I would like to introduce a project proposal on the Naches Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, west of the town of Naches, Washington. An interdisciplinary team (IDT) of resource specialists has reviewed the area and has put forward a project proposal to address resource needs on approximately 36,832 acres of National Forest System (NFS) land, called the Little Crow Restoration project. The proposal includes management actions that, when implemented, are designed to increase forest resiliency, restore aquatic resources, and maintain public access within the larger context of the Little Naches watershed.
The Little Crow Restoration project area includes approximately 54,672 acres of NFS lands managed by the USDA Forest Service and located in T17N R11E, Sec 1-5, 7-14, 16-18; T17N R12E, Sec 1-3, 10, 11; T17N R13E, Sec 1-6; T17N R14E, Sec 3-6; T18 R11E, Sec 24-27, 33-36; T18N R12E, Sec 22-27, 34-36; T18N R13E Sec 1, 2, 11, 12, 13-36; T18N R14E, Sec 3-11, 14-35; T19N R13E, Sec 25, 35, 36; Sec 19N R14E, Sec 30-32; in Yakima and Kittitas Counties, Washington
Background and History of the Project Area
The Little Crow Restoration project area is located in the southern portion of the Little Naches watershed and includes the Crow Creek and Lower Little Naches River subwatersheds. The area is bisected by several miles of the lower Little Naches River and Forest Service (FS) Road 1900. It is bounded on the west by the Norse Peak Wilderness; east to Manastash Ridge and the Cle Elum Ranger District; north to Raven Roost, and south to Fifes Ridge. It includes the Crow Creek, Quartz Creek, and West Quartz Creek drainages.
The project area supports forested vegetation consisting of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, western larch, grand fir, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, western hemlock, pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, western white pine, yellow cedar, and whitebark pine. These plant communities provide habitat for the Northern spotted owl, listed as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Portions of the Manastash Ridge Late Successional Reserve (LSR), and the Milk Creek and Crow Managed Late Successional Areas (MLSA) lie within the project area and are managed for the Northern spotted owl and other late successional and old growth related species. The Little Crow Restoration project area occurs within a larger landscape which provides for wildlife corridors and vegetative connectivity along the eastern slopes of the Washington Cascades. Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer, listed as Management Indicator Species in the Wenatchee Forest Plan, are present throughout the project area. Other important focal species include the three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers. Special and unique habitats such as whitebark pine, huckleberry, meadow, cliff, and talus communities are also found within the project area.
The Little Naches watershed contains three anadromous fish species (spring chinook salmon, coho salmon, and summer run steelhead trout), and four resident salmonids (rainbow, cutthroat, bull, and brook trout). Middle Columbia River (MCR) steelhead and Columbia River bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Within the Little Crow Restoration project area, MCR steelhead Critical Habitat is designated in the Little Naches, Crow, and Quartz Creeks.
The Little Crow Restoration project area is a popular year round recreation destination for people of all ages, interests, and abilities. The area is well known for motorized recreation, including system motorcycle, 4X4, and snowmobile trail riding. Developed camping areas with varying levels of facilities include Little Naches, Kaner Flat, Crow Creek, and Sand Creek Campgrounds; Huckleberry Camp, Long Meadow, and Ponderosa Camp. Dispersed camping occurs throughout the project area. The area is also a favorite for big game hunting, berry and mushroom gathering, sightseeing, and fishing. Two system trailheads provide hiker and horseback access to the Norse Peak Wilderness. The Little Naches Recreation Residence Tract is located within the area. Raven Roost and Fifes Ridge permitted communication sites are located on the project area boundaries.
The Little Crow Restoration project area contains approximately 146 miles of FS system roads. This includes 8 miles of Maintenance Level 4 Road (suitable for passenger cars), 24 miles of Maintenance Level 3 Road (passable to prudent drivers in passenger cars), 60 miles of Maintenance Level 2 Road (passable to high clearance vehicles, and 54 miles of Maintenance Level 1 Road (intermittent service roads). In addition, approximately 27 miles of unauthorized road lie on NFS land within the project area.
The Little Crow Restoration project is within the 1.6 million acre Tapash Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project (CFLRP) area and has been identified by the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative as a priority landscape for restoration. In March 2013, a collaborative working group formed to address landscape restoration in the approximately 100,000 acre Little Naches watershed. Due to the importance associated with the vegetation, wildlife, and aquatic resources in the watershed, the Little Naches watershed ranks high with respect to terrestrial and aquatic restoration opportunities. As well, the popularity and associated recreational use, past land management practices, recent land acquisitions and current private/partner land inholdings underscore the value of this watershed for stakeholder collaboration.
Need for Proposal
Research has shown that the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (OWNF) is experiencing uncharacteristically severe fires, insect infestations, disease epidemics, habitat loss, and hydrologic events (FRS 2012). Numerous assessments of the OWNF, resulting in a long list of peer-reviewed publications, show: (1) increased susceptibility to uncharacteristically large and severe fires; (2) uncharacteristically severe insect outbreaks; and (3) habitats are declining for late successional and old forest associated species (Lehmkuhl et al. 1994, Hessburg et al. 1999a, Franklin et al. 2007). Additionally, while the Forest’s aging road network provides needed access for recreation and forest management, it also degrades the condition of aquatic ecosystems. To restore forest sustainability and resiliency, the OWNF needs to substantially increase its restoration footprint. To that end, the Tapash Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project prioritized specific project areas for restoration based on consideration of: forest type, vegetation density and structure, landscape and stand level fire behavior, priority watersheds for wildlife and fish habitat restoration, and consideration of high risk roads with adverse impacts to fish and water quality. Based on the criteria identified above, the approximately 100,000 acre Little Naches watershed was identified as a high priority watershed for landscape-scale restoration treatment on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The overall purpose of the proposed Little Crow Restoration project is to increase forest resiliency, restore aquatic resources, and maintain public access within the larger context of the Little Naches watershed. The objective is to achieve vegetation and watershed health objectives set forth in the Wenatchee Forest Plan (1990), as amended; the Okanogan-Wenatchee Restoration Strategy (2012); the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act (2010); the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (FWS 2011); and the Yakima Steelhead Recovery Plan (2009). In this context there is a need to:
- Accelerate the development of a sustainable vegetative structure, composition, and pattern, which will ultimately allow for natural processes to function; and will provide resilience against insects, disease, and uncharacteristic wildfire.
- Promote very large and old tree development to enhance conditions of late successional and old growth forest ecosystems for the benefit of Northern spotted owls and white-headed woodpeckers
- Enhance habitat conditions for three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers
- Enhance special and unique habitats such as whitebark pine, meadow, huckleberry and hardwood communities to benefit associated focal wildlife species such as Clark’s nutcracker, grazing ungulates, and beaver
- Enhance vegetative connectivity for wide ranging carnivores
- Enhance security habitat for wolves, wolverine, grazing ungulates, and late successional associated species
- Enhance soil productivity for long term site sustainability
- Prevent and control invasive species
- Contribute to the local economy via job creation and by providing forest products to local industries and communities; including firewood, posts, and poles, Christmas trees, and other traditional and nontraditional forest products such as biomass
- Improve hydrologic function and water quality; and restore stream habitat conditions to contribute towards long term recovery goals of listed fish species.
- Reduce artificial barriers to steelhead, bull trout, and other native fish migration caused by road network stream crossings
- Reduce erosion/runoff from roads to the stream network during flood events
- Reduce road surface generated sediment delivery to the stream network
- Reduce the connectivity between roads and trails to the stream channel network
- Restore stream channel complexity
Provide for an economically and environmentally sustainable transportation system that maintains public access for recreational opportunities, special uses, and other traditional and nontraditional Forest use in the context of vegetative and watershed health.
- Improve the Inventoried Roadless Area nonmotorized setting
- Decommission or close redundant roads
- Improve road resiliency through structural upgrades
- Reduce road maintenance costs
- Remove unauthorized roads or add to the system if needed for management purposes
- Maintain and enhance recreation opportunities identified in the Little Naches Recreation Management Plan or the Little Naches Watershed Assessment to meet public expectations for developed recreation facilities.
- Remove hazard trees from the Little Naches recreation residence tract and selected recreation sites
- Improve Raven Roost Trailhead parking for safety and negotiability
- Provide learner loop(s) at Crow Creek Campground, Long Meadow or Ponderosa Camp Dispersed Sites
To achieve the outcomes described above, the following management actions are proposed to occur within the 54,672 acre Little Crow Restoration project area boundary (Also see Figures 2-5 and Table 1):
Restoration of the vegetation would occur outside of designated Wilderness and Inventoried Roadless Areas, over an area of approximately 24,872 acres. Proposed road treatments could occur within the 36,832 acres outside of designated Wilderness. No treatments are proposed within the 17,840 acres of designated Wilderness.
Vegetation Types and Proposed Treatments:
Dry Mixed Conifer Vegetation Type: This vegetation type includes dry mixed conifer stands dominated by Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and western larch, with lodgepole pine, western white pine, and grand fir. Restoration treatments would be applied to three stand conditions in the dry mixed conifer vegetation type: (1) Multi-structured stand with a heavy component of lodgepole pine and grand fir; (2) stands where the overstory has been partially removed and currently supports an understory of dense, advanced regeneration grand fir, Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and western larch; and (3) stands where regeneration cuts occurred and now support a dense understory of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, western larch, and lodgepole pine.
Cool Moist Vegetation Type: This vegetation type supports Douglas-fir, Engelmann Spruce, western larch, western hemlock, lodgepole pine, western red cedar, pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, western white pine, and grand fir. Restoration treatments would be applied to three stand conditions in the cool wet vegetation type: (1) where site conditions are good and trees are growing well, but few emergent trees exist and stands still remain in an earlier than desired developmental stage; (2) where stands are stagnant, with Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and pacific silver fir growing densely; and (3) in stands dominated by Douglas-fir, western larch, with lodgepole pine, western white pine, Engelmann spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar where regeneration cuts had been applied previously and pre-commercial thinning did not occur as prescribed.
In the vegetation types described above, very old and large tree development would be promoted to provide for resiliency to insects, disease, and uncharacteristic wildfire; and conditions of late successional and old growth ecosystems would be enhanced for the benefit of the Northern spotted owl, white-headed woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, and black-backed woodpecker. Restoration treatments applied to these stands could include commercial thinning, noncommercial small tree thinning, and prescribed fire.
- Commercial harvest would consist of the removal of Douglas-fir, western larch, grand fir, subalpine fir, pacific silver fir, lodgepole pine, Englemann spruce, western hemlock, and ponderosa pine greater than seven inches Diameter Breast Height (DBH) and less than 24.9 inches (less than 20 inches in the LSR). Within the project area, there is a potential to treat 6,500 acres with commercial harvest to provide for resilience of forest vegetation to insects, disease, and uncharacteristic wildfire. Large tree development and enhancement of conditions of late successional and old growth forest ecosystems for Northern spotted owls and white-headed woodpeckers could potentially occur on 2,990 and 1,360 acres, respectively. Approximately 200 acres of three-toed and black-backed woodpecker habitat could be enhanced by commercial treatment.
- Pre-commercial and noncommercial small tree thinning treatments would include mechanically removing trees less than seven inches DBH. Mechanical treatments could include hand felling with chainsaws, hand piling, machine piling, chipping, and girdling. Stands proposed for mechanical treatment of small diameter trees include those in the stand initiation, young forest multi-strata, and stem exclusion open canopy structural classes. There are approximately 14,500 acres within the project area within these classes. This treatment could be applied alone, or in combination with other identified treatments, to cumulatively provide for resilience against insect, disease, and uncharacteristic wildfire.
- Prescribed burning treatments could include hand piling and pile burning, or broadcast burning. Approximately 24,800 acres have been identified for treatment with prescribed fire. This includes approximately 6,500 acres of previously identified commercial timber harvest, approximately 12,000 acres of previously identified precommercial and non-commercial small tree thinning, and approximately 6,300 acres of natural fuels accumulation. Prescribed burning, alone or in combination with other identified treatments, is intended to improve stand vigor and provide for resilience against insect, disease, and uncharacteristic wildfire. Prescribed burning would contribute cumulatively to large tree development and habitat restoration for focal wildlife species and their habitats including whitebark pine and huckleberry communities as described below.
- Whitebark Pine Enhancement: These stands include Douglas-fir, Engelmann Spruce, western larch, western hemlock, lodgepole pine, western red cedar, pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, western white pine, grand fir, and whitebark pine. There are approximately 100 acres ranging from evenly aged, stem exclusion closed canopy to understory reinitiation structure type where implementation of restoration treatments would result in enhancing whitebark pine. Treatments could include commercial thinning, noncommercial small tree thinning, and prescribed fire, as described above. Planting of local source seed whitebark pine seedlings and invasive species treatment could also be implemented.
- Huckleberry Enhancement within Cool Moist/Dry: These stands include Douglas-fir, Engelmann Spruce, western larch, western hemlock, lodgepole pine, western red cedar, pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, western white pine, and grand fir. There are approximately 800 acres ranging from evenly aged, stem exclusion closed canopy to understory reinitiation structure type where implementation of restoration treatments would result in enhanced huckleberry production in the understory. Treatments could include commercial thinning, noncommercial small tree thinning, and prescribed fire as described above.
- Treatments to Enhance Meadow, Riparian, and Hardwood Communities: This includes implementing restoration treatments to encourage the enhancement of meadow, riparian, and hardwood communities to benefit associated focal wildlife species such as grazing ungulates and beaver. Meadow and hardwood restoration treatments could include the use of commercial and noncommercial small tree thinning to reduce conifer encroachment, prescribed fire, and planting to encourage establishment of desirable species, and treatment of invasive species. Planting and seeding of desirable species and invasive species treatment could be applied on up to 300 acres of hardwood community.
- Proposed Planting to Encourage the Growth of Other Desirable Species: Up to 204 acres of unvegetated streambank, skid trail, or decommissioned roads may be planted or seeded to reduce erosion, encourage revegetation, and prevent invasive species establishment. Planting or seeding to enhance the development of whitebark pine, ponderosa pine, western larch, hardwoods, and other desirable species may also occur.
Proposed Riparian/Stream Treatments:
- Large Woody Debris Supplementation: Supplementing large woody debris within tributary streams to restore stream channel stability and improve fish habitat complexity may occur within up to five miles of stream.
- Streambank Habitat Condition Improvements: Constructing or placing barriers (boulders, fences, and deterrent vegetation) to discourage driving and parking on streambanks and in riparian areas may occur. Approximately 10 acres of planting and seeding may be proposed in riparian areas to improve streambank stability and reduce sediment delivery to the stream network through revegetation.
- Road Closure and Decommissioning: Approximately 35 miles of Forest Service System Maintenance Level 1 and 2 roads (23 percent of the 146 miles of system road within the project area) may be proposed for closure or decommissioning. Closure and decommissioning methods could include constructing earthen berms, recontouring the road prism, removing culverts or armoring overflow and outflow channels to reduce resource damage, control erosion and promote vegetative recruitment. An additional 27 miles of unauthorized roads (roads existing on the landscape, but not built or approved by the Forest Service) could also be proposed for removal. Road removal would result in enhancing vegetative connectivity for wide ranging carnivores and enhance security habitat for wolves, wolverines, grazing ungulates and late successional species.
- Structural Upgrades on Forest Service System Roads: Approximately 119 miles of Forest Service System Roads (Maintenance Levels 1-4) may be proposed for structural upgrades. Structural upgrades could include upsizing structures at stream crossings to reduce artificial barriers to native fish, grading, and restoring road crowns to standard, placing permeable fills, placing aggregate, hardening crossings. The activities described above would also assist in storm proofing the roads. Structural improvements and storm-proofing roads would reduce erosion/runoff and road surface generated sediment delivery to approximately 30 miles of stream in the project area.
- Temporary Road Construction: Up to 13 miles of temporary road and skid trails could be constructed to facilitate the removal of commercial timber. After harvest activities are complete, all temporary roads constructed under this project would be decommissioned using the treatments described under Proposed Road Treatments above.
Proposed Invasive Species Treatments:
Approximately 2,500 acres (10 percent of the project area) may be treated to control invasive plants. Treatment would include a fully integrated invasive plant management strategy utilizing one, or a combination of, the following methods: 1) preventing spread or introduction (equipment cleaning), 2) manual control (pulling, digging, grubbing or hoeing by hand or with hand tools), 3) mechanical control (mowing, clipping), 4) cultural control (planting and/or seeding of desirable vegetation, mulching) or 5) chemical control. Specific treatment locations within the Little Crow Restoration project area could include forest system roads and corridors, designated trails and corridors, designated camping and parking areas, rock pits, and system and nonsystem roads and trails that are being closed or obliterated and restored. Invasive species that occur along hillslopes in old timber sale units could also be treated.
Proposed Recreation Treatments:
Proposed Removal of Hazard Trees from Little Naches Recreation Residence Tract and Selected Recreation Sites: Specified hazard trees may be felled within the Little Naches Recreation Residence tract and within or near selected recreation sites (such as Kaner Flat Campground, Ponderosa Camp) to maintain visitor safety and removed from the area to limit accumulation of down and standing dead fuel wood. Designated trees could either be sold commercially, made available for firewood, used for stream course rehabilitation, or for other district improvement projects (such as trail bridge stringers).
Raven Roost Trailhead Parking Improvements: The parking area at Raven Roost Trailhead (located at the end of Road 1902) may be improved to provide a safer and more negotiable driving and parking surface. Improvements could include increasing the turning radius of the driving surface, levelling, grading, and gravelling the road, and hardening the adjacent parking area.Constructing Learner Loop(s) at
Crow Creek Campground, Long Meadow, and Ponderosa Camp Dispersed Sites: Up to 3.4 miles of beginning level trail may be constructed at Crow Creek Campground (up to 0.4 miles), Long Meadow (up to 2 miles) and Ponderosa Camp (up to 1 mile). The trail(s) would be constructed to Class 3 Motorcycle Trail Standards with a with a 6 foot clearing width and 36 inch tread, and designed for slow speeds. Structures such as bridges, barrier logs, puncheon, boardwalk, check dams, and grid blocks may be used to keep users on the trail or as practice structures. The learner loops would provide opportunities for beginning users where opportunities are currently limited.
I am inviting your comments on this proposal. Your questions on the need for action or any aspect of the proposed action that is unclear would be welcomed. Comments will aid in the identification of any issues and subsequent development of alternatives under the process outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Based on your comments, the project Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) will refine the proposed action or develop additional alternatives and conduct an analysis of the proposal. The results of the analysis will be documented in an Environmental Assessment (EA). The final decision is expected in the spring of 2016 and will determine whether or not to conduct the activities described here, and in what manner. Your scoping comments on this early proposal would be most useful if received within 30 days of the date of this scoping letter.
Electronic comments must be submitted through the web-based Comment and Analysis Response Application (CARA). The project web page can be located at http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=46306.Maps and additional project information are also available on the project web page. Attachments to comments must be submitted only in one of the following three formats: Microsoft Word, rich text format (rtf), or Adobe Portable Document format (pdf). Emails submitted to email addresses other than the one listed above or in other formats than those listed or containing viruses will be rejected. Comments received in response to this initial request, including names, addresses, and any other information provided with the comments, will be considered a part of the public record and will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and released if requested. If we do not hear from you during this scoping period, you will not continue to be notified of the status of this project.
This is a Non Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) project authorized under 36 CFR 218 subparts A and B. This rule provides for a predecisional objection process, whereby the public is provided an opportunity to comment and express concerns on projects before decisions are made, rather than after. Following preparation and distribution of the EA, a 30 day comment period will be available for you to provide additional comments prior to completion of a final EA and draft decision. A 45 day objection period will follow publication of the final EA and draft decision. If no objections are received during that period, the final decision will be signed and may be implemented after five business days. If objections are received on this project there will be a 45 day period for resolutions of the identified issues prior to signature and implementation.
Questions or other inquiries regarding this project should be directed to Jodi Leingang, Interdisciplinary Team Leader at the Naches Ranger District, (509) 653-1450 or email@example.com.
Thank you for your interest and help with this project.
Naches District Ranger