Moving toward sustainable road systems

April 7, 2017 Alaina Kowitz

By Alaina Kowitz, Communications and Outreach Associate

An important component of Conservation Northwest’s work is to ‘connect the big landscapes’, but the only way to accomplish this big-picture goal is to focus in on smaller areas of habitat that need restoration. 

We’re doing just that in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, by working closely with the Forest Service to close down unnecessary forest roads (also known as road decommissioning). These old logging roads are infrequently used, unnecessary for access to trailheads and other destinations, and often unsafe for passage, not to mention ecologically harmful. 

By closing down these roads and converting them back to the landscape’s natural state, we’re helping restore an important habitat linkage for wildlife like mule deer and Canada lynx to move between the North Cascades and the Kettle River Range. We’re also boosting the long-term health of our riparian corridors and creating fire-resilient landscapes.

This year, we focused on closing down old roads that were in close proximity (300 feet or less) to streams and other bodies of water, some important fish spawning grounds, as well as in areas that were recovering from the wildfires of 2014. Old roads are notorious for eroding into waterways, which increases sedimentation and threatens the health of aquatic ecosystems and fish. 

Says George Wooten, one of our Conservation Associates, “By closing off and revegetating these roads with native shrubs and seed, we’re creating plant structures that will hold soil in place, lock water in the ground, and shade waterways to maintain cool water temperatures. These ecological components will boost forest and aquatic resiliency in the future.”

“Closing certain roads will make the forest stronger, improve watershed quality and let animals move between landscapes, and it will benefit local communities over the long-term as well.” ” -George Wooten, Conservation Associate

All decommissioning work last year was done by local contractors that we hired in coordination with the Forest Service. We decommissioned 3.55 miles of road in the Methow Ranger District and 1.89 miles in the Tonasket Ranger District, which totals 5.44 miles of decommissioned road. While the numbers seem small, the rewards will be mighty! 

Wooten believes that road decommissioning, while still taking into account access needs, is imperative to confronting ecological challenges that lay ahead. “We’ve seen intense wildfires over the past few years and expect more in the future. Closing certain roads will make the forest stronger, improve watershed quality and let animals move between landscapes, and it will benefit local communities over the long-term as well.” 

Over $50,000 in public and private contributions made this restoration work possible, including generous financial support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Forest Foundation, The Orvis Company, Peach Foundation, Washington Women’s Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and our members.

For more information on our forest road work, check out this update or our Forest Field Program webpage.
A contractor works to shut down an old road to improve habitat continuity. Photo: George Wooten
A contractor works to shut down an old road to improve habitat continuity. Photo: George Wooten

Previous Article
Introducing the Arid Lands Initiative

As part of our new Columbia Basin Arid Lands conservation program, we're joining a collaboration to maintai...

Next Article
Let’s do the right thing for grizzly bears

Sharing landscapes like the North Cascades with big, wild animals takes courage. But grizzly bears have cal...