Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration season wrap-up

Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration season wrap-up

Conservation Northwest / Dec 19, 2019 / Central Cascades, Forest Field Program, Habitat Restoration, Work Updates

This year we had a record number of volunteers, put thousands of native plants in the ground, improved signage, and engaged with diverse partners to restore watershed health in the Central Cascades.

By Laurel Baum, Central Cascades Conservation Associate

From the vibrant slopes of Snoqualmie Pass near I-90 to the lush old-growth forests in the Greenwater area off Highway 410, it’s obvious to see why Washington’s Central Cascades are such a popular destination. Not to mention, these public lands are only about an hour from Seattle and Tacoma, and are valued by a wide diversity of stakeholders, from hikers, bikers and skiers to horse and ORV riders, hunters and Indigenous nations.

The Central Cascades have many popular areas for outdoor recreation, from hiking and fishing to horseback and ORV riding.                                   Photo: Laurel Baum

With the state’s booming population and increasing interest in spending time on our public lands, we’re working to make sure this landscape balances healthy habitat and opportunities for sustainable outdoor recreation. Through our Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration (CCWR) program, we’re restoring habitat on public lands north and south of Interstate 90 that are vital to wildlife movement between Mount Rainier National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

This is one of our closest programs to the greater Seattle area, and it’s one that greatly impacts nearby communities, as the headwaters of the upper Green/Duwamish and White/Puyallup river watersheds provide drinking water to South Seattle and Tacoma, and drain into the Puget Sound.

The Central Cascades provide core habitat for species including elk, fishers, wolverines, endangered bull trout, and mule deer.       Photo: Laurel Baum

However, these watersheds are some of the most degraded in our state. Damaged by decades of poor forestry practices, unsustainable recreation use and illegal motorized-vehicle activities, this landscape is in strong need of restoration for the abundance of wildlife that calls it home—from fishers and wolverines to elk and salmon.

That’s why we are incredibly thankful for our volunteers and partners who got out in the field with us this summer to remove garbage, plant native vegetation including serviceberry, salmonberry, blue elderberry, vine maple, and thimbleberry, remove invasive weeds, improve signage, build and repair kiosks, remove illegal roads and trails, and check wildlife monitoring cameras.

In total, we hosted seven work parties, worked with 154 volunteers, planted a total of 3,500 native plants in the ground and spent 1,222 volunteer hours in this beautiful landscape. THANK YOU to all who got involved this summer!

Volunteers gear up for a day of putting native plants into the ground at a habitat restoration work party in the Central Cascades. Photo: Matthew Brouwer

These improvements on the landscape will enhance quality habitat and encourage black bears and more elk to use wildlife crossings on I-90, as well restore riparian areas to help endangered bull trout.

An unauthorized, user-created trail in the Central Cascades before and after restoration. Click the image for a larger version! Photo: Laurel Baum

Some of the groups that joined us in the field this summer include Artemis Sportswomen, the Pacific Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association, Phi Betta Sigma, Experience Momentum, and Engie Impact. We also engaged with members from Latino Outdoors on a family hike as well as the Backcountry Horsemen Tahoma Chapter at one of their work parties.

Some of the unauthorized, user-created trails in the Greenwater area are so badly degraded that the depth of the erosion was nearly five feet tall—coming up to my shoulder. To restore these kinds of trails, we worked with a contractor to transplant large, native plants over these trails.

In total, contractors decommissioned more than two miles of illegal motorized trails that had existed for decades, improving wildlife habitat and hydrologic function on ten acres. We also surveyed an additional 14.5 miles that are now ready for removal by the Forest Service. And we installed 12 motorized vehicle use map kiosks to help ORV riders stay on authorized routes.

A degraded sub-alpine meadow damaged by illegal ATV use before and after restoration. Click the image for a larger version! Photo: Laurel Baum

Many of these unauthorized trails are in higher-elevation wet meadow habitat that are vital elk foraging areas and a sensitive part of the ecosystem. The degradation here contributes to sedimentation and erosion into nearby creeks, negatively affecting salmon, bull trout, and other species. We’re glad to be able to significantly improve the health of these areas—an improvement you can see with your own eyes! (insert before and after pic)

In addition to habitat restoration events, I also helped to lead several field tours on the Central Cascades landscape with the offices of Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as agency and nonprofit partners and the Muckleshoot and Tulalip Tribes. We discussed current restoration activities, the need for continued public investment in this area, and the future vision for responsible recreational use.

Thank you to the generous support from the National Forest Foundation, James M Lea Foundation, Rose Foundation, Bullitt Foundation, Tulalip Cares and New Belgium for supporting our CCWR program, and giving us the resources to accomplish this important work!

Now, there’s snow in the uplands of these Central Cascades watersheds, and we’ll have to wait until next year to continue our restoration work. But I’m so grateful to have had a record number of volunteers out with me on this landscape, and look forward to working with you all again next season. Thank you!

Volunteers smile for the camera after a day of habitat restoration in areas adjacent to wildlife crossings underneath I-90. Photo: Laurel Baum