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Forest study shows value of protecting streams

Forest buffers around streams during logging projects can help keep the water cool

A long-term study in Oregon shows the value of protecting streams with forest buffers during logging projects.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-term study conducted across 33 sites in Oregon shows how important it is to protect stream corridors with tree buffers during logging projects.

Stream temperatures are a particular concern for cold-water fish such as trout and salmon. State regulations in Oregon mandate that forest management activities should not increase temperatures by more than 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The study found that forest treatments on private lands resulted in temperature increases of 1.3 degrees, while there was no difference in temperatures on state forest lands. The researchers made no conclusions as to whether temperature increase on private forest lands is a concern for fish health. It was only designed to examine regulatory stream temperature compliance.

Since broad forest management regulations were first implemented in the 1970s and then expanded in later decades, increases in stream temperatures are far less than they used to be. According to past research, historic forest management practices sometimes left no buffer zone at all around streams and allowed temperature increases from 3 degrees to 21 degrees.

“One thing that’s clear is that forest management practices are now much, much better,” said Jeremy Groom, lead author on the study and a research associate in the OSU Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management. “On average, Coast Range state forest lands are being fully protected from temperature changes.

“Earlier in the 1900s, it was common to clear cut and burn forests right down to the stream edge, sometimes even dragging logs through the stream with heavy equipment,” Groom said. “State and federal regulations are now far more stringent about stream protection.”

This research, Groom said, was done largely to determine whether or not those regulations are having their intended effect. The work was a collaboration of the Oregon Department of Forestry with university, private industry, state and federal agencies, the EPA and other groups.

The study examined only private and state-owned timber lands, not those managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. The private and state-owned lands actually operate under the same regulations, Groom said, but the state chooses to use larger buffers around streams and more partial timber harvests than are required by law. Many private landowners also leave more than required by law, but the study examined only those using minimum requirements.

There was considerable variability based on individual sites studied, but with current management approaches used by the state of Oregon, the streams had no change in temperature. The primary influence on stream temperature is shade provided by trees, the research made clear, although there are many other factors as well.

This was one of the larger studies of its type ever done, examining multiple sites for two years before harvest and five years afterward. All of the streams studied were fish-bearing, and the primary objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of forest practice rules in protecting stream temperatures and promoting riparian structure.

Although only the Coast Range was studied, the findings are probably applicable to many other regions with similar physical and biological characteristics, the researchers said, including other areas of the Pacific Northwest, California, Alaska and British Columbia.

2 Responses

  1. I’m glad to see that carefully thought-out regulations have succeeded in this case.

  2. I might add that the changes in the operations from the old to the new practice[s] of sustainable harvests, didn’t put a dent in the housing industry. I might add, that innovation has come out of this in a positive way.

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