Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration Program – 2022 Accomplishments and Updates

Central Cascades Watersheds Restoration Program – 2022 Accomplishments and Updates

Conservation Northwest / Feb 07, 2023 / Central Cascades

Through our Central Cascades Program, we work to improve forest health and watershed resilience on the east and west sides of the Cascade Crest in both the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan Wenatchee National Forests.

We invest in landscape projects that integrate forest health, mature and old growth protections, wildlife connectivity, aquatic improvements, roads, and recreation planning. We participate in working groups and forest collaboratives to ensure that science-based projects will improve forest resilience and watershed function through our climate-changed future.  

We are the voice for wild critters and the connected habitats they need to thrive.  

Partnering to Improve Water Quality 

With support from the Drinking Water Providers Partnership (DWPP) Grant, Conservation Northwest, and Tacoma Water partnered to improve riparian conditions in the Upper Green watershed which was degraded by railroad and old homestead infrastructure. For two seasons, we worked to remove invasive plants, replace them with locally propagated native plants, and create and install signage at the former Leaster Airstrip location. DWPP funds supported the Washington Conservation Corps Crews to cut back, pile, and remove invasive species on the 4.1-acre project site. After the initial prep, Tacoma Water restoration staff brought in an auger to pre-dill holes for new plantings. More than 30 native species were planted to provide a new diverse riparian plant community that will mature to provide shaded stream cover, forage, and shelter for fish and wildlife. Overall, Tacoma Water provided 3,127 plants, and CNW purchased an additional 1,339 more for the project, planting a combined 4,466 in the area. Crews were brought in for a second field season in 2022 after the initial planting to address re-emerging invasive plants. These were removed with hand crews to ensure the native plants would be given the best opportunity to survive. The crews did an excellent job on noxious weed removal, and Tacoma Water is committed to maintaining the progress we’ve made.  

An educational outreach sign was developed for the site, discussing site history, the benefits of ecological restoration, and the importance that intact ecosystems have on water quality.  

This sign (above) will be installed overlooking the project site this coming spring and while much of the Green River Watershed is closed to the public, The location of this site is accessible to the public by walk-in access. Our partnership with Tacoma Water continues as we co-develop an upper watershed stewardship strategy that will promote forest health, improve water quality, connect wildlife habitats, and advance salmon recovery through the climate-changing decades to come.  

Collaborative Partnerships bring in large-scale funding 

On the east side of the mountains, forest collaboratives bring a wide range of perspectives and stakeholders together; industry and conservation groups alike engage with the USFS (U.S. Forest Service) on the development of a project from the pre-planning stages to implementation and monitoring. However, on the west side, where no formal collaboration exists, a diverse array of stakeholders has come together to help move forward with implementation planning for the 190,000-acre Snoquera Project. Blue Forest Conservation Finance, with proven success funding integrated restoration projects in California, has brought its expertise in conservation finance to these important headwaters of Puget Sound. This bond-type funding option can quicken the pace and scale of implementation, taking years off a project’s projected time frame. Another large funding package has been made possible by collaborative grants awarded to Trout Unlimited ($2.4 million) and South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group ($49,000). Our collective efforts are making significant implementation gains within the Snoquera project footprint. 


We’ve shared news about the Snoquera Landscape Analysis Decision before. Our staff loves this project because it integrates vegetation work (ecological and pre-commercial thinning treatments), and aquatic priorities such as reducing barriers to anadromous salmon, and approaches recreation and access with wildlife health and connectivity in mind. Our Central Cascades Program shares the goals within Snoquera to improve aquatic conditions in the Upper White River watershed by safeguarding riparian areas along the Greenwater River from the impacts of unsustainable recreation. We have a track record of working on these issues where human recreation has caused damage to sensitive wildlife habitats. CNW has restored wet, high-elevation meadows and repaired damage from mudding and deep erosive gullies, restoring basic headwater functions. Our work to improve watershed health in the Upper White River watershed is ongoing. Our progress this year was built on the momentum, relationships, and successful work of prior years.    

Addressing Impacts of Human Recreation in the Greenwater River Corridor 

Identified as a priority in the  Snoquera Landscape Analysis Decision, we have been helping to implement dispersed campsite improvements that address recreation damage and protect riparian habitat adjacent to the Greenwater River. Our focus has been on restoring the most heavily impacted sites with the greatest effects on fish-bearing streams. In late Spring of 2022, dispersed camping surveys were completed by CNW Staff and volunteers along four and a half miles of the Greenwater River, Midnight Creek, Whistler Creek, and Pyramid Creek. 

This data was then utilized by our contractor, Willamette CRA, who completed heritage surveys at all dispersed campsites. Heritage surveys ensure that any findings of cultural significance go through tribal consultation before a project begins. CNW staff then worked with the USFS to prioritize problematic recreational sites adjacent to the Greenwater River and its tributaries for riparian restoration action. Our objective was to address human behaviors negatively impacting the environment and improve riparian habitat functions.

We were able to close two egregious campsites and restrict vehicles from driving within feet of the river or creek at seven sites, while still allowing for walk-in camping to tent sites close to the parking areas. Four and a half acres of damaged recreation sites were restored through site cleanup, garbage removal, soil decompaction, erosion control measures, and native reseeding of the area.

Three acres adjacent to the Greenwater River are now restored from damage done by unauthorized vehicle access and protected from future recreation overuse so that the land can continue to heal.   

Boots (and Boulders) on the Ground 

Through the use of heavy machinery, we transported and placed large boulders blocking unauthorized vehicle travel at nine sites and establish parking areas within 50 feet of the designated road system, halting future resource damage across three acres adjacent to the Greenwater River. The contractor cleared out the associated motorized trails, de-compacted the soil, removed vehicle tire ruts, and assisted with garbage removal and disposal of human waste. In late October, CNW staff and our contractor applied erosion control woodstraw and native seed to the de-compacted riparian areas adjacent to Midnight Creek, the Greenwater River, and Pyramid Creek.

photo of ccreews decompacting soil
CNW’s contractor de-compacts soil adjacent to Pyramid Creek, followed by the application of native seed and erosion control woodstraw. We are now prepped for planting this spring.  Photo: CNW
Boulders and tank traps were installed, woodstraw and native seeds were spread to reduce erosion. Photo: CNW 

Doris Duke Conservation Scholar spent a Summer with Conservation Northwest

During the summer, two scholars from the Doris Duke Conservation scholar program worked with CNW staff to map out native plant source populations along the Greenwater River, laying the groundwork for 2023 willow cutting collections and plant propagation from locally sourced genetic material. These scholars experienced dispersed camping first-hand and learned about our restoration efforts to protect these resources from human impacts.  

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars, Minerva Rivera and Tracy Mai, survey for native plants in an Elk Forage Unit in the Greenwater River corridor. Photo: CNW
Our Doris Duke Conservation Scholars spent the summer working with CNW staff on various restoration projects. Photo: CNW  

We connected with about 55 people this year through community outreach, volunteer events, ongoing recreational planning efforts, and sharing information about our restoration efforts with recreational users on the ground. CNW Staff participated in the Corridor Clean-up Day with recreation staff and other local community groups, removing over 500 pounds of trash from the restoration sites. In April, we brought nine BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth from Communities for a Healthy Bay (CHB) up to the forest headwaters, where they met U.S. Forest Service staff and learned about riparian and aquatic health needs as they relate to the endangered salmon populations CHB and others are working to maintain downstream.  

Lessons Learned and Seasonal Conditions 

We learned important lessons in 2022 that will be applied to our efforts in the coming year.  

During the 2022 field season, we completed these activities: 

  • Conducted dispersed camping surveys. 
  • Identified sites for priority work this season.  
  • Brought in the Cultural Resource contractor to complete heritage surveys.  
  • Ran the final cultural report through consultation with Tribes.  
  • Brought on our contractor for implementation.  

Then we got into the hot, dry summer and saw high Industrial Fire Precaution Levels (IFPL), which prompted our contractor to wait for the fall rains to reduce fire risk. This proved to be an extensive waiting period as the dry, scorching months stretched into October. Once the rains and cool temperatures commenced and IFPL levels dropped, we had about two weeks to complete implementation before the snow fell on the project sites.  

Starting earlier in the season and properly sequencing activities between tight timelines and contractor availability was the big takeaway this season. 

Future Projects and some Volunteer Opportunities in 2023 

We have many projects in the works for 2023, including a fence retrofit on a west side wildlife undercrossing just outside of Issaquah; spring planting to improve revegetation efforts on heavily impacted dispersed campsites adjacent to the Greenwater River;  meadow protections in the Little Naches and outreach to user groups promoting low impact recreation; riparian protections along a bull trout stream north of Liberty; and last but not least – a culvert removal project that we hope will be explosive!!!

If you would like to sign up to receive information on a future project, please get in touch with Laurel Baum at lbaum@conservationnw.org.

Thank you to our Sponsors!
Thank you to our funders who have supported our work this year: National Forest Foundation, Rose Foundation, Norcliffe Foundation, Deacon Charitable Foundation, Drinking Water Partnership Providers, James M Lea Foundation, Bullitt, Wilburforce Foundation, Sachs Foundation.  

Learn more about our Central Cascades Watershed Restoration Program