Contested Terrain
North Cascades National Park Service Complex: An Administrative History
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Chapter 12:

The resource management program at North Cascades fell within the influence of the Leopold and the National Academy of Sciences reports of 1963. Park administrators stressed the importance of scientifically informed management, and set out to base their management decisions on sound research. North Cascades got off on a strong foot in this regard. The formation of the first cooperative park studies unit at the University of Washington was directly related to the park's establishment; the new university-based research facility assisted managers early on in their efforts to understand the wealth and diversity of park resources. But by the early 1980s, science at North Cascades, as throughout the park system, had not developed enough to support all management decisions. [1]

The Park Service's own 1980 State of the Parks report concluded that the agency had not established a comprehensive and coordinated scientific management program. The report underscored the variety and magnitude of threats to park resources and the agency's inability to document the pace of change because it did not have an adequate knowledge of the resources under its care. Out of the report, and its follow-up report in 1981, came the most significant boost to science in park management since the Leopold and National Academy reports. The primary proposals included comprehensive inventorying of natural resources, the development of monitoring programs to detect even incremental change in park resources, the production of park resource management plans, and an increase in staffing and training in science and natural resource management. [2]

To a certain extent, these changes at the national level were felt in North Cascades. By the 1990s, the park complex's staff had grown considerably with the addition of a chief of resource management, wildlife biologists, an aquatic ecologist, and geologist, among other specialists. Over the years, the staff developed more extensive resource management plans and developed some of the first long-range inventory and monitoring programs. One recent study was monitoring the park's glaciers. Although the park contained one-third of all glaciers found outside of Alaska, little data existed about their histories and role in the park complex's hydrologic systems.

By the early 1990s, park resource managers conceded that there were still great gaps in their knowledge about the health of the park complex's natural systems, largely from a lack of funding and a commitment to research at the national level. This opinion was consistent with another agency report, National Parks for the Twenty-First Century: The Vail Agenda, which stated that the Park Service's overall approach to scientific management has been "sporadic and inconsistent, characterized by alternating cycles of commitment and decline." The protection of natural resources based on sound scientific research still had shortcomings from the standpoint of staffing and funding. The agency's acknowledgement of the situation and its promises to make substantive changes failed to allay the fears of scientists and environmentalists. They continued to exert pressure on the service to expand scientific research, viewing the agency's promises as largely rhetorical. [3] In effect, this kind of ebb-and-flow cycle of support for scientific-based resource management tended to focus attention on the most controversial topics, and projects worthy of long-term research often went unaddressed. At North Cascades, the most visible topics included issues surrounding fish stocking, resource consumption, Stehekin River erosion, and fire.


Fisheries. In its efforts to preserve natural systems, the Park Service often encountered conflict with those who believed national parks should be managed for the enjoyment of people rather than the protection of nature. North Cascades officials set out to establish a foundation for the latter in their resource management program and to inform all decisions through sound research. Yet, as the controversy over fish stocking revealed, this approach was not always enough to quiet agency critics, many of whom embraced a more traditional view of national parks in which recreation was the primary goal. Often recreation involved more than enjoyment of a primitive natural setting; it involved some kind of manipulation of the environment, such as planting fish in the high mountain lakes of North Cascades so people could go fishing.

By the late 1970s, fish stocking continued to be controversial. The policy variance proposed by Superintendent Lowell White in 1975 was revised and signed by the park and Washington Department of Game (WDG) in 1979. The policy variance stated that the department of game could continue stocking lakes that already supported introduced trout populations "where natural reproduction" was "inadequate to support a reasonable harvest success." [4] The policy also stated that the department could not stock lakes "naturally barren of fish life and presently barren of fish life." The park's long-range goal was that all stocking would be gradually phased out over fifty years. "This would leave only naturally reproducing trout as inhabitants of the naturally fish-barren high lakes of the North Cascades." [5] The department of game objected to the elimination of fish planting, it seems, and this language was left out of the policy variance. Otherwise, it agreed to work with the Park Service to develop a recreational fisheries management program. The problem was that the Park Service wanted a program that would rely eventually on natural conditions to sustain fish populations in high lakes, and the game department wanted a program that would involve an aggressive stocking program for sport fishing.

The agreement seems to have accomplished little in the way of resolving the differences between the two agencies. By 1985, the Park Service decided that North Cascades National Park [6] needed a stronger fish management policy in order to comply with the Park Service's policy against fish stocking; the policy was set down in the new agency policy book (the "blue book") that evolved from the three separate policy books for recreation areas, historic areas, and natural areas. Under the current program, fish planting was increasing and there was no clearly stated long-range goal to decrease fish stocking altogether. Superintendent John Reynolds believed that the stocking program needed to be phased out, or at the very least needed to be modified so that natural conditions prevailed. In addition to his concerns about the protection of the park's ecosystem, Reynolds worried about the precedent the current program was setting for the park system. Three parks, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Lassen, had minimal stocking programs, remnants from larger programs of the past. Since the early 1970s, their programs had been stable, and they had long-range goals of eliminating stocking. Moreover, they were not operating under variances from National Park Service policy. Their superintendents, however, were concerned that stocking was on the increase in North Cascades and that it might impinge on their efforts to phase out fishing planting. Recently, they had been approached by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about adopting a similar variance. [7]

Bringing North Cascades into line with Park Service policy proved to be just as controversial as the policy variance. Washington Department of Game officials expressed their outrage and disappointment over the Park Service's new goals; they felt they had been slighted in their "co-management" of the park's alpine lakes, and vowed to continue operating under the variance. Oddly enough, both the WDG and the Park Service signed a new memorandum of understanding, approved on August 15, 1985, that nullified all previous agreements, including the one for the stocking program. Then began the long process of finding a compromise policy. The WDG clung to the variance, declaring that it was still in effect; the Park Service, on the other hand, asserted that it had the legal right to phase out fish stocking within North Cascades. [8]

The Park Service faced a complicated political matter. Convincing the department of game and its constituents of the value of its management plans appeared to be an insurmountable challenge. The director of the WDG, Jack Wayland, insisted that "fish planting" should continue in North Cascades "forever." He believed fish planting was the intent of Congress, and even the Park Service, as expressed during the park hearings. Wayland refused to acknowledge that the variance was no longer valid and stated that his agency would continue to plant lakes with fish as long as it had political support for the program (which it did) or until the courts ruled against it. Justifying his position, Wayland argued that the long-range objective had not been expansion of fish planting but "simply full implementation of the variance, a critical element of which was classifying the lakes in the park with fishery potential." [9]

In truth, the Park Service was not proposing to eliminate fish stocking entirely but rather to limit it in order to preserve as many lakes as possible in their natural state. At the heart of the dispute was a question: Did preservation interfere unfairly with recreational fishing? Sport fishing groups as well as the department of game seemed to think so and mounted a vocal campaign against the agency's new proposal. In June 1986, National Park Service Director William Penn Mott, Jr., responded by establishing a new fish management policy for the North Cascades complex. The policy sought to find a compromise that would be attractive to those who thought of parks as purely recreational resources and those who thought of parks as relatively pristine natural areas.

Mott's policy acknowledged that fishing was an acceptable recreational pursuit in the national park, but fishing should not come at the detriment of lakes in their natural state. In this regard, the policy assigned the park's lakes to three categories: "natural fish-free waters, self-sustaining fish population waters, and continue to stock waters." The lakes would be managed so that those without fish will not be stocked "with any kind of fish." The policy also stated that the park's other lakes with fish populations, the result of stocking, would be largely left to survive under natural conditions. Finally, only those waters within the park that were selected specifically to be managed as "enhanced recreational fishery waters...may be stocked now or in the future." The three classes of lakes, the policy concluded, "will provide for an enhanced recreational fishing experience in the park while at the same time assuring that we provide the opportunity for aquatic research under natural conditions." [10]

In keeping with the agency's emphasis on research-informed policy, Mott ordered that the Park Service develop and implement a research program that addressed three things. First, the research program should establish "current fish and aquatic habitat baseline conditions in park waters." Second, the program should monitor "the impacts of this fish-stocking guidance on fish and other wildlife." And third, it should determine "changes over time referenced against current baseline conditions or undisturbed natural conditions where they are known." The data would be used then to make an informed decision about the future of "our fish-stocking management." [11]

Before the Park Service could move forward with its research program, it first had to consult with the department of game. The 1985 memorandum of understanding bound the Park Service to consult with the state prior to initiating any research projects or carrying out plans or programs for fisheries. The memorandum also required the two agencies to consult about proposals to transplant fish in North Cascades. [12] Coming to mutually agreeable terms was unlikely. The department of game continued to reject Park Service attempts to limit or phase out fish planting in the lakes of North Cascades. Wayland informed Mott that his department could not accept his new policy because it would exclude the state and other interested parties from the recreational fish management program. [13]

The fish-planting issue came to a head in 1987. In their meetings with the Washington State Department of Wildlife (formerly the department of game), park officials maintained that they were abiding by Mott's 1986 directive, thus continuing the moratorium on any stocking of fish-free waters. Park managers also issued a compromise; they would provide a total of forty recreational fishing lakes within the park, for a total of sixty-one in the park complex. Finally, the agency would not make any changes in management actions until completion of the fishery research project. (The three-year research project, agreed to by both agencies, was approved for fiscal year 1989.) The project, above all, would satisfy the Park Service's responsibilities under NEPA to assess the environmental consequences of introducing fish into naturally fish-free lakes.

The department of wildlife and its supporters objected to the Park Service's proposal; they claimed that despite finding some common ground on the issue, the agency was still intent on eliminating fish planting from the park. The controversy, it seems, was on the verge of exploding into a full-scale interagency battle. In the fall of 1987, Director Wayland threatened to "bomb" twelve lakes in the park with trout, planting the fish by helicopter, "unless I am assured that we have reached a satisfactory long-term resolution which allows continued planting of lakes in the Park." The Park Service replied that it would seek an injunction in federal court to block the planting. "We are not backing off," noted Associate Regional Director Michael Tollefson. "We have tried to work with the state and we feel our position is valid and reasonable." Should the state follow through with its plans, the Park Service threatened to cite the state for violating federal regulations and would consider killing the planted fish through "accepted chemical means." [14]

A short time later, however, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks William P. Horn intervened and asked the agencies to work out their differences. [15] A truce followed while the agencies presented their positions to Horn. In the spring of 1988, the assistant secretary notified the agencies that he had reviewed their materials and found they agreed on a number of critical matters -- which lakes had been stocked in the past, which were presumed to be fish free, and which were thought to have the least reproduction of fish. Beyond that, Horn acknowledged the Park Service's policies regarding fish stocking had become more conservative in recent years. Thus, the Park Service's study would be a valuable source for deciding what role "fish-stocking would have in the management of recreational fishing in the park." Over the next several years, Horn recommended that the current program continue while the research program was designed and implemented. Afterwards, he suggested that the two agencies use the research to work cooperatively in developing a viable recreational fishing program, one subject to public review. [16]

To this end, both the state and Park Service signed a supplemental agreement to the earlier memorandum of understanding on July 12, 1988. [17] The agreement allowed the department of wildlife to continue stocking forty lakes (twice as many as under the variance) within the park for the next twelve years. The two agencies would consult on the number and species of fish, specific lakes, and the planting frequency of those lakes to be stocked. By all indications, park officials would limit the fish-stocking program. The Park Service noted that while Horn's letter and agency policies for natural zones supported this management approach, it intended to use the research and monitoring program to "review and modify its decisions and the agreement as necessary." [18]

In 1994, Oregon State University, which conducted the fish research project for the Park Service, reported that fish stocking might alter "the invertebrate community structure as well as indigenous salamander populations. Human impacts on fragile lakeshore environments" appeared to be more "pronounced where fish are stocked." In other words, sport fishers attracted to lakes stocked for fishing in turn harmed these sensitive areas. Recent plans called for more research to be completed by Oregon State University in 1995 to assess the "impacts of fish stocking on salamander abundance and distribution." All of this would assist managers in understanding the impact of fishing on mountain lakes over time and assist in the development of "aquatic resource mitigation and restoration plans." [19] In the new millennium, the fish stocking policy will be revisited using this and other research data.


Other fish management issues in the park complex reflected concerns similar to fish stocking without the same level of controversy. The primary management theme was to maintain fisheries in their natural state as much as possible whether in the park complex's reservoirs, rivers and tributaries, or natural lakes. By the 1990s, research, inventorying, monitoring, and coordinated management with other agencies dominated the approach taken by park staff. The intent was to protect and if warranted reintroduce native fish. The internal and external influences affecting the park complex's fisheries were quite varied, including recreational fishing, the introduction of non-native species, and the presence of hydroelectric projects. [20]

In Lake Chelan NRA, preserving the fish native to the lower Stehekin River and Lake Chelan seemed impossible. Bull trout and Lake Chelan cutthroat trout, the most dominant sport fish, had all but disappeared after the introduction of such alien species as rainbow trout, brook trout, kokanee salmon, chinook salmon, and lake trout. Moreover, the introduction of other genotypes of cutthroat trout made it doubtful that any remnant populations of native cutthroat lived in the lower Stehekin or in Lake Chelan. One of the biggest problems for the lake was the introduction of mysis shrimp. These freshwater shrimp had been successful in raising the size of fish in some Canadian lakes so the fish and game agencies were planting them in lakes all over the West. In deep lakes like Chelan, however, the nocturnal shrimp dive during the day below the feeding zone of the fish and rise again at night to feed, competing directly with the fish for food they were planted to fatten up in the first place. The shrimp almost proved fatal to the kokanee population in Lake Chelan, in a sense paving the way for the introduction of chinook salmon and lake trout. Managing the native fish in the lake was only possible if a fish trap was operated at the mouth of the Stehekin River to prevent kokanee and chinook from migrating up the river to spawn. The situation was further complicated by the number of agencies responsible for fisheries management in these waters. There were at least five: the National Park Service, Washington Department of Wildlife, Washington Department of Fisheries, Wenatchee National Forest, and Chelan County PUD.

Although the Park Service did not oppose the enhancement of habitat for introduced fish in Lake Chelan NRA, it wanted to ensure that habitat enhancement did not harm or further deteriorate the area's native fish population. One way to accomplish this objective was through a comprehensive fishery management plan for Lake Chelan; the plan would coordinate the various agencies with interests in the lake's fisheries. Although an interagency committee produced a draft fishery plan in 1979, it was never finalized and was ineffective. In the early 1990s, Park Service officials renewed efforts to produce a comprehensive plan, especially since the department of wildlife had renewed stocking of chinook salmon in 1990. The idea, according to the park complex's resource management plan, was to "eliminate the shotgun approach of each agency managing the fishery for its own particular interests." [21] Another way was through the relicensing of the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project, scheduled for 2004. As part of the Park Service's mitigation package, agency officials anticipated that they would submit a proposal for a genetic study looking for remnant populations of native fish in the Stehekin River, and possibly reintroduce historic fish species to the river and Lake Chelan. They also anticipated that the proposal would be controversial. Among other things the question of what was "natural" had changed over the years. Although introduced by the state in the 1910s, kokanee salmon were now considered a natural fish, since they had been successfully reproducing in the lower Stehekin River and Company Creek. In addition to many political and economic considerations, any program to enhance habitat for a known native fish would have to assess the possible influence it would have on existing "natural" species like the kokanee.

In the northern half of the park complex, fisheries management operated on a much larger scale geographically as well as politically. The most notable example of this was the role played by hydroelectric facilities. They altered the flows of both the Baker and Skagit rivers and damaged fish habitat; any mitigation of the damaged habitat and restoration of fish populations involved a complicated bureaucratic process. Salmon received a greater emphasis in this region, since they were native to the Skagit River system. In fact, it was one of the few watersheds within the Puget Sound region managed for natural production of salmon. For much of the last century, Skagit River salmon stocks have declined for a number of reasons that are not fully understood. But the decline most likely can be attributed to habitat loss from logging, farming, non-point pollution, and hydroelectric developments. Moreover, overharvest from commercial, sport, and tribal fishing has reduced salmon populations. Ultimately, the park complex's ability to protect and manage the salmon runs within its boundaries depended on its cooperation with other agencies and groups. On the Baker River, for example, park staff helped several agencies to save the river's native sockeye, one of three runs left in Washington. Under the current plan, the salmon are trucked around the dams and deposited in spawning ponds or released into Baker Lake or lower Baker River; from there they swim up river and into the park to spawn.

On the Skagit River, the Park Service worked with the state and Seattle City Light to coordinate and monitor salmon and other fish populations and then make recommendations for management decisions. On the Skagit, however, dams did not block the historic salmon runs, since salmon did not migrate beyond the Skagit Gorge. [22] The chain of dams did alter the river's flow though, which in turn altered the spawning grounds for salmon and other anadromous fish. Furthermore, salmon used the side channels, or tributaries, of the Skagit to spawn. Without flooding controlled by dams, these channels disappeared. As part of the fisheries settlement agreement with City Light's relicensing of the Skagit Project, the Park Service was able to have these and other fisheries issues addressed through Skagit River flow and non-flow mitigation plans. The plans, extensively detailed, generally provided for river flows that would maximize the protection of spawning salmon and steelhead and their offspring. The plans also provided for steelhead production, off-channel salmon habitat enhancement, chinook salmon research, and the development of the Ross Lake resident trout program.

The park engaged in cooperative efforts with other agencies to restore fish habitat as well. One project was the construction of a spawning channel near Newhalem Creek. Constructed in 1985 by the Washington Department of Fisheries with the assistance of park biologist Bob Wasem, the channel was intended to benefit both chum and coho salmon populations returning each year to the upper Skagit. The department proposed eleven more sites within Ross Lake NRA for spawning channels, hoping to restore coho salmon populations in the Skagit system. Although the Park Service agreed that the need for restoring habitat was great, it believed that monitoring the Newhalem spawning channel was essential to understanding the value of such a program. Park biologists initiated a seven-year monitoring program in the early 1990s, and will use this data to determine whether more spawning channels should be constructed. In another venture, park officials reached a settlement with City Light as part of its relicensing of the Newhalem Creek Hydroelectric Project. As mitigation for fisheries, the settlement reduced the project's operation time to about half a year, thereby providing enough water to support chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.

In other areas of management, the fisheries program broadened its scope by examining the ecological conditions of the park's fish populations. This kind of work had been the goal of park officials since the creation of North Cascades. But it took time and funding to implement, and funding was often unavailable to launch a comprehensive program. In the first decades of management, the park biologist and his seasonal staff focused primarily on a wide range of survey work which covered fish, streams, ponds, lakes, as well as basic water quality analyses. The main intent of this approach was to assess the state of natural systems before a crisis appeared, but it was piecemeal. In 1993, the program was poised for change when North Cascades was one of eleven parks accepted for a long-term ecological monitoring program. Unfortunately, the program, with an annual cost of $1 million, went unfunded.

Meanwhile, park biologists attempted to support the long-term study by conducting smaller, pilot projects to classify habitat types and characteristics, for example, in order to extrapolate from this evidence for the whole parkland. As part of this effort, the park geologist undertook a project to create landform maps, which would contain information essential to identifying and classifying aquatic habitat. Particularly significant was a recent arthropod study in the Big Beaver Valley, a research natural area. Funded by a grant from the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, the two-year study identified at least six hundred species previously unknown to researchers and the habitats in which they were found.

Finally, because park boundaries were influenced by politics and not natural conditions, ecosystem management was often management by committee. Park biologists were members of at least five committees for the management of the Skagit River. They had also linked up with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which had one million acres surrounding the park. And they have recently entered into a cooperative monitoring project of the Chilliwack River with British Columbia; Canadian authorities wanted to use the Chilliwack as a reference for pristine habitat for their restoration of other streams in the lower mainland.


Resource consumption. The North Cascades Act allowed the use of renewable natural resources in the park complex's two recreation areas, but the legislation was primarily written to accommodate existing uses of resources by residents in the Stehekin Valley. [23] The continued use of the valley's forests for firewood was a volatile topic, and in the late 1970s, park administrators revisited firewood policies in the Stehekin country. Environmental groups criticized the policies as "logging" rather than the milder description of "wood gathering" used by valley residents. Grant McConnell read the 1972 interim firewood plan as a document condoning the expansion of wood cutting. The plan identified the former Courtney mill and a "fairway" near the airstrip as two possible sites for wood cutting. Wood cutting in these areas would lead to the development of more informal roads, McConnell argued, leading to the needless invasion of a particularly "wild and beautiful part of the Stehekin Valley." [24] On the other hand, valley residents feared that there would be a firewood scarcity if wood cutting were restricted to the areas designated in the interim plan. Park Service managers were also concerned about firewood supplies. They needed to consider the continuing use of firewood as well as the potential for increased demand for firewood with a rising local population. Although some checking was done on the amount of wood cut, the program operated primarily on the honor system. Managers worried that the current plan would not allow for a sustainable harvest of firewood.

In 1978, concerns over firewood scarcity motivated the Park Service to better understand the forest resources of the lower valley. The subject of forest research had arisen as early as 1973 when a proposal was submitted by Park Biologist Bob Wasem. But like most "proposed contract research," the forest resource study went unfunded. As of 1978, Wasem noted, the study was ninth on the park's priority list for research. He urged his superiors to fund the study as soon as possible. With a little luck, he quipped, the study might be completed "while a forest still exists." [25] The following year Superintendent Keith Miller made the research project the park's top priority, and the agency contracted with the University of Washington to complete the Stehekin firewood study. Miller asserted that the issue of firewood use in Stehekin, as with the use of renewable resources in general in Lake Chelan NRA, was not going to be resolved without research. [26]

In 1981, Chadwick Oliver and Bruce Larson completed their survey of the Stehekin Valley's forest resources and related consumptive use of firewood. Their report suggested that there was a severe depletion of dead trees within the valley and that the current rate of removal of trees exceeded those dying of natural causes. In other words, the firewood program was not being managed for sustained yield. Moreover, the current program was having an adverse affect on a variety of native wildlife; dead trees were important habitat for wildlife, particularly cavity nesting birds and mammals. In part, the study also concluded what preservation interests had insisted: the program had created an extensive network of access roads and unsightly stumps, reducing the valley's scenic appeal. Finally, the study proposed a woodlot system for firewood cutting that could be managed on a sustained yield basis. Oliver and Larson established woodlots in four areas. One lot was near the airstrip; two were up the valley near McGregor Meadows, and the fourth woodlot was part of the old golf course area in the vicinity of the River Trail. Within the woodlots, there was a total of seventy-six lots up to an acre in size. In general, the plan's intent was to provide a "perpetual sustainable supply of firewood" by prescribing that the lots be cut on an eighty-year rotation. The plan also suggested methods of replanting and other management techniques. All told, the "system was designed to minimize regeneration problems, maximize flexibility, and provide general simplicity in management." [27]

Oliver and Larson's study reinforced the need to update the existing firewood management plan, but there were still questions that required answers before a new plan could go into effect. The main question was whether the consumption of firewood met the requirements of Section 402 (a) of the North Cascades Act. Was the harvesting of firewood, a "renewable natural resource," compatible with the recreation area's recreational, natural, and cultural values? In 1984, park officials began to revise the valley's firewood management plan with this and other questions before them, and worked closely with the firewood committee of the Stehekin Community Council. When Superintendent John Reynolds arrived at his new post in October of that year, he recognized the plan's importance and pushed for its completion. North Cascades released a draft firewood management plan and environmental assessment in April 1985, but it had serious shortcomings, perhaps because it was hastily done. Public comments illustrated some of the plan's problems. Preservation groups, like the North Cascades Conservation Council, decried the proposed woodlot system as "clearcutting," while some valley residents felt betrayed by the plan's suggestion that their wood gathering practices were harming the environment. After hearing these comments, Superintendent Reynolds further investigated firewood gathering in the valley, especially reports of illegal and insensitive cutting practices. Afterwards, he realized that the draft plan was "unworkable" and rejected it in December. [28]

Based on his own observations and the recommendations of his staff, Reynolds stated that the original draft plan "did not adequately address present and future cordage limits to prevent significant impairment to the area, did not present a truly sustained yield cutting scenario or a plan for cutting that followed or could be justified by the Oliver/Larson study." Furthermore, the alternatives in the plan "did not address other heating sources, replanting programs or the impact of sustained and increased cutting to meet a growing demand on wildlife in the Valley." Finally, Reynolds wanted to ensure that firewood cutting was within the intent of the recreation area's legislation. [29]

Like many issues in Stehekin, firewood cutting was sensitive, and Reynolds assigned Stehekin District Ranger Curt Sauer the responsibility of writing another draft plan. It was particularly important that Sauer head up the planning process, so he could work directly with Stehekin residents and hear their viewpoints. Until the new draft plan was ready, Superintendent Reynolds issued a temporary plan based, with a few modifications, on the 1972 interim plan. By no means was the planning process without conflict. Park administrators were attempting to balance resource use and preservation. Many valley residents chafed at more restrictions on their "rights" to use resources while preservationists, led by the N3C, continued to insist that wood cutting was inappropriate, and that nothing in the North Cascades Act required the Park Service to supply firewood to anyone. [30]

After a period of public review, Superintendent Reynolds adopted the new Stehekin Valley firewood management plan on September 2, 1987. Reynolds chose the Park Service's preferred alternative: firewood was to be cut in a sustained yield woodlot system, managed on an eighty year rotation. This would allow for an initial annual limit of 150 cords decreasing to an annual limit of 120 cords by 1992. Afterwards, the sustained annual yield would be approximately 100 cords. There were two woodlots, one south of the airfield and the other on the eastern edge of the former golf course. The woodlots embraced nearly seventy-five acres. Each year the program would be administered by park staff who would issue permits, collect fees for the permits, conduct on-site wildlife surveys, enforce regulations and woodlot post-treatment. Post-treatment required slash to be piled and burned, and native seedlings to be planted. The plan addressed other points of contention as well, noting that the agency would regulate access to prevent the expansion of primitive roads. In addition to the woodlot system, the plan identified several other sources of firewood in the valley. These included "administratively-derived wood," such as hazardous trees removed by the Park Service; naturally fallen trees; and driftwood from Lake Chelan. The policy also stipulated that residents would need to burn wood in stoves that met Washington State standards for emissions and efficiency by 1992. In this way, residents would burn less firewood and thus conserve firewood on federal land. [31]

Reynolds' decision was not popular with environmentalists. The North Cascades Conservation Council was particularly offended that the agency would allow live trees to be cut, even though evidence suggested that the health of the forest was dependent on dead and decaying trees, too. Moreover, the group stressed that no wood should be cut from federal lands. The fact that the Park Service condoned this practice suggested that the Park Service was placing the needs of Stehekin residents above those of the American public. Why should the resources of public lands benefit so few, and at what cost? How could the agency ensure that the woodlot system would not damage the natural, scenic, recreational, scientific, and cultural values of the recreation area? Superintendent Reynolds defended the Park Service's position by stating that the North Cascades Act "clearly allows the NPS to permit the utilization of renewable natural resources," such as the collection of firewood, as long as it does not "impair the values for which the area was established." The current policy, he concluded, would strike the appropriate balance called for in the enabling legislation. [32]

Members of the conservation council thought otherwise, and the firewood management policy was the key reason for the group's 1989 lawsuit against the Park Service and its administration of the Stehekin Valley. As part of the settlement reached in 1991, the Park Service agreed to review the firewood program as part of an environmental impact statement. Specifically, the agency would consider alternative sources of wood and fuel to be used by valley residents in the future to heat their homes. In 1995, the Park Service completed its new fire management plan. The greatest difference between this and the former plan was that firewood cutting would gradually become part of the valley's forest fuel reduction program. The plan called for phasing out the practice of woodlot cutting over a two-year period while forest fuel reduction areas were established; the reduction areas would replace the woodlots as the primary source of firewood. In time, residents would gather firewood from familiar sources -- such as hazard trees, blowdown trees, trees cut as part of management projects, driftwood from Lake Chelan -- as well as new sources, such as trees removed from forest fuel reduction areas by selective manual thinning. The full transition from woodlots to selective thinning depended on the success of a long-term monitoring program. Finally, the Park Service seemed to suggest that over time the firewood supply would diminish, and that while a "renewable resource," it was not an infinite resource. In the future, residents would burn what was available and seek other sources of heat if necessary. [33]


Mineral resources. In the case of firewood, the Park Service could say with certainty that trees were a renewable natural resource and their use was covered under Section 402 of the North Cascades Act. The agency could not say the same about mineral materials such as soil, sand, and stone, covered generally by Section 402(b) of the legislation. During the first decade of management, park administrators allowed valley residents to excavate these materials from federal land for their own use with little regulation; the consumption of these resources fell under the umbrella of existing historic uses mentioned in the complex's enabling legislation. Moreover, the Park Service was the largest consumer of these resources and continued to use them for administrative purposes, such as maintaining roads and trails, without claiming any adverse impacts. The agency, one could argue, created its own problem. When it paved the lower section of the Stehekin road in the early 1970s, the Park Service opened a gravel pit on Rainbow Creek and a borrow pit, and started the use of riprap instead of rounded river rock along the river to shore up the road. By using these resources, the agency did not, or could not, deny residents the right to continue to take rock, sand, and soil from federal lands for their own projects, albeit on a small scale. Officials assumed that as long as they were allowing private use that it was better to concentrate use in areas managers had already developed rather than disperse use. According to one park document, this "private use, initially allowed on a minimal scale and without an overall plan for the valley, became an accepted way of managing Lake Chelan NRA." [34]

Meanwhile, the Park Service focus changed regarding the use of natural resources, especially to more closely conform to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and to revisions in the Park Service's policies in the late 1970s which stressed greater protection of natural values in all park areas. It was around this same time that the Park Service began to tighten its regulations governing the private use of soil, gravel, and other mineral materials. In 1979, Superintendent Keith Miller decided that the Stehekin community could not remove any more topsoil, sand, or gravel from federal land until a permit system had been established. Miller was concerned especially about the excessive removal of topsoil from Park Service land by residents for their gardens and lawns. The superintendent's guidelines basically allowed the practice to continue but to be more closely monitored by the district ranger. Miller followed up with a soil borrow management plan in 1981, which contained specific guidelines for public and private use, notably the amount of dirt available on an annual basis. (Evidently, Miller believed that sand, rock, and gravel were renewable resources, since the Stehekin River's annual floods replenished supplies found along the river and in the floodplain, where many found these resources.) The plan limited the removal of soil to the one borrow pit on federal land, and the agency did not plan to develop any others. [35] (The plan was in effect until the late 1980s.)

Miller's stand against the overuse of topsoil raised some protest from members of the Stehekin community. Roberta Pitts, president of the Stehekin Property Owners and Residents Association, suggested that the superintendent's policy ran counter to valley tradition and foisted yet another set of regulations on property owners. Miller defended his position, stating that residents could continue to use topsoil for an indefinite period. But more importantly, he declared that he did not consider soil to be "a renewable resource when one considers the hundreds of years it takes nature to develop soil. There is no way within our life times that the soil removed from the pit will be replaced." The superintendent even suggested that closing the pit might be the best solution to the issue. It was his responsibility to "assist the community in sharing a resource to a degree which would help in the development of gardens, but at the same time insuring that a resource which will not renew itself in hundreds of years, be carefully controlled and used wisely." [36]

At issue was whether or not the Park Service could legally allow residents to use mineral resources such as sand, rock, and gravel, in addition to topsoil, taken from federal land. In 1979, as part of a court agreement involving Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Secretary of the Interior agreed to establish regulations implementing the mineral disposal authority found in the enabling legislation of the five recreation areas, including Glen Canyon, that permitted mineral extraction. Ross Lake and Lake Chelan recreation areas were among these areas. In 1981, the secretary published the regulations and they consisted of three major elements that were applicable to Lake Chelan NRA. First, the only minerals that could be removed were solid leasables, such as sodium, and solid locatables, such as gold. Second, a lease was required to remove all minerals. And third, Lake Chelan NRA was declared an "excepted area," a designation which prohibited all mineral leasing from the federal lands within its boundaries. According to the environmental assessment carried out in support of the regulations, the government granted Lake Chelan NRA the "excepted area" status because any mineral extraction would adversely affect the area's environment and visitor experience. [37]

The Park Service interpreted the new regulations to mean that it could continue to allow residents to remove sand, gravel, and similar materials from federal land in Lake Chelan NRA for private use. Superintendent Miller based his soil borrow plan on this interpretation, and Superintendent Reynolds extended the plan in 1986. However, agency officials misunderstood the regulations. Although sand, rock, and gravel were defined as "non-leasable minerals," and therefore were not included in the new regulations, the Park Service still could not allow their removal until it had prepared a new regulation for this action, promulgated by the Interior Secretary. Topsoil, on the other hand, was neither a renewable resource nor a non-leasable mineral, and its extraction in the valley was prohibited altogether. Superintendent Reynolds informed the Stehekin community of the change in policy in 1987, stating that past practices were in violation of federal law, specifically Section 402 and the Mineral Materials Disposal Act. And until the issue was resolved the Park Service would "not be issuing any permits for the removal of sand, gravel, or stone." [38]

The change in policy created an "unexpected" disruption for many people living in Stehekin, Reynolds noted, and he vowed his staff would find an "equitable solution" as soon as possible. The superintendent asserted that the general management plan would address the issue as part of the current park planning process. Finding a solution, however, presented something of a paradox. While the Park Service had the statutory authority to permit the removal of mineral materials such as sand, rock, and gravel, a new regulation could set off even more problems than it solved. First, such a regulation could threaten the recreation area's "excepted status," and create pressure to remove leasable minerals from the area. It could be argued that the removal of sand and gravel was like surface mining conducted in search of precious metals. Second, if promulgated, the regulation could set a precedent for the three other park areas with enabling acts similar to Lake Chelan NRA's. Finally, there was also the ongoing debate about the "renewableness" of sand and gravel, which they were in geologic terms, and thus covered under Section 402(a) of the North Cascades legislation; sand and gravel, in other words, would be treated the same as firewood. All of this served to complicate rather than simplify the situation.

Park officials found a partial solution in the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988. Section 206 of the act amended Section 402 (b) of Lake Chelan NRA's enabling legislation. The section clarified the authority for mineral resource use:

Within that portion of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area which is not designated as wilderness, sand, rock, and gravel may be made available for sale to residents of Stehekin for local use so long as such sale and disposal does not have significant adverse effects on the administration of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. [39]

The legislation granted the Park Service specific authority in the recreation area over mineral resource use without a special regulation. In doing so, park managers gave up on the debate over sand and gravel being renewable and saved other recreation areas from a legal precedent. [40] After the act passed in the fall of 1988, the Park Service resumed the sale of sand, rock, and gravel to local residents from the Company Creek pit. The pit had been selected in 1981 as the main extraction site because it was located away from primary visitor areas, and because its use would relieve impacts on more sensitive sites along the Stehekin River.

The Park Service's solution did not sit well with preservation groups. The North Cascades Conservation Council included the agency's policy for mineral resources in its 1989 lawsuit, and as part of the April 1991 consent decree, park managers suspended private use of public sand, rock, and gravel. As specified in the settlement, the Park Service developed a sand, rock, and gravel plan for the recreation area that once again allowed the removal of mineral materials by Stehekin residents. The plan and its environmental assessment explored the entire range of alternatives for the use of sand, rock, and gravel for private as well as public use, since the National Park Service continued to be the principal user of these resources. The alternatives included closing the pit and importing material from outside the valley to using the pit for most administrative and private uses. In general, the most practical option was to "allow mining of sand, rock, and gravel in the valley but restrict mining to the Company Creek pit for NPS maintenance and public use and to allow private use for minor reconstruction only and to allow for importing of material from outside the valley for new construction." The idea was to confine the size of the pit's footprint and to aggressively rehabilitate "abandoned" portions of the pit. All of this would be subject to applicable laws, agency policies, and plans. The main criteria was that use of the valley's mineral resources would not adversely affect the purposes of the recreation area. Upon completion of the plan in June 1995, private use of sand, rock, and gravel resumed. [41]


Rivers. Although the Park Service manages the rivers in North Cascades in their natural condition, two of the largest rivers have been significantly modified for human use. Dams have segmented the Skagit River into three reservoirs for the production of electricity above Newhalem, and regulate the river's flow below there. The recent settlement agreements for Seattle City Light's relicensing of the Skagit Project covered much of the mitigation for erosion, fisheries, and recreational enhancements. Still, managers needed to address recreational use of the free-flowing Skagit. Because the dams controlled stream flows, the river was always runnable and challenging. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Skagit attracted growing numbers of kayakers, canoeists, and rafters who floated the river on their own or with commercial guides. [42]

In 1978, park officials studied the effects of river running on the Skagit's riparian zone caused by overcrowding, human waste and garbage, as well as possible impacts to the river's aesthetics; they also considered the needs of visitor safety. Managers then developed a system for monitoring use of the river through a voluntary permit system for private users and a mandatory permit system for commercial users, who were required to meet certain safety standards. Rangers also conducted daily river patrols, checking for hazards, picking up trash, and conducting safety checks of river runners. Other measures included organizing put-in and take-out parking to relieve congestion. The system appeared adequate since the number of users had leveled off since 1980, when around 3,200 visitors floated the Skagit, and by the early 1990s had leveled off at around 2,000 visitors a year. Yet a more pressing concern was the effects of recreational river running on the overwintering bald eagles along the Skagit Wild and Scenic River, downstream from Ross Lake NRA. In 1986, the Forest Service, which managed this section of the river, completed a study of the issue and concluded that more exhaustive research was needed, and thus the Park Service would develop mitigation procedures when more information became available. [43]

The Stehekin River vividly displayed human modifications mostly through erosion control measures rather than large-scale hydroelectric developments. Rising in the glaciers and snowfields above Horseshoe Basin, the Stehekin meanders through the lower valley in a wide, uneven floodplain. Over time, its course has changed with spring floods and debris dams. New channels have formed as the river abandoned old ones and carved a course along the path of least resistance. From High Bridge to where it empties into Lake Chelan, the river flows through the recreation area and a mixture of private and public lands where the natural processes of flooding and erosion threaten, and at times destroy, property and improvements such as homes, the valley road, and bridges.

Human encounters with the river have centered on protecting land and improvements. Before and after the Park Service entered Stehekin, residents and government officials altered the river's course by riprapping its banks to protect their property as well as roads and bridges from erosion. Other attempts to control the river have been through salvage logging and channelization. Residents and Park Service managers alike have mined the river at times for sand, gravel, and stone; in some instances, they wanted to direct its course and in others to collect materials for development projects. All of these actions have often had unintended consequences. Riprap to save the road or a home may have been successful, but the solution to one problem was often the source of another; riprap may have altered the river's flow away from one area, but as a result, the river threatened another area farther downstream.

The Park Service either ignored or sanctioned activities altering the river's flow for nearly twenty years. Ironically, agency managers played a large role in the river's changes because the Park Service had accepted the responsibility to protect public roads and facilities from flood damage; this meant that the agency carried out a number of riprapping and bank stabilization projects. While the agency wanted to preserve the river in as natural a state as possible, its goal was complicated by questions of ownership and multiple jurisdictions, as well as by the rights of private property owners and the river's use for recreation.

The way the Park Service treated the troubled Stehekin River Resort illustrated one aspect of its management of the Stehekin River, in particular the relationship between private and public lands. Shortly after the establishment of the park complex, the owners of the Stehekin River Resort, which was located near the mouth of the river, contacted the Park Service about the damage to their property from severe erosion. In the past, the resort's owners had worked with the upstream landowner adjacent to the resort to protect the river bank and had planned to carry out more bank stabilization with log cribbing and riprapping, possibly with old car bodies filled with gravel. They also contemplated reopening an old river channel so they could reclaim a "considerable part of our property now in the main bed of the river." The Park Service, however, had recently purchased this property, and the resort's owners wanted the agency to consider assisting them in making these modifications. The other option they proposed was to reclassify their property, eliminating it from the private development zone, so that the government could purchase it. In either case, the Park Service would help solve their problem. [44]

The Park Service responded that it did not want direct involvement in river stabilization for private property owners. The agency simply did not have the funds, and if it assisted the resort owners then it might set a precedent for helping other owners along the river. However, park managers agreed to let the resort operators have access to the Brownfield property if they wanted to carry out the stabilization project on their own, as long as "it was reasonably compatible with the overall management of the area." [45] Instead, the owners of the Stehekin River Resort decided to sell their property to the National Park Service. District Manager George Wagner was interested in the property because the cabins would provide seasonal housing. In this way, the Park Service could protect the natural outlet to Lake Chelan from being destroyed by river stabilization work. Superintendent Lowell White thought otherwise. By acquiring the property, the agency might set a dangerous precedent of violating the private development zone, and the agency opted not to purchase the resort property.

The Park Service was trying to prevent setting two precedents and preserve the river in a mostly natural condition. The resort owners did not share these goals. One owner was caught trying to riprap the river bank on federal land on the old Brownfield property. In 1972, the resort's owners notified the Park Service that their property was in danger of being washed away by the next flood. And that the agency, as the upstream, adjacent land owner, bore some of the responsibility because it was not stabilizing the stream bank on its property and because it would not allow them to undertake any stabilization measures. The owners' most recent proposal was to have the Army Corps of Engineers, currently clearing wood debris upriver, reopen the old channel as well as place log cribbing and other materials along the river bank. The project would protect property belonging to the Park Service and resort owners. Superintendent White notified the owners that flooding and erosion were natural and that altering the river indiscriminately would have environmental consequences and destroy one of the "prime features the visitor has come to see and enjoy." Richard Jeffers, one of the resort's owners, bristled at White's letter, and insisted that this was an emergency situation and the federal government had some obligation to "preserve some little remaining private property in this area." [46]

Agency officials were assured by the regional solicitor that the Park Service was not liable for the plight of the Stehekin River Resort or similar situations. However, park managers were concerned that they would face severe local criticism if it appeared that they willfully allowed the loss of both public and private property. They viewed the situation as an opportunity to purchase more private land. In the spring of 1973, after Dan Campbell, another owner of the resort, contacted Senator Henry Jackson about the situation, the agency moved quickly to assure the resort owners that it would seek to buy their property, once it had obtained a variance to the private development zone policy, and would send engineers to devise, if possible, an environmentally sound bank stabilization project. [47]

Later that year, however, the agency's Washington office notified Senator Jackson that the Park Service would not be able to help the resort owners at this time. Again the agency worried about precedent. Although it was perfectly legal under current conditions to purchase the resort property, other owners in the private development zone might request the agency to buy their properties as well. Certainly, park officials were willing but they had nearly reached the legislative ceiling for land purchase. Furthermore, a study of the river erosion problem concluded that the cost of stream bank maintenance for private property far exceeded available funds, and even if the funds were available, the agency could not legally spend this amount of money on private lands. It could not afford to help one landowner, and by helping one it would really need to help many. Finally, the agency continued to have concerns about the ecological damage river bank stabilization would cause. [48]

Nearly a decade later, park officials revisited the erosion issue. The situation was serious enough now that managers were willing to take some action to stabilize the embankment. But the Park Service continued to have reservations about what assistance it could provide without setting into motion a sequence of events that would be beyond their control. Contemplating an erosion control project for the Stehekin River Resort, Stehekin Ranger Noel Poe summed up the situation this way:

If we followed through with rip-rapping and opening stream channels it would be the first time that the NPS has gone to lengths to protect private property in Stehekin Valley. Are we required in a NRA to protect private property from a free flowing river? How much protection? If we start where will we stop? Did the property owners assume any responsibility when they built on the river bank? I know if we protect the S.R.R. [Stehekin River Resort] then other property owners will demand the same effort. At every bend in the river, erosion is occurring and it is threatening private property. [49]

The Park Service went so far as to draft an environmental assessment of the erosion control project, but never finalized it. Evidently, questions went unanswered about the river's hydraulics and what effect the project would have on them. Also unclear were the agency's legal obligations and authority regarding the river.

The Park Service still approached the issue of erosion with the goal of protecting the river in its natural state, and hesitated to undertake any projects, such as riprapping or salvage logging, that would unnecessarily disturb the river's flow. By the late 1980s, the agency had firmed up its policy regarding the management of the Stehekin River. The 1988 general management plan stated that the Park Service would implement erosion and flood control measures in order to protect life and health, public roads and bridges, and to repair erosion caused by human activities along the riverbank. As for flooding, the agency would allow "a minimum action to alleviate the immediate emergency flood hazard to existing development in the floodplain, with the costs of such actions paid by the landowner." What this meant specifically for the Stehekin River Resort owners, and potentially other private land owners, was that the Park Service was not going to interfere with the process of erosion on undeveloped federal lands. By law it could not build in the one hundred year flood plain, which contained a number of private and agency developments, the Stehekin River Resort among them. Any erosion control measures would constitute a form of development, and therefore any proposed projects would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In this regard, simple bank erosion affecting private land did not count as an "emergency" and any proposals to stabilize embankments would be denied. In the view of park managers, only unoccupied federal lands were being threatened by erosion, and therefore they would not recommend any erosion control action.

This policy did not necessarily release any tension between private landowners and the federal government. The Park Service maintained that it had proprietary jurisdiction over the river because it was not a navigable river and could enforce its policy. Private landowners had some recourse, however; they could protect their property from floods by erecting riprap and manipulating the river on their own land with state permits. But often the best place to alter the river's course was on federal land. Stehekin River Resort owners continued to press this exact point, but the Park Service refused, in their eyes, to address the problem. The owners attempted to motivate the Park Service to reconsider its policy by making a special request to Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan in 1990. The request only sharpened the agency's resolve against further manipulations of the river, especially since the resort lay within the floodplain and would always be subject to threat from flooding. Control of the river through riprap in other locations, one senior agency official argued, had shown that such actions were "expensive, temporary, and do not result in any guarantee against washout." Each erosion control measure was connected to erosion at another site, either on the opposite bank or downriver on private or public land. The erosion taking place near the resort had been occurring for a long time and would continue "in spite of efforts to control it." Finally, the resort's owners had not pursued all of the options open to them. The Park Service agreed to let them complete the erosion control project on federal land at their own expense, provided they obtain the appropriate permits and complete a plan of operation. They never followed through. [50]

As with other resource issues in Stehekin, the Park Service's management of the river came under review with the lawsuit brought by the North Cascades Conservation Council in 1989. The suit contended that the agency shouldered most of the responsibility for manipulations of the Stehekin River through its authorizations and actions to riprap the river, in most cases to prevent the valley road from sliding away. As part of the settlement agreement, the agency prepared an environmental impact statement for its management of the Stehekin River, which was included in the amended general management plan of 1995. Until that time, the agency agreed to end all riprapping along the Stehekin River except in emergencies, and even then to carry out the action in a temporary fashion. The agreement did little to help the owners of the Stehekin River Resort or other private landowners seeking to conduct erosion control measures on federal land. And once the agency had completed its detailed analysis, the likelihood of the Park Service aiding the resort's owners and others like them did not change. The agency asserted that in its efforts to manage the river in its natural state, it would not manipulate the river or its tributaries, and it would not manipulate woody debris -- vital habitat for fish and other wildlife -- "except to protect public roads and bridges." The agency would allow some changes to woody debris, such as trimming limbs, to protect kayakers, canoeists, and rafters, as long as these changes met appropriate guidelines. Woody debris would not be removed in any case, and the agency would urge private landowners to leave log jams and other forms of woody debris intact. If necessary, they would take action to ensure the protection of recreation area resources. [51]


Wildlife. Wildlife management concerns in the North Cascades complex tended to cluster around the various large species of mammals found, or were thought to be found, in the park: black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, deer, and mountain goat. Historically, these were the animals visitors associated with a large natural park, especially one of such wild proportions as North Cascades. Some problems arose directly out of interactions between visitors and wildlife. More often though, wildlife management issues related to inventorying, monitoring, and studying the wildlife populations and habitat, as well as hunting in the recreation areas. Park managers, however, still have only a limited understanding of the wildlife of North Cascades.

Bears. In general, bears have had the greatest potential for harming human life and property in national parks. In North Cascades, black bears were the greatest threat, though they only occasionally caused problems. Over the last twenty years, backcountry incidents were still rare, since bears in more remote locations tended to shy away from human contact. Most incidents of human-bear conflict were confined to frontcountry areas -- campgrounds in the recreation areas and the Stehekin Valley -- where food attracted black bears. As a result, they became habituated to humans, entered campsites and private property to steal food, and damaged property in the process. The 1975 bear management plan, revised in 1982, continued to guide managers in their efforts to reduce the number of human-bear conflicts, and managers attributed the reduction of incidents to the plan. In particular, improvements stemmed from better visitor education, an increase in bear-proof garbage cans in frontcountry campgrounds, the closing of camps frequented by nuisance bears, and the removal of problem bears through relocation or killing. Destroying bears has steadily declined since the 1970s. During the mid-1980s, park managers killed three bears, but as of 1994, no bears had been relocated or destroyed for three years. However, it was time to revise the bear management plan to incorporate the most recent management techniques, to improve both backcountry and frontcountry campsites to lessen the chances of attracting bears, and to expand public education and employee training about how to deal with possible human-bear encounters. [52]

Grizzly Bears. The most significant aspect of bear management, and in part the impetus to revise the bear management plan, was a renewed interest in grizzly bears. Although park managers suspected the presence of grizzlies in the North Cascades, they were never able to verify their suspicions beyond the occasional sighting. That changed in 1975 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the grizzly to the endangered species list as a threatened species in the lower forty-eight. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the listing prompted several important surveys of grizzlies in the North Cascades, which evaluated their habitat and possible reintroduction into the North Cascades. The classification also led the Washington Department of Game to list the grizzly bear as endangered throughout the state in 1981. The following year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produced the grizzly bear recovery plan that identified the North Cascades grizzly bear ecosystem "as one of six possible recovery areas south of Canada." [53]

The park complex, along with surrounding national forests, was the centerpiece of the ecosystem. In 1983, the recovery plan was set in motion with the formation of the interagency grizzly bear committee; representatives from North Cascades National Park participated on the committee, as did specialists from the Washington Department of Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, British Columbia Wildlife Branch, and B.C. Parks. Interagency cooperation sparked more research. One study catalogued historical and recent grizzly sightings in the North Cascades ecosystem. And in 1986, the North Cascades grizzly bear working group was formed to evaluate whether the North Cascades grizzly bear ecosystem could support a viable grizzly bear population. The evaluation concluded that grizzly bears had existed historically throughout the west slope of the Cascades Mountains, including the North Cascades complex, and that the North Cascades ecosystem supported a small, widely-distributed, resident grizzly population of some ten to twenty bears. A recovery plan for the North Cascades ecosystem was expected to follow in the mid-1990s. [54]

In the meantime, however, the subject of grizzlies in the North Cascades became a politically hot topic. Even though researchers were trying to determine whether grizzlies lived in the North Cascades Range, confusion about the project's intent surfaced in nearby communities. The possible reintroduction of such a large predator generated considerable interest and fear. Some members of the public assumed that federal officials might reintroduce the bears into specially designated recovery areas like the park without consulting them. These concerns were unfounded, largely because the evaluation did not recommend such an action, and because a lack of funding jeopardized further work. [55] Finally, the controversial nature of bear recovery led to the program being placed on hold.

>Wolves. The recovery of the gray wolf in the North Cascades, like the grizzly, generated public interest. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, wolf tracks were discovered in the Ross Lake area. In May 1990, an adult wolf was seen along the international border near Hozomeen. Park biologists reported hearing wolf pups in the area the following year, and rangers also saw two gray wolves in this same area that year. Nearly twenty years had passed since the last wolf sighting in the North Cascades. The wolf signs and sightings stirred discussion about the presence and possible recovery of wolves in the North Cascades. In recent years, under authority of the Endangered Species Act, the Park Service has teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a wolf reintroduction program for Yellowstone National Park. The initial release of wolves in Yellowstone took place in March 1995, and was followed with great public support as well as reservations. On the one hand, supporters touted the return of a key element of primal Yellowstone, and on the other hand, critics argued that a vicious predator was being released and would destroy local livestock with the government's consent. [56] Beginning in the early 1990s, North Cascades managers took the first steps in developing their own wolf management program. Park biologists concentrated their efforts in the upper Skagit Basin near Hozomeen, documenting wolves through howling surveys, observations, photographs, video recordings, and plaster casts of tracks. At present, it appears that wolves have "reintroduced" themselves. At least six packs have been reported in the Cascades north of Interstate 90 (Snoqualmie Pass).

Ungulates. The Park Service's understanding of the ungulate species in the park complex was narrow, too. Elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and mountain goat were all known to have existed within or near the park complex at one time. Yet only a few studies were available to inform management decisions, and managers continued to promote the inventorying and monitoring of ungulates and their habitat. Habitat was especially important to the health of ungulate populations, and natural fire played a role in stimulating the growth and production of browse plants. Managers believed that reestablishing a natural fire regime through a program of prescribed burning and prescribed natural fire management was essential to their survival.

Restoring ungulates to the park complex was another aspect of management. Bighorn sheep had been proposed for possible reintroduction, but the restoration of mountain goats received more interest. Park biologists had considered reintroducing or attempting to restore the park complex's mountain goat population since the mid-1970s. Historically, biologists knew that mountain goats were commonly seen in winter months along the shores of Lake Chelan and commonly seen in the Skagit River drainage. By the 1990s, sightings were less common and their distribution and status in the park complex and surrounding lands were uncertain, leading the state to close the park complex to goat hunting. One attempt to restore goat populations in the Lake Chelan area had occurred in the early 1980s when the Washington Department of Game, in cooperation with the Chelan PUD and Forest Service, transplanted twenty-eight mountain goats from Olympic National Park to the northern shores of Lake Chelan. (The closest site to Lake Chelan NRA was near Lucerne.) Some were known to have wandered into the recreation area, but their fate was unknown. But much remained in question about the goat population within the park complex, and park staffers continued to participate in goat surveys along Lake Chelan and in the Stehekin Valley. Recent plans called for initiating a parkwide survey of mountain goats to identify their habitat, population, and distribution. Manager also expected a newly completed graduate thesis on the habitat of goats in the park to enhance their understanding of the park's goat population. [57]

Birds. Protection of the park complex's wild birds, comprised of some two hundred species, needed more baseline information. For years, park biologists conducted breeding bird surveys and an Audubon Christmas bird count centered around Newhalem. But the most high profile species, namely such endangered or threatened birds as the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and spotted owl, received the most attention. Ironically, none appeared to live within the boundaries of the park complex. Park managers knew the most about bald eagles. Although eagles were not known to nest within North Cascades, the Skagit River, below the complex's boundary, hosted the largest population of wintering bald eagles in the lower forty-eight states. A long-term monitoring program, initiated by Jonathan Bjorkland in 1981, a biological technician, determined that the wintering eagle population was stable or increasing. Long-range plans, which were tied to the Seattle City Light relicensing agreement, included further inventorying and monitoring of eagle use of the Skagit River in Ross Lake NRA below Newhalem. Other plans were carried out to create surveying and monitoring programs for spotted owls, peregrine falcons, loons, and harlequin ducks. [58]


Forest and wildland fire management. Suppressing fires was a practice followed in all national parks until the late 1970s, when fire was officially acknowledged as having a vital role in natural processes. In the early 1970s, park staffers developed a preliminary fire management plan to ensure that naturally-caused fires would be allowed to burn, within reason, in order to enhance vegetation and wildlife habitat, and to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. The plan indicated that natural fires, primarily from lightning, would run their course as long as they did not threaten private property and developments. All human-caused fires would be suppressed. In July 1981, an updated fire management plan was approved, expanding upon the early version. The new plan caused some problems among park staff. The plan would essentially classify the park as a natural fire area, with numerous exemptions for suppressing fires. Superintendent Keith Miller was worried that there was too much risk should a fire get out of control, whereas members of his staff contended that the park's topography had many natural barriers that made it a good area for allowing natural fires to run their course. Nevertheless, the plan was implemented. In 1982, resource specialist Dan Allen proposed a hazard fuel reduction program for the Stehekin Valley, using prescribed burns to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. But Miller would not allow it, evidently the liability and risk being too great, and Stehekin remained in a fire suppression zone. After the sensational fires in Yellowstone in 1988, the Park Service revised its natural fire, or so-called "let it burn," policy, leading to the tightening of national policy and guidelines for the management of naturally ignited fires. The most recent fire management plan reflected these changes. The park complex was divided into two zones, the suppression zone and the prescribed natural fire zone. Although naturally occurring fires would still be allowed to burn, a number of conditions first had to be satisfied, including environmental as well as political consequences. Fire would ultimately have only a partial rather than a complete role in the park's ecosystem. [59]

The Hozomeen area and Stehekin Valley were two developed areas in the park complex where fires had been historically suppressed, and demonstrated the need for an active fire management program. The approach involved reducing forest fuel loads through mechanical means or through prescribed burning. In the Stehekin country, for example, fires had been suppressed for over a hundred years resulting in dangerous accumulations of fuel. Agency managers recognized in the late 1980s that it was time to rethink past policy. Forest uses and forest fire suppression had created unnatural conditions for the valley's late successional stage Douglas fir/ponderosa pine forest stands. The dense forest was less resistant to wildfire, and the accumulation of downed woody debris created conditions for a crown fire, which was not natural for this type of forest environment. [60]

In 1989, the park implemented a hazard fuel reduction plan for Stehekin to reduce the chances of a catastrophic fire wiping out the valley's forest, and destroying human life and property in the process. The plan initiated a prescribed burning program in the Stehekin Valley during the early 1990s. The prescribed burns successfully reduced fuel loads on the forest floor but were unsuccessful in reducing ladder fuels or the dense canopy that cause wildfires to spread through tree crowns. The Boulder Creek fire of 1994 underscored this situation; four thousand acres burned above Stehekin, and the fire could have swept down the valley. In 1995, park resource specialists revised the fire management plan for Stehekin and combined it with the firewood management plan. Along with fire suppression and prescribed natural fires in designated areas, managers also asserted that they would employ both management-ignited prescribed burns and selective manual thinning in six forest fuel reduction areas. In doing so, managers believed they would strengthen wildland fire protection, and as a secondary measure provide firewood for Stehekin residents from thinning operations. The ultimate goal was to restore the valley's forest to as natural a condition as possible, and at the same time help resolve long-standing issues over firewood collection. [61]


Environmental monitoring. In the 1980s, the National Park Service began monitoring several resources that may have been taken for granted in North Cascades: clean water and clean air. Concern for their protection stemmed from the mandates of environmental protection laws and concentrated use within the park. In 1974, for example, park biologists initiated water quality monitoring to measure bacteria in surface water collected near public use areas like Ross Lake Resort, Stehekin Landing docks, and a number of campgrounds in the two recreation areas. The program was curtailed after 1990. Concern also arose over the fact that even the fresh air and pure water of the park complex could be affected by the larger metropolitan area of the Puget Sound. In the Clean Air Act of 1977, as amended, Congress mandated an effort to improve or preserve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas. Under the law, the park was designated a Class I area, which allowed for little increased air pollution from any new or nearby sources. The recreation areas were designated as Class II, which allowed for minor increases in pollution from moderate, well-planned growth. [62]

These designations gave the park administration added responsibilities and prerogatives to maintain visibility and document, and limit when possible, the direct impacts of acid precipitation. Protecting air quality, like other ecosystem management objectives, demanded that park managers cooperate with other land management and regulatory agencies in the North Cascades. Over the years, park managers have worked with the Washington Department of Ecology on air quality studies and monitoring, primarily in visibility and acid precipitation problems. Beginning in 1984, park staff carried out visibility monitoring using automatic 35 mm cameras pointed up Stetattle Creek and Ross Lake. The program was discontinued in the early 1990s, and no long-term visibility monitoring station had been erected because of limited funding. In the meantime, park resource specialists concentrated on monitoring, visually and photographically, smoke conditions from wildfires and prescribed natural burns within the park complex; they also wanted to ensure that all summer slash burning was carried out on weekdays during the summer months so visibility would be high on weekends when visitation was highest. [63]

The park's attempts to monitor and assess potential damage from acid precipitation has been slightly better. North Cascades lies in the path of prevailing westerly winds blowing across the urban-industrial complex of the Puget Sound. Although sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions in the Puget Sound were far below the rest of the nation, the parkland's bedrock was extremely sensitive to acid precipitation because it lacked calcareous components. Acid precipitation studies were initiated in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s by a number of government agencies. In 1980, the Park Service engaged in its own work monitoring the acidity of rains and snow at sampling sites set up in eight locations: Sedro Woolley, Marblemount, Newhalem, Ross Dam Trailhead, Hozomeen, Stehekin, Copper Ridge, and Cascade Pass. In 1987, North Cascades was one of four parks in the Pacific Northwest nominated as a site for the National Dry Deposition Network. During the 1980s, studies were also undertaken to measure the impact of acids in rain and snow upon lichens, vegetation, and lake chemistry. In 1984, a National Atmospheric Deposition Program National Trends Network (NADP NTN) was established at the Marblemount Ranger Stations and continues to operate to the present. The station measures about eight chemical parameters of precipitation including pH. And in 1992, Western Washington University monitored ozone concentrations at Marblemount. Although data showed that the park was within an acceptable range for air pollution, more research and monitoring were necessary to assess the long-term effects of this potential problem. Funding, again, was often only available for the short-term. [64]


Cultural Resource Management. More than ten years after the establishment of the park complex, Park Service officials turned their attention to the protection of artifacts and structures that represented the relationship of humans to the natural environment of North Cascades. Early park managers like Roger Contor had emphasized the importance of historical research in understanding the park complex's natural as well as human history. On the one hand, biologists used historical accounts to determine the "original condition" of the North Cascades environment -- the composition and extent of its wildlife, fish, and forests, and the forces of change brought about by human activity. This kind of evidence would help them in their efforts to protect or restore the parkland's natural environment. On the other hand, research into the park's human past sometimes challenged the area's wilderness mission. The allure of the North Cascades was the range's perceived pristine quality, its reputation as an alpine fortress against human settlement and resource exploitation. Any information that would reveal otherwise might tarnish, in the eyes of some, this wilderness image. Informally, it seems this perspective colored the park's interest in cultural resources. Federal law, however, mandated that government agencies protect cultural resources under their jurisdiction. True, North Cascades was valued as a wilderness refuge, and its enabling legislation did not identify as its central mission preserving relics of the human past. However, park managers were "responsible for complying with the laws and regulations applicable to all cultural resources" in every kind of area managed by the National Park Service, "regardless of their primary mission." [65]

In the late 1970s, historians, archaeologists, and other specialists working for the Denver Service Center and under contract made initial forays into researching the park complex's human history. Among other things, they produced the park's first history study, helped interpret the Buckner Homestead in Stehekin, and inventoried some of area's historic structures for the List of Classified Structures. Despite these early efforts, the Park Service did not develop a cultural resource management program for North Cascades until the early 1980s. At that time, cultural resource professionals from the regional office in Seattle approached park management with a plan for a multi-year, interdisciplinary cultural resource inventory. The program would identify, evaluate, and protect the complex's cultural resources. The approach was similar to natural resource management's emphasis on baseline inventory, for it would enable managers to assess the past, current, and long-term condition of the park's human artifacts and structures. [66]

Beginning in 1983, the cultural resources program produced a series of studies focusing on the complex's history, cultural landscapes, archaeology, historic architecture, and museum management. By the late 1980s, park managers could draw on a number of documents to assist them in their understanding and protection of resources related to the early and recent human history of the North Cascades. Among these documents were a historic structures inventory, historic resource study, historic structures preservation guide, archaeological and ethnographic overviews, collections management plan, and cultural landscape inventories for the Golden West Lodge and Buckner Homestead in Stehekin. The documents contributed in part to a number of accomplishments in the park complex's management of cultural resources, including the listing of many structures and sites in the National Register of Historic Places. Attention to the park's history also renewed efforts in maintaining and in some cases restoring historic buildings, especially at the Buckner Homestead in Stehekin. [67]

The park's collections also benefited from the cultural resources program. It funded the much needed cataloguing of the park's collections, one of many serious backlogs throughout the park system. It also helped build a bridge between cultural and natural resources management in the sense that the collection reflected work conducted in studies ranging from biology to archaeology. Interest in the collections, in fact, assumed such importance that park officials moved the responsibility for the collection from the division of interpretation into the division of resource management in 1988. North Cascades was one of the first parks to make this change, largely because the objects within the collection were park resources and important for research. The collections program was "entering a new phase," noted Chief of Resource Management Jon Jarvis. Three seasonal museum technicians had been hired to work on cataloging, with the intent of entering them into a computer database; the park had signed a loan agreement for the Buckner property, with its array of farm machinery and tools; and a new collections storage area had been built in Marblemount, with plans for one in Stehekin. Current and anticipated field research would generate volumes of items for the collections, adding further impetus to improve the program. Park officials felt strongly enough about the collections that they attempted to add a permanent curator to the park staff. [68]

The first specialist in cultural resources to join the park staff was an archaeologist. Archaeology was one of the more entrenched disciplines in the Park Service, partly because some of the earliest legislation in preservation focused on protecting the archaeological sites of the Southwest. In addition, sites related to prehistory and more recent Native American activities in the North Cascades spoke to a time before exploitation of the range, and other places in the country, by Anglo Americans. Indians and their ancestors were part of a popular picture of original America, one that the Leopold Report endorsed, and since most native peoples, except in Alaska, had been screened out of national parks, they posed little threat to modern management interests. At a more bureaucratic level, federal law required archaeological surveys for any ground disturbance related to park developments and management decisions. For these reasons, the need for an archaeologist carried more weight than other specialists in historic preservation. [69]

The regional office in Seattle oversaw the archaeological program for a number of years. Although the Park Service hired archaeological consultants to perform archaeological surveys for compliance purposes beginning in the early 1970s, it was not until 1984 when an archaeologist would have a long-term presence in the park complex. That year, Regional Archaeologist James Thomson contracted with Washington State University to have Robert Mierendorf conduct parkwide archaeological surveys and produce the park complex's archaeological overview (People of the North Cascades), among other smaller projects. By 1989, Mierendorf had become a regional office employee stationed in the park to carry out the Ross Lake surveys and assist the park with compliance-mandated surveys. He would not become the park's permanent archaeologist until 1995 when a servicewide professionalization initiative provided base funding for his position in the park. [70]

Archaeology also made its place in North Cascades because Mierendorf's work revised past perceptions about the range. Rather than a country native peoples avoided, he discovered evidence suggesting the opposite. From the ancient trail over Cascade Pass to high elevation sites such as the one near Juanita Lake, prehistoric peoples as well as historic tribes were frequent visitors to the range. Citing Mierendorf's overview and research design, Regional Archaeologist Thomson and North Cascades Chief of Resource Management Jarvis were able to convince City Light that one of the key issues in relicensing was the mitigation of cultural resources in the project area, primarily archaeological resources. In 1987, the Park Service and City Light entered into a memorandum of agreement, in which City Light would fund a multi-year archaeological survey undertaken by the Park Service. Mierendorf's surveys of the Skagit basin, specifically the drawdown area of Ross Lake, uncovered numerous archaeological sites, confirming that prehistoric groups had made "extensive use of the upper Skagit Valley." In essence, City Light funded the park's archaeological position until base funding became available in 1995. It also contributed to an ongoing archaeological program in Ross Lake NRA as part of the negotiated settlement for the Skagit Project's relicensing. An estimated $1.5 million was identified in the licensing agreement to support investigations and mitigation as part of a comprehensive archaeological management plan. [71]

Archaeological investigations would eventually expand to embrace the entire park complex as part of the Park Service's obligations to inventory all known cultural resources under its protection. Although most of the park complex was designated wilderness, archaeology rarely clashed with wilderness management. Archaeological sites and artifacts were obscured by vegetation, invisible in most cases to the untrained eye, and therefore their protection did not conflict with notions of a wilderness landscape unmodified by human contact. The presence of a park archaeologist allowed for close interaction with the park's interpretive staff who spread the information about the park's prehistory to the public. The presence of a park archaeologist also helped create archaeological programs in cooperation with the North Cascades Institute and the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission. Recently the park archaeologist joined the park complex's wilderness committee. [72]

Historic preservation faced a more difficult task in becoming accepted by park managers who believed that the protection of structures in the park's backcountry was in direct conflict with wilderness management. Historic preservation had assumed a higher profile in park management with the relicensing of the Skagit Project, when the Park Service became involved in the documentation and interpretation of the project's historic buildings, cultural landscapes, and engineering resources. [73] Internally, however, North Cascades managers shared the concerns of many wilderness advocates within the service who found any historic structure in wilderness as an unacceptable intrusion on their conception of wilderness as a depopulated landscape. In the late 1960s and 1970s, backcountry rangers eliminated many structures, burning trail shelters and other structures considered inappropriate for the wilderness setting. And the practice continued, although to a lesser extent, throughout the early 1980s. These practices were among the primary factors leading to the proposal by regional office cultural resource specialists to conduct multi-disciplinary cultural resource inventories and intensive training for park managers in the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. As part of this training, key park managers were persuaded that the Wilderness Act contemplated that areas with historic values could be included within designated wilderness, and under current regulations, such structures could be protected in ways consistent with the preservation of the area's wilderness character. One of the strengths of the Wilderness Act was that it could prevent developments from invading a park's backcountry. The designation of the North Cascades wilderness in 1988, for example, eliminated early agency plans for the Ruby Mountain tramway and the Roland Point road. At the same time, it did not grant blanket authority to managers who wanted to raze structures they thought diminished the park's wilderness stature, or in a very real sense, created management problems by concentrating visitors in fragile, subalpine areas. Making these decisions required a process of evaluation and public comment, which drew on the appropriate studies and satisfied the appropriate regulations for compliance with Section 106 of the historic preservation act.

By 1989, many of the park complex's historic structures were listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a designation which did not guarantee their preservation but did recognize their association with the human history of the North Cascades. Whether a Forest Service ranger station or an abandoned mining site on a talus slope, these places were physical reminders of the past. Their presence could be appreciated more because of their association with the cultural history of an area as remote and forbidding as North Cascades. Within the last decade, then, park managers have recognized more readily that large natural areas can have a distinctive and valuable history, something that does not necessarily detract from one's understanding of their wilderness values. Some examples of this new mindset could be seen in repairs to the park's fire lookouts, the restoration of Meadow Cabin, and the maintenance of historic log buildings in the Stehekin country, including the George Miller House and the trail shelters built by Civilian Conservation Corps. Perhaps more than any other place within the park complex, Stehekin has received the most attention for historic preservation, given its standing as a historic community, the number of structures owned by the Park Service, and the fact that Lake Chelan NRA's legislation specifically mentions the area's history. Interest in adapting the Golden West Lodge for Park Service offices and the recently completed management plan for the Buckner Orchard spoke in part to this attention.

There were other events that marked the development of the park's cultural resource program. One of these was the construction of a collections facility for housing the park's collections in Marblemount as well as administrative offices for the cultural resource staff in 1993. Another was the creation of a cultural resource management specialist position in 1996. The position, filled by Jesse Kennedy, was created as part of a long-range plan to place cultural resource professionals in parks. This fit well with the Park Service's 1996 reorganization, which placed a greater emphasis on park-based specialists. Besides overseeing the park archaeologist and the newly-hired, permanent park curator, Kennedy worked to develop the park's cultural resource program. He took over the compliance issues related to federal historic preservation laws, advised park staff on cultural resource issues such as the protection of historic structures, and helped develop management plans for some of the park complex's historic buildings and landscapes, as well as project statements for the park's resource management plan. Along with the park curator, Kennedy also oversaw the management of the collections for San Juan National Historical Park. At present, the cultural resource program has grown considerably in a relatively short period of time. Through the program, the park has established strong ties outside the park regarding the cultural history of the North Cascades. On a regular basis now, park managers consult with tribal governments, especially the Skagit tribes, who have an interest in park projects. And the park's first curator not only organized the park's collections but also began collecting oral histories and records belonging to local families with ties to the history of the North Cascades. [74]

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Last Updated: 14-Apr-1999