By Rex Storm, Certified Forester
In Oregon, forest roads provide vital access for managing and sustaining forests
and rangelands—this applies to all ownership categories; private industrial, small
private, state & county, tribal, and federal. Although forest roads may be naively
mislabeled as “logging roads,” the purpose of the forest road always serves many
more important access and management assignments determined by the forest landowner.
Most every forest landowner invests in forest roads because the road is considered
a valuable asset of their property, which increases forestland uses, enjoyment,
accessibility, productivity, protection, and sustainable health of the forest.
Sustainable Roads. Strategies and practices to maintain healthy
and productive forests for present and future generations—such as outdoor recreation,
forest protection, timber harvesting, reforestation, firefighting, forage & water
production, prescribed burning, and habitat improvement—require access on well-constructed
and maintained forest road systems. Access by a network of permanent and temporary
roads is essential to provide for the landowner’s and society’s environmental, economic,
and social needs derived from forest lands.
Roads Help Manage. The forest road is an important aspect of nearly
all forest management operations. Although road investments are typically funded
by timber harvest income, the long-term purpose of the forest road serves many subsequent
landowner activities. For some activities, existing forest roads may be available,
in other situations a road may be improved before the activity, and in other situations
a new road may be built to provide important access for an activity.
Strong Oregon Laws and Roads. To address concerns about natural
resource effects from forest roads, Oregon has comprehensive forest laws regarding
roads. The Oregon Forest Practices Act & Rules (OFPA) safely promotes the economical
growing and harvesting of forests. Oregon’s strong program of forest road regulation
protects water quality, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. Best Management Practices,
along with ongoing monitoring and research, assure that specific road tactics are
employed during forest operations to effectively limit erosion & landslides, to
redirect runoff water, provide for safe storm flows, allow fish passage through
culverts, and other environmental safeguards. The OFPA defines resource protection
outcomes applicable to forest road location, building, maintenance, use, and vacating.
To Transport and Protect. Forest road systems move forestry professionals,
machinery, crews, supplies, and they facilitate transporting forest products from
forest to market. Roads provide necessary accessibility to forest workers who protect
and manage forests to limit the many threats to sustainable forest values treasured
by landowners and Oregonians, including threats from: wildfires; pests; disease;
storms; community wildfire impacts; vandalism; dumping; timber theft; trespasser
damage; floods; or landslides. The most common forest access needs served by the
invaluable forest road are firefighting, timber management, utility easement, grazing,
and recreational uses.
Recreation Uses. Oregonians often take for granted how roads on
private and public forestlands provide important access for so many activities.
Forest roads are increasingly popular with forest recreational users on private
and public forests alike, who seek-out access for outdoor leisure activities and
avocations. Road systems on forestlands are a desirable feature, as roads enhance
access for furthering recreation opportunities. By 2000, recreation had become the
largest single use of national forest roads. Private, state, county and tribal forests
also offer abundant outdoor recreational uses for Oregonians.
Forest roads access trails that are popular for hiking, biking, fishing, birding,
geo-caching, hunting, ATV riding, and horse riding. The road even opens special
outdoor uses for recreation sites, camping, scenic vistas, rural cabins, boat launches,
hunting reserves, woodcutting, berry-picking, or Native American cultural uses.
Timber Roads Benefit Many Uses. Although a forest road may be built
primarily to serve timber harvest and timber growing, many forest road systems commonly
fulfill an array of multiple-uses, long after any timber activity happens. Most
forest roads in Oregon were originally funded and built by timber harvest income;
and periodic harvest revenues often fund the ongoing maintenance of forest roads.
On public forests where harvest has been stifled in recent decades, the absence
of these harvest revenues has caused neglect in needed road maintenance.
In addition to recreational uses, roads facilitate management of other natural resources,
such as: neighboring property access easement, grazing, rock quarries, habitat improvement,
water development & irrigation, municipal water supply, utility corridors, special
use sites, communication sites, administrative facilities, special forest products,
mining sites, habitat improvements, and resource inventories.
Maintaining the Road Investment. While roads are an important forest
investment, landowners strategically manage their forest road systems to protect
all forest resources, forested habitat, and to protect the road itself. In other
words, not every forest road will be managed always in an “open” status. Road closures
and limited access may be managed using gates or other closure devices. During critical
seasons, or when special resource protections are warranted, forest roads are commonly
closed to vehicle or human traffic. Some roads may be “vacated,” or decommissioned,
preventing vehicle travel for several years when use is not desired. Other roads
may be deconstructed to limit future maintenance needs or vehicle access, or to
target off-road or all-terrain vehicles.
The reasons forest managers thoughtfully restrict use—or close—forest roads, may
include: prevent wildfires, ensure public safety, avoid water quality impacts, curtail
wildlife disturbance, protect species, discourage dumping & security problems, reduce
maintenance costs, or meet other resource management objectives.
Professionals Manage Roads. Decisions about how to locate and manage
forest roads are best made by forest professionals. Road managers carefully account
for the environmental, social & economic costs and benefits of each forest road
system decision involving transportation-logging plans. Oregon forest professionals
and land-management experts for more than a century have continuously improved the
science, technology and experience surrounding forest road construction and management.
Forest owners and managers progressively work to improve and maintain existing road
systems, while also completing upgrades to reconstruct older substandard “legacy”
roads that were designed under past standards. Further monitoring and research can
identify the most cost-effective practices to continuously improve road systems.
Managers making forest road decisions choose from a range of management options,
consistent with forest laws, valid forest plans, current forest engineering principles,
time-tested local experience, and locally-tailored science. Professionals engaged
in forest road decision-making may include the: forester, forest engineer, hydrologist,
geotechnical engineer, recreation planner, forest biologist, economist, silviculturist,
forest fuel specialist, archeologist, and others.
Forest Road Controversy. For several decades, extensive public
misinformation and litigation surrounding the environmental virtues of forest roads
has clouded the efficacy of contemporary forest road management. Most current concerns
about forest roads stem from misinformation and a lack of distinction between past
and modern road standards. Today’s forest road standards have evolved to address
those past environmental concerns. Further misunderstandings arise from misinformation
and a failure by many to distinguish the validity of different forest plan objectives—such
as production forests, or multiple-use forests, managed forests, forested rangelands,
roaded natural lands, or private forests—where roads are a key part of the management
infrastructure. Confusion about these very basic matters of current road standards
and applicable forest plans has fostered unnecessary controversy about forest roads.