The first part of this article focused on the Forest Service failures that allowed the massive Boundary clear cut to happen on Mount Hood’s northwest shoulder. Now, a look at more of the fallout from the massive clear cut, and opportunities for restoring the area in the future.
First, some numbers. Using a conservative estimate of 100 trees per acre, the 800 acre Boundary complex contained at least 80,000 mature trees, mostly noble fir. Using the Forest Service’s Center for Urban Forest Research models (2002), a conservative estimate for storm water interception of each tree is at least 1,100 gallons per year, or some 88 million gallons of runoff from the Boundary clear cut area, alone. How much additional runoff is that? Enough to nearly fill the 33-story KOIN tower in downtown Portland.
Without the forest canopy, the bulk of the rain that falls upon these mountain slopes now runs off, eroding the thin soils, carrying mud and sediments to nearby streams and resulting spikes in stream flows that damage riparian areas and fish habitat. This effect is repeated, of course, across the thousands of clear cuts in the Mount Hood National Forest.
For the Boundary clear cut, the runoff impact is on the heavily logged West Fork Hood River drainage, which is already struggling to recover from the first wave of logging at the turn of the 20th Century (see “Just 75 years” article).
Like other clear cuts, the Boundary cut also triggered edge effects on the uncut forests bordering the timber sale. Because the Boundary clear cut is high elevation, and nearly crests Vista Ridge, these were impacts that timber planners surely could have expected. Yet the timber sale spread close enough to the historic Vista Ridge trail that blowdown triggered by the cut still fall across the trail with regulatory, and unnecessarily. Sadly, this was preventable.
What to do next? For the cut forests of the Boundary complex, the main treatments are road decommissioning and thinning operations in 15-20 years, when the plantations of young trees are likely to become a crowded monoculture.
But from a broader perspective, what about restoring recreation to the area? The Mount Hood National Park campaign calls for converting several roads in the area to single-track bike and horse trails, and adding a campground in proximity to these new trails, and the Vista Ridge trailhead.
There are also opportunities to connect the Vista Ridge trail to the Mazama Trailhead, across Ladd Creek. This new route would provide much-needed loop options that would disperse the heavy hiking traffic that Mount Hood experiences in summer, plus access to the little-known lakes and rocky viewpoints that lie just beyond the destruction zone of the Boundary clear cut.
The key in making this transition is restoration through recreation — bringing visitors back to the area with the express purpose of fostering a public sense of stewardship needed to ensure that a Boundary clear cut never happens again.