The Mission Restoration Project (MRP) and the Twisp Restoration Project (TRP) were my biggest sources of stress and frustration in 2020.
The MRP has the greatest chance of adversely impacting the Methow watershed and all the critters that are dependent on it. All of the forest documents include a good analysis of what caused existing problems (i.e., logging, cattle grazing, fire, associated roads and their maintenance) and the actions planned for the Libby Creek timber sale include all of those past mistakes. Those actions are the only “treatments” assured to be funded. Their primary objective seems to be enhancing the economic security of two cattle allotment beef producers, the “cherry-picking” of overstory trees bordering roads and streambeds and two timber industry buyers (loggers and mills) of those trees, as well as protecting at least two U.S. Forest Service staff positions. All of these actions are planned for 15-year cycles and ignore the input of affected residents (esthetics, health, and safety), visiting recreationists, as well as downstream users of water (resident, agriculture, and hydropower). These projects have not been guided by the best ecological science.
One commenter felt that the MRP had to prove it is a “restoration” project (55,000 acres) to be initiated; “it ain’t over until they prove they can implement the restoration components.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It could be over as soon as a bid is accepted for the sale of at least 8 MMBF of timber in the first 15-year cycle of “treatments.”
The Forest Service is now moving toward the implementation of an adjacent Twisp project of 77,000 acres with 30 years of treatments that, if concluded, would be even more environmentally destructive than the MRP. If the MRP timber sale is awarded the same buyer could then benefit from 30 years of commercial logging on 132,000 acres of both the Libby Creek and Twisp River watersheds using much of the same infrastructure. The TRP enhances the sale of the MRP timber sale, as well as the value of the TRP timber.
Don Johnson, Libby Creek Watershed Association
Brad Hawkins, our 12th District senator in the state Legislature, has been introducing and passing bills in support of clean energy, efforts for which he should be applauded. He introduced and passed a bill in 2019 that authorized state public utility districts to use excess hydropower capacity to produce hydrogen, a zero-emissions fuel that could more readily and easily replace gasoline as a car and truck fuel. As a result, the Douglas County PUD is building a facility at the nearby Wells Dam that will be the largest plant of its type in the United States. More recently, Senator Hawkins has pre-filed a bill, SB5000, for the next legislative session that would provide a sales tax break on the purchase of cars powered by hydrogen similar to the one currently in place for electric cars. His efforts around clean, renewable energy are great for our region because they support the establishment of a new industry and therefore new jobs, support efforts to reduce climate change, and help protect fisheries which can be adversely affected by spilling excess water over dams.
Also on the environmental front, he is working to secure some state funds for the Methow Biochar demonstration effort.
Thank you, Sen. Hawkins, for your foresight and support of the environment!
Aaron Oesting, Winthrop
In the last edition of 2020 this newspaper reported on the Methow Watershed Climate Action Plan (and forecast 39 degrees in Twisp on Jan. 2). I was one of many who tuned in to the Resilient Methow webinar to hear about plan. My thanks go out to all those who found time to do this important work, particularly in the midst of multiple other crises.
The elements of the plan that I find most important are the seven core outcomes. These relate to: water; natural systems; community preparedness; the built environment; a thriving, equitable economy; agriculture; and a carbon-neutral Methow.
Here is how local production of designed biochar can be a key tool to achieving those outcomes:
• Water. Biochar application to sandy soils has been shown to retain soil moisture, reducing irrigation needs by almost 40%.
• Natural systems. Forest health treatments are crucial for protecting ecosystems but they generate waste materials that are expensive to remove. Local biochar production will provide a use for such low-value materials.
• Community preparedness. Processing of fuels from the Wildland-Urban Interface into biochar will reduce the risk to our community of extreme wildfire.
• Built environment. OK, biochar probably won’t be much help. But it will do a lot to reduce the smoke we breathe.
• Thriving, equitable economy. Local designed biochar production will support family-wage jobs at the production facilities and in the woods and could help incubate other “Green Forest” enterprises.
• Agriculture. Biochar can be designed to provide tremendous fertility benefits to a range of soil types.
• Carbon-neutral Methow. Designed biochar can sequester about half the carbon contained in biomass for hundreds or thousands of years. Even a small pilot plant would produce enough biochar to offset over 2,400 “Methow carbon footprints” of 9.1 tons of CO2 per year.
We live surrounded by millions of acres of forest that perform the crucial role of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere. The math is pretty simple: protecting those forests from destruction is the single most consequential thing we can do locally to stabilize the climate.
Gina McCoy, Winthrop
Fighting COVID as a community
To the residents of Okanogan County: I wanted to share a few parting thoughts as I step down as the Okanogan County Health Officer. First and foremost, it has been a privilege to serve this community for the past 16 years. I am confident that my successor, Dr. James Wallace, will provide stellar leadership moving forward. Community Health Director Lauri Jones has been the backbone of our Public Health response to COVID-19 in. She has been stalwart in her work for us. Our county’s few public health staff, volunteers, and contact tracers are stepping up to respond to COVID-19 tirelessly while navigating a tense and charged environment related to public health.
I want to reiterate that our path forward out of COVID-19 is to accept the science of the virus. We need to care beyond ourselves, we will defeat the virus when we collectively work to follow the guidance that limits the spread of COVID-19. We need to wear masks around those we don’t live with and continue to avoid large gatherings of people. We need to work as a community to protect each other. I urge local businesses, churches and elected officials to lead by example, support public health and encourage a unified community effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Vaccines will be critical in our effort to control the pandemic and to protect our more vulnerable community members. We all want our kids back in school, our businesses open, and our economy to hum along. To advance these goals, we must support our teachers, restaurant staff, health care providers, transportation workers, grocery store staff and other front line workers. Let’s allow them to do their jobs without risking their or their family’s health. I am fortunate, I have received my first dose of the vaccine and I am encouraging everyone to do the same when they become eligible.
We must act together as a community — rather than as individuals — to defeat the virus. If we do this, we will save ourselves unnecessary economic hardship, illness, and we will shorten the time the virus defines our future.
Dr. John McCarthy, Okanogan County Public Health