Witnessing habitat return after South Summit restoration project

Witnessing habitat return after South Summit restoration project

Conservation Northwest / Sep 26, 2018 / Forest Roads, Habitat Restoration, Okanogan Working for Wildlife

After two years of work on the South Summit forest restoration project, native plants are flourishing and wildlife are moving back in.

By Jen Watkins, Conservation Associate
An old forest road restored with native plants. Photo: George Wooten

Last week, our staffer George Wooten revisited national forest lands in the South Summit area of Okanogan County, east of Loup Loup Pass and west of Highway 97, where in 2016 and 2017 we partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to decommission and restore unnecessary roads that were putting the health of watersheds and wildlife habitat at risk.

Over these two years, the project totaled:

  • Seven miles of decommissioned road, restoring proper soil function and increasing secure habitat for wildlife and connectivity along riparian corridors;
  • Ten removed culverts, opening up more than one mile of cold-water stream habitat for endangered wild steelhead, bull trout and other native fish;
  • Restoring hydrological function to more than five miles of stream channel;
  • One acre of wetland restored back to its proper functioning condition.
A collared cougar captured on a monitoring camera about a half a mile downstream from a decommissioned road. Photo: George Wooten

“This project was a great success and showed the benefit of a close working relationship with partners eager to help the USFS complete mutually beneficial projects,” said Luke Cerise with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

This work contributes to the larger goals of the collaborative Working for Wildlife Initiative, and was made possible through generous contributions from Icicle Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Forest Foundation, Peach Foundation, Washington Women’s Foundation and an anonymous foundation.

“Our contribution to this partnership includes monitoring over the long-term,” said Wooten, who works out of the town of Twisp in the Methow Valley. “By revisiting the roads that we restored, we aim to monitor the success of the closure and progress towards restoring natural hydrology and native cover. On my visit this fall, I was very pleased to find all of these objectives being achieved. The seeds we distributed are doing very well and the scars from former roads are covered with native plant species. In some cases I could barely see where the old roadbed had been.”

One of ten culverts removed from the site, opening up cold-water stream habitat for native fish. Photo: George Wooten

Monitoring data suggests wildlife are also benefiting from the road closures. In 2017, we worked with five volunteers to install remote cameras to monitor wildlife presence and movements near the road closures. Volunteers captured beautiful photos of many different species, including mule deer and cougar. Moose, elk and other species also call the area home. Nearby, biologists even found scat they believed was from the local Loup Loup Wolf Pack.

Partners in the Working for Wildlife Initiative, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and coordinated by Conservation Northwest, have identified an additional 30 miles of unnecessary roads on national forest lands and the Reservation of the Colville Confederated Tribes planned for restoration in 2019 and 2020.

Thanks to the supporters who’ve made this work possible, these future efforts will build off of our recent successes. And we will continue to restore this important habitat linkage between the North Cascades, the Kettle River Mountain Range, and the Greater Rocky Mountains beyond.

Interested in this collaborative effort to protect habitat, working lands and natural heritage in the diverse landscapes of Okanogan County? Learn more about the Working for Wildlife Initiative!