I-90 wildlife crossing restoration, recreation outreach and more; 2020 updates from the Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program

I-90 wildlife crossing restoration, recreation outreach and more; 2020 updates from the Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program

Conservation Northwest / Dec 18, 2020 / Central Cascades, Forest Field Program, Wildlife Crossings, Work Updates

Habitat restoration, forest and road surveys, responsible recreation outreach, state land transfers and continued collaboration toward restoring Gold Creek made for a successful year in the Central Cascades.

By Laurel Baum, Central Cascades Conservation Associate

Despite the various setbacks and hardships of 2020, our work in the field continued, especially to meet the needs of forest health and wildlife with the increase in people recreating on public lands this year. Through our Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program, which works to restore habitat north and south of Interstate 90 between Mount Rainier National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, we made strides in the Greenwater, a tributary of the White River and the Green River, as well as around Snoqualmie Pass.

An elk in the Central Cascades, near Greenwater. Photo: Laurel Baum

This season we partnered with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the Upper Green River watershed to provide detailed forest stand surveys. This included observing the conditions of roads and assessing restoration needs such as ecological thinning to improve forest health and diversity of more than 700 acres of young homogenous stands (40-60 years in age). This contract helped tease apart stands that have low structural diversity due to past management actions, moving the trajectory toward a more diverse and resilient forest that better supports wildlife and more closely resembles historic conditions.

Our local contractor also completed roads and stream crossing surveys for more than 26 miles of roads in the Upper Green watershed, providing valuable information for the planning and implementation of future road improvements and decommissioning that will address risks to aquatic resources and improve aquatic conditions. This initial survey is an essential step to help the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) identify the risks roads pose to the watershed and stream function and needs for restoration.

White River in the Greenwater area of the Mount-Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. Photo: Ralph Maughan

While the Snoquera project—a restoration plan north of Mount Rainier we’ve been deeply engaged on through our Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration program—left a large, checkerboard ownership of land in the Upper Green off the planning table, the information from these surveys provide a tangible step forward in identifying the next course of actions and improved collaboration with land managers.

Habitat Restoration

We built on our past habitat restoration work in this landscape and restored a dispersed campsite adjacent to the Greenwater River. In partnership with USFS specialists and our contractor we restricted vehicle access to the campsite, making it a walk-in site, and moved it away from the river’s edge with the goal of improving the riparian habitat and native vegetation for wildlife. We also installed a gate to close off motorized vehicles and improve wildlife habitat, specifically to reduce disturbance during elk calving season. This work has built momentum for future restoration work of up to 17 dispersed campsites along 10 miles of riparian habitat on the Greenwater River through the Snoquera Project.

Central Cascades Conservation Associate Laurel Baum worked with the Forest Service to install signage educating the public about responsible recreation and a motorized vehicle use map. Photo: Laurel Baum

Responsible Recreation

All across Washington state this summer, we saw an increase in use on our public lands. In response to the unfortunate negative impacts observed on the ground, we worked with the USFS, using valuable input from our partners at the Washington Trails Association, to install more than 15 signs informing the public of responsible recreation practices and motor vehicle use regulations in the riparian and dispersed camping areas along a 10-mile stretch of the Greenwater river. The White River Protection Association, an active local group, had positive feedback and volunteered to maintain and replace any damaged signs.

I-90 and Snoqualmie Pass

The headwaters of the White, Green, Snoqualmie and Yakima rivers contain important habitat linking wildlife populations along the Cascade Crest. This landscape, bisected by Interstate 90, has been made more permeable to wildlife through our successful I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign in partnership with the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the USFS and others.

Now that Keechelus Lake Wildlife Overcrossing is complete with vegetation planted by USFS staff and crews from Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust that we helped fund, many species have been documented crossing the structure including elk, deer and coyote. The next phase of WSDOT’s I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project will include expanding both the west and east bound lanes near Easton as well as preparation for the next wildlife overpass, with construction expected to resume in spring 2021. 

CNW Staff Laurel Baum & Heather Hutchison, OWNF staff Peyton Johnson, and Kittitas Conservation Trust Staff Mellissa Speeg help install education and outreach signs at Gold Creek Pond. Photo: Laurel Baum

Due north of these headwaters lies Gold Creek Valley, just east of Snoqualmie Pass. With the Restore Gold Creek Coalition, we updated and installed new educational signs at the main Gold Creek Valley kiosk, with more material around the current gravel pond slated for installment next spring. As part of this coalition of indigenous leaders, conservation groups, public land and resource managers, and neighbors, we support restoring the hydrology of Gold Creek, which has been degraded by the development of a gravel pit used during the expansion of I-90 in the 1970s.

Our goal of these informational signs is to create greater awareness of the natural ecological processes currently missing at the site, the history of Gold Creek, and the wildlife habitat and biodiversity that a restored ecosystem could support. Gold Creek Valley is a vital location for high-elevation habitat connectivity and is near the wildlife undercrossings on I-90. In total the more than a dozen wildlife crossings on I-90 have supported thousands of animal crossings, even including a fisher that was documented using the Hyak undercrossing last April!

Just west of Snoqualmie Pass, the Washington Department of Natural Resources recently announced the permanent protection of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area, a hugely popular recreation destination with forest stands up to 500 years old, hope to Mailbox Peak and other marquee attractions for Seattle-area recreationists. This is an important success made possible through the Trust Land Transfer program, which we recently advocated for in a letter to Governor Inslee, supporting K-12 school construction while preserving public land.

This work was supported by grants from the Bullitt Foundation, National Forest Foundation, Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, and Tulalip Cares.

This season we were able to continue our efforts to restore habitat in the Central Cascades and accomplish some critical steps toward more healthy and resilient watersheds. As this landscape grows increasingly popular for recreationists, we’ll continue working with our partners to ensure these public lands are managed sustainably and continue to provide quality habitat for native fish and wildlife.

Learn more about our CENTRAL CASCADES WATERSHEDS RESTORATION program, or read our update on the LITTLE CROW RESTORATION PROJECT in the Cascades east of Chinook Pass.
Newly installed signs communicating the history and restoration need in Gold Creek Valley to improve habitat resiliency, species diversity and aquatic function of the ecosystem. Photo: Laurel Baum