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 Smith River Project > Trends in Vegetative Cover

Chapter 6 -- Changes and Trends in Stream Habitat and Fisheries (continued)

Trends in Vegetative Cover

Extensive changes in vegetative cover in a watershed can change the size and timing of peak flows. However, there are no specific studies of this effect in the Smith River watershed. The extent of vegetative cover in the Smith River watershed in the future will be most affected by:

  • Logging on public lands
  • Logging on private lands
  • Occurrence of fire

Logging on public lands in the Smith River watershed is restricted by the Smith River National Recreation Area Act. However, this legislation designates one section of the NRA as a "timber management area" and specifies that timber production should apply uneven-aged management and long rotations. The legislation also states that timber harvests must maintain "biological and ecological integrity". In several other areas of the NRA, timber harvests are allowed within existing plantations when compatible with other values, especially scenic values. Except in special circumstances, timber harvest is prohibited in streamside protection zones which generally extend one quarter mile from larger streams and 300 feet from smaller streams. Limited timber harvests are allowed in many areas when necessary for ecological reasons, such as reducing fire hazard (Smith River NRA Act 1990).

Over decades, reduced logging on the National Recreation Area will tend to increase the amount dense forests. However on private lands near the coast, the rate of timber harvest will depend largely on unpredictable economic and political factors.

Vegetation change due to fire can be extreme and is always unpredictable. In general, because private timber lands are near the coast, they tend to burn less frequently than public lands which are farther inland and relatively drier and hotter. Prescribed burning programs and other careful management may eventually reduce the possibility of stand-replacing fires. Because of the possibility of severe fire, there is no assurance that vegetation cover will increase either on public lands or private lands. We cannot forecast changes in vegetation cover across the landscape and their effect on peak flows and other ecosystem processes.

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