By Ric Bailey
Last month, the Okanogan National Forest issued a public notice declaring it had received nearly 1,000 public comments on its proposed Twisp Restoration Project (TRP). I’m asking everyone who loves the Twisp River Corridor to step back for a moment, and ask where this project came from.
Incomprehensibly, the TRP would impact the entire Twisp River Watershed, from the river floodplain upslope to within spitting distance of the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness boundary. It would log most of the Bridge, Scaffold and Buttermilk Creek Drainages, and would even log along lower Wolf Creek.
Additionally, the Twisp Project would log in designated old growth habitat and cut old growth trees. It would illegally log within inventoried roadless areas. In my review of the project, violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act, are also apparent.
In truth, the TRP is a unilaterally contrived logging proposal that the U.S. Forest Service is using as a template for determining the Twisp River Corridor’s fate. Any “concessions” made by the agency would only be adjustments to an operation that was arbitrarily created by silviculturists and timber sale planners who somehow feel there’s something wrong with the forests of the Twisp Corridor.
The TRP uses the concern over wildfire as a reason to intensively log the corridor. But in truth, the Forest Service’s planned actions would do nothing to prevent, or decrease the intensity of wildfires of the magnitude that have hit the Methow Valley over the past seven years.
The Forest Service’s Twisp Plan is not an objective starting point for determining the Twisp Corridor’s fate, because it was developed with no collaboration, no involvement from independent scientists, nor from public interest groups.
If given the opportunity to consider its fate from a clean slate, public opinions would not likely have suggested a logging operation at all, certainly not one of the magnitude proposed in the TRP. The majority of people would more likely have requested campground and trailhead improvements, and rehabilitation of the irresponsible logging conducted years ago in the Bridge Creek Watershed.
There is, however, some welcome good news: In addition to considering legal action — if necessary — to stop the TRP, a group of local folks are working with the North Cascades Conservation Council to create an alternative to the Forest Service’s plan. It’s called the “Twisp Conservation Alternative (TCA).”
This citizen-created plan will seek federal funding to restore the Twisp Corridor, including: removal of the west side road along the river, construction of two foot bridges and one vehicle bridge across the river for hiker and packer trail access to the Sawtooth Passes, and funding to fireproof private residences in the lower canyon.
The TCA will also expand the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness to include Cedar Creek and the lower slopes of the Twisp River Canyon. Further, the TCA will actively implement aquatic restoration to improve salmon and bull trout habitat, support sensitive logging to reduce fuel loading in areas damaged by past logging, decommission old logging roads, and support fire management with prescribed burning.
I hope all the folks who cherish the Twisp River Corridor will intervene when the Forest Service opens the required “Formal Objection Period.” The agency will disclose the means for public involvement in the Methow Valley News.
In determining the fate of the Twisp River Corridor, the Forest Service should withdraw its unilaterally-imposed project and begin from square one. It should consider all ideas equally and openly, including the Twisp Conservation Alternative.
There is nothing wrong with the Twisp Corridor’s forests. If “restoration” is the goal, the first place to start is with protection and enhancement of the corridor’s singular ecological and recreational qualities.
Ric Bailey lives in Winthrop. He is a freelance writer, river guide, forest management consultant, and former executive director of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council.