Plans to block access to a popular gravel bar on the West Fork of the Humptulips River have been revived by the National Forest Service.

A letter from District Manager Dean Millet last Friday noted that after a 2015 meeting with concerned citizens, including State Representative Brian Blake, Grays Harbor County Commissioner Vickie Raines, and representatives of the Back Country Horsemen, no other alternatives were proposed to reach the goal of the West Fork Humptulips River Access Project, which seeks to protect what Millet calls a small stream fed by a small wetland.

State Representative Brian Blake and I stood near that stream during this interview last summer, when I said we were “just feet from the former location of a creek that almost shut down this access a couple years back. Coverage of that and constant contact with the Forest Service has kept it open but now…”

Blake responded, “I think I referred to it the last time we talked as a rivulet. It is now gone, it returned to its historical channel. The vehicle access for launching canoes, kayaks, drift boats and family camping has stabilized so all is well. Hopefully, we can convince the Forest Service not to destroy this important public access.”

Below are photos from our 2014 visit:

A briefing paper by Millet, and Fish Program Manager Robert Meztger, noted that the wetland mysteriously dried up last summer and blamed possible human intervention. The paper proposed damming the older stream because it was too steep for fish passage, restoring the stream that runs across the road, then closing the road because a stream runs across it.

The briefing also notes that the 2012 Olympic National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map does not designate the lower portion of the 2203-040 or the unauthorized road that accesses the river bar as a road open to motor vehicle use. 36 CFR 261.13 prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle on National Forest System lands on the Olympic National Forest other than in accordance with the MVUM designations.

Millet said in his email that the forest service feels their original plan is the best action. He said, “We have delayed the project for over two years in an attempt to respond to public concerns without much success.  We intend to implement this project as soon as conditions allow.”

The briefing said that they plan to start the project sometime this winter to “prevent vehicles from crossing and driving down the stream while maintaining recreational foot travel to the river. The unauthorized, user-created road would be blocked approximately 200 feet from the river bar with a rock and soil berm.” Millet added, “A small turnaround/parking area would be constructed at the road end.”

This project was funded in 2014 through Title II of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The project was recommended by the Grays Harbor sub-committee and the Olympic Peninsula RAC.

Pacific Northwest Region – Olympic National Forest

TITLE: West Fork Humptulips River Dispersed Access

ISSUE: Forest Service Road 2203-040 provides access to a dispersed recreation site on a gravel bar on the West Fork of the Humptulips River. The final portion of this access is on an unauthorized, user-created road that passes through a small stream. This stream connects a wetland with the West Fork Humptulips River. The wetland provides critical fish habitat for juvenile coho salmon and steelhead. Vehicle traffic through and down this stream is severely degrading aquatic habitat in the tributary stream, compromising fish passage between the river and the wetland, and contributing sediment directly into the West fork Humptulips River. The area has been identified as a “high priority” restoration need.

The proposed project would prevent vehicles from crossing and driving down the stream while maintaining recreational foot travel to the river. The unauthorized, user-created road would be blocked approximately 200 feet from the river bar with a rock and soil berm. A small turn around/parking area would be constructed at the road end. The existing unauthorized road would continue to provide a foot path to the river. The unauthorized road would be rehabilitated by reestablishing vegetation and improving fish habitat in the outlet stream. This project was funded in 2014 through Title II of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The project was recommended by the Grays Harbor sub-committee and the Olympic Peninsula RAC.

BACKGROUND:

Coho fry have been observed in the outlet stream channel moving up towards the wetland pond, and coho and steelhead juveniles were observed in the wetland, proving that the off-channel pond is productive fish habitat and the existing outlet channel is functioning as a migration corridor. We explored the idea of damming up the outlet stream and redirecting the flow out an old channel upstream rather than allowing it to flow across and down the unauthorized road. When the small outlet stream was temporarily dammed, it forced the outlet flow through the old channel which was very steep and partially underground. It would be very difficult or impossible for small fish to ascend the old channel to access the wetland. Blocking the existing outlet stream and redirecting the flow into the alternate channel would substantially reduce the effectiveness of the off-channel pond habitat by virtually eliminating juvenile fish access. Diverting the flow into the alternate channel would adversely affect coho and steelhead populations in the Humptulips River.

Observations during the late summer and fall have documented an obvious sediment deposition fan in the Humptulips River below the outlet of the small stream, caused by vehicle traffic driving down the stream channel. Steelhead are known to spawn in the mainstem within the immediate area. Sedimentation caused by vehicles crossing and driving down the small outlet stream is adversely affecting steelhead spawning habitat.

As of October 2016, the old stream channel upstream of the dispersed recreation site has been reopened and the wetland pond has been drained. All of the streamflow is now down the old channel that drops steeply into the WF Humptulips. Whether the change occurred naturally or the outlet channel was modified by humans attempting to dry out the unauthorized road down to the gravel bar is unknown. The current condition provides very little access to very limited off-channel habitat for juvenile salmon. It would be relatively easy to recreate the dam in the current channel to reestablish the wetland, the off-channel rearing habitat, and the outlet channel that provides much better access for juvenile fish once the unauthorized road is blocked and the vehicle access issues have been resolved.

FOREST PLAN AND REGULATORY ISSUES:

Off-channel ponds and wetland complexes such as this are very important for anadromous fisheries. Research has shown these off-channel overwintering areas are much more productive than most other habitats.

The Northwest Forest Plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) directs us to maintain existing functional aquatic habitats and to restore impaired aquatic habitats. This project addresses seven of nine ACS objectives such as maintaining diversity and complexity of habitat features, maintaining connectivity between habitats, restoring physical integrity of streambed and banks, restoring water quality, reducing sediment, maintaining water elevation in wetlands, and restoring riparian vegetation.

The end of FSR 2203-040, the unauthorized road that accesses the river bar, and the small stream that the unauthorized road crosses all lie within Riparian Reserve land allocation. Management actions within Riparian Reserves are intended to maintain or improve habitat for riparian-dependent species.

Forest Plan Standard & Guideline RM-2 requires us to “adjust dispersed or developed recreation practices that retard or prevent attainment of ACS objectives. Where adjustment measures such as education, use limitations, traffic control devices, increased maintenance, relocation of facilities, and/or specific site closures are not effective, eliminate the practice or occupancy.”

Forest Plan Standard & Guideline RF-3c requires us to “Meet ACS objectives by closing and stabilizing, or obliterating and stabilizing roads based on the ongoing and potential effects to ACS objectives and considering short-term and long-term transportation needs.”

The 2012 Olympic National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map does not designate the lower portion of the 2203-040 or the unauthorized road that accesses the river bar as a road open to motor vehicle use. 36 CFR 261.13 prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle on National Forest System lands on the Olympic National Forest other than in accordance with the MVUM designations.

Current dispersed camping policy for the Olympic National Forest includes the following:
* Vehicle use is allowed within 150 feet of an open road only to access dispersed campsites.
* Vehicle access is allowed only where an established route leads to an existing campsite.
* You may not move, go around, or go over barriers such as gates, rocks, berms, or signs.
* It is unlawful to construct roads or trails, as well as cut, damage, or harm any vegetation.
* Driving through streams or wetlands to access a camp on the far side is prohibited.

Washington State regulations require a permit for driving across streams or on wetted streambeds at areas other than established fords. Because there are no existing permits for established fords in the area, any operation of motor vehicles within the ordinary high water mark (bankfull channel) of the WF Humptulips or the salmon rearing tributary is not authorized and is subject to civil penalties.

STATUS: We plan to implement this project in winter 2016/2017.