Paper compares water quality effects of contemporary and historical forestry practices

Increased suspended sediment concentrations, loads, or yields after forest management activities remain a concern for land managers due to potential effects on water quality and aquatic species, including salmonid fishes.

To reduce nonpoint source pollution associated with forest management activities and to maintain high levels of water quality, states have developed forestry best management practices (BMPs), which are implemented at high rates.  Results from early research projects such as the Alsea Study in Oregon provided an important foundation for the initial development of forestry BMPs.

In 1990, the Alsea Watershed Study was reactivated to assess long-term responses of the watersheds to commercial forest harvesting. As an extension of the reactivation of the project, a study of forest harvest practices using contemporary BMPs on private timberlands began in 2006. 

Recently, authors at Oregon State University published a paper resulting from this Alsea Watershed Study Revisited that addresses the effects of contemporary harvesting practices on suspended sediment concentrations and yields, and compares sediment yields from stands managed under contemporary harvest practices with those managed using historic practices.  The abstract for the paper, which appears in Forest Ecology and Management, follows.

“Forest harvesting practices can expose mineral soils, decrease infiltration capacities of soils, disturb the stream bank and channel, and increase erosion and fine sediment supply to stream channels. To reduce nonpoint source sediment pollution associated with forest management activities and to maintain the high water quality typically provided from forests, best management practices (BMPs) were developed and implemented. While BMPs have evolved over time, the effectiveness of contemporary BMPs, particularly for harvesting practices, have not been thoroughly investigated, especially in comparison to historical practices. The objectives of this study were to (1) determine the effects of contemporary harvesting practices on suspended sediment concentrations and yields and (2) examine the legacy effects from historical harvesting on suspended sediment concentrations. The Alsea Watershed Study was an important early research site that lead to the development of contemporary forest management practices to protect water quality and fish habitat in Oregon and elsewhere. By returning to the same watersheds that were harvested in 1966, this is one of the few times that a watershed-scale study is able to directly compare and contrast the effects of historical practices with contemporary practices. The Alsea Watershed Study Revisited includes the same three watersheds as the original study. Flynn Creek (FCG, 219 ha) is an old-growth dominated reference watershed. Deer Creek (DCG, 315 ha) is an extensively managed watershed that was patch-cut during the original study. Needle Branch (NBLG, 94 ha) was clearcut harvested in the original study and again in the recent study, but with contemporary BMPs, including riparian buffers. The upper portion of Needle Branch was harvested in 2009 (Phase I), while the lower portion of the watershed was harvested in 2015 (Phase II). We monitored suspended sediments and discharge from WY 2006–2016, and analyzed this data using multiple linear regression procedures and ANCOVA. Average suspended sediment yields ranged from 55–313 Mg km−2 yr−1 in FCG, 31–102 Mg km−2 yr−1 in NBLG, and 69–127 Mg km−2 yr−1 in DCG. We found no evidence that contemporary harvesting techniques affected suspended sediment concentrations or yields. Overall, suspended sediment concentrations and yields after contemporary harvesting were similar to historical pre-treatment levels.”


Hatten, J.A., C. Segura, K.D. Bladon, C. Hale, G.G. Ice, and J.D. Stednick.  2018.  Effects of contemporary forest harvesting on suspended sediment in the Oregon Coast Range: Alsea Watershed Study Revisited.  Forest Ecology and Management 408:238-248.