Community input helps shape forest road planning in Washington's Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Jeff Gunn, Flickr

All roads don't necessarily to lead to hefty maintenance funds.

When budget cuts forced Washington's Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to make serious changes to its vital forest roads system, a diverse group of partners and stakeholders stepped forward to ensure the community voice will be heard during the decision-making process.

The forest roads in and out of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie were built primarily for timber harvests and sales during the past 60 years. These roads were not built to last, as they were intended to move timber from the hills to the mills over relatively short periods of time. As timber-harvest related road use has declined, so have the funds to maintain them.

Photo: Sustainable Roads Cadre

Due to a 10 percent reduction in road maintenance funding for 2013, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie has only enough money to maintain about a quarter of its 2,500 miles of roads. Last year they had $688,000 to pay for maintenance, this year they expect to receive only $200,000. A rough estimate shows that roads maintained for high-clearance vehicles cost an average of about $715 per mile, while those maintained for passenger cars cost about $1,750 per mile.

Chart: Sustainable Roads Cadre

This means that Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie will be able to maintain only 628 miles of roads. Of those roads, they plan to maintain 86 percent for passenger car use and the remaining 14 percent for high-clearance vehicles.

However, today more than five million people recreate on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest annually and road access continues to be in high demand for recreation, wilderness and tribal needs. In order to meet these broad needs, the U.S. Forest Service is working on a future roads plan that will balance growing budgetary constraints with continued accessibility.

Photo: Jeff Gunn, Flickr

Right now, as the snow melts and Forest Service engineers assess the road damage, they are adopting strategies to work within this year’s reduced funding by cutting back on brushing, filling potholes instead of grading the entire road and not replacing as many culverts. 

The more the merrier: Sustainable Roads Cadre asks for community input

This is where Washington's Sustainable Roads Cadre has stepped in. Realizing the importance of the  road system to its visitors, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is working with an informal Sustainable Roads Cadre, a diverse group of partners and stakeholders, to make sure the public has a say about the roads that are important to them.

Understanding how local community members feel about the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest road system will help the U.S. Forest Service make important decisions about accessibility and use. This is why the Sustainable Roads Cadre is working with the Forest Service to gather public input about its road system.

Who are the Sustainable Roads Cadre? They are a diverse group of partners and stakeholders who have combined forces to ensure the U.S. Forest Service's eventual forest road plan reflect the different needs and interests of the people who use them. 

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Sustainable Roads Cadre use a unique science-driven approach developed by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and Portland State University to understand how locals use and value nearby landscapes and resources. In community meetings, social scientists ask participants to use maps to identify places of significance and assign values or activities associated with them.

This process creates what’s called “socio-spatial data layers.” These layers will eventually provide visual displays of visitor destinations and routes, and will show places that hold special meaning or value for residents. These data will also identify areas of high impact or conflict. 

The information collected from community meetings may be used for future recreation and stewardship planning. 

Sustainable roads analysis. What is it?

The Sustainable Roads Analysis will guide the Mt. Baker-Snoqualamie National Forest in a holistic forest-wide approach, choosing the roads they can afford to keep open.

By law, Washington's Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie must identify a more ecologically and financially sustainable road system by 2015. The Travel Management Rule of 2005 requires all national forests to analyze their roads and propose transportation systems that meet travel, administrative and conservation needs within available budgets.

The Sustainable Roads Analysis will use an interdisciplinary, science-based process to evaluate individual segments of the road system. This process will take into account public issues, forest plan allocations and management constraints. Broad subject areas with refined evaluation criteria will be used to demonstrate the compatibility of road segments with ecological, social and economic objectives of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie.

The Sustainable Roads Analysis will help the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie gather the information necessary to make future decisions about road projects such as upgrades, closures, decommissioning and road-to-trail conversions.

What's next?

U.S. Forest Service specialists are considering resource concerns for aquatics, wildlife, cultural and heritage areas and invasive plant species. They will also consider access needs for vegetation management, recreation, cultural and heritage areas, special uses, administrative uses and joint ownership.

The Sustainable Roads Analysis will guide the Mt. Baker-Snoqulamie National Forest as they make their decision regarding how future forest roads will be managed and maintained. We will continue to keep you updated.

Photo: Sustainable Roads Cadre