Speak up for sustainable roads in the Methow Valley!

Speak up for sustainable roads in the Methow Valley!

Conservation Northwest / Jan 12, 2016 / Forest Field Program, Forest Roads

WILD NW Action Alert #251: Support sensible roads in the Chewuch watershed

Above the Methow Valley town of Winthrop lies one of our region’s most popular and scenic wild areas: the Chewuch River watershed.

But an expansive and unsustainable forest road network is putting this special place at risk.

We need YOU to help ensure a healthy future for fish, wildlife and people in this iconic watershed by commenting on the Forest Service’s Chewuch Transportation Plan!

With its headwaters in the Pasayten Wilderness Area on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Chewuch watershed serves as important habitat for Canada lynx, mule deer, moose and possibly even wolves and grizzly bears. The river’s waters provide vital spawning grounds for Endangered Species Act-listed bull trout, steelhead and Chinook salmon.

The area is also a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts from across the region. Hikers, backpackers, hunters and wildlife watchers visit in summer and fall. Backcountry and cross-country skiers tour the area in winter along with snowshoers and snowmobilers.

Access is important in the Chewuch. But there are currently over 350 miles of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) roads in this watershed. Excessive and unmaintained forest roads can harm animal mobility and degrade the quality of outdoor recreation experiences. Road erosion and washouts propel tons of sediment into the Chewuch River and its tributaries, choking young fish and damaging fragile habitat. 

The Chewuch Transportation Plan states that “within the Chewuch River watersheds, forest roads are considered one of the greatest sources of adverse impacts to aquatic habitat due to road-related erosion in this highly erosive watershed.”

The USFS only has a fraction of the budget needed to maintain adequate road conditions in this watershed. With budget constraints, access and ecological impacts in mind, it’s time to reduce the Chewuch road network to a level that is sustainable.

Twentymile Creek ford blocking fish passage. Photo: USFS
Twentymile Creek ford blocking fish passage. Photo: USFS
Please submit a comment today.

We believe the Transportation Plan is the first step in the right direction to restore this watershed, identifying unnecessary and/or improperly maintained roads in the Chewuch for possible decommissioning.

This is not just a local issue. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is a popular destination for recreationalists from all over the state. And the road network in this area affects endangered and recovering fish and wildlife. We need everyone to lend a voice in order to support this road decommissioning process.

Specifically, we support the Chewuch Transportation Plan’s Alternative 1, which not only backs decommissioning over 24 percent of the current road system (a third of which are unauthorized and illegal, user-created roads), but also recommends removing a concrete ford from Twentymile Creek that currently  impedes fish passage and blocks cool water movement to the Chewuch River during summer flows.

Please submit a comment by midnight on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 using our action alert page, by emailing pchristy@fs.fed.us or by entering comments on this page: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=37194

Learn more about the issue of unsustainable forest roads here.

Our suggested Chewuch comments are below:

Dear Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Methow Valley Ranger District, 

The Chewuch Transportation Plan is an important first step to reduce sedimentation from roads, remove fish barriers, increase core wildlife habitat and improve outdoor recreation experiences in the Chewuch Watershed. I strongly support the Chewuch Transportation Plan and ask for implementation of Alternative 1 to protect this important watershed’s fish, wildlife and outdoor heritage. 

The Chewuch River drainage provides important habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed wild fish including bull trout, Chinook salmon and steelhead. I support the Chewuch Transportation Plan’s goal to decommission roads, which will decrease stream sedimentation and turbidity that harms fish and raises water temperatures; the plan will also reduce maintenance levels on roads needed in the future to minimize costs and negative impacts of the road system. The Chewuch watershed needs to be maintained in a way that is conducive to endangered fish recovery today and into the future. 

I recognize that access is important in this area; however excessive forest roads can degrade the quality of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, hunting and wildlife watching. And without adequate funding to effectively maintain the forest road system in the Chewuch River drainage, the Forest Service must move forward with decommissioning unauthorized, little-used, and ecologically harmful roads in this watershed. The actual maintenance cost for the Chewuch Transportation Analysis Area tops out over $300,000, a number that dwarfs the $35,000 that the Forest Service receives to maintain roads in the Chewuch watershed. A reduction in the road system is necessary in order to adequately maintain roads in a way that is conducive to both the ecosystem and quality outdoor recreation opportunities. 

The Chewuch watershed provides habitat for several wildlife species, including several listed by the Endangered Species Act. Closing roads that are not properly maintained also decreases habitat fragmentation and increases movement for these important species, including endangered Canada lynx. A reduction in the road system would include reduced risk of animal-vehicle collisions on higher speed roads, reduced fragmentation in important movement areas such as riparian corridors, and increased core habitat.

I support the Chewuch Transportation Plan’s Alternative 1, which recommends removing the concrete ford over Twentymile Creek. In its current state, this ford blocks fish passage to spawning grounds for endangered species such as bull trout, Chinook salmon and steelhead. The Twentymile Creek ford is built on an unstable alluvial fan which, should the ford be removed, would provide habitat for a diverse number of fish as well as increase cool water flows to the Chewuch River during the summer.  

Thank you for considering my comments and for moving forward with the Chewuch Transportation Plan.