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Conservation Groups Support Forest Service Watershed and Road System Improvements on Olympic National Forest

Today, Washington Wild coordinated a letter signed by 11 conservation organizations to the Olympic National Forest concerning the Dungeness Watershed Roads Management Project in the Hood Canal/Quilcene Ranger District. The letter expressed support for addressing an oversized and under-maintained road system that causes high aquatic risk to our watersheds and fish while balancing important recreation opportunities. Washington Wild believes this is best achieved by reducing overall road density by decommissioning deteriorating and unneeded roads, those that are high risk and unused, while also prioritizing maintenance for roads that are used to access official trails and campgrounds Groups expressed their support for the projects purpose and need of improving watershed conditions by addressing the roads that are a high risk to aquatics.

The Forest Service struggles to deal with a nearly $3 billion road maintenance backlog on the more than 370,000 miles of Forest Service system roads nationwide. The pure number of roads is unsustainable, especially as funding and agency maintenance budgets have continually declined over the past decade.

National Forest Road System Chart

National Forest Road System Chart

The letter showed support for the Forest Service’s Alternative A, which would have greater positive results on fish habitat and water quality, decommission high risk roads, and convert some old roads to trails. It also maintains roads that access popular recreation destinations in the area. However, the groups also encouraged USFS to look at additional roads for decommissioning that are high aquatic risk and improve key access roads to reduce the aquatic impacts, protect these key roads from storm-damage and improve vehicle access.

The Dungeness watershed is the home to Chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, pink salmon, steelhead, resident rainbow trout, sea-run and resident cutthroat trout, bull trout, Dolly Varden, pacific lamprey and sculpin. Chinook salmon, summer chum salmon, bull trout and steelhead are all listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat for Chinook and steelhead includes the entire Dungeness River from the mouth up into the Olympic National Park. Yet these species are not on a trajectory towards recovery.

The Dungeness watershed also provides a wealth of diverse recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing, camping, backpacking, even a rental cabin. With access to wilderness areas, national park, wild rivers and 77 miles of trails – this is an area loved by locals and visitors alike. Our organizations believe in a balanced approach that includes prioritizing roads that reliably access official trails, campgrounds and other economic infrastructure while also addressing high aquatic risks and watershed threats from legacy roads on the system.

Identifying a sustainable road network is one of the most important endeavors the Forest Service can undertake to restore aquatic systems and wildlife habitat, facilitate adaptation to climate change, enhance recreation, and lower operating expenses.