The Chehalis Watershed in Peril: a tale of floods, droughts, forest practices, and climate change

The Chehalis watershed is the second largest watershed in Washington State.  From its headwaters in the Willapa Hills, it runs about 130 miles in a circuitous path to the Chehalis River estuary.  It is a rain-fed watershed that has been heavily logged since the 1850s.  Tree plantations, both privately and publicly owned, dominate the watershed.  Only 14,000 acres of older, structurally complex forests remain in the watershed, where there are no National Parks or other protected areas.

In the summer of 2023, the Chehalis River experienced the lowest water levels in 94 years – since recordkeeping began.  Clear-cut logging of old forests has a huge impact on stream and river hydrology, with flows reduced by as much as 50% in summer as water is sucked up by young plantation trees.  Clear-cut logging also has a clear connection to the devastating floods that dominate the watershed in the last 30 years. 

In this talk, Lee will give a general overview of environmental issues in the Chehalis watershed, as well as highlight the connection between forest practices and water quality.  She will highlight the importance of preserving the last of the older, structurally complex and diverse forests that remain in the watershed.

About the Speaker

Lee standing in a forest next to a massive tree
Lee First
Twin Harbors Waterkeeper

Lee First has a B.S. in Environmental Studies (Western Washington University) and a Professional Certificate in Wetland Science and Management (University of Washington). She has worked in the Waterkeeper movement for almost 20 years.  As the Twin Harbors Waterkeeper, she works to advocate for, protect, and prevent pollution in the Chehalis, Willapa watersheds, as well as watersheds on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula.  Her past job experience includes managing environmental controls at a Superfund Cleanup Site, collecting water quality data for cities and counties, delineating wetlands and developing mitigation plans for Tribal governments, and controlling aquatic invasive species. Her passion for canoeing and kayaking (especially exploring new waterways) has led her to completing 17 sea kayak expeditions on the Inside Passage.

Environmental Speaker Series

The Environmental Speaker Series is hosted by the College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

The Series is free and open to the public. Talks are held each Thursday at 4:30 pm in Academic Instructional Center West room 204 - AW-204. Talks will also be streamed via zoom. Register with the Alumni Association for the zoom link. Paid parking is available in lot C.

Learn more about the Environmental Speaker Series
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