LeTourneux: Timber cutting doesn’t have to degrade water

There’s a saying that the higher in the watershed, the better the water. And I believe that to be true for the water supplies of the cities of Willamina, Sheridan, McMinnville, Carlton, Yamhill and Gaston.

The origins of these cities’ domestic water lie in the vast and mostly privately owned Douglas fir forests of Oregon’s Coast Range. They are located amid privately owned working forests, both large and small, actively managed for timber production.

Even McMinnville’s 6,300-acre watershed, owned by McMinnville Water & Light, is operated as a certified tree farm. Trees are harvested annually to fund capital projects.

[See Also: Westphal & LeTourneux: To the Pacific and back: a Yamhill River fish tale]

So, the question may arise, does timber harvesting degrade water quality?

Timber harvesting is regulated by the Oregon Department of Forestry under the state’s Forest Practices Act. Provisions are based on sound, factual and scientific data derived from multi-year studies by accredited independent scientists.

Streams and surface water sources are protected from the impact of timber harvesting. They are categorized as fish-bearing or non fish-bearing, the fish-bearing being more heavily regulated.

Our family farm features streams of both types. Deer Creek, a medium-sized coho salmon and coastal cutthroat trout stream, requires the highest level of protection.

We have chosen to let friends at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service help us manage 32 acres of riparian forest bordering Deer Creek for wildlife habitat improvement.

Harvesting stops along the banks of our three smaller fish-bearing streams, as required by law to keep their waters cool, retain their shape and mitigate soil erosion — important for healthy aquatic life.

Privately and county-owned gravel roads serving the area are generally well-engineered. However, heavy winter usage will break them down, requiring infusion of fresh gravel.

Gravel roads are a contentious issue with regard to erosion, but with proper maintenance and plenty of gravel, problems can be largely eliminated. The chocolate brown color of streams and rivers seen during wet winter months is caused almost exclusively by natural channel and streambank erosion.

A fourth-generation Oregonian, Jim LeTourneux owns and manages the 460-acre Tripletree Timber tract lying north of Sheridan at the upper end of Gopher Valley.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable