Wilderness Watch Questions Landscaping Proposal for the Pasayten Wilderness

From Wilderness Watch:

Wilderness Watch is urging the Forest Service (FS) to abandon its proposal to plant whitebark pine in the Pasayten Wilderness in Washington. None of the reasons the FS gives in its Quartz Mountain Whitebark Pine Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) appear to be valid. The EA states, “There is a need to establish a whitebark pine seed source…for natural regeneration to occur.” It also notes, “…no tree seedlings were observed on the former whitebark site and it is therefore unlikely that whitebark pine will naturally regenerate in the area.” This clearly leads the public to believe there are no living whitebark pines in the area. However, the EA goes on to contradict the earlier statement by saying there are “surviving whitebark pines in the Quartz Mountain area.”

The Quartz Mountain fire that killed whitebark pines was a natural event, and it may take decades for seedlings to be reestablished (a fact recognized by the Whitebark Pine Foundation). The project would have a significant negative impact on the Pasayten Wilderness. Wilderness Watch told the Forest Service to let natural processes—fire, Clark’s nutcrackers, rains, and wind—determine the extent of whitebark pine regeneration. Wilderness is about wildness and that includes letting nature determine when and where seedlings will be re-established. Any experiment of this type should be confined to non-Wilderness lands.

Read Wilderness Watch’s comments here.

8 Comments

  1. Really? Planting seedlings would have a “significant negative impact”? Come on….planting is an ancient technology and does not violate the Wilderness Act.

    IMHO. Wilderness Watch needs to find more serious threats to Wilderness..I’ve seen bike tracks going in, for example…

    • Do you think, Sharon, that Wilderness Watch isn’t engaged in issues dealing with illegal bike tracks going into Wilderness Areas? Pretty positive they are. In fact, if you’ve seen bike tracks going into Wilderness I’d suggest reporting the illegal activity to the Forest Service, and cc’ing Wilderness Watch.

      If “planting seedlings” is an “ancient technology” than couldn’t we also say that cutting down trees is an ancient technology? Where is the threshold for what should, and should not, be allowed in our designated Wilderness areas?

      • Matt: I’m in agreement that both planting and harvesting trees (and camas and huckleberries, etc.) are ancient technologies. I know we are not in agreement when I say both should be allowed — even encouraged — in Wilderness areas. Particularly when there is significant evidence of past human activities. I like your photos of biking elk, but we are probably in agreement that if there are going to be Wildernesses based on current perspectives, then bikes and all wheeled vehicles (excluding disabled visitors) should be banned. I feel the same way about horses (sorry, Sharon) and dogs. I am no fan of current Wilderness designations or management policies, though, as you probably already know.

  2. OK, I will stop comparing it to bikes.

    I just think this (complaining about this project) is a silly use of time, resources and goodwill. Not to speak of the severe case of hyperbolic dysfunction cited above.

    There is a Wilderness statute and regulations, and I thought that’s what we went by in managing wilderness areas (or tried to). I doubt (but I could be wrong) if there is anything negative about planting trees, since I know this has been discussed internally. Especially ones that feed endangered wildlife.

    Here’s an excerpt from the EA found here:

    The proposed planting is in Management Area 15B. The goal for this Management Area is to “Maintain a predominately unmodified primitive environment within designated wilderness with a variety of trail opportunities.” The standards and guidelines for vegetation in this land allocation are:
    • MA15B-22A There should be no long-term modification of natural plant succession as a result of human activities on areas outside campsites, administrative sites, and designated trail tread. Acceptable modifications are those which can recover in one growing season.
    • MA15B-19F Insect or disease outbreaks shall not be artificially controlled unless it is necessary to prevent unacceptable resource damage to resources on adjacent lands or an unnatural loss to the wilderness resource. If control becomes necessary, it shall be carried out by measures that have the least adverse impact on the wilderness resource and are compatible with wilderness objectives.

    The trees, important to grizzlies, were apparently killed in a wildfire.

    Natural whitebark pine regeneration is dependent on the seed-caching habits of Clark’s nutcracker. Clark’s nutcrackers are inefficient seed disperser, since their primary objective in caching whitebark pine seeds is to eat them. The current rate of decline in whitebark pine is exceeding the ability of the Clark’s nutcracker to keep up with regeneration needs to ensure long-term persistence of the species.

    In northeast Washington, 75% of whitebark pine habitat exists in designated Wilderness. Climate change models show the Pasayten Wilderness as the place with the greatest chance of maintaining whitebark pine on the landscape in Washington State. The Pasayten Wilderness, however, has not escaped the effects of fire suppression or the introduction of the non-native fungus, white pine blister rust. These threats, combined with climate change and mountain pine beetle invasion, may eventually weaken and destroy even the most remote populations of whitebark pine in the Pasayten unless some management action is taken.

    The situation that prompted this action is the unnatural loss of whitebark pine in the Pasayten Wilderness, and the lack of capacity for natural regeneration. This situation is, at least in part, due to human influences. In 2002, large wildfires consumed much of the whitebark pine habitat in the vicinity of Quartz Mountain. The intensity of the fires was such that some stands have not begun regenerating. It is estimated that approximately 628 acres of actual mature whitebark pine stand was consumed by these fires. During a field visit in 2012, no tree seedlings were observed on the former whitebark site and it is therefore unlikely that whitebark pine will naturally regenerate in the area.

    I’m hoping we don’t need a discussion of whether a given fire is natural or unnatural, though.

  3. So Matt, if you would (humor me), could you tell us what actions you would like to/expect to see from an ESA listing of WBP???

    Why is it OK to transplant one TES species (even in wilderness areas) and not others?

    • There is no legitimate wilderness reason for this proposal. Whitebark pines still occur on Quartz Mountain, according to the EA. which states, “Most of the surviving whitebark pines in the area are young trees, not yet of reproducing age.” Whitebark pines are not extinct from the Pasayten Wilderness or even Quartz Mountain so the question of a transplant is not relevant. Another problem with this bizarre proposal is that it will take decades to determine if this experiment, for that is what it is, will even work. There is no analysis of the amount or viability of whitebark pine stands in the area or wilderness. Simply put, it has nothing to do with a legitimate recovery plan for a species and everything to do with manipulating wilderness. Finally, while planting a few acres of whitebark pine might not be a big deal in most cases, it represents the antithesis of what the Wilderness Act and wilderness represents. As the Act’s author reminded us, the role of wilderness stewards is that of guardian, not gardener. Showing restraint is how we honor and respect Wilderness.

      • I would be in favor of a “commensurate with human impacts” sort of “mitigation”. The value to the habitat is very high, and we shouldn’t be leaving its fate to “whatever happens”. We need to be both pro-active and reactive as options come and go. A well-stocked seed bank should be maintained, too.

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