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Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Holidays from the Staff & Board of Washington Wild!

On behalf of everyone here at Washington Wild, we would like to wish you and your family happy holidays and a very happy new year. As we look forward into 2013, we are excited for all of the possibilities for Washington’s wild lands and waters. But even with so many possibilities, we are still facing extreme threats, and your help is needed.

Please join Washington Wild in 2013 – more than 60% of our funding comes from individuals just like you. You can help make a difference for future generations of Wilderness users by becoming a member of Washington Wild today!



Friday, December 21, 2012

Celebrate International Mountain Day


Photo courtesy of one of WW's 2012 Photo Contest Winners
Tuesday, December 11, 2012, was International Mountain Day. This day was created by the United Nations to generate awareness about the importance of mountains to life, highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development, and to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands.
According to the UN, “Mountains are crucial to life. Whether we live at sea level or the highest elevations, we are connected to mountains and affected by them in more ways than we can imagine. Mountains provide most of the world's fresh water, harbor a rich variety of plants and animals, and are home to one in ten people. Yet, each day, environmental degradation, the consequences of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty, and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.”
Washington State is home to some of the most majestic peaks in the world. We boast not just one, but two significant mountain ranges – the Cascades and the Olympics.

Founded in 1979, WW has been working for over 30 years to protect and restore wild lands and waters in Washington. Many of the Wilderness areas, National Monuments, and Wild and Scenic Rivers we have advocated for include the iconic mountains being celebrated last week.

Consider some of the following examples of our advocacy for permanent protection:

Mt. Rainier – This iconic volcano is the most heavily glaciated in the lower 48, boasting 26 major glaciers. Totaling 228,000 acres, the Mt. Rainer Wilderness is part of the larger Mt. Rainer National Park, which is one of the most popular National Parks in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Wild helped advocate for the designation of most of Mt Rainier National Park as Wilderness through the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988.

Glacier Peak – One of the most active volcanoes in Washington State, Glacier Peak has erupted explosively at least five times in the past 3,000 years. Spanning a total of 566,000 acres, the Glacier Peak Wilderness was also one of the 1st Wilderness areas, as it was designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act. Washington Wild helped lead efforts to designate an additional 112,000 acres to the Glacier Peak Wilderness through the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984.

Mt. Adams Wilderness – Totaling 47,000 acres, the Mt. Adams Wilderness was one of the 1st Wilderness Areas designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act. Washington Wild helped lead efforts to designate an additional 14,000 acres to the Mt Adams Wilderness through the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984. As a member of the Volcano Country Wild Rivers Coalition, WW is working to protect 200 miles of rivers and streams in Southwest Washington's "Volcano Country," under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Rush Creek, which flows out of the Mt. Adams Wilderness, is one of the creeks that will receive permanent protections under this proposal.

Mt. St. Helens – Most famous for its recent (by geological standards) eruption in 1980, this volcano attracts visitors from all over the world. Washington Wild helped advocate for the creation of the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument two years after the eruption, permanently protecting the volcano and providing a natural laboratory for natural regeneration.  WW and the Volcano Country Rivers Coalition have nominated the Green and Muddy Rivers and Smith and Pine Creeks, which flow out of the Monument, for permanent protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. WW is also helping to lead efforts to oppose a second effort to pursue an open pit copper mine by a Canadian mining company, just 12 miles from Mount St. Helen’s crater rim.

Photo courtesy of one of WW's 2012 Photo Contest Winners
Mt. Shuksan – a Lummi word meaning “high peak,” Mt. Shuksan is one of the most photographed peaks in the world. It is located in the Stephen Mather Wilderness, which totals 634,000 acres. WW helped advocate for the designation of most of North Cascades National Park as Wilderness through the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988, permanently protecting Mt. Shuksan and surrounding peaks. WW is a founding member of the Cascades Wild Campaign, a long-term Puget Sound Headwaters Initiative, with a goal of permanently protecting up to 300,000 acres of wild lands and hundreds of miles of Wild and Scenic rivers.  Included in this proposal is the North Fork Nooksack River, whose headwaters originate on Mt. Shuksan, and Wilderness additions on the lower slopes of this peak.

Mt. Baker – located near the Canadian border, Mt. Baker has erupted several times during the 19th century. It is now a popular destination for outdoor recreationists and can be seen from as far away as Seattle on a clear day. WW helped designate the 119,000-acre Mount Baker Wilderness through the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984.  Currently, under the Cascades Wild proposal, WW is working to protect the headwaters of the Middle Fork Nooksack River and Glacier and Warm Creeks, which originate near Mt. Baker.

Mt. Olympus – is the highest peak (7,980 feet) in the Olympic Mountains. It also has the 3rd largest glacial system in the U.S. The Olympic Mountains, including Mt. Olympus, lie at the center of the Olympic National Park. WW helped advocate for the designation of 95% of the park as the Olympic Wilderness through the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988, permanently protecting Mt. Olympus and the other great peaks of the Olympic Mountain range.  Currently, WW and the Wild Olympics Coalition are working to expand Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protections on the Olympic Peninsula. Included in this proposal are some of the headwaters of the major rivers that begin in the high peaks of the Olympic Mountain range.

Visit our website to learn more about WW’s campaigns to protect our iconic peaks. Also consider celebrating International Mountain Day by going out and visiting these glorious peaks that provide Washington with so much scenery, clean water, and recreational opportunities. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wilderness Campaigns are wildlife campaigns, too! PART 2: Alpine Lakes Wilderness Expansion

Washington Wild works hard to protect the wild forests and rivers of Washington State. WW recently led a coalition that succeeded in designating the first national forest Wilderness in Washington in more than 20 years. The Wild Sky Wilderness Act, enacted into law in 2008, covered more than 100,000 acres of forestland in Western Washington, helping to protect old growth forests and pristine rivers from development and degradation. Washington Wild’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions, Wild Olympics, Volcano Rivers, and Cascade Wilds campaigns promise to deliver similar results.

But every acre of wilderness safeguards much, much more than stands of ancient Western red cedars and free flowing waterways. Each acre also ensures protection for every living thing that calls the forest or stream its home. Washington’s native species would be nothing without the expansive natural forest ecosystems we work so hard to protect, nor would the forests be as healthy and vibrant as they are without the wildlife inhabiting them. That’s why Washington Wild’s wildlands and waters campaigns are wildlife campaigns, too.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Addition Proposal (Currently awaiting Congressional Approval)

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is located less than an hour east of the Seattle-Bellevue metropolitan area, and since its designation as Wilderness by Congress in 1976 it has been one of the most visited Wilderness areas in the country. Washington Wild is currently leading an effort to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness by more than 22,000 acres as well as designate the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers as Wild and Scenic. At stake are low-elevation forests, which host a greater diversity of species than their high-country counterparts. Here are a few native species found in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area that will benefit from the protection of low-elevation forests in the Cascades Range.

Wildlife Profile #1: Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni)

The Rocky Mountain elk is a subspecies of elk native to the Cascade Crest in Washington. Elk belong to the family Cervidae, which also includes deer, moose, and caribou. Rocky Mountain elk are among the largest of the cervids, and are one of the largest land animals in North America.  All members of Cervidae are ruminants, meaning they chew and swallow their food, regurgitating it several times. During spring and summer, elk graze on soft, tender plants such as grasses, sedges, and flowers. When food becomes scarcer in winter, they switch to browsing, eating mainly small branches and twigs, and occasionally evergreen needles. Because elk herds are so large and because rumination is a fairly inefficient digestion method, elk require abundant food supplies. Elk typically split up into cow-calf herds and bull herds for most of the year, but in the fall they come together to mate and males compete for the breeding females (cows).  Like most cervids, elk males (bulls) grow antlers every year and shed them when the breeding season is over.

While Rocky Mountain elk are doing quite well throughout their range in Washington, it wasn’t always that way. Their success is due in large part to Wilderness areas like Alpine Lakes. Elk need large expanses of uninterrupted habitat located well away from human settlements and development to sustain healthy herd sizes. A good amount of suitable elk habitat already exists in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but the Wilderness Additions and Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt River Proposal would protect key low-elevation elk habitat. Riparian zones, such as those surrounding the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers, are full of some staples in elk diets—aspen, cottonwoods, and willows. With Wild and Scenic River designation, the prime elk habitat offered by the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers would be protected from development and degradation. The passage of this proposal is critical for protecting and maintaining healthy elk populations in Washington for years to come.

Wildlife Profile #2: Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii)

There are at least 13 subspecies of cutthroat trout in the western United States, but the coastal cutthroat is the only one that is anadromous, meaning it spends part of its life in a marine environment before returning to its home stream to spawn. Unlike salmon, though, coastal cutthroat trout are not universally anadromous. Some fish migrate out to sea, while some—like those in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers—remain in fresh water and become resident fish. Very young cutthroats, called fry, are smaller than and unable to compete with salmon and steelhead fry, so they tend to reside in parts of streams undesirable to other salmonids, such as headwaters. Because of this, there are healthy alpine populations of resident cutthroats in Washington rivers that are above waterfalls too large for salmon to climb.

The Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers lie upstream of the sizable Snoqualmie Falls. Because of this barrier, these rivers are not home to salmon or other anadromous fish populations. However, coastal cutthroats thrive in these rivers, and will continue to do so if the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt are granted Wild and Scenic protections. A prize catch for wildlife such as bears and eagles and anglers alike, cutthroat trout are an important part of Washington’s forest ecosystems and recreational fishing industry. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt River Proposal will safeguard this precious resource, to the benefit of all Washington residents—feathered, furry and human.

By supporting WW you will not only be helping to protect our wild lands and waters but also the wildlife that depend on them. To learn more about our campaigns visit our website.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wild Night Out 2012 - the Best Yet (thanks to you!)

We had a great time at this year's Wild Night Out event - our ninth annual dinner and auction! Held on November 10th at the Mountaineers Club in Magnuson Park, we hosted 130 guests, including many of our long-time members, board members, staff, and friends & family. This was our most successful Wild Night Out ever - thank you to everyone who came out and made this year the best yet!

Here are a few snapshots from our event, courtesy of our fantastic photographer, Betsy Burger. See more on our Facebook!

Board member Adam Lenhardt & guests

Our guests are ready for bidding!

WW Board president Roger Mellem welcomes everyone

Connie Gallant accepts Congressman Norm Dicks' award on his behalf.

Our auctioneer, Fred Granados, gets the crowd excited!

Let the bidding begin!

Board secretary Carla Villar shares her story about wild places.


Cheers to an awesome night!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Washington’s Wild & Scenic Rivers



This November, five Washington State rivers are celebrating their anniversary of being designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers.  

On November 10, 1978, the Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade Rivers of the Skagit River system were designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. This marked the first Wild and Scenic River designation in Washington since the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Eight years later, on November 17, 1986, the Klickitat and lower White Salmon were added to Washington’s Wild and Scenic River system.

While we are excited to celebrate these anniversaries, they only make up approximately 200 miles of Washington’s Wild & Scenic River system. Compare this to the nearly 2,000 miles found in Oregon, and we have a long way to go to matching the Oregon’s Wild & Scenic River system. 
 
Luckily in Washington, the US Forest Service has found several thousand more miles of free flowing rivers eligible for WSR designation. WW and other river advocates are launching a concerted effort to focus on the hundreds of miles of eligible rivers in our state that deserve protections through Wild and Scenic designation.

Why is it so important for these rivers to be protected? Why should we celebrate the anniversary of the rivers that have already been protected?

These are questions that many people ask WW so we devoted our latest newsletter to answering them.  In our Fall 2012 Newsletter, we  discuss the importance of free flowing rivers and the efforts underway in Washington to expand our WSR system.   

In our main article, we interviewed 3 important conservationists from around Washington State to learn more about the benefits of our wild rivers, threats facing them, and how communities are working to protect them. Tim McNulty, local naturalist and author, discussed the vital role wild waters play in the natural world and the benefits they provide our communities, such as providing clean drinking water. Rich Bowers, Northwest Coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition, discussed the biggest threat to our wild waters, dams. And Connie Gallant, board member of the Olympic Forest Coalition and chair of the Wild Olympics campaign, discussed advocacy efforts currently underway to designate 461 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic on the Olympic Peninsula. 

To read this feature article from our Fall 2012 Newsletter, click here. The Newsletter also features an essay from rivers advocate, Doug North. You can also view a map of Washington Wilds current campaigns to protect wild waters , including the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers and rivers around the Olympic Peninsula and in the Volcano Country near Mount St. Helens.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wilderness Campaigns Are Wildlife Campaigns, Too! PART 1: Wild Sky Wilderness


Washington Wild works hard to protect the wild lands and water of Washington State. In 2008, WW led a coalition that succeeded in designating the first National Forest Wilderness area in Washington in more than 20 years. The WildSky Wilderness Act, enacted into law in 2008, covered more than 100,000 acres of forest land in Western Washington, protecting old-growth forests and pristine rivers from development and degradation. Washington Wild’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions, Wild Olympics, Volcano Rivers, and Cascades Wild campaigns promise to deliver similar results. 

But every acre of wilderness safeguards much, much more than stands of ancient Western red cedars and free flowing waterways. Each acre also ensures protection for every living thing that calls the forest or stream its home. Washington’s native species would be nothing without the expansive natural forest ecosystems we work so hard to protect, nor would the forests be as healthy and vibrant as they are without the wildlife inhabiting them. That’s why Washington Wild’s wild lands and waters campaigns are wildlife campaigns, too. 

Wild Sky Wilderness (Designated May 8, 2008) 
May 8, 2008 was a big day for Washington State. It marked the passage of the Wild Sky Wilderness Act—the first National Forest Wilderness area to be designated in Washington in more than 20 years. The Wild Sky Wilderness covers more than 106,000 acres of national forest, including 14,000 acres of low-elevation old-growth forest. This was a much needed addition to Washington’s Wilderness Preservation System, as over 90% of the Wilderness in Washington prior to 2008 was comprised of high-elevation land, consisting of open alpine meadows and sheer rock faces. The addition of the lower-elevation forests found in the Wild Sky Wilderness designation not only diversified Washington’s Wilderness Preservation System; it also benefited wildlife species that depend on low-elevation forest habitat. Many species rely on lower elevation forests as winter wanes, when snowmelt occurs earlier there than in the highlands. Here are a few native species found in the Wild Sky Wilderness area that are now enjoying protections because of the work of the Wild Sky campaign:  

Wildlife Profile #1: Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

The steelhead is a special type of rainbow trout, which is closely related to the pacific salmon species. While rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species and are both born on gravelly river bottoms, rainbow trout remain in the rivers where they were born, and steelhead venture out to the ocean. A marine environment causes steelhead to develop slimmer profiles, and become larger and more silvery than their river-dwelling counterparts. Steelhead are anadromous, like pacific salmon, meaning they return to freshwater to spawn. Unlike salmon, however, which die after spawning once, steelhead will return to the ocean after spawning and can reproduce more than once in their lifetime. The timing of steelhead spawning depends on the sexual maturity of the fish at the time of its migration. Fish that are sexually immature when they migrate are known as “summer-run” steelhead because they spawn during the summer. Conversely, sexually mature migrating fish are known as “winter-run” because they will return to freshwater during the winter. 
The North Fork Skykomish River in the Wild Sky Wilderness is one of the predominant steelhead strongholds in Washington State. Unfortunately, steelhead in Washington are a federally threatened species. Steelhead and other salmon and trout species are threatened by a variety of human activities. While steelhead become exceptionally strong swimmers during their time in the ocean, and can climb many waterfalls that other fish can’t, they are no match for dams. Hydroelectric dams block important migration routes for many species of anadromous fish and impede the recovery and maintenance of healthy fish populations. In order to keep rivers like the North Fork Skykomish full of steelhead, it’s important that the waterways remain clean, cold and free flowing— Wilderness areas with Wild and Scenic River protection can achieve that goal. 

Wildlife Profile #2: Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)

Few endangered species are better known than the spotted owl, which became the poster child of the Endangered Species Act in the late 1980’s—it was even featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The controversy surrounding the conservation of this large bird of prey was centered mainly on their need for large expanses of old-growth forests for habitat, and faced competition with human needs, including timber production. The northern spotted owl requires structurally complex forests for their nest sites. On the slopes of the Cascade Mountains, spotted owls will often use abandoned goshawk nests or mistletoe-infected branches for their roosts. In addition to specific habitat needs, spotted owls have a limited diet and require a large hunting territory. In Washington, their main food source is the northern flying squirrel. Recently, spotted owls have been experiencing habitat and resource competition from the barred owl—an invasive species that looks very similar to the spotted owl, but is much less picky about nest sites and prey, making it more ecologically successful.
The passage of the Wild Sky Wilderness Act was an important step in the continuing conservation of this iconic Northwest species, which is still experiencing population declines. Unfortunately, competition from barred owls is a difficult and complicated threat to combat, but ensuring that spotted owls have large expanses of old-growth forest like those found in the Wild Sky Wilderness is the best thing we can do for these threatened owls. Two of the major threats facing the owl include habitat loss from clear-cut timber harvest and housing developments.  Fortunately, important spotted owl habitat in Washington is protected from development and logging by federal Wilderness designation.  

By supporting WW you will not only be helping to protect our wild lands and waters but also the wildlife that depend on them. To learn more about our campaigns visit our website.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A History of Protecting Washington’s Wild Waters


When I began canoeing and rafting Washington’s rivers in the 1980s, I quickly realized there was no consistent source of information about routes and good water levels.  So I began researching and writing my own guidebook, published by Mountaineers Books (1987, 1992, 1996): Washington Whitewater.

In the course of researching my guidebook, I discovered that hydropower developers had plans for projects on many of the rivers I paddled.  They were planning to dam up my rivers! So, I formed the Washington Rivers Council in 1984 and began organizing river recreationalists to create a constituency to oppose these projects.

In 1978, ten years after the establishment of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Washington welcomed its first designated Wild and Scenic Rivers as part of the National Parks and Recreation Act. The Skagit River and its tributaries, the Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade Rivers, were the first in the State to receive federal protection from dams and recognition of their outstandingly remarkable values. The Act designated nearly 160 miles of wild, free-flowing rivers.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act added nearly 20 more miles of federal Wild and Scenic designations for the Klickitat and lower White Salmon Rivers in 1986.  In 1988, Congressman John Miller (D-WA01) introduced legislation to designate the Pratt River in eastern King County as Wild and Scenic, but the bill did not become law.

In the late 1980s, we soon discovered that the Forest Service was engaged in drawing up management plans for all of Washington’s National Forests. As part of the planning process, the Forest Service was required to determine the eligibility and suitability of the rivers flowing through the forest to be designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers. The Forest Service was just evaluating the biggest rivers in the forest, but we believed there were many small and medium-sized rivers which had outstandingly remarkable values that made them good candidates for becoming Wild & Scenic Rivers. We lobbied the Forest Service to consider more rivers, resulting in increased number of rivers found eligible and recommended to Congress for designation as Wild & Scenic. Ultimately, the Forest Service administratively found more than 100 rivers eligible, and recommended that more than 50 rivers be congressionally designated as Wild & Scenic.

Armed with this information, we prepared an ambitious proposal for designation – more than 2,200 miles of Washington rivers statewide, which we presented to the Washington Congressional Delegation.  The proposal was inspired by a statewide bill that became law in Oregon in 1988, which designated 1,500 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers. Unfortunately, this was right at the height of the timber wars over the protection of old-growth forests.  The Congressional delegation told us they couldn’t do anything with rivers while they were wrestling with the protection of old-growth forests amid the din of the timber wars.  So the idea of a major Wild & Scenic Rivers bill for Washington was pushed onto the back burner for many years.

In 2005, Senator Maria Cantwell’s leadership on the Upper White Salmon Wild and Scenic River Act resulted in the most recent federal Wild and Scenic River designation in the state. The Act designated nearly 20 miles of the upper White Salmon River and its tributary, Cascade Creek
           
In 2008, Washington Wild and other conservation organizations rekindled their focus and passion for protecting our wild waters.  We realized that a Wild & Scenic River designation was a perfect complement to Wilderness designation, providing an additional tool  to protect important lands that could not be protected as Wilderness either, because they were roaded, or included non-conforming uses, like mountain bike trails. This movement culminated in a Wild and Scenic River workshop for wilderness advocates sponsored by Washington Wild, American Whitewater, American Rivers, and others.
           
Since then, nearly all of the Congressional public lands proposals in the state include Wild and Scenic River designations, including two proposals currently moving through Congress: the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River additions (Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers) and the Wild Olympics (19 rivers and their tributaries). These wilderness/river proposals provide for landscape protection all the way from the snow-capped peaks to the lowland river valleys. 
           
Washington currently has just less than 200 miles of designated Wild & Scenic Rivers -- a far cry from the more than 1,900 miles of designated rivers in neighboring Oregon.  With the new focus on protecting our wild waters, I hope and believe that we can triple or quadruple the miles of designated Wild & Scenic Rivers in Washington within the next five years.

I could not think of a better legacy to leave my two children.

Doug North currently serves on the Board of Washington Wild and has been a leading river advocate in Washington State for the past three decades.

This article originally appeared in our 2012 Fall Newsletter.