The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has mounted a legal challenge against the Mission Restoration Project on National Forest lands in the Methow Valley west of Twisp, Washington. This pristine, remote rural area is sandwiched between the Pasayten Wilderness on the north, the Sawtooth Wilderness on the south, and the North Cascades National Park on the west. It is Federally-Designated Critical Habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species from lynx to salmon. The project is on the eastern slope of the North Cascades mountain range and includes 1,853 acres of commercial logging and 10,219 acres of prescribed burning.
This is an Extinction Project
President Teddy Roosevelt created National Forests to protect them from exploitation by timber and cattle corporations and to keep native species from going extinct. Unfortunately, the Mission project does just the opposite — it is an extinction project, not a restoration project.
The Forest Service failed to adequately and fully address all relevant habitat standards for the North Cascades Ecosystem grizzly bear, Canada Lynx, Northern Spotted Owl, Columbia River Bull Trout, Upper Columbia River steelhead, and Upper Columbia River Spring-Run Chinook. The agency also failed to adequately address cumulative effects of logging, burning, cattle grazing, and road-building.
Logging and road-building are not restoration
Despite the misleading ‘restoration” label, the project’s real goal is to turn National Forests owned by all Americans into tree farms for timber corporations. Instead of restoring the natural forest and stream habitat to recover threatened native species including grizzly bears, lynx, salmon, and bull trout it will be bulldozed to create logging roads that destroy habitat for many native species already in decline as well as deer and elk.
Will destroy Bull Trout and Salmon spawning streams
As has been proven time and again across the West, sediment from logging roads inevitably winds up in streams and rivers where it fills in rocky streambeds and smothers the fish eggs and young of trout and salmon. It also fills in deep holes, reducing security from predators. Bull trout need colder and cleaner water than any other fish in the Lower 48 states. If streams and rivers are clean enough for bull trout, they are clean enough for salmon — but the Forest Service never analyzed the impact of this project on bull trout.
One of the touted ‘restoration’ benefits, repeated dozens of times in the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment, is to increase the growth rate of the remaining trees by thinning the forest as if it were a garden. The remaining trees will be spaced 12 feet apart so they can theoretically grow taller and faster. But in reality it’s a bad joke by the agency since it’s a historic fact that the Forest Service’s highest priority is not to grow more big trees for the Northern Spotted Owl, but because big trees are more profitable for timber corporations to clearcut and process.
The truth is that Spotted Owls require thick old growth forests, not neatly-spaced tree farms. The project area contains spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal habitat. Yet the Forest Service failed to disclose, let along address, the most recent annual monitoring data of the Northern Spotted Owl. No wonder the agency didn’t want to mention it — the March 31, 2017 Annual Progress Report admits the Northern Spotted Owl population is in significant decline over the last five years and the logging and burning will destroy even more habitat for this already imperiled species.
Logging roads kill lynx and grizzly bears
Like spotted owls, lynx need thick, old forests, not tree farms. Lynx avoid thinned forests because their main prey is snowshoe hare. In a thinned forest with roads and no hiding cover the hare become easy meals for other predators and lynx end up starving to death. The Mission timber sale and burning project would directly affect 2,132 acres of Canada lynx Critical Habitat. It would also increase open roads in critical habitat by almost 6 miles.
Most grizzlies are killed within 500 meters of a road and have the greatest chance of survival in wilderness and unroaded, unlogged forests. With high mortality rates and so few bears, the North Cascades grizzly population chronically fails all recovery goals and is threatened by inbreeding due to lack of connectivity to other grizzly bear populations. There is evidence that grizzly bears are using the forests very near the project area. Despite this, the Forest Service did not analyze the impacts of the Project on grizzly bears.
Getting the Cut Out
The Forest Service’s goal is to maximize wood production. Every national forest has targets for how much timber to produce, and if a Forest Supervisor meets that target he or she gets promoted. If they don’t they get transferred out. Yet no Forest Supervisor is given targets on maximizing the number of grizzly bears, lynx, northern spotted owls, salmon or bull trout. All of these species are protected under the Endangered Species Act and, by law, the government’s duty is to recover threatened and endangered species. But as is well known, corporate profits are the Trump administration’s highest priority while endangered species are seen as dispensable.
The North Cascades ecosystem needs your help
For all the above reasons the Alliance for the Wild Rockies had no choice but to go to court to force the Forest Service to follow the law to keep these threatened and endangered species from extinction. If this were a true restoration project, the Forest Service would be removing logging roads and letting forests grow thick to help all of these species. True restoration would also help people since we need clean water just like bull trout and salmon. Removing old, unneeded logging roads would create good jobs and prioritize people and native species, not corporate profits.
Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. He is thankful for the assistance of Seattle attorney Claudia Newman (Bricklin and Newman) and the Akland Law Firm in Montana and urges readers to join the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and help preserve the ecological integrity of the North Cascades.