Final Colville Forest Plan falls short on wilderness, watersheds despite objections

Final Colville Forest Plan falls short on wilderness, watersheds despite objections

Conservation Northwest / Oct 30, 2019 / Cascades to Rockies, Columbia Highlands, Forest Field Program, National Forests

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service released its final 15-year Colville Forest Plan. The plan falls well short of conservation needs in key areas including recommended wilderness and standards for watershed health, despite numerous objections filed by local stakeholders such as Conservation Northwest.

Wild roadless areas like Abercrombie Mountain lack permanent protections in northeast Washington, and are at risk of logging and road-building. Photo: Eric Zamora

“After decades of local collaboration supporting increased wilderness on the Colville National Forest, we’re deeply disappointed in the final Colville Forest Plan’s meager recommendations for permanently protecting northeast Washington’s wildest areas,” said Tiana Luke, Conservation Northwest’s Colville Forest Field staffer and Northeast Washington Forest Coalition representative based in Deer Park.

Less than three percent of the Forest is currently designated Wilderness, the smallest amount of any national forest in the Pacific Northwest. Most notable is the complete absence of officially-designated wilderness in the Kettle River Range north of Sherman Pass.

“Local businesses, hikers, wildlife watchers, hunters and many others have long advocated for at least 200,000 acres of new permanently-protected backcountry areas on the Colville, while also supporting restoration forestry, trail and road maintenance and economic development in frontcountry areas,” said Luke. “We won’t sit idly while the final Colville Forest Plan falls so far short despite valid objections from concerned groups and will continue the battle for permanent wilderness protections in the Columbia Highlands.

Unprotected but Wilderness-quality areas on the Forest include Abercrombie Mountain, the Kettle Crest and Hoodoo Canyon, areas increasingly popular for human-powered recreation. The Forest is also home to moose, wolves, grizzly bears, and other iconic and threatened wildlife, and includes critical habitat for the recovery of Canada lynx in the lower 48 states.

As seen in other areas of the state, a lack of planning to properly balance land-use designations that reflect the inevitable spike in recreation will likely result in user conflicts and degradation of trails and ecosystems. Being short-sighted about wilderness now will be a long-term mistake that cannot be undone.

For decades, local residents and community interests have worked together through the Northeast Washington Forest Coalition to support responsible forestry, access for recreation and other uses, and increased wilderness protection. Yet while more logs are coming off the Colville National Forest today than prior due to collaboration, reasonable progress has not been made to permanently protect backcountry areas despite broad support.

Roadless areas of America’s national forests are under threat elsewhere in the country, including proposals by the Trump Administration for more logging, mining and roadbuilding, making securing permanent protections for the wildest areas of the Colville National Forest even more urgent.

Hikers enjoy a day on Abercrombie Mountain in a Colville National Forest Roadless Area. Photo: Craig Romano