Department of Ecology News Release - February 25, 2008
Olympia, WA (February 25, 2008) – Today Washington and Oregon learned that national forest lands within their boundaries will get federal funding to help restore critical and endangered watersheds. Oregon will receive approximately $4.7 million and Washington will get $3.46 million, which is part of the $39.46 million the federal government will distribute to national forests across the country as part of the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative.
Supporters of the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative are encouraged that the federal government has begun to provide resources to address the problem, but concerned that the funding received this year is only a small fraction of what is needed.
“Thanks to the efforts of the Northwest’s congressional delegation, the Forest Service now has a start on funding to begin addressing this problem,” said Sue Gunn of Wildlands CPR.
Thousands of miles of crumbling national forest roads are degrading water quality, causing landslides, exacerbating flooding and muddying or blocking salmon habitat. The failing roads contribute to the declining ecosystem health of Puget Sound, the Columbia River and other waters across the state.
“As the severity and frequency of storms increase in the Pacific Northwest, damage to stream habitat from the already failing national forest road system grows,” Gunn said. “Unless we storm-proof our forest watersheds, the price tag for fixing these sub-standard roads will skyrocket.”
Unlike other states, Washington has a signed commitment from the federal government to repair and maintain deteriorating roads in its national forests to protect its watersheds. Washington’s agreement with the Forest Service, signed in 2000, calls for Forest Service roads to come into compliance with the state’s water quality pollution laws by 2016.
“This funding allocation is a start to restore our state’s upper watersheds,” said Stephen Bernath of the Washington Department of Ecology, the agency responsible for ensuring that water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act are met. “My colleagues at the Forest Service know what’s needed to protect streams and salmon, and now they finally have an increase in funding to start doing it. However, even if you couple this new funding with what the Forest Service gets annually to maintain its roads, it doesn’t even approach the $11 million the Forest Services needs annually in Washington state to stay ahead of the problem. The amount the federal government provides so far is not an appropriate share of funding to meet this deadline in our state,” Bernath said.
While the new funding has given conservation groups cause to be optimistic, they recognize that it is only a start and must be followed by a serious commitment to watershed restoration and its careful implementation. “We are working with the Forest Service to help ensure this is an environmentally and fiscally effective program,” said Chris Frissell, Director of Science and Conservation for Pacific Rivers Council. “There are years of hard work ahead to get rivers and salmon runs back into good shape, and we need to set a clear standard of efficiency and smart investment of limited resources so the outcome is successful for fish, people, and the clean water we all need."
“We hope to see lots of work this summer on the Olympic and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests,” said Bonnie Phillips of the Olympic Forest Coalition, “The streams that benefit from this work will see much less sediment from roads in salmon spawning gravels next winter, because fewer roads will drain directly into streams or fail during storms.”
The LRRI is the result of cooperative work among conservation groups, state leaders, individuals and congressional representatives. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led the effort in Congress, with strong support from Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire. “Washington has remarkable leaders working to make sure our at-risk forest watersheds get the attention they need,” said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. “This funding is the first step toward addressing needs that have gone unmet for far too long.”
Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI) is a coalition effort of non-profit, conservation organizations, state agencies and tribes of the Puget Sound region dedicated to reestablishing and maintaining healthy aquatic and forest ecosystems in Washington’s national forests through maintenance, repair and reclamation of forest roads and fish culverts. The coalition works for funding to address the issue of old and decaying logging roads on National Forest Service land.
Curt Hart, Washington Dept. of Ecology, 360-407-6990; cell, 360-480-7908
Gina Ottoboni, Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative 206-417-1853
For more information, please visit:
Brochure about the problem: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/0710023.html
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