By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern
A deafening roar shakes the giant firs in the foothills of Mount Adams as a volcano of black, dirty water explodes from the dam that’s held it back for nearly a hundred years. As the thick, sediment-filled river rushes through the valley, it’s hard to imagine that this symbolizes the beginning of a new era of restored, pristine wildlands in the northern Washington wilderness.
Four years after the Condit dam removal, the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River runs clear. Steelhead and Chinook that were nearly eliminated from the waters are rushing up the strong, cold current by the thousands. But, the health of this river is intimately dependent on the forest surrounding it. Beginning on the slopes of Mount Adams, the White Salmon River’s unique and vibrant ecosystem can be attributed to forest cover that provides the water infiltration necessary for the ice cold, abundantly rushing flows year round.
The old-growth forest covering the watershed also provides vital habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl, cougars and elk. Yet, these incredible wildlife species and the vitality of the river are both threatened by loss of forest land.
In the past decade, ancient forests that have survived fires dating back to the 1800s have struggled to recover from massive wildfires that incinerated the area so completely, even seeds couldn’t survive. Within the 10,000 acres most affected by the fires, the iconic ponderosa pines have been completely wiped from the landscape and none have regenerated. Without this forest surrounding Mount Adams, habitat for rare wildlife is limited, the waters of the White Salmon River won’t be replenished as quickly and a massive carbon sink has been lost.
To help restore this incredible watershed, American Forests partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to reforest more than 500 acres of forest along the headwaters of the White Salmon River on Mount Adams, a part of a series of projects by the Forest Service to replant more than 3,000 acres of the forest.
Planting up on the sub-alpine slopes of Mount Adams allowed for much of the planting to take place in areas where the tiny seedlings are likely to grow undisturbed over the coming years into old-growth habitat — perfect for the northern spotted owl and other wildlife.
As the gangly saplings grow uninhibited in the remote and breathtaking location, the ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, western white pine and western larch will transform into iconic giants that will shelter some of North America’s most incredible wildlife. As the ground water and springs replenish, the waters gushing down the slopes of Mount Adams will rush through the valley below with the cold, swift current perfect for the populations of salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.