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On the road to restoration

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ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Tom Horning, a biologist with the Clackamas River Ranger District, points on a habitat for fish along a side channel of the Clackamas River in the Big Bottom wilderness area. Horning was concerned about the area because visitors had dragged logs away from the habitat. The Mt. Hood National Forest has many miles of roads less traveled, which is something several organizations are working in partnership to change.

Last week, workers from the U.S. Forest Service and the Estacada-based O’Malley Brothers Corporation decommissioned sections of several old logging roads from the Big Bottom and Timothy Lake areas to help protect the wilderness and habitats for fish along the nearby Clackamas River. The work was funded by a $25,526 grant that forest advocacy group Bark received from Portland General Electric.

A total of 1.3 miles of segments of old logging roads from The Big Bottom and Timothy Lake areas were decommissioned with the goal of reducing impact on the forest.

The reason the roads were decommissioned dates back more than 20 years.

The amount of logging in the Mt. Hood Forest was significantly reduced by the Northwest Forest Plan. Adopted in 1994, the plan outlines a ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A member of the OMalley Brothers team uses an excavator to move a boulder during a road decomission project in the Big Bottom wilderness area. series of federal guidelines governing land use in the Pacific Northwest and northern California.

Because the forest’s road system was built prior to the plan’s adoption, there are many roads built for logging that are no longer in use.

“We want to have a road system that we can better maintain, and provide for public use and timber while protecting our resources,” said Tom Horning, a biologist for the Clackamas River Ranger District.

These particular road decommission projects were designated in the Clackamas River Ranger District’s restoration environmental assessment in 2015, which outlines a series of projects for the forest and their environmental impacts.

At four locations near Stone Creek at Timothy Lake, the end of the roads next to the water were removed. At Big Bottom wilderness area, located about an hour away from Estacada near Road 42, Road 4651-155 was decommissioned to prevent motorized vehicle access to the wilderness area.

Big Bottom was designated a wilderness area by the Wilderness Act of 2005. It’s home to a flat valley area and a side channel of the Clackamas River. The area is popular for dispersed camping, and visitors would often bring cars with them, although motorized areas are prohibited in designated wilderness areas.

Forest Service officials were concerned because visitors to the Big Bottom area had been leaving trash, removing logs from fish habitat along the river and harming trees through target shooting. They hope the decommissioned road will reduce this sort of activity.

Though motor vehicle access will be restricted, visitors will be able to park their cars at the edge of the wilderness and walk down into the area.

“People can still use it, they just won’t be able to drive into the more sensitive spots,” said Horning.ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A side channel of the Clackamas River runs through the Big Bottom wilderness area. Horning said this channel is beneficial to some fish that do not fare as well in the swiftly moving waters in the rest of the river.

The location will still have an area for dispersed camping, but it will be further from the river.

The water

Big Bottom’s quiet and slowly-moving side channel is an ideal home for many of the river’s chinook and coho populations.

“A lot of the other parts of the river are fast moving, which is not as ideal,” said Horning. “This is a great habitat with lots of native aquatic plants.”

In addition to being a home for many fish species, Horning noted that many other animals, such as ducks, make their home at Big Bottom.

In order to decommission the road at Big Bottom, members of the O’Malley Brothers team used an excavator to decompact the gravel surface and mix it with woody mulch in order to create a more natural look and prepare the area for additional planting. The excavator was also used to move boulders to block vehicle access and dig waterbars to prevent erosion along the river.

Leaders at both Bark and the Forest Service hope the project at Big Bottom allows the area’s natural regions to flourish.

“Over time, we would really like to see the area become more of the forest,” said Russ Plaeger, restoration coordinator for Bark.

Horning agreed.

“(Once the project is complete), it will have more of a wilderness feel,” he said, adding he hopes the area will have more trees, clean water and a functioning ecosystem.

The road decommissioning projects were completed last week. Over the next several months, Plaeger will lead a group of volunteers in sowing the seeds of future plants over the old roads.

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