The pump diverting the water stopped, and with that stoppage the small stream on Mt. Spokane flowed free again and a fish came flopping through.
Just as planned.
“Wow, it worked,” Paul Buckland remembers thinking.
In 2006, Buckland, forest manager for the Inland Empire Paper Co., and other employees spent a day replacing a too-small culvert crossing under a road on Mt. Spokane. The 3-foot culvert had become clogged with debris. Fish, hoping to migrate downstream were unable to pass.
So they diverted the stream temporarily, removed the culvert and replaced it instead with a large concrete bridge raised on pillars above the stream.
That allowed the stream to flow naturally and gave fish a way down.
On Friday, Buckland stood on that very bridge and accepted an award from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. For the past 15 years, IEP has methodically evaluated and overhauled much of its road infrastructure, said Ken McNamee, the northeast regional manager for the Department of Natural Resources.
“This is just another shining example of the commitment between public agencies and large industrial land owners,” McNamee said.
Inland Empire Paper Co. is part of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
The Road Maintenance Abandonment Plan was started by DNR 15 years ago, McNamee said. DNR believed “folks just weren’t investing in the infrastructure,” he said.
In the past, roads were often built along streams or rivers because it was easier and cheaper than clearing other terrain. Often those roads weren’t diligently maintained and monitored, which lead to degradation of the waterways.
Thus, the RMAP was born. The state asked large and small forest landowners to develop a plan to bring their land into compliance with state forest standards.
Landowners drafted plans and then started implementing them. Inland Empire Paper took stock of every road, culvert and stream on more than 60,000 acres of forestland.
“The scope of this project was overwhelming,” said Buckland. “I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it, quite frankly.”
A decade and a half later, the project is complete.
IEP removed 67 fish barriers, opening up 38 miles of habitat. Eighty-four miles of road were renovated or removed and 18 culverts were removed or enlarged to allow easier fish access.
IEP paid for all of the work, Buckland said. Although he wouldn’t give an exact figure, he said each bridge cost between $30,000 and $50,000.
At a small ceremony on Friday, McNamee and Buckland said the effort is an example of how cooperation and partnership between private industry and regulatory agencies can lead to positive results for all.
“It’s not easy being a regulatory agency,” McNamee said. “It’s not easy being a landowner.”
The improvements will benefit the entire downstream watershed, McNamee and Buckland said. Cleaner water. Healthier fish. But, the impact goes beyond that.
“It’s not just fish,” Buckland said. “It’s fish, people, businesses. It’s the whole ball of wax.”