Water resources on public lands face many threats. National Forests in particular are mandated to be lands "of many uses", in contrast to National Parks. These human uses can heavily impact forest waters. Every new road and timber sale within the watershed area results in an increase of sediment washing into streams and rivers.
Road construction has the single greatest impact on watersheds, because new roads remove stabilizing vegetation and harden surfaces, which increases runoff and diverts water out of established channels. Erosion increases dramatically due to the creation of a road. Similarly, livestock grazing degrades streambanks and increases erosion through hoof movement and removal of vegetation. Bulldozing and skidding logs during timber operations also pose erosive risks. Herbicides, often used in timber project areas, can contaminate water, and once they've killed vegetation there is little left to hold soil in place. Braided trails formed by recreational overuse and poorly placed trails can add to the cumulative problem.
When is a watershed at risk?
There is great controversy over how to manage these uses and to what extent they should be permitted, especially in riparian areas and other sensitive habitats that are important for wildlife species. While National Forests have protective measures called "best management practices" or BMPs, their enforcement and effectiveness are highly questionable based on CSERC's watchdog monitoring in the absence of "mandatory" agency monitoring.
CSERC works to gain wider protective buffers for streams affected by national forest projects. We are consistently opposed to any further road construction on public lands - especially on steep slopes where the potential for erosion is high. We focus monitoring on riparian, wetland and meadow ecosystems where grazing takes place, as well as poorly maintained roads that are contributing high levels of sediment. We document significant impacts with photographs and advocate for policies that may mitigate these impacts.
CSERC also works to monitor and protect downstream water quality for all the people who depend upon water that flows off national forest lands, as well as those who recreate in waters on national forest lands.