Editor’s Note: Conservation Northwest and RE Sources are criticized in the January 2022 Whatcom Watch article, “Forest Service Approves Nooksack Logging.” This article is a response from Conservation Northwest to that criticism. RE Sources felt the response from Conservation Northwest was sufficient.
by Mitch Friedman
It’s weird to be defending Conservation Northwest (CNW) from the accusation that we provided a “big assist” to the Forest Service’s injudicious North Fork Nooksack Forest Management Project (Nooksack Project).
We filed a formal objection to the USFS’s latest iteration of this project on November 9. (1) Prior to that, in June 2020, we submitted detailed comments outlining our concerns (2) with the first draft. Our initial action alert (3) about this project in early 2020 generated nearly 1,500 comments from grassroots activists. We have reached out to the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation and other conservation allies to coordinate response. Our issues with this project have been loud, clear and readily available to the public and colleague groups.
The accusation, made by Jim Scarborough of North Cascades Conservation Council (N3C) in a recent article for that organization’s newsletter reprinted on the facing page, seems to imply that had we just been like them — a group of grumpy old men pacing the floor and shaking our fists at the government — then surely the Forest Service would have stayed hidden in a deep dark hole. That’s a nutty way to think. It’s particularly nutty when one considers that N3C didn’t reach out to Conservation Northwest, as claimed, to coordinate on their master plan.
Nooksack Project Is Chaotic
The Nooksack Project is a mess. It proposes aggressive logging on potentially unstable slopes, and it doesn’t even pretend to take the meaningful, holistic steps needed to help restore ecological resilience to the Nooksack watershed. The right kind of project would remove miles of old logging roads from the landscape and take other actions to stabilize streams in this hydrologically dynamic landscape. Many old roads not addressed in the current version of the project are ticking time bombs, landslides waiting to happen in the winter storms that are increasingly intensified by climate change, as this winter’s flooding in Whatcom County and south-central British Columbia strikingly demonstrate. Salmon are at stake, as are local communities, residents and a broad array of forest stakeholders.
The Forest Service is capable of doing good restoration. A strong body of scientific research recognizes that Westside plantations (regrowth in former clearcuts) can benefit from thinning to restore a multilayered canopy that supports biodiversity, and that complex early seral habitat is at a deficit. (4) Opportunities to fix past management damages are being identified and prioritized in the Forest’s most degraded watersheds (e.g. Nooksack) and restoration actions (including sustainable thinning) can more quickly improve the resilience of these ecosystems. Conservation Northwest is deeply involved with the USFS on such projects, including a model project called Snoquera (5) down by Mount Rainier. That project is remediating past damage through plantation thinning, the decommissioning of 24 miles of road, improving 53 aquatic passages, and a suite of other restoration and recreation projects while building durable relationships with stakeholders, local communities, and Tribes.
Contrary to Allegations
Contrary to N3C’s allegations, we have pushed for the agency to undertake similar work in the Nooksack and other watersheds that were abused during the logging heyday of the 1970s and ‘80s. We don’t dare walk away from these mismanaged watersheds in their present functioning-at-risk condition, and we hold the USFS accountable while being pragmatic about their multiuse mandate. So regardless of this project’s decision, you can bet we will advocate for infrastructure dollars to implement the Nooksack Access and Travel Management Plan and other aquatic restoration opportunities in this degraded watershed. That’s our approach — equal parts collaboration and tenacity — and we have a long record of success to back it up.
N3C pops up like this from time to time to berate people who are doing good work. If you love hiking to Oyster Dome, you should know that N3C nearly blew that one. In 2008, Conservation Northwest and other groups across the stakeholder spectrum negotiated in good faith for 15 months to narrowly reach an accord that prevented logging of the Blanchard Mountain core. N3C sued in pursuit of a panacea, but fortunately lost.
It then took us and the sane groups, with zero help from N3C, 10 long years in Olympia to eventually fund the accord and permanently protect the heart of Blanchard State Forest (now called the Harriett Spanel State Forest), which we did in 2019. (6) Nor was N3C among the many groups that worked hard together to win reconveyance of 8,000 acres of state forestland, (7) creating what’s today the giant county park at the south end of Lake Whatcom.
Stellar Record of Big Wins
Conservation Northwest, which was based in Bellingham for our first quarter century, has a stellar record of big wins. We were the leaders in ending old growth logging on Washington’s national forests and for building wildlife crossings over I-90. We led the reintroduction of fishers and the relatively peaceful return of wolves in Washington. We just bought more than 9,200 ecologically-critical acres for the Colville Confederated Tribes, and we are helping them restore lynx to the Kettle Range.
More to the topic at hand, through our Forest Field Program, we have a team of five staff members who engage in almost every project the Forest Service undertakes across three national forests in Washington, collaborating with environmental allies, timber, community interests not only to make the projects ecologically beneficial, but also socially durable by creating more jobs than hard feelings. We don’t win every argument with the Forest Service, but we find that engaging with local communities and the government makes for a better, healthier democracy and ecosystem.
In contrast, the type of bitter polarization and backbiting advanced by groups like N3C fosters the kind of populist backlash that Trump rode into office.
So instead of infighting, let’s work together to improve the North Fork Nooksack Project, to restore the Nooksack watershed, and to again make “conservationist” a title that every American wants to claim.
(4) Tom DeMeo, Ryan Haugo, Chris Ringo, Jane Kertis, Steve Acker, Mike Simpson, and Mark Stern. “Expanding Our Understanding of Forest Structural Restoration Needs in the Pacific Northwest.” Northwest Science 92(1), 18-35, (1 January 2018). https://doi.org/10.3955/046.092.0104
Mitch Friedman, formerly of Bellingham, is the founder and Executive Director of Conservation Northwest, a regional non-profit that for more than 30 years has worked to protect, connect and restore wildlands and wildlife from the Washington Coast to the B.C. Rockies.