Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Logging Roads

So, you all know logging is a big deal, but did you know logging roads themselves have an impact? I know this may seem a kinda esoteric topic, but it's serious enough that there's a case about to come to the Supreme Court about it. Keep reading, and you'll have some idea what's up.

Logging roads tend to be places where erosion can occur, because they weren't always placed carefully, their existence resulted in the removal of a lot of trees that had stabilized hillsides and filtered water that later made its way to streams, and their purpose did not involve a lot of foresight beyond getting at lumber. A lot of the time, roadbuilders would divert a stream from its natural course to make sure it couldn't interfere with the road. In addition, logging truck traffic can grind gravels into a fine sediment that then washes into streams and rivers, which, if you've been reading, you know is bad for salmon spawning and for a lot of other species in the streams.

In the Grande Ronde Basin where I've been working, the Mount Emily Logging Company, the main logging company in the area for a long time, started shifting from using railroads to trucking on logging roads in the 1930's (though they were still investing in new railroad extensions as late as 1944 to get at a neighboring basin's trees). Roadbuilding really picked up in the 1950's when the Forest Service started "salvage logging" operations. More on that another time, perhaps. For now, know that roadbuilding more than doubled in the years between 1978 and 1989, and the current road density is something like 2.5 km of road for every square kilometer in the Grande Ronde basin. Huge.

That's why it really warms my heart when I see something like this on an old road that winds up to the headwaters of a beautiful stream:


Love it. They closed off the road and did restoration work all up and down what remains above this barrier. There's even a fence to keep out more limber ATVs and the like. I didn't follow the restoration all the way up, but they've thrown down large lumber as further roadblocks (and erosion controls) and put in a ton of new tree plantings for at least a kilometer up from this roadblock.

 This shot shows a little of the scope of the restoration effort for just this one road. I wish I knew who did it so I could thank them. I got to hike along this quite a ways to get to one of our monitoring sites, and it ran along a stream the whole way. This work represents a lot of improvement in habitat, for upland creatures as well as in-stream ones.

All those little bits of fencing there? Those are there to protect the baby plantings. See, when saplings come up naturally, they don't tend to form what looks like a buffet line for deer, elk, cattle, or any other herbivores that wander through. So in restoration work, you have to have fencing to keep the leaf-munchers away until the plant is strong enough to survive a little nibble now and then. These fences should do the trick. If you ever volunteer for this kind of work, you may run into some boyscouts chasing badges by showing up with massive rolls of the stuff, posts, and some wirecutters to construct these things out of, as I did a while back at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

But it goes further. Another thing that naturally dispersed seedlings have in the kind of habitat the restoration workers were trying to recreate/reinforce here is shade. These babies grow surrounded and shaded by their elders, not out in the open like this. So, I kid you not, each and every one of these plantings, along a long stretch of former road, has a protective  fence AND a little shade screen next to it so it doesn't get a fatal sunburn. This is, after all, EASTERN Oregon, not Portland. They actually get sun out there, unlike here at home, where summer has yet to arrive in July.

And yes, because I know that this immediately jumps to mind for all of you, yes, all of that hay you see there was thrown down for short-term erosion control and yes, it is actually certified as weed-free. I know this because there are literally road signs every mile or three through the forest proclaiming that all hay on Forest Service lands has to be. This is a necessary and valuable precaution that ensures that not only baby plantings like this, but also full grown forest stands don't get choked out by invasive plants like Himalayan Blackberry (tasty, tasty evil, that one), or English Ivy.

For some additional background on the Grande Ronde Basin's history, you can go here, and if you'd like a more academic overview of land use practices in the area, this paper is great. Yes, I already linked to them both above, but you didn't click over because you were so engaged by my writing, correct?


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