In 2019, the US Forest Service granted approval for the “high priority” Dungeness Watershed Roads Management Project to improve habitat conditions throughout the watershed, including for several listed species. Four years later, those improvements exist only on paper. Conservation advocates are now requesting the Forest Service to explain the unreasonable delay and provide an accurate timeline for implementation.
The culmination of years of collaboration between state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, in September 2016 the Forest Service published the Dungeness River Watershed Action Plan. The plan identified “restoration actions needed to correct known problems and help to put National Forest System (NFS) lands on a trajectory to improve the watershed conditions.” The primary concern outlined in the action plan was the threat to water quality in the Dungeness River watershed posed by the deterioration and erosion of unmaintained forest roads. Furthermore, the proposed actions were determined important for the recovery of Puget Sound Chinook, Puget Sound steelhead, Hood Canal summer chum, and Coastal Puget Sound bull trout, all listed under the Endangered Species Act.
As a direct result of the action plan, the Dungeness Watershed Roads Management Project was drafted, reviewed, revised through public comment, and ultimately approved by the Hood Canal District Ranger.
Specifically, the project would, among other things:
- Treat and put into storage about 18.9 miles of open roads
- Decommission about 11.8 miles of roads
- Close 1.8 miles of road to public access, while maintaining access for permitted landowners
- Convert 1.4 miles of road to trail
- Contribute significantly to the local economy by creating jobs for local contractors
Unfortunately during a recent visit to the project area, our colleagues at WildEarth Guardians encountered many roads still in place even though they were approved for decommissioning or conversion to trails. In the most recent analyses of these roads, all scored either “moderate” or “high” for risk to aquatics and all of them scored “high” for hydro/soils risk.
This finding begs many questions, such as: What is the delay in implementing a project the Forest Service characterized as a “high priority” for recovering key aquatic processes and functions in the Dungeness River watershed? Are there funding problems that need to be addressed in order to begin project implementation?
It is frustrating to participate in a collaborative process for years only to have an approved watershed restoration project sit on the shelf with no indication of when or if it will ever be implemented. And while this project remains unimplemented, the roads continue to deteriorate. Alongside our partners, WA Wild has signed onto a joint letter requesting the Forest Service to 1) explain the unreasonable delay in implementing the Dungeness Watershed Roads Management Project, and 2) provide an accurate timeline to implement this approved “high priority” project to restore aquatic habitat and functions in the watershed.