Forest Protection and Watershed Restoration

Patrick Goldsworthy inspects a 9′ diameter stump in 1956.
Philip Zalesky photo, UW Archives

Forests define the North Cascades. Many other ranges have higher or more impressive mountains, but none, excepting perhaps the Olympics, have more impressive forests. From the very beginning, conservation in the North Cascades has been about protecting and preserving forests.

Forests are the living skin holding the mountains together, controlling water runoff, providing wildlife habitat, and even controlling the heights of the mountains themselves over geological timescales by balancing uplift and erosion. And few experiences can surpass that of simply being within one of the very impressive, old forests of the Cascades.

Starting in the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth, North Cascade forests were cut as fast as possible. Almost all of the valuable low elevation forests were privatized, often fraudulently, toward the end of the 19th century, and all those lands have now been cut.

National Forests were established early in the 20th century, mostly on higher elevation lands that the timber industry did not then want. Logging that started at tidewater gradually worked its way up all major valleys to high elevations by the 1970′s and 1980′s. A small but significant acreage of forests was preserved in Park and Wilderness areas, but by 1990 almost all of the richer lower elevation forests were cut, even on Federal lands. Many of the forests on public National Forest lands fell victim to taxpayer subsidized deficit sales. Rising public awareness of the value of what remained, along with legal efforts to protect old growth dependent species, managed to slow the frenzy of destruction just before everything was cut.

Photos and captions from
“Signs of the Times”

by John Warth, ca. 1960

Thanks to the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP,) adopted by the Clinton administration in 1994, cut levels on the National Forest lands of the Cascades are now just a small fraction of what they were prior to 1990. The NWFP has made more difference in saving more forests than all of the Park and Wilderness areas ever established in the Northwest put together. Since trees tend to grow quickly in the North Cascades, some low elevation valley areas have now grown back with naturally regenerated, mature second growth forests which are well on their way to becoming old growth.

Unfortunately, efforts have begun by the timber industry and others, to alter or eliminate the NWFP and push cut levels back up on the National Forests, often in the guise of “forest restoration.” And the legacy of decades of reckless highball logging, thousands of miles of crumbling logging roads, poses ever-increasing dangers to watersheds and fisheries.

Stream blowout
Photo by Kevin Geraghty
Howard Creek Old Growth
Photo by Mark Lawler

NCCC Goals

  • Protection of North Cascades forestlands from the logging and road building that would result from efforts to raise the timber cut on public lands. NCCC has played a large role in stopping so-called “old growth” legislation that would ostensibly protect old trees while greatly increasing cutting everywhere else.
  • Protection of North Cascades forests by insuring that new Wilderness or other protected areas contain the maximum amount possible of forest lands, particularly lower elevation forest lands.
  • Restoration of watersheds and fisheries damaged from decades of heavy logging and road building, by decommissioning roads, stabilizing watersheds, and allowing forests to regrow naturally.

Accomplishments to Date

NCCC has been working intensively to raise public awareness of the importance of North Cascades forests through numerous media articles. Conservation advocates and the public have been made more aware of the damaging effects of so-called “restoration” logging, and the massive roadbuilding that comes with it. NCCC has analyzed, commented on, intervened in, and appealed many National Forest timber sales, resulting in many damaging sales being stopped or greatly modified.

NCCC is also a founding member of, and leading contributor to the “Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative,” (WWRI) which seeks to address the serious problems presented by thousands of miles of crumbling logging roads on National Forest lands in the Cascades. Thanks to WWRI’s efforts, appropriations have been secured to help begin the process of dealing with these thousands of miles of collapsing roads.

NCCC is a leading advocate of including forests in new Wilderness areas. Thanks in large part to NCCC’s efforts, over 80,000 acres of forestlands are included in the 106,000 acre Wild Sky Wilderness, signed into law in 2008. The Wild Sky takes in approximately 60,000 acres of high elevation old growth, 14,000 acres of lowland old growth and 6,000 acres of lowland mature natural second growth, as well as nearly 25 miles of salmon spawning streams and rivers. The Wild Sky has a much larger percentage of lands under 3,000 feet (approximately 30%) than previously established Wilderness areas in the Cascades, which have approximately 6% in such lands. NCCC plans to work to insure similar levels of forest and river protection in future Wilderness efforts in places such as Mt. Baker and the “Seven Rivers” area south of the Skagit.

Current Issues and Activities

  • Educating the public and public officials regarding the values of natural forests, and advocating for new Wilderness areas containing a maximum of forest lands. NCCC has been closely involved in efforts currently before Congress to add more than 20,000 acres, most of it lowland old growth and mature second growth forests, to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie valleys.
  • Opposing damaging timber sales on National Forest lands.
  • Countering efforts to increase timber sales disguised as “restoration logging.”
  • Opposing so-called “old growth protection” bills that threaten to dramatically raise cut levels on National Forests.
  • Advocating for Congressional funding for the decommissioning and restoration of thousands of miles of unnecessary, collapsing old logging roads on National Forests across the North Cascades.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Volunteer to help with NCCC outreach activities to the public and public officials communicating forest protection values and advocating appropriate forest management.
  • Volunteer with NCCC forest and watershed protection advocates to monitor forest service activities and help prepare statements in opposition to damaging timber sales.
  • Join NCCC to advocate for continued and increased federal funding for decommissioning and/or restoring collapsing logging roads.

For more info email us at