March 2006 - The Forest Service received over 1,500 comments on the Draft EIS for the proposed expansion of the four ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass. The new ten-year plan for the Summit at Snoqualmie would rearrange some lifts and runs and add new ones, increasing total capacity by 39 percent. However, the proposal would result in cutting old-growth forests, degrading a critical wildlife corridor, and impacting roadless areas and wetlands. Two-thirds of the ski area is on national forest land. A Final EIS and decision are due later this year.
Skiing has been a fixture of the Pass for decades, but over time, resort development has resulted in logged forests, filled wetlands, and blocked wildlife corridors. The new plan should meet current environmental standards, including protecting wildlife habitat and water quality. While many aspects of the ski area’s $48 million proposal are not controversial, the cutting of old-growth forests in a key wildlife corridor would have a major impact. The Seattle PI published an editorial expressing alarm at the cutting of the forest and urged the Forest Service to go slow, allowing time to carefully study the impacts on wildlife. The paper’s website poll received over 340 responses, of which 2 out of 3 were against cutting the forest in the Hyak Creek area.
March 2006 - The latest threat to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a copper mine along its northern boundary. A $400 million mine has been proposed by Idaho General Mines, Inc. from Spokane. Motivated by rising global copper prices, the company envisions a facility operating for as long as 30 to 40 years. The proposed area for the mine extends over more than 800 acres. It is inside the blast zone and was considered for inclusion in the national monument, but left out by Congress at the request of the Forest Service.
The company could propose an open pit mine, which would be big enough to eradicate much of Goat Mountain. Even a tunnel mine involves disposal of waste rock, and wastewater must be pumped somewhere; this area drains down through the Green River. Also, the project will require new roads, perhaps even a new road down the Green River through the pristine old-growth forests in the Monument.
National Park & Forest Land Acquisitions Need Funding
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the FY07 Interior Appropriations Bill, which had the lowest allocation for conservation land purchases in decades. The bill included only 10 national park projects, including $1.5 million for acquisition of key parcels along the Carbon River in the recently authorized addition to Mt. Rainier National Park. Rep. Norm Dicks, senior member of the appropriations committee, and Rep. Dave Reichert, who represents the 8th district where the park addition is located, worked to get this into a very tight budget bill. In a similar situation for the Forest Service, $1 million was allocated to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
In May, a remote camera set up by Conservation Northwest photographed a pine marten in the forest along Hyak Creek, between two of the Snoqualmie Pass ski areas. Martens require wild country with deep forest and down woody debris – habitat that would suffer if the proposed ski area expansion between Hyak and Summit Central were approved. The wildlife corridors proposed at Snoqualmie Pass are important for the survival of pine martens and other wildlife in the central Cascades.
Wolverine Tracks Near Pass
In February, University of Washington students found a set of tracks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness three miles west of Snoqualmie Pass that appears to be wolverine. At about the same time, Washington Dept of Wildlife biologists live-trapped a female wolverine in the Pasayten Wilderness. In recent years there have been other credible sightings in the Alpine Lakes area including one in upper Gold Creek. These are evidence that these wide ranging, yet elusive mammals still inhabit the Washington Cascades. But wolverines require wild country with little human disturbance. The wildlife corridors proposed at Snoqualmie Pass are important for their survival in the central Cascades.
In April, the Forest Service released an environmental assessment on a new recreation management plan for the Little Naches River basin, northeast of Chinook Pass. The Forest Service acknowledged that 20 years of study have shown a dramatic increase in impact to resources from motorized use in the valley. The agency is struggling with the impacts of jeeps and motorbikes being driven through streams and meadows, and the historic Naches Pass Wagon Trail being turned into a series of mud holes.
While the preferred alternative (#2) would remove over 50 miles of unauthorized motorbike trails that have scarred the valley, it would build a similar amount of trail for ORVs. The proposal would build new trails for “quads” (the smaller 4-wheel drive machines that require trails wider than motorbikes) including 3 sets of “learner loops” near the river.
The cosmic research lab that was proposed to be built underneath a Cascade Mountain has received a new lease on life. The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) will receive a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for further studies and design. NSF had dropped the Cascades site from consideration last October, but the University of Washington appealed and is now back in the race. Vertical shaft sites in South Dakota and Colorado are also being studied.
New Site Proposed
The previous proposal to tunnel under Cashmere Mountain (and Alpine Lakes Wilderness) in the Icicle Creek valley, was highly controversial. That site has been shelved, and a revised proposal would use an existing tunnel about 60 feet south of the currently operating Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tunnel under Stevens Pass. Known as the “pioneer tunnel,” it was dug to facilitate the excavation of the railroad tunnel in 1929. It is not the older Cascade Tunnel, which is farther north. The pioneer tunnel runs under the Stevens Pass ski area. The lab would use about half of the 5.3-mile tunnel, to get to a spot that is 3,400 feet deep in the granite rock – underneath Cowboy Mtn. The tunnel portal is at the railroad yard at Scenic. Excavated rock would be shipped out over the rails.
A dozen volunteers worked on a rainy day in May to eradicate invasive species near the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The group pulled blackberries from an area that is being restored by King County. This year’s Checkerboard Service Outing is part of a valley-wide project sponsored by Mountains to Sound Greenway and MidFORC. Thanks to Harry Romberg for organizing the event.
On June 20th, the Washington Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) announced its preferred alternative for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project that would include the wildlife bridges recommended by biologists. If approved after the Final EIS next year, this would provide a high level of connectivity for many wildlife species, making it one of the best highway crossing facilities for wildlife in the country. The design includes a dozen higher and longer highway bridges and numerous large culverts, where animals can cross under the freeway. In addition, at two locations, overpasses exclusively for wildlife will be built. The design also provides for stream and wetland restoration.
By Jessica Eagle, Regional Conservation Organizer
Over the last six months, hundreds of our members participated in the statewide effort to collect signatures for Initiative 937, the Clean Energy Initiative. Thank you to all who participated! We could not have done it without you.
The fight for clean energy is not finished, however. With this year’s important election cycle ahead of us, we can not lose the momentum and determination we have created at a grassroots level. Energy concerns and the discussion around clean energy solutions will draw out tens of thousands of environmentally-friendly voters, if we can create a big enough buzz!
Yosemite! Grand Canyon! Yellowstone! Denali! Everglades! What do these names have in common? They are all national parks whose names are known by everyone, the true crown jewels of America. And being national parks, they’re all well protected, right?
Wrong! The present administration, attuned to maximizing commercial profits and minimizing the public values of our public lands, has other plans for your national parks.
The Interior Department proposal to rewrite the management policies for our parks would topple “conservation of resources unimpaired for the future” as the mission of our national parks. Under proposed new management policies, the Park Service could: