Report: Watershed Restoration Action Plans- review and recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Watershed Restoration Action Plans: Review and Recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service Regarding the Integration of the Travel Analysis Process and Watershed Condition Framework

Authors: Joshua Hicks, Marlies Wierenga, Mike Anderson, J.D.
Reviewers: Vera Smith, Bethanie Walder, Greg Aplet, Ph.D., Adam Rissien

In August 2009, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared that restoring watershed and forest health would be the primary emphasis of the U.S. Forest Service’s management of national forests and grasslands.A little over a year later, the Forest Service launched two major restoration initiatives: the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF) and the Travel Analysis Process (subpart A of the Travel Management Rule).

The WCF is designed to implement integrated restoration on priority watersheds on national forests and grasslands. The purpose of the WCF is to improve aquatic and terrestrial conditions at a watershed level that Forest Service management activities can influence. Under the WCF, each forest and grassland is to develop Watershed Restoration Action Plans (WRAPs) that identify specific projects necessary to improve watershed condition. The Travel Analysis Process is designed to reduce impacts from the agency’s extensive and deteriorating road and trail system. This initiative requires staff in each national forest and grassland unit to conduct a science-based analysis to identify both unneeded roads for  decommissioning and the recommended minimum road system necessary to meet the management needs identified in the unit’s Land and Resource Management Plan.The Washington Office directed units to complete two WRAPs by 2011 and the Travel Analysis Process by 2015, and required that the WCF integrate the Travel Analysis Process and vice versa.

We believe that making watershed restoration a Forest Service priority is important. We also believe that addressing the deteriorating road system is a key component of improving watershed health. In this vein, we reviewed 39 first-round WRAPs across four Forest Service regions – the Northern Rockies Region (Region 1), Southwest Region (Region 3), Intermountain Region (Region 4), and Pacific Northwest Region (Region 6) – primarily to assess the extent to which units are integrating WRAPs with the Travel Analysis Process as well as how effectively WRAPs address hydrologic impacts related to roads and trails. Questions we considered include:

  • If the unit had completed the Travel Analysis Process, did the WRAP implement the travel analysis recommendations?
  • If the unit did not have a complete Travel Analysis Process report, how did the WRAP address impacts from roads and trails (if identified as a watershed stressor)?
  • If the unit did not have a complete Travel Analysis Process report, did the WRAP include a placeholder for recommendations when the results become available?
  • In general, are the essential projects in the WRAP linked to the identified watershed stressors

This paper captures our findings and offers recommendations for ensuring the two initiatives are integrated, recognizing that some of that integration may be iterative.