The S.C.A.'s Projects, Programs, and Issues - Archives
PEND OREILLE RIVER WATERSHED
PRIEST LAKE STATE FOREST PROJECTS
Updated March 21, 2009
Gate Status Survey: The Priest Lake State Forest (PLSF) covers 186,000 acres just east of Priest Lake, Idaho, and is transected by hundreds of miles of roads. Road access is regulated by gates, and gate design is crucial to the effectiveness in preventing motorized travel beyond it. The PLSF is owned by the State of Idaho and managed mainly by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), primarily a logging support function.
In the summer of 2008, Selkirk Conservation Alliance (SCA) employee Mike Connors undertook a gate survey of the PLSF. The goal was to evaluate the effectiveness of gates overall in motorized vehicle management and how that management affects the natural resources with PLSF, especially grizzly bear for which it is documented in the scientific literature that roads are a negative factor. Actually, grizzly bears tend to avoid a buffer adjacent to roads, almost any road, with actively used roads being the worst in terms of affecting habitat values.
Mike was not able to determine the miles of roads on PLSF. (For that, stay tuned for updates on our GIS PLSF project - see below.) He did, however, determine that approximately 137 gates exist on PLSF – 24 more than shown on IDL maps. Mike was able to determine, also, that PLSF gates provide a minimal level of protection for sensitive resources with less than 10% (13 of 137) actually barred against all motorized vehicle entry.
There are 29 gates (of the 137 total) within grizzly bear habitat, at least within what is known as the State Bear Management Unit. Six of these gates are entirely in the northern part of PLSF and meant, primarily, to protect grizzly bear habitat; however, this survey discovered that 2 (33%) of these were actually open and three (50%) showed evidence of recent motorized use beyond them – not effective!! That left 23 gates, still in the State Bear Management Unit that, by design, are open to motorcycle and ATV use beyond the gates even when they are closed. Why you ask? Because these gates are designed with a simple two posts – one post-post bar and a short angle support bar. They are designed to stop multi-passenger vehicles and nothing else.
SCA has submitted our report to IDL, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game and other agencies. SCA included eight recommendations to IDL, perhaps the easiest to accomplish being to retrofit all gates within the Bear Management Unit to stop all motorized vehicles beyond them. This will not affect IDL’s mission and it would provide needed protection to grizzly bears. IDL did respond to our study report and SCA will let you know whether progress is made or not on this gates issue.
Posted July 2008
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project: SCA is working with Gonzaga University to develop a GIS project on the Priest Lake State Forest. This project is assessing the roads system within the State Forest and looking at the total road system, closed versus open, reportedly closed but in unauthorized use, etc. When completed, this GIS layer will provide an interesting comparison with roads data reported by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL which manages this State Forest).
It will, also, provide the basis for a crucial grizzly bear security analysis update for the Priest Lake State Forest Grizzly Bear Management Unit (GBMU). Finally, this project will look at the standing timber volume issue, i.e. how much area is actually available to IDL for logging versus how much is reported. The most positive outcome would be for this data to verify the IDL data. However, we anticipate it will reveal significant errors that, whether intentional or not, have the potential to devastate crucial habitat for grizzly bear, mountain caribou, bull trout and other sensitive resources.
SCA will use the results of this project to motivate IDL to complete its unconscionably delayed Habitat Conservation Plan (now over 5 years) and to complete a plan that will provide significant protection to the sensitive resources of the Priest Lake State Forest
CARIBOU AERIAL MONITORING PROGRAM
Operating under the assumption that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, SCA began, five years ago, an aerial monitoring program that has been instrumental in photo-documenting the increasing onslaught of motorized "thrill-craft" into once-pristine wildlife habitat.
The hundreds of aerial photographs, compiled over a period of years is compelling evidence of the impacts such machines are having on the Selkirk Mountains threatened mountain caribou population for instance... the most endangered large mammal in North America.
Introduced into court, and buttressed by the expert testimony of highly respected caribou research biologists, our photographs played a major role in last year's court victory which resulted in protection of crucial habitat for caribou as well as the creation of a critical migration corridor or connecting link from Canada to the southern boundary of the US portion of the Woodland Caribou Recovery Area.
The pressure to reopen portions of the restricted area to snowmobiles will not soon end however as the Forest Service, responsive to motorized thrill seekers and individuals with an economic interest in expanding motorized recreation in caribou habitat, will almost certainly attempt to undermine the court ruling by crafting a new Winter Travel Plan that will cater to snowmobilers at the expense of caribou and other wildlife. The draft Winter Travel Plan should be out for public review in late August or early fall. You are urged to review and submit comments back to the Forest Service. Your involvement counts!
SCA, in concert with the Idaho Conservation League and Advocates for the West, and armed with this winter's photographs, is prepared to head back to court with irrefutable proof of continued illegal motorized incursions into closed areas.
IDAHO'S NORTHERN GRAY WOLVES
Posted August 2, 2008
Against the wishes of the Idaho State government as well as sheep and cattle ranchers, some deer and elk hunters and other citizens, the northern gray wolf was reintroduced into Idaho about 10 years ago. Except for in the Panhandle, wolves had been exterminated from the state.
When wolves were eradicated from most of Idaho, the ecology changed. Historically, wolves evolved in conjunction with somewhat balanced populations of native deer, elk, moose, antelope, and other species. Reintroduced wolves entered ecosystems dominated by white-tailed deer and elk (preferred by hunters), and sheep and cattle raised by ranchers. Wolves were reintroduced into an unnatural ecosystem of wild ungulates (deer and elk) that had, to some degree, lost their predator avoidance behavior and to domestic livestock.
Wolf populations expanded quickly and dramatically, at the expense of native and domestic prey. Then, it wasn’t only wolves howling! There were plenty of cries from hunters and ranchers. Idaho government officials, who include plenty of both, maintained an anti-wolf stance. Along with Montana and Wyoming, Idaho convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that de-listing of this species as threatened was in order, and that the States would provide management of wolves adequate to retain them in perpetuity.
An Idaho wolf management plan was prepared and submitted for public review. Because we saw it as not very good, pandering shamelessly to anti-wolf sentiment and not even factually correct, SCA provided extensive comments, as did hundreds of other organizations and individuals. A revised plan came out that seemed a little better.
Then, Idaho prepared its wolf hunting program. The hunting goals, i.e. proposed wolf deaths, were based on data not included in the wolf management plan on which SCA commented, but on unpublished data not made available to the public. Wolf hunting numbers were based on population growth figures never recorded in the wild for Idaho wolf populations. To exacerbate the situation, the Fish and Game Commission decided to add an additional 100 wolves to the hunting program with no scientific basis. Hunters were allowed 438 wolves of the approximately 1,000 in Idaho – almost 50% mortality. Comments were ignored; SCA complaints to the Director of IDFG received no response.
Fortunately, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to de-list wolves and turn management over to state governments was appealed in federal court by 12 conservation organizations, using Earthjustice as the environmental attorney firm. Earthjustice sought a stay of the federal government’s decision. They won; we won; best of all, the wolves won a stay of execution – literally. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are considering their options but none of their options seem to consider managing wolves in a responsible fashion. The options are weighed on political ramification, not on recommendations made by field biologists. IDFG biologists know how to manage wolves appropriately; they are not allowed to do so.
SCA was not a co-plaintiff in the original litigation and it is unlikely that we will be actively involved in the continuing court case, if that occurs. However, we will monitor what happens, and be supportive those involved, especially those under attack – the wolves. We’ll do what we can do, with your support.
PRIEST LAKE STATE FOREST TIMBER SALES FOR 2010
Posted March 21, 2009
SCA combined with the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) to provide comprehensive comments on the Idaho Department of Lands proposed logging for 2010. We focused on projects with predictable negative effects to Class I streams, such as Waffling Bear, Horton Breaks OSR, Hunters Echo Airstrip Thin, Lower Devil and Thinning Uleda. We took exception to the 75’ buffer (SPZ) provided by the State (per the Forest Protection Act) for Class I steams and the 50’ buffer (SPZ) for Class II streams as a means to protect stream quality, etc. We noted that the State has consistently refused to provide the scientific basis (if any exists) for these standards versus the much higher protection afforded by the federal government on adjacent lands of 300’ for Class I streams.
We also noted that the 2010 proposed Luckier Log sale (with 11 separate sites) and the Hunters Echo sale (with seven separate sites) are both within grizzly bear habitat, based on the boundaries of the State Bear Management Unit and they would introduce 2.5 miles of new road and an additional 3.5 miles of reconstructed roads into grizzly bear habitat. It was pointed out that new sales will only add more ineffective gates in grizzly bear habitat that would allow motorcycle and ATV use beyond them.
Recommendations made by SCA and ICL:
SULLIVAN DAM SURRENDER PROJECT
Posted March 21, 2009
Sullivan Lake (1,240 acres) sits on the east slope of the Selkirk Mountains and is fed by incoming waters of Noisy and Harvey Creeks. It’s been a lake for a long time but its elevation was raised by placement of a small dam at Outlet Creek in 1931. Another much smaller impoundment, Mill Pond (80.5 acres), was created downstream at that time by placement of another small dam – Millpond Dam. A wooden flume 12,500 ft. long and leading from Mill Pond to the Metaline Falls powerhouse was part of the project.
The Sullivan Dam Project produced electricity for the town of Metaline Falls until 1956 when other sources became available and cheaper. Sullivan Lake stores and releases around 31,000 acre-feet annually and is an important fishing recreation site in Northestern Washington. Mill Pond supports a smaller fishing and camping experience. Sullivan Creek, which flows from Mill Pond Dam eventually makes it way to the Pend Oreille River/Reservoir immediately at the Metaline Falls bridge. Sullivan Creek is the largest creek flowing into Boundary Reservoir and is considered by fisheries biologists as the #1 stream for reintroduction of endangered bull trout that no longer spawn within any of the streams flowing into the reservoir.
The various structures described above are owned by the Pend Oreille Public Utilities District (PUD) which has, at times, considered renewing the power generating capabilities of the project. More recently, the PUD has decided to give up on power-making at this site and find ways to minimize its financial responsibilities for the dams, etc. Because the project was and is licensed by the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC), the PUD must “surrender” its license through a regulated process overseen and ultimately approved by FERC.
In order to accomplish this effectively and to minimize the probability of legal objections and lawsuits, the PUD joined forces with the Colville National Forest (which manages the public lands upon which the Project sits) to establish a collaborative process that would include appropriate parties, including conservation organizations and the general public. The Selkirk Conservation Alliance is a member of the negotiation team along with The Lands Council of Spokane, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Dept. of Ecology, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, American Whitewater, Seattle City Light, Pend Oreille County and several participating residents of that county.
This group of people and organizations is considering all sorts of possible future scenarios in terms of dam retention, dam release patterns, stream flow patterns, stream restoration, possible fish passage, future fishing potential, etc., etc. Information generated by the negotiation team is shared with the public through press releases and public meetings. Meeting schedules and a lot other of information are available at the Sullivan Surrender process website.
BOUNDARY DAM RE-LICENSING PROJECT
SCA has been involved in the Boundary Dam re-licensing since early 2007. Originally constructed in the mid-1950s, Boundary Dam is about 300 feet high and it's somewhat logical that there are no fish passage structures. (But read further on that issue.) Boundary Dam is owned by the City of Seattle and run by Seattle City Light (SCL). SCL has been working with FERC and stakeholders since 2006 to provide for relicensing.
A sweeping series of studies were undertaken in 2007 and are ongoing in 2008. Studies on hydraulic routing, total dissolved oxygen, toxics, fish movement and distribution, fish stranding and trapping, waterfowl use of the reservoir, water quality, entrainment (passage) of fish through the turbines, etc. SCA provided extensive comments to FERC on the Revised Study Plan (prior to field studies taking place) and has been involved on a regular and ongoing basis through funding provided by the Hydropower Reform Coalition in review and comments on the studies. In early 2008, SCA initiated negotiations with SCL to begin the discussion of protections, mitigations and enhancements
Although SCL is reluctant to break into the linear schedule they had established and which relegated such discussions into late 2008 at the earliest, other stakeholders do support SCA's proposal for early PM&E proposals that will be complex and require significant discussion and negotiation.
The Selkirk Conservation Alliance was requested by the Hydropower Reform Coalition to be the non-governmental organization responsible for providing oversight to this re-licensing process with a special emphasis on natural resources issues. Jerry R, Boggs, Ph.D., is our representative and has already provided significant comment to FERC on the Revised Study Plan. Comments focused on the above two issues but, also, included issues relating to plans for the Fish Distribution, Timing and Abundance Study; Fish Entrainment and Habitat Connectivity Study; Waterfowl/Waterbird Study; Rare, Threatened and Endangered (RTE) Plant Species Inventory; RTE Wildlife Species Study, Bat Surveys and Habitat Inventory; Recreation Resource Study; and, the Lands and Road Study.
This is an ongoing process that will occur over the next couple of years. Right now, we're in a holding pattern while FERC determines the Final Study Plan. Stay tuned.
ALBENI FALLS DAM
Posted July 2008
The Pend Oreille River flows not very far out of Lake Pend Oreille before passing through Albeni Falls Dam for energy creation. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps). Albeni Falls Dam was constructed in 1955 and produces 200 million KW of electricity/year. Although a log chute was included in its design, no allowances were made for migratory fish (common in that era). In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a Biological Opinion that required the Army Corps to carry out a determination that reads: “The action agencies shall evaluate the feasibility of reestablishing bull trout passage at Albeni Falls Dam.” The Army Corps made very slow progress over the next several years. In 2007, SCA placed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Army Corps to discover what, if any, progress had been made in the last six to seven years. Almost simultaneously, SCA made formal inquiry to the Service to find out why that agency was apparently in dereliction of its duties to ensure the Army Corps did meet its Endangered Species Act obligations under the 2000 Biological Opinion.
Without getting into cause and effect determinations, SCA is happy to report that the Army Corps is now actively evaluating the feasibility of fish passage over Albeni Falls Dam. Monthly phone conferences have been established by the Corps to disseminate project information to all stakeholders on a regular basis. A two-day workshop, held in early June of 2008, allowed all stakeholders and the Army Corps to work together on the design of fish passage structures specific for upstream and downstream passage of bull trout and west slope cutthroat trout. The Kalispel Tribe of Indians from Usk, Washington are contracted to carry out fish movement and other studies on bull trout that are relevant to the recovery of bull trout in general and to the fish passage feasibility study at Albeni Falls Dam in particular.
Additional field trips are planned to Thompson Falls Dam in August 2008 as well as a field meeting in September at Albeni Falls Dam itself. Progress is being made. The mega-habitat for bull trout that was so dramatically degraded in the 1950s is making its first steps toward at least partial recovery.
Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River. Photo: Idaho Department of Water Resources.
BOX CANYON DAM
Updated March 21, 2009
This small hydropower dam, located at river mile 34.41 on the Pend Oreille River, is only 62.4 feet high and produces 69 megawatts yearly. Constructed in 1956, it did not include any fish passage. Developed and managed by the Pend Oreille Public Utilities District (PUD), the recent relicensing has been very contentious, but recent settlement has been reached between the PUD, federal and state governments and the Kalispel Tribe. It is available on the PUD’s website.
The PUD has agreed to fish passage of some kind. It might be as simple as “trap and haul” which is just like it sounds. They also agreed to a Trout Habitat Restoration Program that will restore 164 miles of tributary habitat within the next 25 years in the Calispell, Cee Cee Ah, Cedar, LeClerc, Indian, Mill, Ruby, and Tacoma creek watersheds.
“Restoration” of each stream segment will include some or all of the following measures as determined necessary by experts: channel improvements (limited to geomorphologic improvements and barrier removal), floodplain restoration, riparian corridor restoration, fencing, conservation easements and/or purchases, non-native fish removal and reintroduction of target fish species. This adds a huge chunk of habitat and impetus to the recovery of bull trout within the Pend Oreille River watersheds. With additional success at Albeni Falls Dam and Boundary Dam, it may be possible within a few decades that bull trout will once again swim throughout their historic range in the Columbia basin.
LAKE PEND OREILLE: PARTNERS FOR MILFOIL CONTROL
Posted March 21, 2009
SCA is a partner in a coalition of groups working to acquire funding for Eurasian milfoil (an exotic) control. Partners for Milfoil Control or PMC is comprised of SCA, Idaho Conservation League, Panhandle Environmental League, Tri-State Water-Quality Council and the Sandpoint Mothers for Safe Water. This group has already secured significant funding for a biological control project in Lake Pend Oreille.
Biological control, not eradication, is proposed through supplementation of the native milfoil weevil population, giving natural populations an ability to prey upon Eurasian water milfoil. Lake Pend Oreille milfoil weevils are tiny little insects that feed on the stem juices of milfoil. They feed individually and it is a major task to collect enough adult weevils from (underwater) stems to form up a breeding colony. Each weevil female produces only a few eggs per day once she is laying; it takes about 30 days from egg to egg-laying adult. So, it’s not easy to develop a colony of breeding adults that will turn out the thousands of weevil larvae and eggs that are needed to supplement natural populations on Lake Pend Oreille Eurasian milfoil patches.
That’s what PMC is trying to accomplish to replace the harsh chemical treatments that go on year after year and, also, do not eradicate this pest in the lake. It may become possible this year to develop a corollary effort for Priest Lake. This is undecided although an attractive possibility.
Lake Pend Oreille seen from Schweitzer Mountain. Photo: Kristie Sherrodd
PRIEST LAKE MILFOIL SURVEY
Posted July 2008
For a number of years, SCA has been involved in Eurasian milfoil surveys of Priest Lake. Eurasian milfoil has been found in a variety of places in each year of survey since 2006, e.g. in the Bear Creek Wetlands and in the Kaniksu Resort area.
With the aid of volunteers and expert Sharon Sorby, the Selkirk Cooperative Weed Management Area Chair, SCA organized a training program for monitors to look for and identify Eurasian Milfoil. This highly destructive invasive aquatic plant is infesting lakes and rivers across the northwest and is enormously expensive to control unless infestations are discovered and removed before they become firmly established. Keeping the invasive variety of milfoil out of Priest Lake is a high priority for SCA and we will expand our monitoring program next summer.
Monitoring, however, is only part of the solution. SCA is advocating a mandatory boat cleaning program as the weed is routinely spread by plant fragments attached to boats arriving from other infested lakes and rivers. Jet skis and jet boats are particularly problematic since plant parts are retained in the engine intake and thus easily exhausted into pristine waters. SCA would like to see prohibition of these machines until it can be established that they can be adequately cleaned. We will continue to monitor this problem and with prompt attention and a proactive management plan, we may be able to protect Priest Lake from further infestation.
PRIEST LAKE WATER QUALITY MONITORING
Posted July 2008
In July of 2007, SCA formally requested, from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), help in setting up a Priest Lake Citizen's Water Quality Monitoring Program. SCA sent a letter to DEQ Water Quality Manager Ed Tulloch requesting DEQ's help in providing equipment and funding laboratory analysis of water samples.
In February of this year we did hear from DEQ and they will help SCA with training and lab fees, but the program depends on reliable volunteers to periodically test water quality in Priest Lake. To that end, SCA has formed a Citizens' Volunteer Monitoring Program. This project will compile data useful in protecting Priest Lake's renowned water purity and serve as an early warning tool in identifying hazards before they become insurmountable.
In 2008, SCA purchased a dissolved oxygen/temperature monitoring meter for volunteers to use when monitoring the water quality on Priest Lake. We are exploring the possibility of another meter for use on southern Priest Lake. Volunteers, in coordination with DEQ, have worked this project throughout this summer and are providing not only temperature and dissolved oxygen readings to DEQ but also water samples for lab analysis.