Deconstruction in process

By Lisa K. Anderson,
The Sandy Post

One-third of Oregonians drink water from the Mount Hood National Forest, and 98 percent of Mount Hood is someone’s drinking water source. These are the statistics Lori Ann Burd of Restore Mount Hood [Bark] offers during a field trip featuring road decommissioning sites near the Alder Creek headwaters. Behind her, a Link Belt 3900 excavator rips through a short gravel logging road. Later crews will mulch over the torn-out road and plant native seed to re-vegetate it.

This deconstruction of old Forest Service roads on Mount Hood has a variety of social benefits, but protecting drinking water from road sediment and restoring aquatic habitat top the list. The Forest Service estimates the projected cost to bring Oregon’s national forest roads up to clean water standards is $900 million, with a cost of $12,000 for every mile of road decommissioned.

But the benefits continue. Besides affecting water and fish, the road decommissioning creates high-wage jobs for rural communities –– approximately 15 for every $1 million spent on forest watershed restoration, according to national statistics –– and cuts down illegal dumping, tree cutting, target shooting and off-road recreational vehicle use. In 2009, Oregon decommissioned 222 miles of road in national forests while in 2010, that number rose to 265. This makes safer roads and reduces road-related costs.

More than 80 percent of the current road system on Mount Hood was designed and constructed before 1980, when timber sales were booming and the timber operators maintained the roads they used. With the decline of timber sales and insufficient funding for road maintenance, the Forest Service began decommissioning infrequently accessed roads, which are often crumbling, poorly designed roads with significant ecological impacts on the area.

Legacy Roads and Trails, the national program now charged with road decommissioning, was established in 2008. The name references the Forest Service’s direction, or legacy, after World War II in creating and managing roads for the national forest and timberlands. Now it’s possible for a contractor to decommission the same legacy trail his or her older relative built, said Nancy Lankford, community engagement and civil rights program manager for the Mount Hood National Forest. Altogether, the goal is to cut the number of old Mount Hood logging roads in half from 4,000 miles to 2,000.

Rick Acosta, public affairs officer for the Mount Hood National Forest, said the public will still have plenty of access to trailheads, campgrounds and other recreation destinations. The Forest Service has taken public comment to identify concerns about access, particularly for emergency personnel, equestrian riders, mountain bikers, private landowners and PGE’s power line access.

As the Link Belt 3900 continues along the old gravel logging road, Burd and Lankford point out hacked trees, littered glass and a leftover round of shots. When the road’s decommissioning is complete and contractors build a berm at its entrance, the crime will likely diminish and this will beautify the grounds. Lankford holds out a photo collage showing how road decommission projects, including the removal of bridges and culverts, can transform a site. Between 2005 and 2008, Falls Creek Road in the Bull Run Watershed blossomed into a picturesque scene.