Land and Water Conservation Fund could help Pacific Northwest

Designated coastal Wilderness in Olympic National Park, Washington. Photo by Jeff Fox.

We recently named 29 wild places that could be preserved through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which use revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling leases to acquire critical new lands. Six of the 29 places are located in my region, the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Read on to discover why two of these special places deserve to be saved.

A Healing River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

Deep within Olympic National Park, the Skokomish River starts as two forks, North and South. The North Fork forms high on the slopes of Mount Skokomish, namesake of the Mount Skokomish Wilderness Area, while the South fork originates from Sundown Pass, where you can find giant Hemlocks standing sentinel over this truly wild area.

The Skokomish watershed is the most flood-prone river in Washington state due to extensive clearcut logging in the past, damming of the river and winter weather patterns. Once known as one of the largest and most productive salmon-producing rivers in the region, sadly the Skokomish is now home to four endangered species of fish. The persistent flooding -- along with dams, dikes, timber harvest, road building and other activities – has changed the river’s character, resulting in severe damage to farms and downstream residents, including the Skokomish Tribe.

A healing process is taking place in the Skokomish watershed due to diverse partnerships, such as the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, that have strengthened restoration work across the entire Skokomish River basin in recent years. Together, people of the Skokomish Valley and beyond are seeking to fully restore the watershed for the benefit of future generations.

The land in the middle of this complex and beautiful watershed is a checkerboard of private and public ownership. This year, one block of checkerboard land is available for acquisition, which would consolidate and simplify land management between the Olympic National Forest and Green Diamond Resource Company. The proposed acquisition includes two segments of the wild and meandering Skokomish River and a shallow 20-acre lake. The parcel provides habitat for smallmouth bass and resident trout, marsh birds, amphibians and Roosevelt elk and holds significant potential for wildlife enhancement opportunities for bald eagles and osprey. The lake is easily accessible for local communities, offering significant potential for expanding and enhancing quality outdoor recreational opportunities for a broad segment of the public as the current ownership provides limited public access to the area.

Oregon’s “Grand Canyon”

The Owyhee River may look nothing like Hawaii, with its deep, arid desert canyons, but the word “Owyhee” comes from a different spelling of Hawaii that dates back to 1820, when many of the region’s explorers were from the lush tropical islands. The river was named for three Hawaiian trappers who were allegedly killed near the river around 1819.

The Owyhee Wild and Scenic River is a spectacular place, known as Oregon’s “Grand Canyon” for the 1,000 foot canyon wall cuts that the river glides through within the high plateau of the Owyhee Uplands in the remote southeastern portion of the state. The Owyhee is home to 6,000 pronghorn antelope, bobcat, sage grouse, mule deer, a large variety of raptors and the world’s largest California bighorn sheep population.

Aside from the impressive wildlife population, the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River has an outstanding history, with innumerable archaeological and historical sites hidden in its canyons.

Each year the upstream snowmelt brings the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River to life, and rafters flock to the area to paddle this remote, scenic river with challenging rapids. Along the way, dramatic canyon walls and eroded rock pinnacles greet their view and tell of a history at least 14 million years old. The river also provides opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, bird watching, sightseeing and photography.

A 320-acre parcel of land that lies within the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River administrative boundary and is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the Lower Owyhee Canyon Wilderness, is available for acquisition. The project is the number one priority under BLM’s Owyhee River Management Plan and would allow the BLM to protect high quality recreation access, riparian habitat and historic petroglyphs along this world class river.

The Wilderness Society will be working with other organizations to gain federal funding for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to preserve these special wild places.

If you would like to assist us in this effort, write your Senators and Representative and encourage them to support funding for the LWCF and the funds we need to protect these amazing Pacific Northwest lands.

photo: Designated coastal Wilderness in Olympic National Park, Washington. Photo by Jeff Fox.