NEWS RELEASE: CFC Objects to Upcoming Timber Sale In Gifford Pinchot National Forest

NEWS RELEASE | March 25, 2024

Vancouver, WA – Cascade Forest Conservancy, a Vancouver-based conservation nonprofit, is objecting to plans for the upcoming Yellowjacket timber sale, which will occur on national forest lands in Lewis and Skamania counties east of Mount St. Helens in the Camp Creek-Cispus River and Yellowjacket Creek watersheds. The conservation group says that the Forest Service provided inadequate analysis about certain aspects of the project, which they argue could result in harm to sensitive species and waterways in the forest. Plans for the proposed project include a total of 4,651 acres of timber harvest in addition to other infrastructure and habitat improvement activities. 

Ashley Short, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Policy Manager, said the Forest Service’s analysis of the timber sale’s impacts on waterways was conducted at a level that was too broad. “Analysis this broad hides what’s really going on at the various places affected by a project like this and ignores what could happen to specific waterways and sensitive species if Cascade Forest Conservancy didn’t speak up,” she said, adding that failing to object could contribute to a bad precedent regarding the level of analysis the agency applies to future projects.

Cascade Forest Conservancy’s objection, authored by Short and filed on Friday, March 22, argued that the agency’s plans for the timber sale failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to provide site-specific analysis for impacts resulting from actions taken on public land, but “instead rolled site-specific impacts into a larger watershed, diluting the true impacts of the project.”

According to Short, the Forest Service may choose to allow certain impacts to result from timber sales, but are obligated to study those impacts and present their analysis to the public for comment and engagement first.

Molly Whitney, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Executive Director, says the conservation group has a positive working relationship with the Forest Service and expressed optimism that the concerns raised in her organization’s objection would be resolved without the need for litigation. Parties who object to timber sales discuss their concerns at an objection mediation meeting with the Forest Service. 

“In this instance, the Forest Service failed to provide adequate site-specific analysis relating to the impacts of logging activities near several important streams. There is reason to believe that some of the streams located near timber stands where the agency is planning high-intensity harvest activities contain rare and sensitive species, like the Cascade torrent salamanders. We want the agency to provide the site-specific analysis required by law and that is needed to fully understand and address the impacts of this sale on places like Pinto and Stepladder Creek.” Said Whitney. “We want to see a specific analysis of how sedimentation from timber harvest activities will impact these waterways and the species depending on them. And we are asking the agency to address any site-specific negative impacts they find by reducing the intensity of timber harvest in certain areas.”




After building instream structures in a dry creek bed this past summer, we headed back to Stump Creek in early November to see how the structures faired following the first bout of rain. As we headed down to the project site, we saw new channels that had formed, sediment had built up behind structures, and huge, deep pools had appeared. And in those huge pools – we saw huge coho salmon!



Tributaries of large rivers provide off-channel spawning habitat that is critical for the end of an adult salmon’s life and their juvenile offspring. Stump Creek is a tributary that flows into the South Fork Toutle River,  then into the Toutle River, Cowlitz River, Columbia River, and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. That’s roughly 100 miles of waterways that these adult salmon travel to the ocean to grow big and then back to freshwater to spawn. Their journey from Pacific Ocean to Stump Creek is completely undammed, which is a rarity for anadromous fish to encounter. We are luckily seeing a movement to get more dams removed in the Pacific Northwest to restore access to more historical spawning grounds. 

The fish that make it to Stump Creek in the winter are met with a flowing stream and many reaches with spawning gravel. Once the fry hatch, they have plenty of water to swim and forage. By the time August roles around, the creek begins to dry up, leaving juvenile salmon stranded in small pools. During the past two summers we have been at Stump Creek,  we have found many dried out stream reaches that have piles of desiccated salmon fry. For this reason and it’s degraded state caused by anthropogenic and natural disturbances, Stump Creek has been a high priority for CFC and project partner, Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group.



Following the promising results from last year’s successful Pilot Phase CFC staff and volunteers spent three weekends in August and September working to complete Phase 1 of our restoration plan for Stump Creek. 

During the Pilot Phase and Phase 1, we worked to restore and improve this important fish habitat using a low-tech, process-based approach.




Given the impacts we observed from the Pilot Phase, we were excited to add more wood to the stream. Over the course of three weekends, we installed a total of 32 structures along 1500 feet upstream of the Pilot Phase.

The first group of volunteers and staff arrived at the site in August and found a situation similar to what we had encountered the year before; dried-out stream reaches and fish stranded in tiny pools. We didn’t assume our first ten structures would completely fix Stump Creek, but the sight we encountered reiterated the huge need for more woody debris to help enhance and restore the system.



Our first team of volunteers worked hard in sweltering heat under hazy skies to construct the first 12 structures upstream from the Pilot Phase. These structure types ranged from:

  • beaver dam analogs – wood structures that most closely resemble a beaver dam, used on smaller, less powerful side channels 
  • channel process structures – larger wood structures made from numerous alder logs and slash that were built up on one side of the bank to promote the movement of water to the opposite side of the structure
  • channel spanning structures – larger beaver-esque structures made of numerous alder logs and slash that hold back sediment and create large pools
  • habitat cover structures – tops of the alder trees that are placed over the stream to provide cover for our aquatic friends 

The second weekend of work brought nicer weather and an even bigger group of volunteers! They managed to finish up the rest of the structures for a total of 32 structures. A few weekends later, a handful of volunteers and I went to put some finishing touches on the structures, set up wildlife cameras so we could watch the system change through time, and create a few extra habitat cover structures to try and help the dozens of fish that still remained in the tiny pools.



A final staff trip was conducted on November 10th. It had been raining for weeks, so it was time to see how the structures were holding up. We started by checking out the structures constructed during the 2022 Pilot Phase. As we’d observed earlier in the year, water in the Pilot Phase area was spreading all over the landscape and creating new channels. 

We headed west toward the Phase 1 structures. We first passed several of our larger channel process and channel-spanning structures. Not only were they all in place, they were directing water in the direction and manner we had designed them to when we planned the project! 



As we went further upstream, we came to our BDA section that we created on a side channel of Stump Creek. Our four BDAs that were working exactly as designed. We had created four cascading pools and spread the water outside of the previously confined channel. It was the perfect habitat for salmon!



So perfect in fact, that it was where we saw the first adult coho salmon of the day! We ended up seeing numerous other adult coho salmon utilizing the habitat enhancements our structures created. Some of them were swimming in the pools formed by the BDAs, others were preparing their redds (gravel bed to lay eggs) for spawning, and another was headed up stream to find find a location to spawn.

It was an incredibly rewarding sight. The lives of these coho would end here in Stump Creek, but their eggs are currently being incubated and will hatch in the next month or so. Once they do, our instream structures will be there to provide habitat for the new juvenile coho until they swim to the ocean. 



The Forest Service released a Revised Draft Environmental Assessment (Revised EA) for the Yellowjacket planning area on Oct. 31st, 2023. We had raised concerns about aggressive timber treatments in mature forest stands, among other issues. The Revised EA incorporated some of our recommendations but failed to address all of them.

The Revised EA is an improvement over the earlier version. There are aspects of the plan we support, such as road decommissioning, thinning in young plantations, and aquatic habitat improvements. However, there are still aspects of the current plans we find concerning.

We’ll be speaking up to support what we like and encouraging the Forest Service to address our remaining concerns. We encourage you to participate in the public process as well.


CFC staff and volunteers gathering data in Yellowjacket stand in 2022.



Things we like about the revised project plans:

We are supportive of thinning in young plantation stands, aquatic restoration projects, the planned decommissioning of over 11 miles of road, and we are generally supportive of huckleberry restoration efforts. We are also supportive that the Revised EA added a provision to protect any tree that measures over 35 inches diameter at base height.



Things we don’t like about the project:

We continue to be concerned about regeneration harvest (a very intensive treatment akin to a clear-cut) in 100-year-old forest stands. We are also very concerned about the proposed regeneration harvest in close proximity to historical northern spotted owl nesting sites. We will be pushing the Forest Service to do away with regeneration harvest in older stands and northern spotted owl sites. 



Please join us in sticking up for older stands and northern spotted owl sites. The Revised EA is open for comments until November 30th and you can examine project documents and comment yourself at this website


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.


Act now: Urge the Washington Department of Ecology to protect the Cascade, Green and Napeequa river systems as outstanding waters.  

Washington’s rivers are central to life in our state and vital to a thriving, sustainable future for our communities. They provide clean drinking water, support local economies, are critical to the health and abundance of fish and wildlife species, and provide numerous recreation opportunities for Washingtonians and visitors.

But many of Washington’s rivers, streams, and wetlands face growing threats, including drought, diminished snowpacks, increasing temperatures, wildfire, development, and pollution. 

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to work together to safeguard a number of our state’s waterways as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW). Outstand Resource Waters designations help protect waters of exceptional recreational, environmental, or ecological significance. Once a waterway is designated as an ORW, existing activities can continue, but new degradation of water quality is forbidden, meaning that current uses or activities, including mining, timber harvest, grazing, and recreation may continue, but new actions that could damage an ORW are prohibited. 



On July 18, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) released a proposed regulation to designate the first-ever ORWs in the state.  Designation of these river systems would benefit Washington’s people, economy, wildlife, and salmon. Plus, if the implementation of Washington’s first ORW designations is a success it may pave the way to secure protections for other high quality waterways throughout the state! That’s one of the reasons it’s critical that you speak out in favor of these proposed designations.  

The Green River, flowing through the Green River Valley near Mount St. Helens is a special place that we’ve been working to protect from the threat of a new open-pit mine for well over a decade. Community groups have continually stated that this is no place for a mine and fought a proposed mine in this watershed for over 15 years. The District Court has found in CFC’s favor several times, most recently vacating exploratory drilling permits in February of 2021. Although the best solution remains a mineral withdrawal, designating the Green River as an ORW constitutes a tangible move by the Department of Ecology to support the community’s belief that the Green River is a unique and special place, deserving of additional protection. An ORW designation would provide an extra layer of protection for the nominated portions of the Green River and, at the very least, make it harder and more expensive to mine.




How to Comment:

Submit your comments online at the Department of Ecology’s website HERE by September 27th.

Select which river or rivers you’d like to comment on and then personalize your comments in the text box. You can maximize your impact by personalizing your comments.

Do you have a personal connection to any of the rivers? How do you enjoy the Green River (near Mount St. Helens), the Cascade River, and/or Napeequa River?  Sharing your connection with the rivers and why you personally would like to see them protected can go a long way. 

Here are some general talking points to support ORWs:

  • Washington’s rivers, streams, and wetlands supply drinking water to residents across the state, sustain wildlife habitat, and provide an economic boost to local communities. 
  • As a Washingtonian, I want to see the state’s precious freshwater resources safeguarded.  
  • Washington’s waters are under increasing threat as the climate warms and the population grows, placing greater stress and demand on freshwater resources.  Now is the time to protect some of the state’s most outstanding waters and prevent degradation of stretches of rivers, streams, wetlands and other freshwater bodies with high water quality or other unique characteristics. 
  • I urge Ecology to designate the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa river systems as the state’s first Outstanding Resource Waters so that Washingtonians can enjoy these waters now and for generations to come. 


Why is the Green River special to you? Please use the information below about the Green River to help explain why protecting this waterway matters to you personally. 

  • The Green River is a very unique river deserving of one of Washington’s first ORW designations. 
  • The Green River is an eligible Wild and Scenic River, a designated gene bank for winter steelhead populations, and provides excellent spawning habitat for endangered salmon.
  • The forests along the Green River contain some of the last remaining stands of old-growth trees in the area to survive the Mount St.Helens blast. These old-growth stands supply critical habitat for old-growth dependent species, like the northern spotted owl.
  • Recreation opportunities along the Green River are abundant. The Green River Trail, Goat Mountain Trail, and Green River Horse Camp along this spectacular river are enjoyed by mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders, hunters, and anglers.


Join CFC in urging the Washington Department of Ecology to do everything they can to protect these treasured rivers for future generations. Send your message today!

It is essential that the state take steps now to protect some of its remaining high-quality rivers that provide numerous benefits to Washingtonians.  Safeguarding Washington’s rivers will ensure that these treasures are protected for current and future generations. Thank you for speaking up in support of this important cause.



We are excited to share some recent developments from the Instream Wood Bank. Since 2020, the Instream Wood Bank has supported aquatic restoration and salmon habitat improvement projects in the region by sourcing non-lumber wood and supplying it to partners at discounted rates. Our partners use these logs to return streams to conditions that existed before streamside logging and development resulting in oversimplified waterways lacking instream wood and pools for habitat.



Our latest endeavors have taken us from the pine-dominated landscapes of Husum, WA, westward to the forests of Merrill Lake and the industrial timberlands around Toutle, WA.

We recently completed a movement of wood near Husum, WA for the Yakama Nation and Underwood Conservation District. Our partners from Mount Adams Resource Stewards identified the available wood for us and initiated the effort. We sourced around 200 logs with rootwads attached—ideal for instream placement. These logs will be used to build fish habitat on White Creek, which flows into Klickitat River, and Rattlesnake Creek, which flows into White Salmon River. We hired a local hauling team to pick up the wood and deliver it to our partners. 


Wood being delivered for partners at Underwood Conservation District.


We have also procured approximately 150 cottonwoods and spruce for our long-term partners at the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group. Rather than heading to the burn pile or pulp mill, these trees are enhancing habitat in the South Fork Toutle River. Remarkably, these logs hail from Weyerhaeuser timberlands, signifying an uncommon collaboration forged through numerous deliberations between our organization and one of the nation’s most prominent timber companies. We envision a future where such synergistic partnerships thrive, given the diverse array of prospects for utilizing this non-lumber wood in habitat restoration endeavors.

In addition to these two large wood movements, the Wood Bank was recently featured in a Washington Department of Natural Resources newsletter and another from Washington State University, which is distributed to small forest landowners in the state. This has led to a number of new connections, including recent conversations with private landowners near Merrill Lake who have several large truckloads of hemlocks that had fallen or were felled as hazard trees and were going to be sold as pulp. With the pulp market low at the moment, these landowners reached out to the Wood Bank and are finding a new home for their trees. We are currently ironing out logistics to carry out the haul later this month.


Sourcing non-lumber wood from Weyerhaeuser timberlands.


We are immensely pleased with how the Wood Bank has been going. This is exactly the niche it was intended to fill. We are identifying sources of non-lumber wood (or having landowners reach out to us as word of the Wood Bank has gotten around), and we are sending these logs to aquatic restoration sites across the region. This helps our partners carry out their important instream work for less money and with fewer trees being cut for those purposes.


Last month, Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers ventured out to the forests and meadows between the Dark Divide and Spencer Ridge roadless areas to capture on-the-ground information for a potential future protected area. This part of the forest, which we refer to as the Clear Creek area, has been part of internal discussions at CFC for the last several months as we have been refining conservation recommendations that will be included in our soon-to-be-published second-edition Climate Resilience Guidebook. 

While out in the field, participants ground-truthed old-growth maps to ensure we are protecting these rare habitats and surveyed roads that may be candidates for decommissioning. In addition to finding swaths of large Douglas-firs on the hillsides and groves of giants standing next to wet meadows, we toured miles of the forest road system to collect information about vegetative regrowth, culvert function, and general observations of use and disrepair.





Our Guidebook will examine the impacts that climate change is expected to have on southwest Washington’s ecosystems and outline recommendations to build resilience and increase carbon storage. We identified the Clear Creek area as a priority area for protection for a few reasons.




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.







Another reason this area became a top contender for protection is the presence of large tracts of intact old-growth and mature forests that exist here. Old-growth forests are a relatively rare ecosystem in the region, so we work diligently to ensure that all old-growth is retained and mature forests are protected to serve as our future old-growth.



In the coming months, we will be publishing the Climate Guidebook with pinpointed strategies for improving the health and resilience of the landscapes of the southern Washington Cascades. Stay tuned!


In August 2022, with the help of eight dedicated volunteers, we built a series of instream structures along Stump Creek to improve habitat for coho, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey. In mid-May of this year, we visited the restoration area and were immensely excited by what we saw!




Stump Creek is a tributary of the South Fork Toutle River, which flows from the western slopes of Mount St. Helens down to the Cowlitz River then into the Columbia River and out to the ocean. As an undammed waterway, it is a relative rarity as far as large river systems in this region go. Heavy logging and the lahar flow from the 1980 eruption has etched a distinct stamp on the landscape of this watershed. Where giant conifers once lined these banks and provided habitat-diversifying instream wood, there are now rows of younger trees waiting their turn to fall in the stream. In addition to the severe impacts of streamside logging and the eruption, the waterways of the South Fork Toutle watershed were also impacted by road building and stream cleanout activities of years past.




We are working with our partners at Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group, who are leading the charge with large wood placement throughout the South Fork Toutle River watershed, to rebuild habitat for anadromous fish and other wildlife. We are hoping that future generations of juvenile coho and steelhead will one day have a wide array of deep water pockets to call their home before they swim downstream to the ocean. 





Our approach for this project employs a method called low-tech, process-based restoration (LTPBR). This can mean a number of things but can generally be understood as a method of instream restoration that doesn’t require heavy machinery or expensive engineered designs and is intended to initiate ecosystem processes that will continue to evolve naturally over time. The restoration consists of using wood and plant materials to create habitat pools, direct streamflow into new areas, and increase overall stream complexity and sinuosity. The continually-evolving processes result because water is moved into new areas of the adjacent floodplain. The instream wood and changing landscape creates deep pools. As more water is held back, the channel gets overfilled and spills out horizontally across the landscape and can form side-channels and wetland areas. Inundating the nearby riparian forest can help expedite the recruitment of new instream wood by causing the banks to become unstable and the trees eventually fall and become instream wood. 





On our visit in May, we were pleased to see that our structures are creating fantastic new habitat for our species of interest – coho, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey. In the summer months, many reaches of Stump Creek can become dry and strand fish into tiny pools where they ultimately run out of dissolved oxygen and unfortunately die. Thanks to our work, there are numerous additional pools and new side channels! There is more sinuosity in the system, and other areas are holding a lot of water which will hopefully recharge the groundwater table and help pools stay longer into the summer. These pools will allow for safe refuge for the salmon and steelhead that utilize Stump Creek as juvenile rearing habitat. 

Another positive change to the system was the retention of fine sediments behind some of the structures (several feet at some sites!). On previous lamprey habitat surveys, we concluded that there was a lack of habitat for the species. Our environmental DNA results from last year came back negative for the presence of Pacific lamprey, suggesting a similar finding. The buildup of fine sediments is necessary for Pacific lamprey’s long 3-7 year stay in sediment while in their larval stage. Instream structures can also help finer sediments separate from gravel, which is needed for lamprey (and salmon) spawning. We hope that this newly created habitat will attract Pacific lamprey to use Stump Creek when spawning and while in the larval stage. Pacific lamprey do not return to their natal stream, so there is a decent chance that they will find their way to Stump Creek! 





We were glad to see that our work has also created new beaver real estate for populations already living just downstream from the restoration site. We have good reasons to be hopeful that the habitat improvements now underway will attract beavers who will do even more for the area.





We will be working in the Stump Creek area and other parts of the South Fork Toutle watershed over the next few years, and we will continue to monitor and measure changes over time. We have multiple volunteer trips in August and September. If you want to join in on this exciting restoration project – sign up here! 



Near the Cispus River, beneath towering conifers and sheer rocky cliffs, Cascade Forest Conservancy staff and volunteers spent Earth Day weekend searching under rocks and logs, in and around small creeks, for various life stages of salamanders and frogs. 

The work was the first step in CFC’s new study designed to understand how the salmon habitat recovery projects planned at our two survey sites will affect amphibian populations. Here in the Cascades, a place defined for many by its majestic mountain peaks and its iconic species like salmon, Roosevelt Elk, Douglas fir, and Western redcedar, small things can be easily overlooked. Too little is known about current populations of many species of amphibians in the Pacific Northwest, but these creatures play vital roles in healthy ecosystems and understanding how they are being impacted by habitat restoration efforts is key to preserving biodiversity in our region.


CFC volunteers turning over rocks in a shallow stream searching for amphibians
Volunteers and CFC staff searched two streams and the surrounding banks for amphibians.


To conduct our surveys along the creeks, CFC staff and volunteers split into three teams. Two groups worked across from each other on opposite stream banks and the third worked in the stream itself. Each terrestrial team began by measuring an area 50 meters long and 10 meters back from the water’s edge into the forest, then searched for a set amount of time before measuring out a new area and beginning the process again.


Volunteers on either side of a beautiful stream surrounded by old growth forests in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
To conduct the surveys, volunteers split into three teams. Two terrestrial teams searched each bank, and the third team looked in the stream itself.


Turning over and carefully resetting the rocks and logs under which these species live meant getting low and close to the forest floor and stream bed. From these vantage points, the familiar forests look very different. The world of amphibians may be miniature, but it brims with life. The teams encountered subterranean networks of tunnels, a staggering array of mosses and fungi, and a diverse array of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. At the end of two days of searching, we found and documented 31 individuals from five species of amphibian; two terrestrial salamanders (ensatina and the western red-backed salamander) and three frogs (Pacific tree frog, western toad, and northern red-legged frog).


An ensatina found during CFC's amphibian survey
The terrestrial salamander, ensatina.


A red-backed salamander found during CFC's amphibian survey
A red-backed salamander found during CFC’s amphibian survey.


A volunteer's gloved hands holding a small juvenile western toad
A volunteer holding a juvenile western toad. The oils on human skin can harm amphibians, so CFC’s staff and volunteers only handled specimens with gloved or wetted hands.


The stream team had less luck than the groups working the banks. Based on our locations and the characteristics of the waterbodies we searched, it was possible we would find egg masses or fully aquatic species like Cascade torrent salamander, Pacific giant salamander, or Cope’s giant salamander. We did not find any amphibian species in the creeks, but after the surveys, we decided to venture to the nearby Cispus River. There we found stagnant backwater channels that, lo-and-behold, had Pacific tree frog, western toad, and northern red-legged frog egg masses! This discovery reiterated the fact that these species, among others, need slow-moving water to lay eggs.     


Volunteers stand in and around an area of still water beside the Cispus River
CFC’s staff and volunteers found amphibian egg masses and several species of frogs in an area of still water along the Cispus River just outside of the first survey area.


WSU Biology PhD candidate and amphibian expert, Julianna Hoza, with a northern red-legged frog
WSU Biology PhD candidate and amphibian expert, Julianna Hoza, found this northern red-legged frog in an area of slow-moving water near the one of CFC’s survey sites.


Later this year, CFC will be working to restore Camp Creek by placing more large woody debris into the stream. The lower reaches of the creek have great potential for being used as off-channel habitat for salmon. The addition of wood will create diverse salmon habitat in the form of slow-moving water for resting, cover from predators, and deposition of gravel for spawning. After our amphibian surveys, we can now hypothesize that the slow-moving water will not only benefit salmonids, but could also create more habitat for Pacific tree frogs, western toads, and northern red-legged frogs to breed since we know they are in the area. But then the question arises; if we are creating more salmon habitat and more amphibian habitat, are we just creating more food for the salmon? The impact of instream restoration on amphibian populations has not been well studied. Project partner, Julianna Hoza, with the University of Washington-Vancouver, is studying the impact of beaver dam analogs on amphibian populations, which inspired us to consider this for our upcoming studies.  


A fast-flowing stream flowing through a lush forest
Future restoration projects will create areas of slow water and diversify habitat to benefit salmon and other species.


We’ll start the restoration work with the Forest Service in August of this year. Changes to the water often occur quickly, but we’ll have to wait until spring to see what fish and wildlife have moved in. In early spring of 2024, we’ll be back out at the site to see how the placement of large woody debris has shaped the stream and to see if there have been any changes to the amphibian species that are utilizing the creek and surrounding areas.


A long-absent keystone species has returned to southwest Washington. On April 7th, 2023, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a report that confirmed the existence of a new wolf pack in a sparsely populated area on the Yakama Reservation, east of Mt. Adams. 

Migrating wolves began returning to Washington in the 2000s from packs in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and British Columbia. Their recovery has been closely monitored ever since. Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan divides the state into three zones, Eastern Washington (where most of the state’s wolves reside), Northern Cascades, and Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. The Big Muddy Pack (named by the Yakama Nation for the Big Muddy Creek which flows east from Mt. Adams) is the first pack to establish a territory in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast zone.


WDFW map showing territories of known wolf packs at the end of 2022
WDFW map showing territories of known wolf packs at the end of 2022


So far, the Big Muddy Pack consists of only two individuals. One is a young male, WA109M, who set off from his central Washington pack in 2021 and eventually wandered more than 300 miles to Klickitat County. In April 2022, biologists observed WA109M traveling with another wolf who was later confirmed to be female. Two wolves traveling together in winter meet the state’s definition for a pack. The pair have now established a territory and it’s possible they will have pups soon.


WDFW photograph of WA109M


As modest as the Big Muddy Pack may be for the moment, the documentation of a new wolf pack in southwest Washington is historic news that many have been waiting a long time for. 

Wolves were nearly eradicated across the continental U.S., including within the Pacific Northwest, by the first part of the 20th century. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act when it was passed in 1973 and listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980. The species briefly lost its federally protected status in January 2021, but protections were restored in February 2022.

As the recent back-and-forth protection status changes illustrate, the wolf, perhaps more than any other animal in North America, elicits strong feelings and spurs passionate debates. To some, the federal government’s all-too-successful campaign to exterminate the gray wolf epitomizes the darkest and most ill-informed parts of America’s legacy of colonial expansion and the ecological destruction wrought by people who saw the natural world as something to be claimed and tamed. For them, the return of wolves is a sign that we are moving beyond old ways of thinking and allowing the natural world to heal. For others, wolves represent an unwelcome danger or a threat to rural livestock economies. There are effective co-existence strategies and compensation policies that ranchers and agencies can employ, but fear and distrust often end up taking center stage in some corners.    


A wolf feeding in Yellowstone National Park


Wherever they appear (or reappear), the presence of wolves makes an impact, but not just symbolically or politically. Wolves are a keystone species that play a vital role in and bring balance to ecosystems. For example, the now-famous 1995 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park led to a surprising number of positive impacts for ecosystems in the region. Without their primary predator, elk had overgrazed much of the park. The resulting loss of vegetation negatively impacted populations of mice and rabbits, as well as the animals that prey on them. Songbirds found fewer available nest sites. Even bears were impacted as the elk out-competed them for the berries they relied on. In riparian areas throughout the park, the absence of wolves had even more drastic impacts. Overgrazing in riparian areas led to erosion and stream sedimentation and a reduction of the abundance of beavers, fish, insects, birds, and river otters, compromising the health of entire aquatic systems. With wolves back in the mix, the ecosystem rebounded. 

We can see the impacts that a century of elk and deer populations living without their main predator have had on riparian systems here in the southern Washington Cascades as well. It will take more than one pack of wolves to really affect the feeding and movement behaviors of their prey species, but we expect this relationship to be re-established at some point in the future. We look forward to the opportunity to assess how the return of wolves impacts ecosystems here and to better understand the role the species may have to play in supporting climate change resilience in our region.