The greatest threat to watershed health in Mt. Hood National Forest is the road network that totals well over 3,000 miles.
The greatest threat to watershed health in Mt. Hood National Forest is the road network that totals well over 3,000 miles. These roads are the leftovers of the heyday of logging in our public forests. Today, many are eroding into streams and out of use, yet continue to pose an unmanageable economic burden on the Forest Service, who is only able to maintain about one quarter of its road network in any given year.
What problems do roads create in Mt. Hood National Forest?
- Degraded water quality: Rainfall onto roads exacerbates runoff into the streams and rivers that provide drinking water for one in four Oregonians, as well as five salmon species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that make their home in Mt. Hood National Forest. In fact, studies in Oregon found forest roads create up to 130 times the debris of an intact forest (i.e. no road)!
- Less habitat: In addition to degrading water quality in salmon bearing streams, roads fragment habitat for deer and elk herds, as well as other wildlife. Additionally, roads often act as corridors where vehicle tires help spread invasive plant species.
- Public safety concerns: The sheer size of Mt. Hood’s road network creates public safety concerns. People can access isolated areas of the forest that are less accessible to emergency vehicles, and remote roads invite illegal dumping and illegal Off-Highway Vehicle use.
- Less access: Although some people worry road closures will make it hard to get to their favorite spots, the reality is that the Forest Service’s budget is already spread too thin and can’t maintain all of its roads. That can leave culvert blow outs, slides, and other problems unaddressed and thereby restrict access to popular recreation destinations. By decommissioning unneeded roads, the Forest Service can focus its limited resources on maintaining the roads we use most to hike, swim, fish, gather mushrooms and more.
- Less wild: Simply put, the more roads that remain on the landscape, the less wild the forest! Removing old roads can help the forest reclaim its wild character as well as help restore the creatures that rely on these landscapes.
What can be done? Bark has worked with the Forest Service for years to help evaluate and eliminate unneeded and harmful roads from Mt. Hood National Forest. In 2007 Bark helped secure congressional Legacy Roads and Trails funding, which provided money to initiate decommissioning efforts throughout Mt. Hood. However, there is still much work to be done: in 1999 a Forest Service report concluded that nearly half of the roads in Mt. Hood National Forest are unneeded! Bark is committed to seeking outside funding and helping initiate this crucial restoration in the years to come.
Read about road decomissioning that will protect Lost Creek here!
Check out photos of forest roads here.