Why you should be worrying about roads

Peter Chordas, WriterWhy you should be worrying about roads

By Peter Chordas, Interim Grassroots Organizer

 

 

Quick question:

What do you think poses the biggest obstacle both to ecosystem health and recreation access in our forests?

Forest road blocked by landslideIn case you hadn’t guessed it from the title, the answer is roads.

Believe it or not, Mt. Hood National Forest is caught in a web of roadways that, placed end to end, would stretch all the way to Miami, Florida—a good 3,000 miles away.

And I know it seems counterintuitive, but too many roads actually limits recreation access to the forest.

How so?

Let’s take a look.
 

Roads limit recreation

  1. Potholes filled with water block car on forest roadMore roads doesn’t mean you can drive to more places.
    In fact, many roads are redundant, going to the same places that other roads already go to.

     
  2. A lot of roads are closed to the public.
    Of the 3,000 miles of roads in Mt. Hood, many are old logging roads that were never meant for public use in the first place—and in many cases are supposed to have been removed.

     
  3. Road maintenance budgets are finite.
    The Forest Service has a limited budget for roads, and at present there are more miles than dollars. By a HUGE margin. In fact at present, the Forest Service can only afford to maintain 15.8% of the road system.

In a nutshell, it’s like trying to spread a tablespoon of jam (strawberry-rhubarb, of course) across twenty loaves of locally baked gluten-free bread—the results just aren’t going to impress your yoga-party.

And if you’ve been to Mt. Hood National Forest recently, the roads there probably didn't impress you much either. In fact, in many places they’re more jam than bread, if you know what I mean.

With recreation bringing in more than $50 million for Mt. Hood communities, poor-quality recreation access harms our economy too.

But roads like this don’t just make it hard to get to recreation areas, they also harm the forest and the creatures who live there.

Why?

Because roads don’t just sit around when you’re not using them—they go places themselves.

Where, exactly, do they go?

As it turns out, into our streams and rivers.
 

Roads harm the environment

Forest road crumbling downhillWhenever it rains, water washes over every inch of road in the forest. And as each drop heads downhill toward the waterways that line our forest valleys, they carry with them little souvenirs from their roadtrips.

What kind of souvenirs?

Sediment. Bits of dust, specks of dirt, particles of debris, and of course residue from rubber, gasoline, exhaust, and oil. The kind of stuff salmon have nightmares about.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sediment in our streams actually creates a chain reaction of trouble for fish in several ways.

  1. Sediment washed from roads carries harmful particles.
    Whatever is on the road, sooner or later it’s going to wind up in the nearest stream.

     
  2. Sediment raises water temperatures.
    Clean water tends to reflect sunlight, sort of like a mirror. But because bits of sediment are far less reflective than water, sunlight that collides with them gets broken down into heat. So in short, sediment puts our fish in hot water. Literally.

     
  3. Sediment decreases aquatic oxygen levels.
    Fish like salmon need lots of oxygen to fight their way upstream. But as water temperatures increase due to sedimentation, oxygen density goes down. Can you imagine running a marathon without being able to get a full breath of air? Probably not gonna work out.

I know what you’re thinking. Is it really that bad?

Actually, it is.

Salmon jumpingIn fact, according to the Forest Service, “sediment contribution from roads to streams is greater than all other forest management activities combined.”

But at the same time, the Forest Service adds new roads with almost every new timber sale.

This is a big deal.

This means not only is the Forest Service adding more roads despite being unable to maintain the existing ones, it also means that the Forest Service is fully aware of the harm this causes to fish and wildlife.

And the more the condition of existing roads is allowed to deteriorate, the more sediment will wind up in our streams.

And remember that part about maintenance budgets being limited?

We can’t just patch up all the roads and call it done. We have to get rid of as many uneeded roads as possible, and then work to keep the remaining roads in top shape.

Looking at the numbers, the Forest Service only has the budget to maintain 15.8% of the current road system in Mt. Hood National Forest.

So the big question is—which roads stay, and which roads go?
 

Say hello to the Travel Analysis Process

The Trava-wha?

Hikers in Mt. Hood National ForestThe Travel Analysis Process (or TAP), is a nationwide program implemented by the Forest Service to identify which roads stay, and which roads go. The idea is to take public input, and weigh out road usage and road redundancy throughout the forest. With that done, the Forest Service can start axing roads we don’t need.

Good news is, Mt. Hood’s TAP is now officially underway. That means you have a chance to influence the future of our forests.

Bad news is, unless we push for a change of direction on Mt. Hood, countless unnecessary roadways will continue to eat up our taxes, and spread out maintenance budgets to the detriment of recreation and our communities.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that if you’ve read this far, you have a vested interest in reducing roads on Mt. Hood.

Maybe you go hiking there, take the kids camping or fishing; it might be that you work in a community near the mountain; perhaps you’re concerned for the future of Oregon’s economy; or maybe you’re just worried about the environment, and want to protect Earth’s last, precious, wild places.

Either way, you are not alone.

That’s why Bark is on the job, to make sure concerned folks like you and me can make our voices heard—for Oregon, for our mountain, and for all living things.
 

Here’s how you can get involved

Want to decide the fate of our local environment, economy, and communities?

Take ten seconds to fill out this form, and we’ll help you get plugged in.

Thanks for helping out.

And remember, sharing is caring!

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PS - Ready to dig deeper? Checkout the latest dirt on Mt. Hood's Travel Analysis Process at Bark's TAP Page.

Hikers along a ridge