Late successional reserves. Matrix shaded fuel breaks. Riparian reserves.
It can be hard for ordinary folks to wrap their head around the terminology used to characterize the proposed Twisp Restoration Project, a plan developed by the Methow Valley Ranger District that covers more than 77,000 acres.
So a dozen Twisp River residents and interested community members joined the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) last week for a “ground-truthing” expedition in the upper Twisp River. They got a crash course on how to evaluate forest types and conditions on the ground so they can provide informed comments to the ranger district.
MVCC Public Lands Coordinator and forester Sam Israel and Executive Director Jasmine Minbashian provided a basic overview of the project. The complex proposal, at more than 500 pages, includes descriptions of treatments and 15 evaluations from specialists on topics such as wildlife, economics and recreation. It was released in late October.
The project is huge, encompassing McClure Mountain and Alder Creek, the Twisp River drainage, Thompson Ridge and Chickadee near Sun Mountain, and Wolf Creek. The size of the area also means an enormous variety of forest types and conditions.
Israel explained what foresters look for when they assess an area. He handed out lengths of string so participants could measure trees to understand which ones the district is proposing to log and which would be retained. In some areas, the proposal calls for removing trees as large as 30 inches in diameter, which can include large, old-growth trees, Israel said.
The group visited three areas to see different forests up close. Since the area to be treated is so large and much of the forest is currently inaccessible because of snow and ice, those visits provided just a glimpse of the on-the-ground implications.
The group visited a healthy old-growth forest near War Creek that provides crucial habitat for endangered spotted owls.
After exploring Little Bridge Creek, participants wondered whether treatments proposed for that area are necessary, given recent wildfires, thinning and prescribed burning there.
Others climbed the slopes around Lime Creek, where they could observe several forest types. The vantage point took in denser forests nurtured by the moisture from the Twisp River that have been proposed for thinning to create a fuel break and safe place for firefighters to attack a wildland fire.
• To comment: Public comment on the Twisp Restoration Project environmental assessment (EA) will be accepted through Nov. 28. The EA and instructions on how to comment are available on the project website, www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56554. See the “Analysis” tab for the current documents. Chapter 1 contains a good summary of the project.
• Methow Valley Ranger District virtual public meeting on the project, Q&A. Meeting link: https://tinyurl.com/TwispEAMtgLin or call (202) 650-0123; conference ID: 395 893 407#. Thursday, Nov. 5, 6:30 p.m.
• MVCC overview of the project, key findings, and priorities and guidance on commenting will be posted at https://mvcitizens.org.
Many on the tour questioned why the ranger district hadn’t done a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS), which is typical for large, complex proposals, Minbashian said. An EIS must consider several alternatives, whereas the current proposal includes only the status quo and the proposed treatments. According to the environmental analysis, planners considered other alternatives but eliminated them from detailed study.
What’s in the plan?
The Twisp River restoration proposal includes some 10 different management strategies, from thinning to prescribed burning to logging. Depending on the area, it calls for removing different types and sizes of trees. Because the area is so extensive, the treatments would be carried out over 10 to 30 years.
The proposal would decommission almost 80 miles of roads, construct temporary roads for logging and thinning access, and add 16.5 miles of new roads. It would allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on about 22 miles.
The project proposes interventions for wildlife, including beaver-dam analogs and placement of woody debris in creeks to improve salmon habitat.
The proposal plans to erect up to five platforms for raptor nests. It includes buffers so areas around streams wouldn’t be disturbed.
It includes salvage logging of trees that burned in the 2018 Crescent Mountain Fire. MVCC has concerns about this prescription, since science shows that logging after a fire can cause additional damage and suggests leaving the forest alone to recover, Minbashian said.
The proposal would amend existing standards to allow logging in stands of trees more than 80 years old. Some of the proposed treatments would take place in roadless areas.
Israel’s initial inspection of the region found that much of the Twisp River drainage is healthy. While some areas were severely burned in the Crescent Mountain Fire, most burned in a mosaic pattern that left green forests interspersed with fire damage.
One of the biggest questions is why the ranger district would depart from the dry-forest restorations strategy that’s been used for years in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Minbashian said. The proposal deviates from this approach without adequate details about the scientific justification, she said.
Minimal input from collaborative
Many questioned why the ranger district hadn’t followed the process developed by the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative. Formed in 2013, the collaborative uses a consensus-based approach to achieve landscape-based restoration and to balance the interests and concerns of stakeholders and support the local economy. The collaborative includes the U.S. Forest Service, conservation groups, timber companies and local and tribal governments.
The collaborative was used to develop the Mission Project in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds. The Twisp project is not only larger than the Mission Project, but it includes a greater variety of forest types and proposed treatments, Minbashian said.
The collaborative received briefings about the Twisp project, but wasn’t involved in substantive discussions, Minbashian said. Collaborative members learned more details in a presentation on the proposal last week, she said. MVCC joined the collaborative about a year ago.
The Mission Project is the first forest-restoration project in this area developed by the collaborative. That project is currently the subject of litigation over its alleged failure to protect endangered species. Conservation groups are on record both opposing and supporting the project.
MVCC hasn’t taken a position on the Twisp River project, but is concerned that there isn’t adequate time — particularly this time of year — to evaluate it, Minbashian said.
MVCC is hoping that the ranger district will provide more time for people to digest the proposal and understand what it means for the watershed, Minbashian said. The organization also hopes to draw on the expertise of the collaborative.
“A lot of people here care deeply about this area. This project will be going on for more than a decade. It seems worth taking a few extra months to get it right,” Minbashian said.