One of the first tests for the new wood removal policy on the White Salmon River occurred successfully last week after Wet Planet received approval from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW).
Since Pacificorp dismantled Condit Dam last year, working groups, agency meetings and community Symposium discussions have helped a diverse group of stakeholders – fish biologists, whitewater rafters and kayakers, fisherman, land owners – create an approval system for log removal in the White Salmon River.
But the solutions have not come easy.
Wood in rivers has been debated among stakeholders even more so now that salmon swim up the free-flowing river. The debate is this:
1. Fish now migrating upstream find the pools and overhead cover created by logs essential to habitat for spawning.
2. Rafters and kayakers see logs as a death trap, an extreme hazard that often can not be avoided.
Of course both issues are not that simple. For example, removing logs in an unsafe and haphazard manner can lead to injury, or an even worse log jam downstream. However, not removing a log jam on a river so popular that it was ranked by New York Times to be one of 2013’s top 50 destinations can quickly lead to a bad situation.
Additionally, nowhere else have fishing interests, cultural resources, heavy recreation, and endangered species come together in this way, thus the debate is the first of its kind.
Wet Planet’s Stance
At Wet Planet, we have also been conflicted over the hot debate of wood removal.
We directly experience the enhancement of the river’s ecosystem as salmon return. We live here, we love this place, and we have taken our time to know and appreciate the life that the river sustains. We want to help preserve their habitat whenever possible.
Additionally, we are excited to see a returned cultural presence with Yakima Nation members returning to the watershed. The White Salmon River’s roots extend deep, enriching this place beyond even our understanding.
However, we also know that the White Salmon River is sought out all over the country by both private boaters and by tourists seeking a whitewater rafting or kayak trip. Similar to not letting a forest enter normal fire cycles to preserve a neighborhood, or the clearing of resort operated ski slopes on US Forest Service land to prevent injury, the White Salmon River needs the help of human judgment and power to maintain reasonable downstream passage.
The White Salmon River receives an incredible numbers of visitors. The whitewater reaches host upwards of 30,000 commercial guests each year, a number that does not even include private boaters. The local economy experiences a significant increase from these tourists. It is to the community’s benefit to maintain this resource as much as possible.
When Can Wood Be Removed?
Luckily, all stakeholders are finding that while both viewpoints are valid, they are not mutually exclusive.
Through discussion, it has been found that logs posing a severe risk to boaters are not typically in a location suitable for fish habitat. This wood often sits in faster currents in class III-V rapids. Wood in slower reaches of the river, like the class I-II, create a more suitable habitat for fish. Typically, boaters can easily walk around or even float by these types of log jams.
Stakeholders have decided that approval can be given to remove the types of log jams that do not benefit fish habitat or whitewater recreation. Parties can request a permit through the WDFW, which comes with a $150 fee, to be able to tackle a log jam within the river. The parties receiving the permit make sure all efforts are made to keep the pieces of wood intact and within the river system. This process is the best way for all stakeholders to be sure that critical fish habitat will not be damaged and a greater hazard will not be created for recreation.
Wet Planet has been the first to test out the new process, most recently at Triple Drop Rapid.
How to Remove Wood on the White Salmon River
A log located on the Upper White Salmon River, a section of class IV whitewater rafting located at the end of the Green Truss section, posed a serious threat to downstream navigation. The log spanned the first ledge of Triple Drop, the section’s first class IV rapid. Located at the crux of a river bend, the location of the large tree could not be seen from upstream, leaving a narrow window to catch an eddy and find a portage trail around the obstacle.
Wet Planet contacted Sam Kolb with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to seek permission to remove the log.
Working with other agencies, Sam assessed these factors and determined that if the log could be removed safely and was placed in an alternate location within the river channel, then the log could be removed.
As a swiftwater rescue and training center, Wet Planet jumped into action.
Using the power of ten to fifteen river guides and mechanical advantage rope systems, the group shifted the massive log toward the left side of the river and into an eddy. A nearby anchor point helps to secure the log into place for the time being, preventing it from washing downstream.
The log no longer poses a downstream threat to whitewater kayaking and rafting traffic. Additionally, it remains a part of the river’s ecosystem.
Wet Planet hopes that this event will serve as an example of how open discussion amidst a complex decision making process can lead to problem solving on the river.