Support sustainable forest roads in the Greenwater Watershed
Conservation Northwest / May 27, 2016 / Forest Field Program, National Forests, Protecting Wildlands
WILD NW Action Alert #258: Comment on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest’s Greenwater Access Travel Management Plan
Located on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBSNF) around Highway 410 between Enumclaw and Chinook Pass, the watersheds of the Greenwater River and Upper White River provide popular hiking, skiing and other recreation access as well as important habitat for elk, native fish and many other species. But a massive network of crumbling forest roads is jeopardizing the health of this area.
As part of efforts to create a sustainable forest roads system on the MBSNF and to “restore and protect the watershed’s ecology from impacts of the road system”, the Greenwater Access Travel Management Plan is currently open for public comment.
This area is especially important for its role connecting wildlife habitat in the central Cascade Mountains. It serves as a hub between the Norse Peak and William O’Douglas Wilderness areas to the east, Mount Rainier National Park to the south, and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the north.
Identified as a Tier 1 key watershed by the Northwest Forest Plan, over 200 wildlife species have been recorded to use the Greenwater River and Upper White River watersheds. The area’s rivers and creeks also provide habitat for three fish species federally listed as threatened or endangered: Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Puget Sound steelhead, and bull trout.
This is an important landscape to maintain access for recreation, management, and cultural resources while also maintaining a road system that is sustainable and protects ecological health. The suggested comments on this plan are technical, but we need help from our members and activists to ensure that the Forest hears them loud and clear!
The official Greenwater Access Travel Management Plan project page can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=47991. Comments can also be submitted to Karen Change, White River Ranger District, at firstname.lastname@example.org through May 27, 2016.
Conservation Northwest suggested comments:
- We support the effort by the Forest Service to identify and move towards a sustainable roads system in the Greenwater area, but feel that neither the Greenwater Access Travel Management Plan’s proposed Alternative 2 or the modified Alternative 3 meet the purpose of the planning effort to “restore and protect the watershed’s ecology from impacts of the road system” while providing necessary access for recreational, cultural, and management purposes. Instead the action alternatives make incremental first steps towards reducing the impact of roads on the watershed while leaving important natural resource risks unaddressed, an unnecessarily large Level 1 closed system in place that will require restoration investment and enforcement to maintain, and a total road network that exceeds your projected budget levels.
- As a Tier 1 watershed designated for its importance, Alternative 3 takes a dramatic step backwards from the original proposed action (Alternative 2) in reducing the impact of the road system on aquatic systems. Alternative 2 reduces 73 percent of the high risk roads to fish species while Alternative 3 proposes to only address 32 percent. Additionally fewer habitats would be opened to access by fish in Alternative 3.
- The EA states that “Known departures from natural sediment and temperature conditions in the Lower Greenwater River subwatershed would benefit” from any restorative action in this 303d listed watershed but that “implementation of Alternative 2 would provide greater benefits to all soil and water effects indicators when compared to action Alternative 3.”
- Alternative 2 would have recovered flow patterns for water on the landscape in the Lower Greenwater River Subwatershed to allow a reduction in designation for the area from the “not functioning” 4.4 mi/mi2 to a “functioning at risk” 1.45 mi/mi2. Alternative 3 does not propose enough restoration to shift this designation and the watershed would remain in a “not functioning” status. In a Tier 1 watershed, the goal should be to move towards a functioning watershed.
- The sustainability of the road system requires that the roads themselves are located in sustainable places to provide access over time. 51 miles of roads lie in areas rated “unsustainable” currently with additional risks presented to this system from climate change. Alternative 2 only addresses 12 of 51 miles of “unstable” roads that should be treated, while Alternative 3 addresses only 9.5.
- We support the closures of some open roads as ML2-A to provide for greater elk security in habitats created to promote elk forage habitat, and again see that the EA states “Alternative 3’s long-term beneficial effects are less than 2 because fewer roads will be closed to motorized access” which has impacts to a variety of wildlife.