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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.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

What the Wild Olympics Proposal Means to Me

The Wild Olympics Campaign recently released a short video highlighting all of the benefits that the Wild Olympics proposal will provide to the wild lands, waters, and people of Washington State. As Washington Wild’s Conservation Intern, and one of the newest supporters of the Wild Olympics campaign, I found this video to be informative and enlightening, and I wanted to share it with all of you. The video does a great job of dealing with the many aspects of this proposal, which would protect areas within the Olympic National Forest and involves a diverse array of stakeholders.

Watch the Wild Olympics for Our Future Video
Because of the complex nature of a Wilderness proposal like Wild Olympics, it can be hard to wrap your head around just what the proposal will mean to nearby communities. The video treats the viewer to footage and a series of still photographs showing the great natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula at its finest. Even as a lifelong Washington resident, I was still blown away by some of the scenic vistas that the Peninsula has to offer. In addition to providing some of the best hiking and wilderness solitude that the state has to offer, the Wild Olympics proposal protects some of our most beloved hunting and fishing opportunities. A Wilderness designation is crucial to preserving the elk and deer populations that have drawn hunters to the region for decades, as well as the native salmon and trout runs that make the rivers of the Peninsula a popular destination for anglers. Also, any Peninsula resident who enjoys clean drinking water will continue to do so with the passage of the Wild Olympics proposal.

In addition to ensuring Wilderness protections for the forests of the Peninsula, the Wild Olympics proposal promises Wild and Scenic River designations for the rivers. Three summers ago, I had the pleasure of interning with Oregon Wild, a group that does very similar work to Washington Wild but on federal lands located in Oregon. While I was at Oregon Wild, I saw that Oregon is leading the way with Wild and Scenic River protections. Our neighbors to the south currently have approximately ten times the number, and mileage, of Wild and Scenic Rivers that we do here in Washington. Where Oregon has more than 50 W&S Rivers we have only 6, and while Oregon has more than 1,900 miles rivers designated, Washington only has about 197 miles. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, and the passage of the Wild Olympics proposal is an important step in this process. The proposal will grant Wild and Scenic River designation to 19 rivers on the Olympic Peninsula

But the Wild Olympics proposal isn’t just for traditional conservationists. The video points out that the proposal has won support from many unconventional conservation voices, such as those featured on Washington Wild’s website. I was pleasantly surprised to see that shellfish farms and timber industry members alike have recognized the benefits of keeping the Olympic Peninsula wild. The Wild Olympics website features testimonials from many prominent members of Peninsula communities. 

So, after watching the video, it was clear to me that this proposal has something in it for everyone. For me, keeping rivers like the Hama Hama, Dosewallips, and Duckabush clean, cold and silt-free holds a special importance. As an avid SCUBA diver, I know that having healthy rivers flowing into Hood Canal helps to sustain the vibrant intertidal communities that make the Hood Canal one of the best SCUBA destinations in the Northwest. 

What does the Wild Olympics proposal mean to you? Watch the video and let us know! 

To learn more about the Wild Olympics campaign and to sign the petition, visit

Kiki Contreras is Washington Wild's new Conservation and Outreach Intern. She has recently completed her Bachelor of Science from Duke University where she majored in Biology with a concentration in Ecology. She enjoys working with kids and scuba diving in her spare time.