Conservation Northwest aims to protect and connect the big landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. But the only way to achieve this big-picture goal is to focus in on smaller areas of important habitat that need protection and restoration.

We’re doing just that in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, by working closely with the Forest Service to close down unnecessary forest roads (also known as road decommissioning).

This work is helping to protect an important habitat linkage for wildlife like mule deer and Canada lynx to move between the North Cascades and the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington. It is also boosting the long-term health of our riparian corridors and creating fire-resilient landscapes for the benefit of human communities and wildlife populations. 

This year, we focused on closing down old roads that were in close proximity (300 feet or less) to streams and other bodies of water, as well as in areas that were recovering from the massive wildfires of 2014. Old roads are notorious for eroding into waterways, which increases sedimentation and threatens the health of aquatic ecosystems and fish. 

Photo by George Wooten, Conservation Northwest

A road near Benson Creek, pre-decommissioning. 

Photo by George Wooten, Conservation Northwest

A contractor works to shut down the road near Benson Creek to improve habitat continuity.

Says George Wooten, Conservation Northwest’s Conservation Associate, “By closing off and revegetating these roads with native shrubs and seed, we’re creating plant structures that will better hold soil in place, lock water in the ground, and shade waterways to maintain cool water temperatures.” These ecological components will boost forest and aquatic resiliency in the future.

In coordination with the Forest Service, we hired local contractors to do the decommissioning work. We decommissioned 3.55 miles of road in the Methow Ranger District, and we worked to undo off-road vehicle damage near Benson Creek. While the numbers seem small, the rewards will be mighty! Every mile adds up to greater habitat linkage and forest resilience.

Wooten believes that road decommissioning is imperative to confronting ecological challenges that lay ahead. “We’ve seen intense wildfires over the past few years and expect more in the future. Closing off roads will make the forest stronger, let animals move between landscapes, and help protect local communities over the long-term as well.”

More than $50,000 in public and private contributions made this restoration work possible, including generous financial support from National Forest Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,  Orvis, Peach Foundation, Washington Women’s Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and our members.

National Forest Foundation