NACHES—The Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative is utilizing about $420,000 in state and federal salmon recovery funds to improve fish habitat in the Naches River Basin’s Little Rattlesnake Creek.
Part of the recovery effort involves an Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest plan to decommission five miles of a road located in the Little Rattlesnake Creek floodplain about 12 miles northwest of Naches where frequent flooding has washed out the road pouring sediment into the creek.
The Little Rattlesnake Road (Forest Service Road 1501) runs along Little Rattlesnake Creek for many miles. In 2009 and 2011, major flood events led to the stream running onto the road and washing sediment into the creek. Subsequent analyses convinced U.S. Forest Service officials the road is vulnerable to more washouts so a determination was made to decommission the road and restore the floodplain with vegetation.
Little Rattlesnake Creek is an important habitat area for steelhead and bull trout so the Yakama Nation, non-governmental organizations, and state and federal agencies in the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative (http://www.tapash.org/) have favored removal of the road. Little Rattlesnake Creek flows into Rattlesnake Creek and the Naches River, both of which are important habitat for Chinook salmon.
The U.S. Forest Service constructed the road many years ago to support a large timber management program south of the area. Agency managers now believe the roadbed should be removed and five miles of the surface be restored to a natural state because other roads in better locations now serve the national forest lands.
The presence of the road adjacent to Little Rattlesnake Creek has reduced stream shading, degraded floodplain function, interrupted hydrologic processes and affected water temperature for many years. Decommissioning the first five miles of road would increase the potential for woody debris collection, allow development of complex habitat, reduce sediment into the stream and lower water temperature. All are key components for improving habitat for fish species.
“By constructing a mile and a half segment of road at a higher elevation, we can ensure access needed for managing state forest lands and forest fire suppression,” said Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Southeast Regional Manager Todd Welker. “No matter how much money is put into that road, washouts will happen again and again. This is a good opportunity to do the right thing.”
The DNR, Yakama Nation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service and Nature Conservancy formed the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative because of
a shared concern about planned development of intermingled private timber lands. Those initial interests expanded to fostering healthy forest ecosystems in the Eastern Washington Cascade Range.
“Traditional knowledge and science has shown this area to be critical to steelhead, salmon and bull trout recovery in the Yakima Basin,” said Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Phil Rigdon. “Removing the road will once and for all address stream and road interactions that have for years hamstrung efforts to restore those fish species to that drainage.”
Rigdon also said the Yakama Nation has secured $60,000 from the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund for construction work to build a new connector route from Grouse Heaven Road on the south side of Little Rattlesnake Creek to assure access for DNR timber management.
NOAA Columbia Basin Branch Chief Dale Bambrick said abandoning the Little Rattlesnake Road would be a significant step in the recovery of Naches steelhead populations and improving habitat in Little Rattlesnake Creek, Rattlesnake Creek and the Naches River.
“Fisheries advocates have tried to get this road decommissioned for decades,” Bambrick said. “What was different this time was the collaborative problem solving. The Forest Service insisted vehicle access should not be significantly diminished and they got together with the DNR to ensure that didn’t happen. The fish agencies agreed to help find funding and did so with help from the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board.”
The Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board has approved $360,000 in funding for the project. The board is responsible for providing the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board with an annual locally-reviewed and ranked list of salmon habitat improvement projects for the Yakima Basin. The Yakima board ranked the Little Rattlesnake Creek Floodplain Reconnection Project the highest priority for 2013.
On September 23, U.S. Forest Service officials signed a decision notice and finding of no significant impact for the Forest Service Road 1501 Flood Repair Project. Due to the upcoming holidays, a legal notice that starts the 45-day project appeal period will begin in January 2014. Appeals sent before the legal notice is published cannot be accepted, agency officials said.
They also stated anyone who expressed interest in the Forest Service Road 1501 Flood Repair Project or other Naches Ranger District flood repair projects should receive notification of the decision. The decision notice and other environmental documentation are available on the web at: http://go.usa.gov/Dv2P
Work could begin on removal of the road segment as early as next spring.