Restore America’s Wild Rivers

The picture above shows a washed out forest service road on the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest in Washington State. Many of the agency’s roads are unused and unneeded old dirt logging roads. These roads are rarely maintained leading to massive erosion which washes sediment downstream suffocating fish and clogging community water treatment plants.

USDA Forest Service

The forest service is considering how it can expedite river restoration and safeguard our water.

While the forest service’s proposal to increase the pace of restoration is a good start, it does not go far enough.

The problem

Rivers and streams running through our national forest have been damaged by over a century of industrial activities like logging, mining, and road building. We have an opportunity, however, to accelerate the pace at which we clean up this mess and help our streams flow free and clean again.

The solution  

The forest service is required by law to analyze the environmental impacts that may result from projects it undertakes. The forest service is considering ways to improve efficiency when studying the potential impacts from projects designed to improve water quality. Improving efficiency when studying the potential impacts from a project, without sacrificing the quality of the analysis, will accelerate the pace of stream restoration.

The forest service has proposed to exclude certain categories of water-related restoration activities from undergoing a detailed environmental review process. Creation of these Categorical Exclusions will promote restoration and conservation of water quality.

While the proposed Categorical Exclusions are a good start, the forest service should go further. Specifically, the forest service should ensure that these Categorical Exclusions are expanded to cover roads that are officially sanctioned but not open to public motorized travel. These closed roads are not needed, are rarely maintained, and cause serious water quality problems. In many cases, these unused, low grade dirt roads are not needed for future use and are simply sitting on the ground waiting to be gotten rid of.

Expediting the reclamation of unneeded and environmentally problematic roads is a common sense solution that will go far towards restoring America’s wild streams.