Changes would affect road access, maintenance
By Ann McCreary
Public input is being sought on a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Chewuch Transportation Plan released last week by the U.S. Forest Service.
The transportation plan will guide management of 394 miles of road on Forest Service lands in the Chewuch River drainage.
It includes proposals to lower road maintenance levels to reduce costs, close and decommission roads, replace some roads in riparian areas, and add some unauthorized roads to the Forest Service system.
“The Chewuch watershed is unique in that it’s one of our most roaded watersheds,” said Michael Liu, Methow Valley district ranger. “It has critical habitat for fish, and it’s one of our most expensive (road systems) to maintain.”
The 188-page document is available on the Forest Service website at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=37194. Comments will be accepted until Jan. 14.
The plan evaluates transportation needs in an area encompassing about 316,000 acres of forest system land in the upper and lower Chewuch River watersheds, located north of Winthrop.
“It tries to look at issues from continuing to provide public access for recreation, firewood cutting, fire suppression … and looks at the cost of maintaining such an extensive road system. It tries to balance what we can afford with what we have,” Liu said.
Liu said the district’s budget provides only about 10 percent of the funding needed to maintain the current road system. “However, we apply for grants and other sources of funding to make up part of the gap in road maintenance costs,” he said.
Proposals in the transportation plan call for reducing maintenance levels and the number of miles of roads to reduce costs and sediment delivery to streams. “We’re still going to have a gap [in funding], but that gap will be smaller,” Liu said.
The EA includes three transportation plan alternatives, including a required “no action” alternative that would maintain the status quo. The other two alternatives propose very similar actions to address environmental issues, public recreation and forest management needs.
The two alternatives would decrease the amount of open roads from the current 228 miles to about 173 miles, a reduction of approximately 55 miles. On many roads that remain open, the maintenance levels would be lowered. That means that some roads now accessible to passenger vehicles, for example, would become suitable only for high-clearance vehicles.
The two alternatives would reduce road maintenance costs by 31-36 percent, according to the EA.
Road closures and decommissioning (restoring unneeded roads to a more natural state) outlined in the plan would have a variety of effects on recreation in the Chewuch watershed. They include:
- Eliminating access to 50 dispersed campsites — a 32 percent reduction.
- A 24-percent reduction in open road access for hunting and pleasure driving.
- A 13-percent increase in miles accessible to ATVs and OHVs.
- A 33-percent reduction in acreage available for firewood gathering.
- Conversion of three segments of roads to trailheads at North Twentymile Trail, Farewell Creek Trail and Copper Glance Trail.
Details of alternatives
The principal differences between the two alternatives involve removing or maintaining pavement on Falls Creek Road (FR 5140000) and decommissioning the East Chewuch Road (FR 5010000) at the Twentymile Creek crossing.
Alternative 1 would remove 11.5 miles of pavement on Falls Creek Road over a 10-year period, which would eliminate the paved road biking opportunities on that road.
Alternative 1 would also decommission .46 miles of the East Chewuch Road, including a concrete ford where the road crosses Twentymile Creek, “effectively breaking a popular travel loop formed by the west and east Chewuch roads,” according to the EA.
The ford at Twentymile Creek, about .25 miles upstream from its confluence with the Chewuch River, has scoured a 1.5-foot drop on the downstream side that blocks juvenile fish passage during most of the year.
Decommissioning that road would create a break in a groomed snowmobile loop route. The action would also mean that recreational residences south of the decommissioned area would lose an access/egress route.
In response to comments received during public scoping for the plan, an Alternative 2 was developed that supports both the current uses of Twentymile Creek crossing (no decommissioning) and maintaining a paved Falls Creek Road.
Under both alternatives, approximately 9.5 miles of roads currently popular for ungroomed routes in the Chewuch drainage would be decommissioned, the EA states. Although not closed to snowmobiles, the decommissioning would make them more difficult to ride on.
The proposed actions under the two alternatives would reduce the area with “fair to good access” for timber harvest, forest management activities and fire suppression by about 6,000 acres.
In addition, road-related erosion would be significantly reduced; 82 riparian acres would be restored; and 192 stream crossings (out of a total of 392 crossings currently) would be removed, according to the EA.
Work on the transportation plan began in 2011. Instructions on how to comment are available on the website listed above.