Washington wildfires have been one of the biggest media stories of the year, both in our state and across the nation. And rightfully so considering the (short term) impacts to people, property, wildlife and wildlands.

But there are things we can do to prevent or reduce disastrous fires. At Conservation Northwest, our Forest Field Program and partners at state, federal and tribal agencies have been working to make investments for forest resilience and fire preparedness for years. Now, some of the early data from 2015 fires is showing they paid off.

Learn how in the Fire Dispatch below from the Conservation Northwest blog.

CNW Fire Dispatch #12 – Inside the fire lines

Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth of our fire dispatches from staff and colleagues that live or work in the areas impacted by this year’s fires. Dispatch #1Dispatch #2Dispatch #3Dispatch #4Dispatch #5Dispatch #6Dispatch #7Dispatch #8Dispatch #9Dispatch #10Dispatch #11.
A forest ecologist, Dave Werntz lives and works in the Methow Valley community of Twisp. He previously authored our second Fire Dispatch, Perspective from our Science Director, after evacuating due to the Twisp River Fire.

By Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest Science and Conservation Director

Fires are intense and sometimes frightening agents of transformation. They draw from the basic elements of topography, vegetation, and weather to sculpt mosaics on landscapes held dear by countless people and vital for innumerable wild creatures. But while fire maps show neat lines and news reports describe acres burned (or too often, “devastated”), we know from past fire research that within the burn perimeter fire behavior is immensely diverse but not without pattern.

Looking at those patterns today, early indications are that our investments in forest and wildlands restoration helped shaped the way the 2015 fires played out on the landscape. In several places, it appears this work favorably affected fire growth and behavior.

Ecologists describe historic or characteristic fire behavior according to its extent, frequency and severity. Before aggressive fire suppression began many years ago, many of our region’s shrub-steppe grasslands burned frequently with small, high-intensity fires. Slightly upslope, dry pine and mixed-conifer forests burned with similar frequency but with less intensity. Near mountain tops, wetter forests burned hot over larger areas during years of drought, often at intervals that could span centuries. On the mid-elevation slopes in between there was lots of variability in fire frequency, size and intensity.

With this knowledge, Conservation Northwest’s Forest Field Program has been preparing for the hot summer drought of 2015 for more than a decade. Our goal is resilient forests and watersheds that are capable of withstanding natural disturbances, including those bolstered by climate change, as well as safer towns and communities.

Click for a full-size PDF map of our forest restoration projects and 2015 fire perimeters.

Over the years, we’ve shaped key parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s Restoration Strategy and the Colville National Forest’s Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, which guide federal actions to restore landscape and stand conditions disrupted by decades of fire suppression and harmful logging.

In the field, our focus has been collaborative work on dozens of projects to improve ecological resilience through thinning small trees, protecting large old fire resistant trees, conducting prescribed burns, removing harmful roads, and restoring landscape patterns that drive ecological processes like fire. Outcomes include restored fish and wildlife habitat, improved management effectiveness and efficiency, and good quality local jobs.

Recent forest restoration projects and 2015 fire perimeters.
Recent forest restoration projects in north-central Washington and 2015 perimeters of the Okanogan Tunk and North Star Fires. Click here for the full map.

As a society, we’ve tended to invest effort in the drier forest types where the best opportunities exist for productive outcomes. This summer, a lot of acres and lots of different landscapes burned. Fires crossed throughstate, private, tribal, and federal areas and touched shrub-steppe grasslands, old wild forests, industrial timber, grazing allotments, and most everything in between. During this exceptionally hot, dry summer, everything seemed prone to burn.

We’re on the edge of our seats waiting to see how our efforts have fared under these conditions; to learn how fire interacted with restoration projects. Initial observations from agency officials with access behind the gates or working inside the fire lines are intriguing.

The Forest Service reports that behavior of the Tunk Block fire northeast of Omak changed significantly for the better when it reached completed restoration projects. Similar results were reported on State lands at the Similkameen and Sinlahekin Wildlife Areas. Higher in the mountains, the Black Canyon/MacFarlane Creek fire in the Methow’s Chelan-Sawtooth Range was confined by older fires on two sides.

As we develop more information in the coming days and weeks, lessons from these fires will inform our future practices and policy. Scientists tell us that the fire seasons of 2014 and 2015 are unlikely to be anomalies in the coming decades. It’s up to all of us to work together for a future in Eastern Washington with healthy, resilient forests, watersheds, and wild ecosystems and vibrant, well-prepared communities.

For the latest official fire updates, we recommend Inciwebthis GIS map, and the Okanogan County Emergency ManagementChelan County Emergency ManagementColville Tribes Emergency ServicesStevens County Fire District #1 and Ferry County Sheriff’s Office / 911 Facebook pages.


Some great fire perspective and analysis is available from my colleagues at Conservation Northwest who are on the front lines of this year’s wildfires in Washington state:

“We still have at least a few weeks of risky fire season in which anything can happen. But I have a couple observations to make about what has thus far burned. The large fires of 2014 and 2015 have primarily been in the frontcountry shrub-steppe, with Wolverine and Stickpin being notable exceptions. Many of our most expensive and damaging fires have started and burned through private and heavily-managed lands including those managed for industrial production. Fires near and in Wenatchee, Chelan, Riverside, Addy all started nearby. What this means is that when conditions are this ripe, with the land dry and the weather hot and occasionally windy, everything can be prone to fire.

We need to plan for more frequent drought and fire conditions like those we are experiencing this year by advancing policies that promote climate adaptation, such as managing for forest and ecosystem resilience, and local community preparedness.” 

Methow Valley, August 2015 Photo Jasmine MinbashianWe’ll be posting regular updates, photos and perspectives from the Methow, Okanogan and other areas of Eastern Washington on the Conservation Northwest blog until the fires go out.

For the latest official fire updates, I recommend: Inciweb, this GIS map (or this one), Okanogan County Emergency Management and Chelan County Emergency Management.

For more quality wildfire coverage, check out these articles:  Washington Post – Five myths about wildfires  The Guardian – ‘It’s unrelenting’: inside the Washington town surrounded by raging wildfires

2015 wildfires: The view from Omak

Strong winds and low humidity are expected through this week, with fire danger remaining high. But thankfully some rain might be in the forecast east of the Cascades this coming weekend.

Conservation Northwest’s Twisp staffers were evacuated last week, another of my coworkers in Omak is safe but surrounded by fires, and now the Wolverine Fire is poised to jump from the Entiat drainage into the Chiwawa Valley, threatening the Plain and Lake Wenatchee area.

More on that in this “It’s Time to Prepare” notice our family and many others in the Plain community received from the Lake Wenatchee Fire District.

While currently minor in the scheme of fire impacts, this last development and precautionary forest closures are canceling some of my fall hunting plans, blocking access to remote camera monitoring sites I manage for North Cascades wolverine research, and causing many in the community where my family has long had a cabin to start packing up valuables and preparing for possible Level 1 evacuation warnings later this week. Hopefully those don’t come.


The Puget Sound Wild Steelhead Gene Bank public comment period has been extended through August 31st, 2015. However, we have been informed that only comments submitted through the official secure comment form will be accepted.

Unfortunately, at this time this does not include comments emailed to WDFW decision makers, either through action alerts or independently.

WSGB Graphic Final Release-01

For some excellent perspective on why strong, river basin-wide wild steelhead sanctuaries are needed on Puget Sound’s Skagit, Puyallup and Elwha watersheds (at a minimum), and how it is still possible to “fish through recovery” in some of these rivers, check out this Wild Steelhead Coalition Op-Ed in The Drake Magazine.

Excerpt below:

Designation as a WSGB doesn’t necessarily prohibit fishing through recovery. The Sol Duc River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a WSGB and it maintains a thriving and iconic wild steelhead fishery. The same could be true for the Skagit River and, if the health and recovery of wild steelhead runs allow, other Puget Sound watersheds designated as WSGBs.

This effort isn’t about ending all hatcheries or shutting down steelhead fishing opportunity in Washington, Stumpf adds. “It’s about removing one barrier to recovery on a few rivers with the greatest potential for a wild steelhead comeback. This is a pragmatic and sensible step for wild steelhead. And hopefully it allows those WSGBs to be a model for wild fish recovery throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Groups like the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Fish Conservancy have identified three marquee watersheds, out of a list of several up for consideration. The Skagit system, the Elwha, and Puyallup all possess habitat conditions and current wild steelhead numbers that make recovery possible. Thus, they are the prime candidates for a hatchery-free future.”

Take action here:

Rainforest Winter Steelhead Camp
Worth protecting


An important message from the Wild Steelhead Coalition – Submit a comment by August 13th!

Help Create Wild Steelhead Sanctuaries in Washington

Make your voice heard and take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to help Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) establish wild steelhead sanctuaries in Puget Sound rivers. 

WSGB Graphic Final Release-01

WDFW is currently accepting comments on which Puget Rivers to select as “wild steelhead gene banks.” This process is an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate a threat to wild steelhead in rivers across Puget Sound and work toward a multi-faceted recovery process that benefits wild fish, local communities and passionate anglers.

Through years of hard work and extensive collaboration with Native Fish Society, Wild Fish Conservancy, and the Conservation Angler, we have been able to take important, incremental steps to help reduce the negative impacts of steelhead hatcheries. However, in all of our years of work, we have never before had an opportunity like this in Puget Sound to use public input and the best available science to transform rivers into wild steelhead gene banks where the harm of hatchery steelhead will be forever eliminated. Now more than ever before, we need to take action.

While the creation of at least three wild steelhead gene banks is required under Washington’s State Steelhead Management Plan, WDFW has significant latitude over how many rivers and which rivers they designate as gene banks. With hatchery proponents working furiously to limit these designations to three smaller tributaries, it is critical that wild steelhead advocates make their voices heard and establish river basins that have diversity, abundance and will provide refuge through a changing climate.


This process is truly an unprecedented opportunity to remove a significant barrier to steelhead recovery in Puget Sound rivers and help these embattled steelhead populations rebound. Please take advantage of this rare chance and tell WDFW they need to create a multitude of strong, effective wild steelhead gene banks.

Please stay tuned as this issue unfolds and look for regular updates via email and on the Wild Steelhead Coalition website and Facebook page.



Highwayman's Hole II (2)

Hunting is strictly regulated by science-based wildlife management and fair-chase ethics to ensure that hunters can pursue healthy, organic and ethical meat, experience important connections to our human and natural heritage, and provide conservation benefits for the health of wildlife populations and wild ecosystems.

Meat is always packed out before hides or antlers, utmost care is taken to achieve a clean kill, and as much of the animal is eaten or used as is possible. Real hunters care for, respect and are deeply thankful for the animals they harvest.

Killing only for “trophies” or on high-fenced land, pursuing a (non-problem causing) animal that has lost it’s fear of humans, using bait to lure it out of a protected national park, shooting it without a required permit and quota authorization; this is not hunting. It’s poaching, plain and simple.

Prosecute and extradite this a-hole poacher and see how he likes a Zimbabwean prison.


Here are the collective recommendations from the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Wild Fish Conservancy, Native Fish Society, and The Conservation Angler:

WSGB Graphic Final Release-01

(Click for expandable, downloadable PDF version)

Comments can be submitted at:

Additionally, the Wild Steelhead Coalition has compiled a suite of materials, including general talking points, river specific talking points, and a helpful graphic, for those planning to attend.

Wild steelhead are Washington’s iconic state fish. Yet they are struggling at less than five percent of historic abundance.

WDFW is currently holding a public process to designate at least three wild steelhead sanctuaries or “Gene Banks” in the Puget Sound region to promote recovery. The planting of harmful (and crazy expensive) hatchery steelhead would be discontinued, but selective fishing could continue once recovery thresholds are met, just as it currently is on the Olympic Peninsula’s Sol Duc River.

More information available from the Wild Steelhead Coalition. Further talking points and detailed suggested comments forthcoming.


Public comments are now being accepted on Puget Sound Wild Steelhead Gene Bank Selection. Submit your comment by Aug. 13th at:

From the Wild Steelhead Coalition:

Help protect and recover threatened populations of wild steelhead in once prolific Puget Sound rivers by telling Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to establish strong, effective wild steelhead gene banks.


One of the most significant and scientifically recognized impediments to the recovery of wild steelhead populations are hatchery steelhead. According to NOAA, planting hatchery steelhead can pose genetic and ecological threats to wild steelhead runs, from competition for suitable habitat and increased predation to loss of genetic fitness.

As part of Washington’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, WDFW is establishing a number of rivers in Puget Sound as wild steelhead management zones or “gene banks” to help address the hatchery problem.

These rivers will be managed exclusively as wild steelhead rivers and will not be planted with hatchery steelhead. As a result, they will become wild steelhead sanctuaries, where wild fish populations can recover without the negative impacts of hatchery fish. This gene bank designation program has already seen budding success on the Olympic Peninsula’s Sol Duc River, and gene banks have recently been selected on several lower-Columbia River tributary rivers.

As WDFW works to establish these gene banks, they are seeking public input to help determine which rivers and how many rivers to designate.  Over the next few weeks, WDFW will be hosting several meetings for the public to learn about this issue and submit their comments. The schedule is:

  • Educational Workshop Monday, July 13 from 5:00 – 9:00 PM in Seattle at the Phinney Center: Room 7 (6352 Phinney Ave N)
  • Public Comment Meeting – Tuesday, July 21 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM in Seattle at the Phinney Center: Room 7 (6352 Phinney Ave N)
  • Public Comment Meeting – Monday, July 27 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM in Mount Vernon at Skagit PUD (1415 Freeway Dr.)
  • Public Comment Meeting – Tuesday, July 28 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM in Sequim at Trinity Methodist Church (100 S Blake Ave)

For the benefit of wild steelhead recovery and the natural and angling heritage of future generations, it’s important that significant Puget Sound river systems, not just minor tributary streams, are designated as wild steelhead sanctuaries.

As a supporter of wild steelhead, please attend one or more of the public meetings and voice your opinion. Also, please stay tuned and look for updates and recommendations from us via email and on the Wild Steelhead Coalition website andFacebook page as this issue unfolds.

Thank you for your support and for everything you do to protect and conserve wild steelhead.


For my angling and conservation friends interested in some steelhead science. Also, big thanks to filmmaker Shane Anderson of North Fork Studios for filming and The Fly Fish Journal for spreading the word!

Groups, anglers and citizens concerned about the restoration and protection of native, wild steelhead of the Skagit River in Washington are welcome to attend this event. You’ll hear presentations by noted scientists who work on fisheries and habitat research, and discuss public policy initiatives with wild steelhead advocates.

More info from the official Wild Steelhead Coalition video announcement, drafted by yours truly:

On April 18th, the Wild Steelhead Coalition and the Steelhead Summit Alliance hosted the 10th annual Steelhead Summit at the University of Washington.

On a clear spring day that had many dreaming of once again fishing for wild steelhead on the Skagit River, this informative event brought together conservation groups, anglers and citizens from across the region to share information on the restoration and protection of native, wild steelhead on the mighty Skagit and beyond.

Noted scientists including Bill McMillan, John McMillan and Dave Pflug, presented on the history of wild steelhead returns to the Skagit, and the population’s downfall in the early and mid 1900’s in the face of overharvest, habitat loss and unrelenting hatchery plants.

Conservationists and representatives from the tribal co-managers talked about the latest research and habitat restoration projects that are being done to help these iconic fish in this legendary river rebound. And anglers and retired fish managers shared information gathered from decades of experience working and fishing on the Skagit River and among its wild fish.

Renowned filmmaker Shane Anderson, producer and director of Wild Reverence: The Wild Steelhead’s Last Stand, was on hand to film each of the day’s talks. Today, we are excited to announce that each of the presentations from this year’s Steelhead Summit are now available on our YouTube channel:

2015 Steelhead Summit Alliance: Wild Skagit steelhead on YouTube

Being well informed is the first step to being an effective advocate for wild steelhead and the waters they call home. Groups, anglers and citizens concerned about the restoration and protection of native, wild steelhead of the Skagit River in Washington should watch these videos.

Our hope is that by sharing these presentations, the Wild Steelhead Coalition, the Steelhead Summit Alliance and our networks of members, supporters and wild fish advocates will be contributing to a more informed community working together to recover and conserve a vital icon of the Pacific Northwest: the wild steelhead of the Skagit River Basin.


The below is a piece I authored today for Conservation Northwest:

Conservationists celebrate major milestone for habitat connectivity in the Pacific Northwest

From elk and black bears to rare wolves and wolverines, wildlife are on the move in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. But for decades Interstate 90 has been a serious barrier to creatures traveling through some of the state’s richest habitat, impacting wildlife populations and putting both motorists and animals in danger.

A project that broke ground on Tuesday, June 9th plans to change that.

Thanks to advocacy from Conservation Northwest, leadership from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and support from a broad coalition of organizations, businesses and state and federal agencies, wild animals will soon be getting their own bridge, dubbed the Price/Noble Wildlife Overcrossing, over the busy freeway east of Snoqualmie Pass.

Rendition of the Price/Noble Wildlife Overcrossing. Photo: WSDOT

“I-90 has a tremendous impact on wildlife because it’s carrying over 28,000 vehicles a day bisecting the Cascades,” said Jen Watkins of Conservation Northwest, coordinator for the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition. “If we prevent them from moving, we’re blocking their ability to find food, we’re blocking their ability to find new places to live when conditions change, like the large wildfires we saw last year, and we’re blocking their ability to find new mates and have some genetic diversity in the population.”

Watkins believes the I-90 wildlife overcrossing and recently completed wildlife undercrossings are a monumental step forward for wildlife and habitat in the Pacific Northwest region.

Speaking at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Jason Kuiken, deputy forest supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said projects like the I-90 overcrossing help reconnect fish and wildlife habitat and exemplify the mission of the Forest Service.

“This is truly an exceptional project that extends well beyond the place we are today, “said Kuiken.

For over a decade, Conservation Northwest has led efforts to protect, connect and restore habitat in the Snoqualmie Pass corridor. After years of advocating for safe wildlife crossings under and over I-90, the regional non-profit organization is thrilled to reach this important milestone. 

Staff from Conservation Northwest, Forterra, Sierra Club, WSDOT and other partners pose in front of the overcrossing rendition. Photo Chase Gunnell

Conservation Northwest also administers the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, a diverse group of endorsing businesses, conservation and civic organizations that advocate for the wildlife crossings project. The Coalition grew out of The Cascades Conservation Partnership, a four-year campaign led by Conservation Northwest that played a key role in acquiring and protecting over 34,000 acres of forest habitat in the Snoqualmie Pass corridor from 2000-2004.

Using trail cameras and the support of enthusiastic volunteers, the organization is monitoring wildlife traveling through the Snoqualmie Pass area, as well restoring habitat and native vegetation near the new crossing structures. Monitoring data helped inform the locations of the wildlife crossings and helps to illustrate the wildlife active in the surrounding area.

Student artists awarded for their illustrations of animals using the I-90 crossings. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Part of Phase 2 of WSDOT’s I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project, the Price/Noble Wildlife Overcrossing will be the first over a major highway or freeway in Washington state. One of the largest and most ambitious wildlife crossing structures built in the country to date, it will reconnect vital habitat on either side of one of the nation’s busiest mountain passes.

“This project is a shining example of WSDOT’s future direction. It embraces our values, goals and strategies for a safe transportation system that improves mobility and supports economic growth,” said Cam Gilmour, WSDOT deputy secretary of transportation.

Several major wildlife underpasses have already been completed during Phase 1 of the project, and remote cameras show many of them are already in use by creatures big and small.

When finished, the section of I-90 from Snoqualmie Pass to Easton will include more than 20 underpasses and overpasses for wildlife, fish and amphibians, including endangered or threatened species such as bull trout and wolverines. Dozens of small culverts and creek crossings will also be rebuilt or expanded.

“We think this is going to make a lot of difference for wildlife,” said WSDOT project manager Brian White in a Seattle Times interview.

As if to underscore the importance of the wildlife crossings project, an elk was killed by a vehicle on I-90 early Tuesday morning at Price Creek. The collision happened just yards from where the new overcrossing is now under construction.

Motorists, truckers and businesses across the region will benefit from the project as well. The Snoqualmie Pass East Project includes adding two new lanes to the interstate, stabilizing rock slopes, constructing new avalanche bridges and straightening hazardous curves.

The entire project is expected to cost close to $1 billion, funded primarily through a gas tax imposed by the state legislature in 2005. The Price/Noble Wildlife Overcrossing is budgeted at $6.2 million. Construction is scheduled to be complete in 2019.

This success connecting habitat over and under I-90 is only possible through collaboration. A huge THANK YOU to WSDOT, Forterra, the Sierra Club, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy, and all the other partners, organizations, agencies and businesses that have supported this project.

Location where an elk was killed on I-90 by a vehicle early Tuesday morning, June 9th. Blood is still visible on the freeway in the lower left, far lane. Photo: Chase Gunnell


I had a tough winter on Washington’s hallowed wild steelhead waters. Time after time, just when I’d finally schedule a weekend trip to a favorite OP or Grays Harbor river between work and family obligations, mother nature would throw a curveball in the form of bad weather and blown out water. At least the fall and early-winter hatchery steelhead season on the local waters put a few fish in the boat and on the BBQ.

Still, I got out to the coast a few times and had my chances at big, bright wild fish. Unfortunately both those chances, one fish hooked on the swung fly and one on a float and jig, ended up in the fish’s favor.

But when angling for wild winter steelhead, the journey is truly the reward. And from camping trips and long hikes through the rainforest in search of empty glacial water, to sunny days fishing the boat ramp run with a case of beer and good buddies, some great adventures were had during this season’s pursuit of a wild Northwest icon.

Sky Rainbow

December Steel

North Cascades Bulls

North Cascades Bulls

Coastal Steelheading

Winter steelheading

Winter steelheading

Rainforest steelheading

Rainforest steelhead

Rainforest steelhead

Winter steelheading

Winter steelheading

Rainforest steelhead

Winter steelheading