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Groups remove, repair Washington forest roads

OLYMPIA — A coalition of 18 groups is pushing to restore national forest lands in Washington state through the removal and repair of forest roads left behind from decades of timber harvesting.

State and federal officials say mud and runoff from those abandoned roads pose a problem for water quality, salmon and the ailing Puget Sound. They say the roads can also block fish passage and wildlife migration.

Washington has received $15.2 million in federal money over the past three years through the U.S. Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails program to reduce the impact of roads on watersheds.

In the Olympic National Forest, crews have been working to repair crumbling roads and build culverts.

Congress created the program in fiscal year 2008 in response to concerns raised by the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative, a coalition of state agencies, tribes and conservation, recreation and fishing groups including The Wilderness Society, Wildlands CPR and Trout Unlimited.

“This is a win-win situation for people and for our natural resources — salmon and the forest,” U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said Tuesday. Dicks launched the program as chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies.

The condition of the aging forest roads can affect stream water and aquatic habitat, said Anna Jackson, environmental policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Storms and washed-out roads can send mud and sediment into creeks and streams, warming up water temperatures and making it hard for salmon that need cool waters to thrive.

State officials and others say there are thousands of miles of forest roads in Washington that need to be improved. Many of the roads with problems drain into Puget Sound. There is a $300 million backlog in Washington, according to the coalition.

“It’s all about maintaining the roads or in some cases getting rid of them altogether,” said Sandy Howard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Washington Ecology. “It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle for salmon restoration.”