2nd Law said a while back here “Logging on the other hand, is much more likely (than wildfires) to harm watersheds, especially commercial logging that requires dragging logs and maintaining a road system.” At first when I read his comment, I thought “I wonder why he/she thinks so differently than Denver Water, Santa Fe and Flagstaff about the relative risks?”
I think sometimes the more legally trained/inclined and the more ground resource trained/ inclined have a difference in how we think about things and how we talk about things. I wrote about this before in 2010 here (concrete v. abstract thinkers).. do we go into different lines of work because we think this way, or do we think this way because of the line of work we’re in?) but the above comment reminded me of this difference. (For older FS people, when I worked in RPA, my colleague Susan Mockenhaupt called interactions between Jim Caplan and Mark Reimers, “Thoreau meets Perot”).
For those who think like me, 2nd’s statement is the very beginning of a discussion.
What do you mean exactly by “logging?” Is that what we would call “tree-cutting and piling for burning” or “removal of logs via road systems” “removal of logs by helicopter”? Because we could see all those having different potential impacts on watersheds. But 2nd did specify “dragging logs” and “maintaining a road system” (why would you need to do that compared to temp roads?).
Then my next thought would be:
“wouldn’t that depend on … how much risk to the watershed, which would depend on soil characteristics, steepness of slopes, amount and nature of fuels, and so on…frequency of fires and that depends on…”
To the extreme, that would be why, Asheville’s watershed risks would be different from Santa Fe’s. And of course, wouldn’t that depend on BMP’s how they’re designed, whether they’re used, and how well they work?
So I looked around and found this 2016 report summary for monitoring Montana’s BMPs, since Montana seems to be the site of much watershed controversy compared to the other states we’ve looked at.
From the full report for 2016 here, pp 37-38
Evaluate the general effectiveness of BMPs in protecting soil and water resources.
Conclusions drawn from the field review results since the 2000 review cycle inclusive are very straightforward and consistent; when BMPs are applied correctly, they are very effective in protecting soil and water resources. This combined with the efforts of many loggers, landowners, agencies, and
mills to go above and beyond the standards to minimize sediments has kept overall results high and has 38 brought real improvements on the ground, where it counts. When teams review a site they don’t just look at the actual BMP. They look at whatever the BMP was designed to protect as well. Is there silt entering the stream? Are roads rutted beyond typical usage patterns? And so forth. The idea is to look at all aspects of any particular BMP and see if it is working and if not why not. Teams note if it is a fault of the operation, outside factors, or of the BMP itself. The BMP Working Group reviews the combined results and determines if any changes to the BMPs themselves need to be made.
It seems to me that the choice of a) fuels treatment including mechanical treatments vs. b) accepting wildfire impacts is very much a function of the soil, water, vegetation, and weather conditions, plus the design of the treatment, including effectiveness of mitigation measures such as BMP’s in a specific watershed. Now, you can argue that Montana’s checking process is not an accurate representation of what happens on the ground, but that is a very different convo at a very different scale, (with different people being expert).