How are fish protected in a working forest?
As the Northwest is known for forests, it is also known for salmon. The two are inextricably linked. Adult salmon, as well as steelhead, return from the ocean to spawn in forest streams that are sometimes narrow enough to jump across.
In the same way that we protect drinking water, fish habitat is protected in a working forest by leaving protective buffers on each side of streams. Inside these buffers, harvest is either prohibited or severely restricted. These buffers are between 50 and 100 feet, depending on the width of the stream. Buffers provide shade to keep the water cool. And as the trees age, they eventually will fall into the stream. This is a critical part of quality fish habitat, as it creates pools and shelter. Meanwhile, other vegetation in the buffer allows for a healthy population of bugs that fish eat.
Oregon’s unique approach to protecting and enhancing forest streams.
To best preserve long-term fish habitat, Oregon has adopted a three-pronged approach, based on two distinct laws and one highly effective voluntary program.
Land use planning. To keep fish habitat viable, Oregon’s land use planning and zoning laws ensure that forestland remains as forestland. Forests provide better habitat for salmon and trout than land that is converted to residential or agricultural uses.
Regulation of forest practices. Oregon’s forest practice laws, such as the buffer requirements described above, work to protect water quality and habitat during harvest in private forests. These protective laws are based on extensive scientific research, and they likely will continue to evolve as we learn more.
Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. In working forests, landowners not only protect fish habitat; in many cases they improve it by taking on voluntary projects in cooperation with the state’s unique system of watershed councils, part of a program called the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. Watershed councils and forest landowners identify stretches of rivers and streams that could benefit from improvements such as placing large wood in streams, fixing old culverts and stream crossings that block fish from passing, and moving and decommissioning roads. Unlike laws that only regulate forest practices, watershed councils look at streams from top to bottom and focus public and private investments on proactive improvements.
"We've built meaningful partnerships with woodland owners and timber companies in our efforts to improve water quality and habitat in the watershed. I’ve seen how hard they work to manage a balance between economic and ecological health. Overall, I feel good about the future."Executive director, Calapooia Watershed Council
Two extension foresters explain fish habitat protection in Oregon’s working forests