What do forest roads have to do with my drinking water?

Forest roads are essential for getting timber to the mill – and for fighting wildfire. Yet some roads, especially older roads, have been a source of sediment flowing into streams.

With significant amounts of research and innovation over the past couple decades, the way forest roads are built – including where they are built – has been overhauled.

Newer, higher standards.

Location is key. Today, forest roads are more often located away from streams and other water sources, so any runoff is drained onto the forest floor. Nowadays, roads are often located on ridgelines, for instance, and off steep slopes.

Engineered to lessen impact. Excavation, surface preparation, drainage, gravel installation and grading are typically planned and overseen by a forest engineer to minimize the chance that muddy runoff will enter streams or other waterways.

Maintained for the long run. Forest roads, whether new or old, must be inspected and maintained to minimize the effects on nearby streams. New gravel, drainage systems, culverts or bridges may need to be added over time. If a road is no longer needed, it should be vacated, re-contoured and, ideally, replanted with native vegetation.

Account for fish and water. While engineers try to minimize the number of times a forest road crosses a stream, some crossings are inevitable. At crossings, rules require drainage to divert road runoff onto the forest floor, not into the stream. Rules also require that the crossing allow fish to pass up- and downstream.

Watch the weather. One of the recent changes to the forest practice rules puts additional requirements on roads that are used during very wet weather. Roads that are not up to the standard must not be used during heavy rain.

"Engineering a forest road is all about water quality – from where we locate the road to the kind of rock we use. Knowing that we can isolate sediment and protect streams is what gives me the confidence that we can continue about the business of growing and harvesting trees."
Jennifer Beathe Starker Forests
A Day in the Woods: Forest Roads

Two extension foresters explain the importance of roads in Oregon’s working forests

Video
A Day in the Woods: Forest Roads

Two extension foresters explain the importance of roads in Oregon’s working forests