Thursday, December 20, 2007

More floods and backcountry damage

Already this year, Western Washington has sustained serious flood damage. Olympic Park has estimated $18 million dollars of damage, I haven't heard reports from Mt. Rainier or North Cascades although I would expect the latter to have less damage since it was further from the storm center. This damage comes on top of severe damages from flooding and windstorms last year. I expect that spring will bring reports of more damage to the back country and not just parks but National and State Forest lands also.

Western WA is used to both flooding and windstorms, they happen every year from November to March. In the past, people would talk about 100 year floods or 10 year windstorms, meaning that the severity of the flood or windstorm would be expected about every 100 or 10 years respectively. Unfortunately flooding at least is becoming far more common than previously. In some areas, the flooding is almost certainly made worse by human activities such as building on flood plains and excessive clear cutting. Weather patterns are changing due to global warming and Western WA is getting excessive winter rain while areas to the east are in a drought.

Last year, the Park service, the Forest Service, and volunteer groups spent a lot of money and effort rebuilding trails, access roads, and associated amenities. I'm very glad they did and I'm happy to support their efforts with taxes, fees, and donations. But I wonder how long we will continue to spent money and time rebuilding backcountry access which is damaged every few years. Perhaps it is less of a problem than I think, backcountry usage in Washington is far higher than it was 25 years ago. Of course the population is higher also but I believe the proportion of people using backcountry sites is also higher.

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