By Roger Oakes
I APPRECIATE THE opportunity to explain the Hoh River Trust’s plans to transfer ownership and management of trust lands along the Hoh River to The Nature Conservancy.
Since my last Peninsula Daily News “Point of View” commentary (March 27, 2013, “Trust in the great Hoh River”), the Hoh River Trust (HRT) has continued its work of restoration on our 7,000 acres, which form a corridor from Olympic National Park to the river’s mouth.
We have commercially thinned over 250 acres, pre-commercially thinned 4,300 acres, opened 23.7 miles of blocked fish streams, decommissioned 11 miles of unneeded roads and removed 64 bad culverts.
We have accelerated the development of HRT mature forests and improved habitat for endangered and threatened species while allowing for appropriate recreation, including fishing and hunting.
One of our goals has been to reopen every blocked fish-bearing stream under our control for the benefit of both sport and tribal fisheries.
We achieved this in 2013.
When Western Rivers Conservancy and Wild Salmon Center began coordinating land purchases along the Hoh River in 2001 (leading to the creation of the Hoh River Trust in 2004), they were concerned about their ability to restore steelhead and salmon populations to anything similar to historic numbers.
They were interested in the Hoh because it offered one of the best chances for restoration.
It was a relatively intact watershed, not affected by dams or significant hatchery influences.
As David Montgomery points out in his book, “King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon,” the “degradation of our Pacific Northwest rivers and salmon occurred progressively over 150 years,” (coinciding with European settlement).
Montgomery points out that river restoration could take even longer.
No one said it would be easy — or even possible.
Montgomery adds a “Fifth H” (History) to the four H’s of fish abundance (habitat, harvest, hydro and hatcheries).
“Learning from the past is important for public policy,” Montgomery said.
Understanding the factors that have led to the decline of our fisheries and deciding how best to restore these populations, and even which rivers are in fact restorable, becomes critical.
So why is the Hoh River Trust joining forces with The Nature Conservancy (TNC)?
One reason is funding, the other a vision of expanded opportunity on the West End for a broader vision of sustainable management, economic opportunities and educational and research activities, along with conservation and recreation.
In some ways, we are a victim of our own success.
As much of our restoration work has been done, our donations have declined.
Perhaps more importantly, because of our young stands and harvest limited by our management plan, our potential timber revenues have been markedly impacted by the closure of two local mills.
The Hoh River Trust is not going away.
As a nonprofit corporation with a volunteer board of directors, we will continue to work with TNC and seek other collaborations in the West End.
Our agreement with TNC allows us absolute authority over any future land transfers and gives us oversight over any future revenues, ensuring they will be held in a separate cost center, and we will be an advisory group to TNC.
We also have agreed that recreational activities will remain unchanged from current management.
As a result of this partnership, TNC will own 10,000 acres in the Hoh Valley along with other holdings in the Queets Valley.
They will update current management plans and look at community forest concepts and economic opportunities.
We are seeking more local presence on our board.
We want to remain a constructive voice in continuing the work of preserving and restoring this great river for fish, other wildlife and human beings.
If you want to participate, contact me at 360-457-4661.
Roger Oakes is chairman of the Hoh River Trust. He lives in Port Angeles.