The Mission Restoration Project
When current and historical conditions in the Mission Project area were compared, it was found that ecosystem health and resiliency have declined. The areas identified to build a more resilient ecosystem are hydrologic function and aquatic habitat, soil productivity, vegetation composition and structure, wildlife habitat, sensitive plants and unique habitats, as well as wildfire hazards and transportation problems.
The project uses results of the Ecosystem Management Decision Support (EMDS) tools to identify vegetation, wildlife, and aquatic restoration; and wildfire hazard reduction needs at the stand and landscape level in the 50,200 acre project area.
Why this location?
In order to allow the Methow Ranger District staff the time to respond to the workload resulting from the Carlton Complex fire, the member organizations of the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative (NCWFHC) have invested in the Mission area to develop high quality information and restoration proposals that the Forest Service can analyze and consider to guide decisions about future management activities.
The Mission Project work area is the Buttermilk Creek and Libby Creek watersheds in Okanogan County approximately between Carlton and Twisp. This area has four important features that drive synergistic opportunities for management activities and would benefit from restoration work: habitat for endangered fish; unsustainable vegetation composition; vulnerable wildlife habitat; and opportunities for social and economic benefit.
“The Mission project area possesses exceptional fish and wildlife habitat values that contribute to the Methow Valley’s unique environmental quality and economic well-being. We want to help the Forest Service determine what are the most appropriate actions needed to restore healthier forest and watershed conditions and reduce the threat of disastrous fires and floods.”
“The Carlton Complex Fire burned over 70% of the South Summit Restoration Project that was only weeks away from being signed. What a set-back, so we asked how we can help. That is why we appreciate being invited by the Methow Valley Ranger District (MVRD) to explore potential restoration treatments in the Libby and Buttermilk Ck. watersheds while the MVRD prepared a post-fire South Summit II Restoration Project. I am so proud of our NCWFHC Project Workgroup for enthusiastically volunteering their time, knowledge and skills to provide ideas for ecologically and economically-sound restoration treatments for the MVRD to consider.”
Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek provide important habitat for Upper Columbia River Spring Run Chinook salmon, Upper Columbia River steelhead, and bull trout which are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, beaver habitat has been identified as a critical need for fisheries recovery and climate change adaptation throughout the Methow River and its tributaries. Protecting the watershed and aquatic ecosystem health and improving the currently impaired hydrologic and geomorphic processes in the Libby and Buttermilk sub-watersheds can support and complement efforts to recover these threatened fish and other native aquatic species.
Historically, the relatively dry portions of this landscape had more frequent fires that maintained canopies of trees and shrubs to be more open, allowing ground cover and grasses to diversify. Landscape analysis of the Mission project area indicates that the terrestrial ecosystem has been altered from its natural historic and modeled future range of variability. Past management practices such as timber harvest and fire exclusion over the past century have resulted in densely stocked forest stands that are susceptible to uncharacteristic outbreaks of insects, disease, and severe wildfire behavior. These conditions also limit the ability to control wildfires in the Wildland Urban Interface.
The Mission project area also has exceptional wildlife values. The project area includes the Lookout Mountain roadless area and the first documented wolf pack in the Cascade Mountains since the 1930s. Other rare and indicator species that use habitats in the project area include white-headed woodpeckers, flammulated owls, spotted owls, and western gray squirrels. In presettlement times, the habitat had more open canopies with larger diameter trees and grassy vegetation maintained by frequent fire. Past timber harvest and fire suppression has resulted in overstocking of small diameter trees and shrubs and loss of large trees. Ineffective road closures and unauthorized off-road vehicle use also impair habitat security.
Actively restoring healthier aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems can produce social and economic benefits for local communities. These benefits include employment and/or stewardship contracting opportunities, wood products, healthier watersheds, and reduced risk of uncharacteristic insect and disease impacts, which lead to uncharacteristic fire behavior.