Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Salmon headwaters protection proposed

Click on any graphic in this article to see a larger version.
The most distant extent of occupied salmon and steelhead waters within the Columbia River drainage has for decades endured some of the most pronounced road related impacts remaining with The Salmon River headwaters area.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) has proposed to close 2.5 miles of an existing road that fords, encroaches on and even shares the channel with a portion of the upper most reaches of the flowing Salmon River. Four wheel vehicle travel criss-crosses the river causing chronic erosion, scours and washouts.  The road has even been known to "capture" the river.

"This road alignment has proved neither appropriate nor sustainable," said Joby Timm, Area Ranger for the SNRA.

The SNRA proposal would replace the existing road with a new single-track motorized trail and relocate the Headwaters Trailhead to the Chemeketan Campground which is located approximately 3 miles south of Hwy 75 on Forest Road #215.

Public scoping on the proposal were taken from March 8-April 8, 2013.  SNRA Resource Managers and Planners are now evaluating comments to decide whether the project will need a full Environmental Analysis or if a "Finding of No Significant Impact" can be justified.

If the SNRA proposal becomes a project, the existing road would remain open until the new trail could be constructed.  If funding is available, the changes could be implemented no sooner than the summer or fall of 2014.

If funding is not secured within the SNRA budget, success of the project would depend on the support of possible inter-agency, inter-governmental and public-private partnerships.

To help our readers better understand the location and scope of this project, we present below a variety of graphics.  Ranger Timm's official March 8th Scoping Letter is reprinted here verbatim in italics.  (NOTE: Figures 1-3 are not shown in this article. Photos 1-6 are below the letter. See additional graphics below the photo page.)

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are considering a project that may be of interest to you. The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the proposal and provide you an opportunity for comments or questions. Your input is important to us as we begin the analysis of this project in order to help us determine if, or how, it will be implemented.

Currently, Road 70215 beyond (south) of Chemeketan Campground (T6N, R14E, Sections 14, 23, 26, and 35; Blaine County; Figures 1, 2, and 3) follows the valley bottom for the majority of its length, passing through wet meadows (Photo 5), and fording, encroaching, or sharing the channel of the Salmon River (Photos 3 and 4) in several locations. The final ½ mile leaves the bottom, but intersects and fords several side tributaries (Photo 2), as well as the Salmon River one last time. These chronic conditions have existed for several decades, deteriorating substantially at times, such as when the road has captured a segment of river (Photo 3). Avoidance of these scour points or washout segments by road users has also resulted in the slow migration of the road alignment within the valley bottom through time, often creating new conflicts. As such, this road alignment has proved neither appropriate nor sustainable within this valley bottom location

The Sawtooth NRA proposes to relocate the existing Headwaters Trailhead approximately 2½ miles north to the proximity of Chemeketan Campground (Figure 3). This new trailhead would become the terminus of Headwaters Road 70215. A new single-track motorized trail would connect this new trailhead location with the existing motorized Mule Creek Trail (7198) (i.e. trail served by the existing trailhead). The new trail segment would be aligned off the valley bottom, on the gentle to moderate lower east slopes until reconnecting with the existing Trail 7198 (Figure 3, and Photo 6). Beyond the new trailhead, the existing road, as well as a short segment of existing trail, would be closed and natural conditions rehabilitated using established methods, including the locations where the road currently fords or intersects the Salmon River and its source tributaries.

The new trailhead facilities would be designed and established to accommodate a demand commensurate with the existing trailhead, and in recognition of the nearby Chemeketan Campground. If pursued, the proposed changes would be implemented no sooner than summer/fall 2014. The existing system routes would remain open until the new trail and trailhead is complete and ready for use.

The restoration objectives would occur during the fall when site conditions are at their seasonal driest and site restoration efforts are most effective.
These changes are intended to address the chronic resource impacts, while continuing to provide the recreation opportunities common in the area, in sustainable locations. The Sawtooth Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (2012) prescribes Active Restoration and Maintenance of Aquatic,Terrestrial & Hydrologic Resources for the general area containing the project. It also specifically directs objectives that will reduce road related sediment delivery to waterways, including: "modify localized portions of roads and trails within the Salmon River headwaters" (Objective 249). The Salmon River in its headwaters is also designated critical habitat for three species of ESA-protected fish: Snake River Chinook salmon and steelhead, and Columbia River bull trout. For salmon and steelhead, these habitats, near Chemeketan Campground, are the most distant extent of occupied salmon waters within the Columbia River drainage. These road conditions undermine this important habitat, and constitute some of the most pronounced road related impacts remaining within the headwater area.

Our planning is currently underway. A decision regarding the proposal is expected in 2013. The Responsible Official for the decision to be made is Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger, Joby Timm. Your feedback regarding this proposal would be most helpful if received by the project leader, Mark Moulton, by April 8, 2013. Please be aware that comments received, including the names and addresses of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record and will be available for public inspection.

Below is the official SNRA graphic depicting the proposed project. 
Additional notes appear below each graphic.

 This is a Google Earth view looking in a northerly perspective.  The red "X" marks Chemeketan Campground.  The Salmon River technically heads on the slopes of an unnamed peak shown as "Y"  The name "Chemeketa" is said to be a Native American word which roughly translates as "meeting place."
 Above is a view looking in a southerly perspective from Chemeketan Campround into the very highest headwaters of The Salmon River.
 Here is a topo from Acme Maps showing the uppermost headwaters of The Salmon River.  If you look closely, you can see how the Headwaters Trail and what is now the Mule Creek Trail #7198 interact with the terrain to cross the watershed divide between the Salmon and Boise River basins.
Finally, here is one more Acme Map.  The red "X" is Chemeketan Campground.  The SNRA proposal essentially wants to protect the fragile areas of the uppermost headwaters of The Salmon River.

(Editor's Note: "Salmon River News" has written an editorial about this project.  Click here to read it.)

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