Congressman Norm Dicks: A clean water champ for the Skokomish

Olympic National Park. Photo by Jeff Fox.

The Skokomish River watershed in Washington's Olympic National Forest is on the mend. A note of thanks should go to Congressman Norm Dicks for helping to make it so.

Earlier this month, the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative honored Dicks for championing efforts to restore Washington’s forests and protect clean water sources as part of the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program. I was asked to speak about how increased congressional funding for the program has benefited the Skokomish watershed.

The Skokomish River watershed is a prime example of the environmental impacts of having too many old logging roads slicing through the fragile headwaters of our Northwest forests — many of those waters being spawning ground for the iconic Pacific Northwest salmon.

Nearly four years ago, a delegation from a collaborative group that I coordinate — the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) — met with Congressman Dicks to discuss our desire to work together to restore the Skokomish watershed. At the end of that meeting, the Congressman said, “Give me a 3-year plan.”

A few months later — with a lot of help from the Forest Service — the SWAT completed a 3-year action plan. The centerpiece of the plan was the decommissioning of 70 miles of old logging roads and improvement to the drainage capacity on another 150 miles of roads.

In May 2007, Congressman Dicks launched the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative, and by the following summer this new funding stream began to flow into the Skokomish.

The first year’s allocation allowed the Forest Service to complete the “Big Dig” — a massive culvert removal and road decommissioning project on LeBar Creek that eliminated a major threat to the river.

Since then, Legacy Roads and Trails funds have made it possible for the Forest Service and SWAT to decommission more than 20 miles of logging roads with high erosion risk, improve drainage on another 50 miles of roads, and rebuild four bridges on the beautiful Skokomish River Trail.

This year, the Pacific Northwest Region has allocated $2.6 million of Legacy Roads and Trails funds for the Skokomish — more than any other single watershed in the nation.

With continued funding, we expect to complete nearly all of the road remediation work in the SWAT’s action plan within the next 2-3 years.

Several dedicated staff members of the Olympic National Forest deserve special recognition: hydrologist Robin Stoddard; resources staff officer Kathy O’Halloran; district ranger Dean Yoshina; and forest supervisor Dale Hom. Together, these people possess the qualities that are needed to restore our national forests: excellent leadership skills, a strong conservation ethic, technical know-how, and on-the-ground knowledge of the resources.

Thanks to Congressman Dicks, the Forest Service now has the financial resources necessary to put those skills to work to improve places like the Skokomish watershed.

Read more about the Skokomish Watershed.