progress!
That first gathering at Trap Door kicked off a series of monthly events in which we presented our campaign, held engaging Q&A sessions, and met hundreds of people who took action to support the campaign! To date, we’ve hosted 11 of these ‘Pint Night’ events at breweries across the region from Portland to Seattle and from Yakima to Packwood. In addition to these larger events, the Alliance has also held a number of smaller tabling sessions at a variety of venues which have offered further opportunities to expand and connect with our growing community of supporters.
The Alliance began working to collect signatures on our petition and business/organization sign-on letter asking Congress to enact a mineral withdrawal. We also produced postcards featuring a watercolor of Mount St. Helens and the Green River Valley by local artist Lindsey Fox, for a letter writing campaign aimed at winning over our federal elected officials. As of today, we have sent hundreds of postcards to federal officials and the Alliance has the endorsement of over 1500 individuals, 33 supporting businesses, and 21 Alliance Partner organizations!
In addition to our public outreach, we’ve also been forging relationships with local and regional stakeholders. We’ve met with several local elected officials and are engaging the local forest collaboratives. We have also been working in partnerships with both the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation, who are key allies in this work and who strongly oppose mining in this area. Finally, we’ve been strengthening our relationships with our federal elected officials, who we will ultimately need to champion legislation through Congress.
February 2022 was a particularly exciting time for the campaign as we had two exciting announcements to share at our event that month. First, we announced the launch of www.greenrivervalleyalliance.org — a resource for learning about why the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens are no place for a mine and our mineral withdrawal campaign, receive updates, hear about upcoming events, and take action.
We also were able to share the incredible news that we had won our most recent legal case to stop this mine from moving forward. A US District Court judge ruled that the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had failed to identify the existing condition of groundwater in the area, did not adequately account for all of the negative impacts on access to the Green River Valley area for recreational purposes, and did not define the length of time over which exploratory drilling would take place. Because of these deficiencies the exploratory drilling permits, originally granted by the agencies in 2018, were canceled–or in legal terminology, vacated. This meant that drilling would not take place in the summer of 2022 and that Ascot Resources, the Canadian mining company that currently holds the mineral rights to the area, would need to start the permitting process over again.
With this legal win behind us, we continued to push forward. This victory may have bought some much-needed time, but it did not provide permanent protections against mining. We know from experience that it is likely that Ascot will seek exploratory drilling permits again.
This summer, we began hosting regular Green River Valley Alliance coalition calls, in which members from our partner organizations came together to share information and strategize about ways to engage the public and move the campaign forward. Alliance partners have assisted in campaign strategizing, written newsletter articles, helped spread our petition, engaged their networks, collected postcards, and shared about our efforts on social media. This collaborative aspect of the Alliance is a key component of our work and these coalition calls are now a cornerstone of this campaign and will remain so moving forward.
In support of our continued work as an Alliance, here are a couple of actions you can take right now to help us maintain the momentum we have built up over the past year. If you have already taken these actions, then please send this to three or more friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else you think may be interested in helping us protect this incredible landscape.
Sign on as an Alliance Partner with your business or organization! If you are a business owner or a member of an organization that you believe would be supportive of our work, use this sign-on letter to demonstrate your group’s support for this campaign. To convince elected officials to act, we need backing from the business community!
The Green River Valley Alliance accomplished a great deal in its first year. We’ve pulled together large numbers of concerned citizens, businesses, and organizations representing a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and interests around the shared goal of securing a legislative mineral withdrawal to ensure permanent protections for the Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens against the threat of mining. While we are proud of our progress so far, and grateful for all the support we’ve received up to this point, we still have a long way to go. I am optimistic we can make our goal a reality, and I am looking forward to continuing working with all of you to make this a priority issue for our elected officials!
We want to give a special thank you to our incredible Alliance Partners and Supporting Businesses! Thank you for your continued support as we continue to push forward!
American Whitewater; Backcountry Hunters & Anglers – Washington Chapter; Cascade Forest Conservancy; Clark-Skamania Fly Fishers; Columbia Riverkeeper; Conservation Northwest; Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance; Friends of Clark County; Great Old Broads; Mazamas; The Mountaineers; Patagonia; Trans-Cascadia; The Wilderness Society; Vancouver Audubon Society; Vancouver Wildlife League; WA Native Plant Society; Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Washington Trails Association; Washington Wild; Wild Steelheaders United
Adorn Body Art; Base Camp Coffee; The Bicycle Doctor; Camas Bike & Sport; Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins; Compass Coffee Roasting; Coyote Ridge Ranch; C. Rose’s Ink; Definitely Mabie Consulting LLC; Domaine Pouillon; Full Plate Farm; French’s Farm; Harold’s Burger Bar; Kindred Homestead Supply; Oakshire Beer Hall; Optimism Brewing; Loowit Brewing Company; Lucky No. 3 Tattoo Company; Maple Tree Goatscaping LLC; Medical Vision Center; Monet Vineyards; Mountain Goat Tattoo Co.; North Bank Books; Octopi Ink; Packwood Station; Pariyatti; Raintree Nursery; River House Bake Shop; Roberta Church, Attorney at Law; Shanahans Pub & Grill; Soul Crafted Soap; Thatcher’s Coffee; TNS Archery Outdoors; Trap Door Brewing; Wickering Heights
Halfway through a day of collecting seeds from native plant species from forests north of Trout Lake, volunteers and CFC staff enjoyed a break with a unique view. Pahto (Mt. Adams) towered above an expanse of charred snags arranged among a green carpet of wildflowers, shrubs, berries, and new saplings flourishing in the abundant sunlight.
This area burned in 2015’s Cougar Creek Fire. Yet, seven short years later, it is well on its way to recovery and is currently providing valuable early seral habitat (areas characterized by the early stages of forest re-growth which are important to many plant and animal species) to the larger forest ecosystem. In dry mixed-conifer stands, like those found throughout the eastern half of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, wildfires are a natural and even necessary part of forest ecology. But not every fire-impacted area in this part of the forest is doing as well as this one.
In some instances, climate change has led to more intense wildfires and shorter intervals between burns occurring in the same stands. These high-intensity, low-interval fires can deplete buried seedbanks and the forest’s ability to replenish and rely on the supply, making it difficult for some stands to recover naturally. Not far from where we were enjoying our break another fire-impacted area is fairing much differently. The triple burn area was affected by three fires in a short period of time–2008’s Cold Spring Fire, 2012’s Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cold Creek Fire. This area is now struggling to recover, so CFC’s staff, the US Forest Service, and volunteers are stepping in to lend a hand through what could be called “assisted migration” of vegetation from healthy stands to areas that have been slow to regrow.
For the past 6 years, we have been working to gather seeds from native plant species like beaked hazelnut, wax currant, snowberry, western columbine, pearly everlasting, ocean spray, lupine, wild roses, Oregon sunshine (aka wooly sunflower), and many others. We collect these materials from forests closely resembling the triple burn area in species composition and elevation. The collected seeds are then being used to revegetate the area where seedbanks have been exhausted.
Guided by Evan Olson, a botanist for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, volunteers learned how to identify, collect, and label seeds from targeted species, and spent a beautiful sunny Saturday gathering among the understory.
Leading up to the trip, volunteers were given several documents to get a chance to familiarize themselves with the history of the three fires that created the triple burn area and a resource guide of native plant species that we would be encountering in the field. At each site we visited, volunteers and staff split into groups and dispersed throughout the area to find the seeds. Some worked as generalists collecting any species listed in the pre-trip materials they came across. Others specialized in finding one or two species.
At the end of the day, we gathered around Evan’s Forest Service pickup and handed over the last of our haul to be sorted, stored, and then used in upcoming revegetation efforts, including our upcoming and final volunteer trip of the year where many of the same seeds gathered will be spread throughout the triple burn area.
“This is vital work,” Evan explained as he thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Climate change may be altering the ecology of wildfire and the landscape’s ability to regenerate after a burn, but helpful interventions like these can make a long-lasting difference.
At the beginning of June, CFC hosted a virtual training session to teach volunteers how to survey for pika in the talus slope areas of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Pika survey efforts have been going on for years in the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Rainier, and other locations within the Cascades, but there’s a gap in pika population data in the Gifford Pinchot.
Volunteers could go to sites where pika have previously been observed to conduct sitting surveys, or volunteers could send back reports if they happened to cross paths with a pika when out on a hike. Pika can be hard to spot as they are often well camouflaged by the rocks they inhabit, but wait long enough and they start to scurry around and make calls to the other pika nearby. So far this year, volunteers have conducted 30 sitting surveys and have had 34 opportunistic sightings.
These new pika sightings will allow us to have more sites to complete the sitting surveys next year. Most of our projects are not possible without the help of volunteers, and that is especially the case for the pika surveys. CFC sends a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers that have participated and are continuing to participate in the first year of these surveys!
There’s still time to get involved! If you want to do a sitting survey, please contact email@example.com so she can send you all the information you need to get started.
If you’re ever out on a hike and come across a pika, feel free to share that information with us here.
Instead of lots of statistics and charts, this year’s annual report is a collection of narratives told by our staff about just a few of the advocacy, conservation, and restoration successes of last year. Together, these stories demonstrate how CFC continued to achieve positive impacts for the forests, rivers, wildlife, and communities throughout the southern Washington Cascades in 2021, thanks to the generous support of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers.
Click here to download a PDF or read the report below