Category Archives: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Animation tells story of fish and fire

Fire and Fish: Habitat and History in the Northwest is a 5-minute animated video featuring two Forest Service research biologists that illustrates the complex relationship between fire and fish in Pacific Northwest rivers and streams. This screen capture from the video depicts juvenile fish finding shelter within a fallen log that has become submerged in a stream channel, providing refuge from both predators and strong currents.

An animated video recently released by the Pacific Fire Science Consortium explores and illustrates the complex relationship between fish and fire in the Pacific northwest United States.

The video, “Fish and Fire: History and Habitat in the Pacific Northwest,” was produced by the University of Oregon School of Journalism.

It features interviews two Forest Service research fish biologists, Rebecca Flitcroft and Gordon Reeves, both assigned to the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The scientists explain how some fish species in the Pacific Northwest have adapted to benefit from the impact of intermittent forest fires:

  • Fire adds silt and small rocks or gravel, which replenish materials needed to for some fish to create spawning beds.
  • Dead trees may fall into streams, creating complexity in the stream’s flow, which can reduce stress on fish by providing refuge from strong currents.
  • Log jams especially benefit juvenile species by creating broad flood plains, further diffusing rapid currents and offering many nooks and crannies in which to evade predators while nourishing the insect larvae, worms, beetles, and other organisms they may feed on.

The University of Oregon, the university’s Ecosystem Workforce Program, the Oregon State University and its Extension Service, The Nature Conservancy, Sustainable Northwest, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station are members of the Northwest Fire Science Consortium, one of fifteen regional science information exchanges funded by the Joint Fire Science Program.

From FireScience.gov:

In the Pacific Northwest, native salmon and trout (family Salmonidae) are some of the toughest survivors on the block. Over time, these fish have evolved behavioral adaptations to natural disturbances, and they rely on these disturbances to deliver coarse sediment and wood that become complex stream habitat. Powerful disturbances such as wildfire, post fire landslides, and debris flows may be detrimental to fish populations in the short term, but over time they enrich in-stream habitats, enhancing long-term fish survival and productivity.

LAND MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS

Forest management activities, such as enhancing river network connectivity through fish passage barrier removal and reducing predicted fire intensity and sizes, may increase the resilience of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in the face of disturbances such as climate change and wildfire.

Natural disturbances, along with sound riparian management and road management practices that allow natural flood plain functioning, are important in maintaining healthy change in aquatic habitats. Connected, complex aquatic habitats benefit from ecosystem management practices that are analogous to the spatial extent of wildfires and bridge human-imposed divides such as land ownership boundaries.

Fire planning that includes aquatic issues such as habitat quality, stream network connectivity, and fish population resilience offers resource managers the opportunity to broaden fire management goals and activities to include potential positive effects on aquatic habitats.

WATCH the video here (or find it on YouTube):

More information:

Science Findings #198 (July, 2017): https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/publications/adaptation-wildfire-fish-story

“Wildfire may increase habitat quality for spring Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee River subbasin, WA, USA” (submitted 2015, published 2016): https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2015_flitcroft001.pdf


Source information: The USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station is a leader in the scientific study of natural resources. We generate and communicate impartial knowledge to help people understand and make informed choices about natural resource management and sustainability. The station has 11 laboratories and research centers in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, and manages 12 active experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds.

Holden Mine: From Contamination to Recovery

WENATCHEE, Wash. –  Deep in the heart of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, a dramatic sight was unfolding on the landscape above Lake Chelan. For five summers, bulldozers, graders, loaders, and excavators worked to reshape a rock-strewn mountain side, hauling loads of mine waste tailings across a 90-acre cleanup site until, for the first time in more than 60 years, the once-toxic area around the former Holden copper mine was again able to sustain healthy native vegetation and wildlife.

Abandoned in 1957, the Holden Mine contaminated groundwater with five toxic metals including aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron and zinc. These heavy metals washed downstream, polluting water in Railroad Creek, a major tributary to Lake Chelan. The metals also created a hazardous, hard orange coating known as ferricrete on the stream bed.

Unstable waste rock and tailings piles from approximately 10 million tons of mined ore further compounded the problem.

Today, thousands of gallons of contaminated groundwater are treated each day, through an on-site treatment plant. A concrete barrier between the toxic tailings pile and creek will prevent water runoff from the pile and reduce the chance of future contamination.

The remediation effort cost nearly $500 million, which was paid by Rio Tinto – a global mining company which inherited the responsibility for the cleanup through acquisition of a successor company to the original mine owners.

The project was complicated by the mine’s remote location. Holden Village, a religious retreat on the shores of Lake Chelan, closed its doors to thousands of summer visitors it typically hosts in order to provide lodging for work crews during the massive cleanup effort.

Other partners included the Yakama Nation, Washington Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the USDA Forest Service – which acted as the lead agency overseeing the remediation efforts, because the majority of the cleanup took place on National Forest lands.

Local officials estimate that in addition to cleaning up Railroad Creek and protecting it from future contamination, the restoration effort injected approximately $240 million into the local economy, through hiring of local construction crews and heavy equipment operators.

The project created eight permanent jobs at the water treatment plant, and an additional site manager position in Chelan, Wash.

In September, the Forest Service released a Five-Year Site Review which documents the cleanup effort to date, and outlines future monitoring and additional work that is required.

For more information: Visit www.holdenminecleanup.com


Source information: The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest encompasses more than 4-million acres in Washington state, extending from the Canadian border to the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Elevations range from below 1,000 ft. to over 9,000 ft., and the forest is very diverse – from the high, glaciated alpine peaks along the Cascade Crest, through deep, lush valleys of old growth forest, to the dry and rugged shrub-steppe country at its eastern edge. Precipitation varies from more than 70 inches annually along the crest to less than 10-inches at its eastern edge.

Mad River Trail gets BAER repairs; scheduled to re-open Spring 2019

Comparison - burned out and repaired sections of wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

Until July 28, wooden walls provided a barrier to keep the neighboring hillside from eroding onto the the Mad River Trail.

But those walls burned, like so much else, when the Cougar Creek Fire burned through the area this summer.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

 

On a cloudy, slightly drizzly, day in late October, Forest Service trail and fire crews came together to rebuild 80 feet of soil retention walls on the Mad River Trail system.

“We knew from past experience the potential for a lot of erosion damage to occur to the trail in the areas where the walls had been,” Jon Meir, a recreation natural resources specialist for the Entiat Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said. “Luckily, through funding and crews made available by BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response), we were able to quickly replace burned segments of the erosion protection walls.”

The BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response program, provides funds and resources to perform emergency stabilization work after a serious fire. The work starts even before the fire is out, and may continue for up to a year after a large wildfire occurs.

The goal of BAER efforts is to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources on national forest system lands.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remain of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We needed to get this work done prior to autumn rains, winter blizzards, and spring downpours which would likely have caused erosion and significant trail damage. This would have led to additional work to repair the trail, additional cost, and longer repair time next summer,” Meier said. “Effects were decreased because we were able to accomplish this work immediately after the fire.”

Replacement of soil retention walls is just one part of the repair work needed on the Mad River Trail, which remains closed until more repairs are completed, which is scheduled to happen in the spring, 2019.

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in October, 2018. The repair work was part of BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, efforts performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We recognize this is a very popular trail system, and trail repairs will be made as soon as possible in spring 2019, in April if the weather allows. Other infrastructure repair work, such as bridge repairs, won’t occur until additional funding is available,” Meier said.

But the work done in October will ensure the public is able to use the trail sooner than if erosion had been allowed to continue damaging the trail throughout the winter months.

Meier he will welcome help from anyone who wants to donate time to helping get the trail re-opened as soon as possible in the spring.

“Our trail crew will be starting repairs this spring, and volunteers are always welcome to participate. Just give me a call if you are interested in helping out,” Meier said.


Source information: Robin DeMario is a public affairs specialist for Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

Fighting fires with fire: Prescribed fires restore healthy balance in forests

A firefighter with a radio monitors walks through brush in an area being treated by prescribed fire

As another hot, dry summer of fighting wildland fires winds down, National Forests and other Pacific Northwest land managers have begun to turn their attention to prescribed fires, or fires intentionally set to perform ecological work on the landscape.

Fire is an essential, natural process, having shaped the landscape for thousands of years, releasing, and recycling nutrients from vegetation, duff, and soil layers, improving the overall health of plants and animals.

In the Pacific Northwest, forests evolved to experience periodic fires that can thin overgrowth on the forest floor and make space for larger, healthier trees. On forests and grasslands, some invasive species may prove vulnerable to fires, while some native species actually require fire to release or germinate seeds.

“Prescribed fire is the right fire, in the right place, for the right reasons,” Rob Allen, fire staff officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest said. “It’s a proactive step- a choice to put fire to work for our communities and forests rather than just fight against it year after year.”

A stand of trees previously treated with prescribed fire.

After a prescribed fire on the Ochoco National Forest, Oregon, mature trees enjoy healthier spacing, while charred wood from dead trees provides wildlife habitat and fast-growing grasses and low-growing vegetation removed by quickly return to the area. USDA Forest Service photo.

Land managers have increasingly embraced prescribed fire as a management tool in recent years, as research began to point to an increasing number of larger, hotter “mega-fires” in the region that are believed to be fueled, in part, by a century of fire management decisions encouraging suppression of all fires — including the smaller, lower intensity fires, such as those set naturally by lightning during the cooler, wetter months.

Paul Hessburg, a scientist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station estimates prescribed fires (and management of suitable natural fires) need to occur at six times recent rates to restore the “historical fire regime” to forests in Washington and Oregon.

In Central Washington, firefighters from seven agencies across the state will manage prescribed fires across central Washington, including the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, as part of a formal training exchange (TREX). Sponsored by the Fire Learning Network, TREX provides a unique opportunity for fire personnel from across the region to learn about prescribed fire and forest health across agency boundaries. Land managers from multiple agencies plan to burn up to 950 acres during the two-week TREX, and up to 5300 acres across the eastern Cascades this summer.

A low-intensity prescribed fire burns grass and brush while leaving larger trees intact.

A prescribed fire burns “low and slow” across an area on the Colville National Forest, Washington. Large, healthy trees with thicker bark may lose lower branches, but typically survive low-intensity fire, while smaller trees, brush, and diseased trees are typically burned away. Some native Pacific Northwest tress, grasses and wildflowers trees depend on fire to propagate, or have fire-resistant seeds that thrive in spaces where fires have cleared competing non-native species and seeds. USDA Forest Service photo.

On the Malheur National Forest in northeast Oregon, land managers have announced plans to burn parcels ranging from 150 to 4,000 acres, as weather permits, this fall.

On the Siuslaw National Forest, located on the central Oregon Coast, firefighters will burn “slash,” piles of debris and limbs that have accumulated throughout the year from timber sales and large scale restoration projects, to reduce the risk of these debris becoming fuel for wildland fires. All burning will be administered and overseen by trained firefighting personnel.

“This is the ideal time,” Dan Eddy, Siuslaw National Forest deputy fire staff officer, said. “The ground is damp from recent rains making it an effective way to remove non-merchantable wood debris before it can become a hazardous fuel in the dry summer months.”

Firefighters will also conduct prescribed burns in the Drift Creek area, (6 miles east of Waldport), and off Forest Service Road 52 in the Tidewater area (12 miles east of Waldport), on the Siuslaw National Forest.

Safety and smoke are the two concerns most people raise when they hear about plans for prescribed fires in their community.

That’s understandable, Allen said. “Clean air matters to all of us.”

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush during a prescribed burn on the Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon April 26, 2013. USDA Forest Service photo

Each prescribed fire represents many weeks of planning and preparation. Prescribed fires are managed using techniques that reduce fire intensity and smoke, such as careful site selection and attention to air and ground moisture,  atmospheric pressure, and wind.

Because firefighters choose the place, time, and conditions under which prescribed fires occur, they typically have much less impact on the surrounding community than wildland fires that aren’t planned.

Over time, land managers believe having more prescribed fires will reduce the amount of smoke experienced by communities, by preventing or limiting the size and intensity of wildland fires that occur on previously burned acreage.

More information:

Learn more about why fire on is needed on Pacific Northwest landscapes – and how prescribed fires can help in –  at https://www.north40productions.com/eom-home/.

Preparedness, helicopter crew rescue family from wildland fire

A Forest Service helitack crew prepares to evacuate a family trapped by the Crescent Mountain fire at Louis Lake on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wash., Aug. 1, 2018. Courtesy photo by Justin Gerard.

Disaster can strike out of the blue in the backcountry. And when it does, preparation can make the difference between life or death.

Justin Gerard experienced that first hand during the Crescent Mountain fire on the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest last month.

Gerard said he and his family they won’t soon forget the experience – or their dramatic rescue by a Forest Service helitack (helicopter, fire attack) team.

The Crescent Mountain fire was one of several fires set by a lightning storm on July 29, 2018. The fire was small – less than 10 acres – when the Gerard family set out for Louis Lake on July 31st.

But overnight, conditions changed, producing extreme fire behavior; the fires grew 18 times their size in less than 24 hours.

On Aug. 1, the Gerards were hiking back from their overnight trip to the lake when they realized a smoke column that had been visible over the distant hills was suddenly much closer, and blocking the trail ahead. The family found themselves five miles from safety, surrounded by steep terrain, and with no easy path to escape.

After the fire, the fire’s Incident Command team determined the fire had moved down the mountain and across the trail they were hiking on in less than 40 minutes; too fast for anyone to outrun, especially a family with children and pets. In the days following their rescue, the fire continued to expand, sometimes by more than 4000 acres per day.

Fortunately, the Gerards were well-prepared for a trip to the backcountry. That advance preparation helped the family of six – and their three dogs – escape, without injuries.

But Gerard said he also has some “lessons learned” from the experience that will better prepare him for the possibility of wildland fires and other emergencies during his next wilderness trip.

Question: When you planned your trip, were you aware that there was fire activity in the area?

Answer: “I wasn’t aware in the beginning. Typically we don’t hike in August because of the fires, but we had been trying to hike to Louis Lake for a while. I called the Ranger District before leaving. They informed me about fire activity in the area, but there were no closures for the Lake Louise trail. At that time I think the fires were about 10 acres and had firefighters on them. When we arrived to start our trip there was no smoke that would indicate a fire was close by.”

Q: How do you prepare for outdoor trips?  When did you start using a satellite messenger device and do you utilize it regularly?

A: “I have four kids, ranging from age 8 to 18. We decided about three years ago to purchase the device. We thought it was a good thing to have in case of emergencies when out in the woods. Typically, I tell my parents where we are going, what our timelines are, and where we plan to camp. We give an “OK” signal when we start and send out an “OK” when we stop for the night. Sometimes I’ll use the tracking feature. My family and friends can go on the share page and track our movement. I have it programmed to send an alert signal if we haven’t moved in over four hours.”

“Hiking gear can be expensive. When you look at the cost involved of having an emergency beacon, it is relatively inexpensive compared to the peace of mind it brings and safety it provides for your family. It is a good thing to have especially if you are out by yourself.”

“All the kids know how to operate the device, and we always keep it in the same location on my pack. We talk about emergency scenarios with our family so everyone knows their role in case something goes wrong. The more you can prepare yourself for situations in the backcountry, the better you will be. In this case, I learned it is good to have a signal mirror.”  

Q: Tell me about what was going through your mind when you realized you and your family were in a dangerous situation?

“We had a great day at the lake fishing and swimming. We got up the next day and had breakfast. I spent the morning tapping up my children’s feet because they were breaking in new boots. We were planning to head out that day. Once we were heading down the trail I looked up and spotted the smoke column. I couldn’t tell how far away the fire was, but knew the wind was blowing in our direction. At that point we decided to turn around. I tried to keep everyone calm. We came up with a plan to return to the scree field.”

“Because we had moved locations and were unsure if the SOS signal was sending our new location, we decided to hit the button again — not realizing that our current location was already being sent. Hitting the button a second time canceled our emergency alert. Fortunately, my emergency contact went to the incident and alerted Forest Service officials that something was wrong.”

“I’ve spoken to numerous people that have SPOT devices (a brand name of emergency locator and messaging devices) and not many of them knew if you press the SOS a second time it cancels your emergency alert. This is very important to know.”

Q: What was it like to interact with firefighters from the helitack crew?

“They were wonderful. Top-notch professionals. They were calm and communicated very clearly with a great attitude. They did their job very well. They offered us food and water. They kept the kids calm while providing good instructions on what we needed to do.”

“There were some conversations about if we would be able to bring the dogs on the helicopter. The crew went above and beyond to allow us to bring our dogs. We were very grateful and appreciative that they trusted us enough to control the dogs on the flight. I would have understood if we had to leave the dogs. We left it up to them to decide. They did a great job being straight-forward during this difficult time.” 

Q: What is your advice to others that plan to recreate in remote locations?

“Even if you have a SPOT device, if there is any way to leave additional information for your emergency contacts it will help you out. Leave specific information about your party, medical information, where you are going, and when you will be out. This will help search and rescue find you faster. Just because you hit the SOS button doesn’t mean a helicopter rescue will come right away. You still need to be prepared mentally and have contingency plans to keep yourself safe.”

“Make sure you know where you are going. Call ahead to the Ranger District. Understand if you hike in dry months you need to have situational awareness. There can be lightning storms that quickly ignite fires. Hike at another time when fire danger is lower. We broke our rule of not hiking in August and we got caught.”

While Type 3 firefighting helicopters and crew aren’t normally utilized for rescue operations on incidents, federal employees have flexibility to deviate from SOPs when human lives are at stake.

 “We’re grateful that the decision was made to utilize the helicopter to get us out,” Gerard said. “People that have the ability to think on their feet and the experience to make sound decisions were vital to helping us. They took a risk for us and we think they should be recognized for their efforts.”

What went right?

  • The Gerards were aware that it is fire season. They checked fire weather and with a Ranger station, to help them make a decision about whether it was OK to hike. They knew the area and were able to quickly make a new plan and escape to safer terrain.
  • The 10 essentials. The family was well prepared for a backcountry trip, including warm, dry clothing, food, and camping gear, in case they’d had to shelter in place overnight. They also carried an emergency locator, which all family members were trained to operate.
  • The family had trip plan and a designated emergency contact who followed their progress, and was prepared to seek help.

What went wrong?

  • Conditions can change quickly – in this case, overnight. While you can’t plan for everything, consider the worst-case scenario before deciding how much risk you are prepared to tolerate.

Lessons learned?

  • Know your gear. Although the Gerards were careful to ensure all family members were trained to send a distress signal using their emergency beacon, they inadvertently cancelled their first distress call when they tried to send a second request after changing their location. Justin Gerard said he is reaching out to friends who rely on similar devices to share his lessons learned in case they ever find themselves in a similar situation.


Source information: Evan Burks, White Mountain National Forest (on fire assignment in support of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Fire & Aviation office). Photos provided by Justin Gerard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog: Hungry, hungry caterpillars (WA DNR)

close-up of a male Douglas-fir Tussock moth catepillar, undated.

The USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region helps monitor forest health in Washington and Oregon via annual aerial forest health surveys, conducted in partnership with with the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry. When signs of a widespread disease or insect pest activity are detected, more intensive monitoring programs may be established.

In this guest post from Washington State DNR, the state agency discusses about its efforts to trap, monitor, and collect better data on the patterns surrounding one such insect which periodically impacts the health of trees, especially in eastern Washington – the Douglas-fir Tussock moth.

From Washington State DNR:

“The life of a Douglas-fir tussock moth is not an easy one. The females can’t fly, and food is often scarce, not to mention viruses that make them explode. What’s more difficult than being a tussock moth, is having those moths in your forest.

“Every ten years or so, the tussock moth population skyrockets in some areas of eastern Washington, well beyond what the forest can support. When that happens, these insects can eat so much that they literally kill the fir trees they feed on, sometimes up to 40 percent in a single stand. If a tree is lucky enough to survive the infestation, they’ll then be much more vulnerable to disease, pests and wildfire.

“Often when we talk about species that destroy forests, those species are invasive. They didn’t come from the areas they’re killing. The tussock moth is actually a native species here in Washington, so what causes their once-in-ten-year eating rampage? We know that historically, the event happens approximately every ten years, but with a potentially disastrous ecological hazard, being as precise as possible is very important…”

Read more, on the agency’s “Ear to the Ground” blog:
https://washingtondnr.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/forest-health-the-hungry-hungry-caterpillar/

close up of a Douglas-fir Tussock moth on a conifer branch

An undated field photo of a male Douglas-fir Tussock moth. USDA Forest Service photo by David McComb (via Bugwood.org).

More information:

For more Douglas-fir Tussock Moth photos, check out this USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Forest Health Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157685469658140

For photos from annual aerial health forest survey conducted jointly by the USDA Forest Service and Washington State, and surveys conducted with the State of Oregon, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157679829533950

In the News: Mountain goat relocation set to start this week

A mountain goat, perched on a rocky outcrop.

The first of hundreds of mountain goats will be removed from Olympic National Park and relocated to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests by helicopter, beginning this week, reporter Logan Stanley writes for The Olympian.

The goats are native to Washington State’s northern Cascades range, but were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s.

“The move is aimed at re-establishing the depleted mountain goat populations in the Washington Cascades, and reduce problems caused in the Olympics by the non-native goats,” he writes. “Mountain goats have been known to approach hikers because they are attracted to the salt from their sweat, urine, and food. That behavior is less likely in the north Cascades where visitors are more spread out, said Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife manager who specializes in mountain goats. The north Cascades also have an abundance of natural salt licks, while the Olympic Peninsula has virtually none, Harris said.”

Read more: https://www.theolympian.com/latest-news/article218060560.html

In the News: Enchantments under seige – will popularity save or destroy them?

A craggy, snow-capped rock cliff reflected in an alpine lake

Reporter Ted Alvarez scored his second invite to hike and camp out overnight at The Enchantments, a series of alpine lakes and glacially-formed rock formations high in the Cascades on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

In an article for Crosscut, Alvarez writes about how the area’s spectacular (and photographic) beauty is increasingly driving visitors to seek out the area – with or without one of it’s limited overnight permits, and how land managers struggle to balance access and protection of this uniquely beautiful, but ecologically fragile, area.

“Managing access to marquee wild places is a thorny issue with no real clear answers,” he writes. “Keeping out newcomers and day hikers often de-prioritizes the communities that most need to exercise their rights to our wildernesses and keep those values alive back home. But the flood will always wash in folks who have the potential to damage and diminish the very thing that attracts us all.”

Read more:
https://crosscut.com/2018/08/our-favorite-mountains-are-under-siege-blame-your-selfie

PS: A special “shout out” to Carly Reed on the Wenatchee River Ranger District, who is quoted in the story sharing some of her thoughts on social media and environmental impacts – including the ever-persistent “poop problem.”

50,000 acres of forest restoration work approved on Okanogan-Wenatchee NF

A stand of ponderosa pine with limited brush and healthy tree spacing

TWISP, Wash.  —May 19, 2018 — Beginning as soon as this fall, work will begin to restore forest health in Washington State’s Methow Valley, as part of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest‘s Mission Restoration Project.

The 50,000 acre project includes mechanical forest thinning, prescribed fire, and other restoration work in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk drainages, located between Carlton and Twisp, Wash.

“This decision is a win for wildlife, water quality, reducing fire risk, the local economy, and so much more,” Paul Nash, Timber Management Assistant for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State, said. “In strong partnership with the local community and forest stakeholders, we are proactively restoring the Libby Creek and Buttermilk landscape.”

Final decision highlights:

  • Over the next 15 years, good fire will be returned to the landscape, reducing hazardous fuels on approximately 10,200 acres (with no more than 2,000 acres burned per year).
  • Long-term water quality and aquatic habitat would be improved throughout the watershed with the replacement of eight undersized culverts.
  • Commercial thinning would help restore dense, overcrowded forests on 1,853 acres while non-commercial thinning is planned on just over 8,300 acres.
  • Elevated risk of crown fires, which spread rapidly and do more damage to mature trees than ground-level fires, would be reduced across the project area – including areas where private or state lands meet federal lands.
  • The project is projected to generate more than $3.2 million dollars in timber value at the mill and support more than 172 jobs.
  • More than 66 miles of roads would remain open to provide for sustainable and safe forest recreation access.
  • Firewood cutting opportunities would exist wherever feasible, after commercial and non-commercial thinning operations have been completed.
  • More than 460 sites are planned for soil restoration to increase watershed function.

“We reviewed feedback and concerns from more than 900 comments over the past two and a half years to reach this decision,” Nash said. “Thank you to everyone who lent their voice to the important work of forest restoration.”

The project record and decision notice are available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49201.

The first commercial thinning sale from the project will be a stewardship sale whereby proceeds from the sale will be utilized to fund additional restoration work including aspen regeneration and wetland habitat enhancement.


Source information: Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest public affairs staff

Horses pull weight on Forest Service pack string

In some parts of the old west, horse culture still reigns- and there’s no place where that’s more true than Washington State’s Methow Valley, on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Traditions and skills that were once required by every Forest Service employee are today kept alive by people like Amber Deming, Lead Wilderness Ranger for the Methow Valley Ranger District and organizer of the inter-agency Horsemanship and Packing training the forest hosted in June.

For people like Deming, horses and mules are more than just animals or a recreational activity, they’re friends and companions that carry a lifeline of food, supplies and all of the tools needed to survive an eight day patrol in the rugged and roadless Pasayten Wilderness.

A horse carrying a man approaches the camera

National Park Service Horse Packer Jeff Fitzwater rides “Clancy” during a joint agency horsemanship and pack training clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 5, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Created by the same legislation that created North Cascades National Park, the 531,000 acre Pasayten Wilderness is home to hundreds of miles of trail, and because it straddles an international border of more than 50 miles with Canada it has some very unique and challenging management needs.

For USDA Forest Service, U.S. Border Patrol and National Park Service employees at North Cascades, the annual Horsemanship and Packing Training outside of Winthrop, Washington is a much needed chance to get reacquainted, both with each other and their animals, before the start of the busy summer season.

A rider mounts a horse in a gated corral, while two riders observe

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Josh Bocook demonstrates how to properly mount a horse, putting his left foot in the stirrup while holding onto the horn of the saddle with his left hand, during joint agency packing and horsemanship training on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Born from a chance encounter between Deming and Morgan Seemann and Josh Bocook of the U.S. Border Patrol, the training combines decades of practical and hands-on experience to provide both new and returning riders a solid background in good horsemanship.

“Even though our agencies have different missions, a lot of what we do is the same,” Amber said, “and the training gives us a chance to get together and learn, both about each other and our horses.

Starting with horse and rider safety, students learn about the different parts of a horse and types of personalities and ways in which they might behave.

Two women kneel over a package tied with rope, while the woman on the right pulls the rope to tighten a knot.

Heather Swanson, a National Park Service horse packer, left, teaches Amber Deming, lead wilderness ranger for the USDA Forest Service’s Methow Valley Ranger District, to tie a pack using the unique Methow style of packing June 6, 2018 during joint horsemanship and packing training on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

They learn how horses see, about the two blindspots that every horse has (directly behind them and directly between their eyes) and how having an eye on each side can help them see almost completely around their bodies as they look out for predators.

Students then take that knowledge out to the arena, where for the first time they learn to approach and catch their animals before proceeding to halter, lead and tie stock with various quick release knots and hitches.

Before riding, the animals are thoroughly brushed and inspected, and extra care is given to remove any burrs or sharp objects that might aggravate when stuck under a saddle.

To provide cushioning for both rider and horse a saddle blanket is placed on the withers, or ridge between the shoulder blades, where it is then slid backwards to rest comfortably in the middle of the back.

Then it’s time to saddle up; the latigo, or cinch strap, goes underneath the horse and once tightened helps keep the saddle snug and in place.  The rear cinch strap gets buckled in the same manner, and last but not least the breast collar is attached.

Four people look left of the camera while relaxing in a rustic, white-painted barn.

Participants in a joint agency horsemanship and pack training are surrounded by saddle blankets in the horse stable’s tack room on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. Pictured from left are Rob Messick and Zack Schaarsmidt, both USDA Forest Service employees from the Methow Valley Ranger District, Jordan Allen-Flowers, Wenatchee River Ranger District, and Heather Swanson, a National Park Service horse packer and an instructor for the training. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Before hopping into the saddle, each rider learns to inspect everything diligently – making sure the saddle is comfortably attached, for themselves and their horse. The latigo is tightened one last time. When the saddle is secure the horse is ready to be ridden.

To mount up a rider approaches on the horse’s left side and, holding the reins in their left hand grabs the horn of the saddle. The right hand holds onto the cantle, or back of the saddle, and the left foot is placed in the stirrup.

The rider then stands up straight and, once balanced and standing in the stirrup, finishes the maneuver by swinging their right leg up and over and into the other stirrup.

But before a student can mount a horse they have to learn their ground work. Taking the time to determine the horse’s attitude before a trip, the rider goes through a number of different motions and exercises to make sure the horse is ready before ever hopping in the saddle.

For beginning riders time is spent on learning how to gain forward momentum, how to turn, circle and stop.  Riders learn how to hustle by driving forward with their hips and through rhythmic kicking, and they learn how to maneuver by safely taking their animals through a cleverly designed obstacle course.

After learning how to ride, students spend time learning how to pack for their horses and mules.  Perfect for use in the non-motorized Wilderness, a typical pack string can carry up to four times the weight a helicopter can carry, with each animal carrying an average of 200 pounds.

A man ties a rope overhead to secure a horse in a corrale, while a second man observes attentively

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Morgan Seemann, left, teaches Mike Calvert, Methow Valley Ranger District, how to tie a highline, used to tie and secure animals when in the field during a horsemanship and packing clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

In addition to hauling food, heavy tools and supplies, a Forest Service pack team can be essential for a successful search and rescue.

“As an example, one time, when the sheriff’s office contacted us about helping with a search and rescue, one of our outfitter guides had a Girl Scout camped in up at Robinson Creek who sprained her ankle really bad,” said Deming.  “They asked us to go in with a horse and go get her and ride her out.”

To get some search-and-rescue practice, students conduct and exercise where they work together as a team to sweep a meadow for a hidden backpack. Then, after successfully finding it, students finish out the class by learning how to get their animals ready for transport.

A stock truck or horse trailer can be used, depending on the route and destination, but hauling a live load always requires extra caution. With each horse easily weighing up to 1,000 pounds or more, students are taught to watch for special signage, to drive slower than usual and to watch out when going through a curve or driving over bridges.

Without regular training to introduce new generations of riders, the skills required to maintain supplies to the backcountry using horse and mule pack trains would likely be lost. The continued use of horse pack trains on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is made possible, in part, through partnerships with Mt. Adams Institute and the Washington Trails Association.

A woman rides a horse in a corral at the base of a forested slope

Katlyn White practices riding during a horsemanship and packing clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 5, 2018. White is a Forest Service employee for the Wenatchee River Ranger District. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement


Source information: By Kathryn Dawson, USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. Dawson is the editor of “Valuing You: An R6 Update,” region’s employee newsletter. This story appears in the July, 2018 edition.

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