Category Archives: Washington State

In the News: Forest biologist discusses bighorn sheep on podcast

A bighorn sheep stands in a field

The Forest Service’s Mark Penninger, forest biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, discusses natural history and conservation of the bighorn sheep on Episode 6 of the
Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s Northwest Nature Matters podcast.

Called the “koepa” by the Northern Paiute people, the bighorn sheep is an icon of the mountain West; yet complex disease issues have stalled its complete recovery. Mark discusses the history of bighorn conservation, its life history, management, and how sheep conservationists are trying to solve pressing challenges to sheep recovery.  – from the Northwest Nature Matters episode page

Listen to the full episode here: http://nwnaturematters.libsyn.com/the-bighorn

The Northwest Nature Matters podcast is produced by the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society, in partnership with the Oregon Wildlife Foundation.

Recent episodes have featured subject matter experts from state and federal agencies, academia, journalism, and environmental advocacy sectors for long-format conversations about conservation, natural history, and wildlife protection issues across the Pacific Northwest.

  • Episode 4, released last month, discussed the marbled murrelet – an Endangered Species Act -listed species, like the spotted owl, requires old growth forest for nesting habitat.
Northwest Nature Matters logo
The Northwest Nature Matters podcast was launched in 2018 to share long-format conversations with subject matter experts about wildlife and conservation issues affecting the Pacific Northwest region.

Related story: The Wildlife Society’s Oregon Chapter launches “Northwest Nature Matters” podcast


Source: The Wildlife Society seeks to inspire, empower and enable conservation, environmental and wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation. The Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society is comprised of approximately 350 members from state, government, tribal, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations statewide.

In the news: WTA ‘Thank a Ranger’ & ‘The Changing Face of National Forests’

Yewah Lau, district ranger for Hood Canal Ranger District, Olympic National Forest, in a 2017 photo. Photo courtesy of Washington Trails Association, used with permission.

The Washington Trails Association recently re-posted an interview with Yewah Lau, district ranger for Hood Canal Ranger District, on the Olympic National Forest, to highlight their “Thank a Ranger” campaign.

Yewah Lau spoke to the association’s member magazine about diversity, and the values that brought her to a career with the agency, in 2017.

Would you like to show your thanks and appreciation for a forest ranger through WTA? Read the article online at https://www.wta.org/news/signpost/the-changing-face-of-the-national-forest-1, then fill out the “thank you” form at the end of the page to express your thanks and pledge to thank a ranger on the trail during your next forest visit (please note: filling out the form discloses your email address and may result in additional emails from WTA).

From the article:

As the local decision-maker for the happenings on the east side of the peninsula, from Sequim to past Hoodsport and along some of its south side, her role is all-encompassing: recreation, vegetation and wildlife management, working with local staff and specialists to help protect resources, and interacting with and creating opportunities for the public.

Yewah deals with big complex multi-stakeholder issues, working with diverse factions, like elected officials, community groups and local tribes, something that she finds extremely fulfilling…

“I have met women who were the first: the first wildlife biologist in their forest or office, or the first firefighter … I feel like I’m following in their footsteps.”

Ultimately, though, Yewah’s work is driven by an overarching principle:

“Our obligation is to protect natural resources, wildlife and watersheds.  We have a mission that is unique and complex because we’re serving the American public and also trying to find the best combination of what all of those values are.”

 

Holiday Tree permits on sale at National Forest offices

An evergreen adorned with handmade ornaments

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… time to visit your nearest national forest to find the perfect holiday tree for your home!

Christmas tree permits are available at National Forest offices and selected vendors throughout the Pacific Northwest for $5 each.

Each permit allows the holder to cut one tree in designated areas; each household can purchase up to a maximum of five permits.

For permit purchasing locations, contact your local national forest office (for a directory of USDA Forest Service offices in Washington and Oregon, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/about-region/?cid=stelprdb5341313).

More information:

Don’t forget:

As part of the national Every Kid in a Park initiative, all fourth-graders are eligible for a free holiday tree permit from their USDA Forest Service office, for use on their local national forest.

EKIP holiday tree ornament coloring page

4th-graders: Click the image above to download a coloring page, with instructions to visit www.everykidinapark.gov for information about how to claim your voucher for a free holiday tree permit from the USDA Forest Service, and get a free annual pass to explore federal lands across the U.S. this year with your family!

Visit the Every Kid in a Park website at www.everykidinapark.gov for more information about how fourth-grade students can claim their free tree permit voucher and a one-year annual pass to explore national forests and other public lands across the U.S.

Holiday Tree Graphic_FB



Source: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region public affairs staff

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.

Forest Feature: Elk

Bull elk grow antlers for the fall mating season

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re dedicating the November Forest Feature to showing our appreciation for an animal that has historically given much to people in the Pacific Northwest – the mighty elk!

Elk (Cervus canadensis) are among the largest species of the deer family in the world. They are also among the largest wild animals in North America – only moose and bison are larger among the non-domesticated species. (Fun fact: “Wild” horses on this continent are actually untamed domesticated horses, sometimes called “feral” horses – they cannot be truly ).

Elk from the Dosewallips elk herd along Highway 101

Elk from the Dosewallips elk herd along Highway 101 in Brinnon, Wash. on the Olympic Peninsula, Aug. 1, 2018. Elk herds are known to cross Highway 101, including the Dosewallips & Dungeness herds. As temperatures get colder, more animals start to live at lower elevations, near roads and some elk herds stay at lower elevations year-round. Courtesy photo by Karen Guzman (used with permission)

Elk first arrived in North America from Asia about 23 million years ago.

Historically, elk have been revered in many cultures. The meat from a single elk can feed many people. Their large hides can be used to create tents to house people, or clothing and shoes to protect them from the elements.

In North America, archaeologists have found images of elk that are thousands of years old, carved by the Anasazi people.

A Roosevelt elk bugles,

A Roosevelt elk bugles, June 9, 2011. USDA Forest Service photo.

Male elk are known for bugling – they make lots of noise to assert their dominance and attract mates.

They also have large antlers, which they use to fight for those same reasons.

Elk shed their antlers every year, and regrow them every spring.

A herd of elk approach a snowy river bank

A herd of elk approach a snowy river bank on the Olympic National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Elk travel in herds, and are quick to defend against predators

They can run up to 35 miles per hour, though they rarely run from a fight.

If their vocal warnings are ignored, both male and female elk might attack by rearing up and delivering powerful kicks from their strong forelegs.

However, elk are susceptible to many diseases. These including parasites, chronic wasting disease, and a disease called Elk hoof disease.

Releasing elk at Sparks Lake on the Deschutes National Forest

Releasing elk at Sparks Lake on the Deschutes National Forest in 1934. USDA Forest Service file photo.

Elk cows leave their herd to give birth, which helps them protect their calves by avoiding attention from predators. They return only once their calves can keep up with the herd.

An elk mother will take care of one another elk’s calf, if the other mother is feeding.

Elk need a lot of food to survive.

Elk eat all kinds of grasses, shrubs, bark and leaves.

Some favorite foods for elk living in the Pacific Northwest include Aspen, red alder, and willow tree barks; shrubs, vines and bushes – including salal, wild rose, and Oregon grape, blackberry, huckleberry and currant; and other plants, including dandelion, clover, bear grass and fireweed.

Elk are valued by hunters as a game animal; their meat is lean, low in cholesterol and high in protein.

A herd of elk climb a bluff

A herd of elk climb a bluff on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Super strength, super speed, super brave… in many ways, elk aren’t just mighty creatures of the forest, they are superheroes!

What do you like most about elk? Check out these fun facts and links to learn even more about our November “Forest Feature”!

Did you know?

  • An elk’s antlers can grow as fast as 2.5 cm per day, and reach a total length of almost 4 feet long, and weigh up to 40 lbs.!
  • Elk look a bit like deer, but they are much bigger. Adult elk stand 4.5 to 5 feet at the shoulder. With their antlers, a male elk might stand up to 9 feet tall!
  • Elk shed their coats seasonally. Their winter coat is five times warmer than their summer coat, and lighter in color – which helps camouflage them against bare ground or snow.
  • A bull (male) elk can weigh 600-800 lbs. A cow (female) elk can weigh up to 500 lbs. 

Learn more about elk:

Videos:



Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month, as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental education and forest science in your classroom, email us at YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Forest Service seeks Recreation Resource Advisory Committee members

View of Stairway and Accessible Ramp at Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

PORTLAND, Ore. — The USDA Forest Service is soliciting potential nominees as part of its effort to re-establish a Recreation Resource Advisory Committee (Recreation RAC) for the Pacific Northwest Region. The Recreation RAC will provide recommendations on recreation fees for Forest Service lands in Oregon and Washington.

Recreation RACs consist of 11 individual members, and an alternate for each, who represent the following balanced and broad interests:

  • Five people will represent recreation users who participate in activities such as summer and winter motorized and non-motorized recreation, hunting, and fishing;
  • Three people who represent, as appropriate, the following recreation interest groups: motorized and or non-motorized outfitting and guiding as well as environmental groups; and
  • Three people who represent state tourism, Indian tribes, and local government.

Public lands are a valuable part of our national identity and provide a wide range of benefits to Americans. Recreation fees, an investment in this legacy, help protect natural resources, expand educational opportunities, preserve our cultural heritage, and enhance recreation experiences for millions of users annually.

Recreation RACs are instrumental in establishing recreation fees on public lands and help improve the experience that visitors have on National Forest lands. Recreation RAC members provide recommendations to Forest Service officials on initiating, adjusting, or eliminating fees on National Forest-managed recreation sites.

“The Forest Service is proud to work alongside partners, volunteers, and local communities to provide world-class recreation opportunities across the Pacific Northwest” said Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “In addition to making recommendations about recreation fees, the Recreation RAC will help us connect more people with their public lands and build a stronger stewardship ethic for the long-term, sustainable management of our recreation areas.”

Applicants will be recommended for appointment based on:

  • Ability to represent an interest group as required by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
  • Ability to contribute to the committee.
  • Ability to work successfully in a collaborative group.
  • Ability to represent diverse or underrepresented groups.

All applicants must be United States citizens and at least 18 years old. People selected for positions will initially serve two or three-year terms and can apply to serve a subsequent three-year term. Recreation RAC members serve without pay but are reimbursed for travel and per diem expenses for regularly scheduled committee meetings, which occur at least once annually. All Recreation RAC meetings are open to the public and an open public forum is part of each meeting. Meeting dates and times will be determined by the Designated Federal Official in consultation with the Recreation RAC members when the committee is formed.

If you are interested in potentially serving on the Recreation RAC, please send your contact information via email to R6_Recreation_RAC@fs.fed.us or write us at USDA Forest Service, Attn: Recreation RAC; 1220 SW 3rd Ave., Suite 1700; Portland, OR 97204.

Please contact us by November 30, 2018 to express your interest.

Following the re-establishment of the Pacific Northwest RAC, all interested individuals who respond will receive further instructions regarding the application process and next steps.

For more information on the Pacific Northwest Recreation RAC, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r6/recreation/racs.

An icon, gone: Saying goodbye to the South Selkirk caribou herd

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

An iconic Pacific Northwest species’ declining numbers has resulted in its quiet withdrawal from its last remaining historical habitat in the United States.

According to researchers, the Selkirk herd of woodland caribou, which lingered as one of the most threatened species in the U.S. for decades, has all but disbanded. After a harsh winter that disrupted a last-ditch recovery effort, just three female caribou remain.

The last-remaining herd of woodland caribou in the U.S. ranged from north-eastern portions of Colville National Forest in Washington State and lower British Columbia. The herd struggled for years, challenged by everything from habitat loss and freeway development to predators and even snowmobiles in its south.

A taxidermy caribou head and antlers

The antlers from one of the last South Selkirk mountain caribou were recovered after the animal was injured by a vehicle strike on Canada’s Highway 3, and subsequently killed by an unknown predator (bear or wolf). They are displayed in the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Dept. of Natural Resources office, The herd was stabilized at around 50 individuals for more than a decade, but declined sharply from 47 in 2008 to just 11 by 2017. As of spring 2018, only three caribou from the herd remain, all female.

In recent years, state, and federal agencies and their Canadian counterparts began working with the Kalispell Tribe of Indians and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and private organizations launched an ambitious plan they hoped would help the herd restore its rapidly diminishing numbers; building an enclosure to house pregnant female caribou each winter to protect them and their offspring from human harassment and predators, during the winter months.

Volunteers spent months collecting and drying hundreds of pounds of lichen, the caribou’s preferred winter food.

As winter approached in late 2017, they were ready.

And then, record-breaking snowfall buried the fence. The caribou left the pen, and rejoined their herd. Before the season, there were just nine caribou were counted in the preceding census. The following spring, surveyors found only three – all females. A bit later, they confirmed that none of the tree were pregnant.

The caribou herd’s ability to replace itself naturally was gone; and with it, the Selkirk herd’s future is in doubt.

“We mourned, we all had a period of grieving. We were distraught,” Ray Entz, Director of Wildlife and Terrestrial Resources for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, said. But all is not lost, he said. “We see this as an opportunity to redouble our efforts, to get it right.”

The mountain-dwelling woodland caribou is not extinct. But the numbers don’t look good. A few dozen more herds exist, all in Canada. They too are in rapid decline; their total number is estimated at fewer than 1,400, down from 1,900 just ten years earlier.

Why did the caribou’s begin to disappear? Over-hunting in the early 20th century is believed to have caused steep losses. But habitat fragmentation from other human-influenced activities may have further complicated the species’ ability to recover.

As development, logging or fire broke up larger swaths of forest, deer populations may have grown – attracting predators and increasing their numbers, who found the caribou to be easy prey.

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist, at his office on the Colville National Forest,

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, has worked on caribou protection and monitoring for years. The South Selkirk herd, the last remaining woodland mountain caribou in the U.S. which ranged in British Columbia and the forest’s Salmo Priest Wilderness, is now considered “functionally extinct” in the U.S. with just three female caribou remaining in the herd as of mid-2018. The caribou remain endangered in Canada, where about 1400 caribou are thought to remain.

On the Colville National Forest, forest rangers distributed pamphlets, advising snowmobilers to look out for caribou tracks when riding off-road to avoid stressing caribou and prompting them to run, or even to abandon a ridge entirely after repeated encounters.

The forest, especially the Salmo Priest Wilderness, was actually a sanctuary for the herd, Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, said.

“Most of the habitat on the U.S. side is … at elevations above 4,000 feet, on wilderness or National Park land,” Borysewicz said. “Essentially, what that’s meant is that the timber stands that were suitable for caribou haven’t been disturbed.”

In Canada, British Columbia wildlife managers launched an aggressive lethal removal program to protect the South Selkirk, and other caribou herds, from wolves.

But the South Selkirk herd was especially vulnerable to losses. It’s range is separated from other herds; by roads, by development and logging. It’s own range is also divided, by Highway 3 – one of Canada’s busiest cross-continental highways.

In early 2009, when the herd’s numbers hovered around 45 animals, three caribou died in traffic collisions on the busy east-west route. Several more were killed in a single collision with a semi-truck.

When the herd’s numbers dwindled to less than two dozen, wildlife managers began discussing the possibility of augmenting the herd with caribou from other parts of Canada.

An earlier effort to relocate caribou from healthier herds to augment the South Selkirk population, shortly after the species was listed for U.S. Endangered Species Act protection in the 1980s, was not successful.

“We’ve learned a lot since then,” Borysewicz said.

Those earlier transplants were introduced to the Selkirk mountains via a “cold release” released into the herd’s traditional range. Without members of the herd on hand to lead them to forage, the newcomers wandered away from the protection of the herd – taking their potential contributions in numbers and reproductive potential with them.

Today, wildlife managers would conduct a “warm release” that introduces newcomers to the herd in a more controlled manner, giving them the opportunity to be fully integrated into the group before being released from, he said.

But first, the coalition of organizations working to save the herd had focused their attention the other side of the equation – stabilizing the number of pregnant females and calves.

In 2008, the Nature Conservancy of Canada acquired the Darkwoods Conservation Area, a wilderness reserve deep in the heart of the herd’s winter range.

The organization began working with natural resources managers for the Kalispel Tribe in Washington State and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho to build a maternal pen for the herd.

IMG_1091“That’s kind of why we (the tribal agencies), are in the middle of this. It’s easier working across the international boundary,” Entz said. “It’s going to take all of us.

He and Bart George, the Kalispel Tribe’s lead wildlife biologist, helped supervise construction of a “maternal pen,” 19 acres of walled-off wilderness on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s land.

The tactic has been used elsewhere to support declining caribou populations by protecting reproductively-active females and their young. Pregnant caribou and their newborns were especially likely to fall prey to predators, because the cows leave their herd until they’ve calved.

A USDA Forest Service regional cost-share grant helped pay for the pen’s construction.

Hundreds of volunteers worked with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance to collect and dry nearly 300 pounds of “Old Man’s Beard,” a soft, airy lichen resembling Spanish moss that makes up the caribou’s preferred winter diet.

In 2017, the first caribou were netted by helicopter and released into the pen for what was to be the first of a three-year trial.

Then, it snowed.

“We had double the average snowfall in that part of the Colville. You just can’t plan for that,” Borysewicz said.

First, the shelter provided to house guards who would watch over the penned cows, collapsed under the weight of the snow. The guards were forced to abandon their post for the season.

The snow kept falling.

It piled in drifts so tall the caribou, with their snowshoe-like hoofs, eventually would have needed only to step over the 15-foot tall fence to slip back into the forest.

No one knows what happened, after that.

Maybe animal predators, stressed by the deep snowfall, exacted taken an unusually high toll on the herd that year.

Accidents or poaching could have taken some members from the herd.

Or perhaps, the deep snows that typically offered the caribou their best protection from danger were what betrayed them, burying them in an avalanche, somewhere where their bones may never be found.

For the communities and agencies, organizations and individuals who had banded together to save the South Selkirk Herd was as devastating, if not entirely unexpected.

“They were an accessible and readily available food source when times were tough, and caribou sustained plenty of people in valley because they were readily available. Part of the problem we have now is they are so readily hunted, by predators and people,” Entz said.

Now, the herd’s future is uncertain.

It seems likely some caribou will eventually be relocated – either new animals will be brought to the Selkirk mountains and introduced to the remaining three members in hopes of reviving the herd, or the remaining Selkirk caribou will be joined with another struggling herd in hopes of bolstering its numbers.

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

A mountain woodland caribou bull. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Biologists have fitted them with radio collars this spring to track their movements, and are hopeful the remaining caribou’s movements could lead them to an answer about what happened to the rest.

While the future for the South Selkirk herd is grim, those involved in the recovery attempt said their efforts were not wasted.

“The lichen will keep for a while, that effort is not a lost cause. Once it’s dried and stored, it has a long shelf life,” Mike Lithgow, Director of  Information and Outreach for Kalispel Tribe’s Dept. of Natural Resources, said.

With recovery, there’s hope that one day, caribou will once again venture south to the Colville National Forest and the Salmo Priest Wilderness as long as the habitat remains in place to receive them.

“This is not the end, it’s the beginning of a new fight,” he said.

Entz said he’s more than more than hopeful there’s still a future for the mountain caribou, whether in the South Selkirk mountains or beyond them.

“We aren’t going quietly into the night. We’re going down fighting,” he said “They took care of the tribe when it needed them. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

Baker Lake “Road to Trail” opens for public comment

A narrow, woodland trail.

SEDRO WOOLEY, Wash. – September 19, 2018 – The USDA Forest Service, Mount Baker Ranger District is initiating public scoping on the Baker Lake “Road to Trail” project, a proposed project within the Upper Baker Lake Watershed.

The agency is evaluating alternative trail locations to maintain access to the Baker River trail and Baker Lake trail along the Baker River while ensuring natural river and floodplain processes are protected and that future trail infrastructure investments are less likely to be lost or damaged due to periodic flooding.

The river has damaged the Baker Lake Road a number of times in the past; currently there is a damaged section of road prior to the trailhead’s parking area. This effort will determine which trail relocation alternative provides the greatest certainty for long term recreation access, which also maintains or restores river and floodplain processes in addition to being economically feasible now and into the future.

In an effort to reduce paper use, the Forest will emphasize electronic correspondence throughout this project. Please include with your comment: 1) a valid e-mail or mailing address, and 2) your document format preference. The project website will be the primary avenue through which the Forest Service provides information about the project. That website is: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mbs/projects, under the heading “Baker Lake Road to Trail Project.”

Electronic comments are preferred. Email comments to: comments-pacificnorthwest-mtbaker-snoqualmie-mtbaker@fs.fed.us with the subject line, “Baker Lake Road to Trail Project.” Include your comment in the text of the actual e-mail message, or attach a plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), PDF (.pdf), or Word (.doc or .docx) file containing your comment to the email.

Written comments can be mailed or delivered in person to the Mt. Baker District Ranger office:

Mt. Baker District Ranger Office
(attn: Erin Uloth, District Ranger)
810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284-1263

If you prefer paper copies of project documents, or for more information regarding the project, please contact Jeremy Gilman, Project Team Leader, at (360) 854-2633 or jmgilman@fs.fed.us.


Source information: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest staff report. The press release is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD596225.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

« Older Entries