Speak up for resilient forests, communities and wildlife near Lake Wenatchee

Speak up for resilient forests, communities and wildlife near Lake Wenatchee

Conservation Northwest / Mar 14, 2019 / Action Alert, Forest Field Program, Forestry, National Forests

WILD NW Action Alert #288: Through 3/27, comment on the health of communities, wildlife and forest lands in the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project.

Morning fog lifts over the Lake Wenatchee area on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Photo: Chase Gunnell

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is developing a new approach to restoring forest health on public lands east of Stevens Pass, near Lake Wenatchee, through the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project. Through our Forest Field Program, we’ve been involved in this collaborative effort since the start, exploring ways to improve the landscape for wildlife and promote forest resiliency.

Read more about our involvement in this project here!

Proposed actions for this project have been identified by the U.S. Forest Service, and through March 27th, you can comment on how these plans affect wildlife, forest health and people. Read our suggested comments below, and feel free to copy and paste them into the public comment form.

Project Background

The Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project covers 75,000 acres in the north-central Cascades. This landscape is key habitat for martens, goshawks, wolverines and spotted owls, as well as vital summer range and connecting habitat for migratory mule deer.

Some of the project’s main goals are to restore the health and resiliency of the four watersheds within in the project (see the map below), as well as improving wildlife habitat. For the nearby communities of Plain and Leavenworth, this project is especially significant, as another major goal is reducing wildfire risks.

Check out this story map on the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project!

The Forest Service will consider the public comments and feedback submitted when finalizing a plan for the project. The actual implementation of the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project will begin in spring of 2020.

The extent of the Upper Wenatchee Restoration Pilot Project is shown in the map above. Click for a larger version!

The Forest is asking the public to comment on questions related to 1) alternative strategies for restoring forest health and reducing fire risk, 2) important information about the project area the Forest Service should consider, and 3) specific, potential effects of the project causing concern.

We addressed these questions in our suggested comments below. Please feel free to copy and paste them into the public comment form, with the option of personalizing your message to represent your concerns, by March 27th.

As it’s still early in the planning phase for this monumental project, your voice matters now! Please read our comments, and join us in letting the Forest Service know our concerns for wildlife and local communities.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest also held a public meeting on this project on Tuesday, March 12. Video from that local event is available here.

Suggested comments on the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project:

To the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest:

I strongly support the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project’s goal of creating a more resilient landscape in the Lake Wenatchee area by integrating aquatic and terrestrial restoration activities with human uses and values. This landscape has high ecologic, cultural and social value, and will benefit from a strategic plan and active management on our national forest lands.

Scientists studying this landscape have identified a significant lack of old-growth trees resilient to fire, which provide important ecological functions. Studies have shown that restoring these forests requires passive management so that trees can grow older and larger. Additionally, the proposed actions in this project should specifically speak to the use of prescribed burning as a tool for promoting forest resiliency. To successfully restore forest resiliency and improve wildlife habitat, these actions must be included.

In addition to establishing fuelbreaks to modify fire flow through the landscape, the proposed actions should include an analysis on the value of maintaining or adjusting fuelbreaks that already exist on the landscape, such as the highly-visible Plain-Entiat Community Protection Line created during the Wolverine Fire of 2015. Maintaining periodic fire on the landscape so that it remains resilient should also be included.

I appreciate the actions related to changing the transportation and trail systems to protect and restore aquatic habitat, but the plan should also include actions to meet terrestrial species recovery and protection goals, including reducing the risk of fire ignitions and increasing habitat quality and connectivity for wildlife.

I believe this project has a tremendous ability to improve the function of this landscape for wildlife including spotted owls, bears and newly-introduced fishers (one of whom was recently documented within the Project area). However, I am concerned for the effects this project will have on the balance between 1) protecting existing habitat for vulnerable species, 2) reducing the risk of wildfire to nearby communities, and 3) restoring habitat for the future benefit of delicate landscapes including alpine meadows and old-growth forests.

Overall, I value the Forest Service’s effort to develop a plan that intersects concerns for local communities, wildlife and forest health. Thank you for considering my comments on the need for including prescribed burning, an analysis on maintaining existing fuelbreaks, and increased actions for the protection and restoration of terrestrial wildlife, including habitat connectivity.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of resilient forests, wildlife and communities! Learn more about our involvement in the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project here.
Questions about our work on the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project? Please contact Jen Watkins.
Upper Chiwawa River in the Lake Wenatchee area. Photo: Kelly Smith