Matt and I planned to hike to Lava Creek Falls, but in preparation Matt spent time looking for secret waterfalls on Google Earth. He located a potential unmarked falls on West Fork Carcus Creek and decided we should try to make a go at it on our way to Lava Creek.
This June day ended up being full of surprises. Unexpected rainstorms hit us throughout the hike. Matt discovered the carcass of a rarely-seen White-footed Vole in the stream. And sure enough, after a long, bushwacking descent into the bowels of the West Fork Carcus Creek’s canyon….we found a new waterfall!
At one point on our trek to the falls, a mayfly flew along the trail in front of us for an extended time, almost as if it was leading. Deep in the streambed at the base of the falls, a similar mayfly suddenly appeared in front of us. Due to this auspicious coincidence and the small, dainty nature of the waterfall, we have christened it….Mayfly Falls.
The combination of waiting for rain to pass, a long descent into the new waterfall, and the extra miles from the diversion meant we didn’t have enough time before dusk to make it to Lava Creek Falls. So that will be an adventure for another day.
Matt’s video shows we already had more than enough adventure for this outing.
As a side note, the stream underneath the falls was especially full of sediment. Despite otherwise ideal conditions, we were only able to find a single torrent salamander and a single giant salamander in the stream, nothing like the numbers we had found in other nearby streams.
Later we found that a recent clearcut came close to the edge of the creek, and upstream of the waterfall a brand-new clearcut was cut all the way to the creek.
Clearcutting near streams has a negative impact on aquatic life. Forests provide a tree canopy to deflect rain, roots to soak it up, and strong root systems to hold hillsides together. Cut down the forest, and topsoil begins washing into the stream with every storm. The resulting sediment in the stream makes it difficult for aquatic organisms to breathe and disrupts the nutrient cycle. Oregon has had the weakest regulations in the region for preventing logging near streams, which has led to the destruction of a lot of stream habitat.
Over and over we’re seen how hard it is to find aquatic amphibians in steams impacted by clearcuts. Despite great habitat on this day, we found no Coastal Tailed Frogs or Cope’s Giant Salamanders, and only found one each of the other two stream amphibians we were looking for.
Other animals are also impacted. Salmon and steelhead eggs are sensitive to sediment increases, not just from cutting around the spawning beds but even from cuts thousands of feet upstream because all that dirt washes downstream to smother the eggs. Aquatic invertebrates also struggle, meaning fewer insects for fish to eat and fewer insects for wildlife around the stream.
The good news is that relief is coming. A recent compromise between the logging industry and environmental groups has expanded stream buffer zones to levels more in line with our neighboring states. I’ll quote the specifics from the Wild Salmon Center:
For Western Oregon, proposed changes would increase buffers to 110 feet on large and medium fish streams, and 100 feet on small fish streams. (For reference, current minimum buffers on small fish streams range from 20-25 feet.) On designated large and medium non-fish perennial streams, buffers would increase to 75 feet.
The really big changes, Van Dyk says, apply to streams currently without buffers, including on small “non-fish perennial” tributaries that flow into salmon and steelhead streams. The agreement proposes a minimum 75-foot-wide buffer along the first 500 feet of these streams, winnowing slightly to a 50-foot-wide buffer for the next 650 feet for 1,150 total feet of new protection.
West Fork Carcus Creek doesn’t have salmon/steelhead above the waterfall, but it does have them below the waterfall, which means that the logging buffer below the falls has now increased from 25 feet up to 100 feet and there will be new logging buffers of 50-75 feet for the first 1,150 feet above the falls, nearly a 1/4 mile. There are even 25-foot buffer for many seasonal streams. If those regulations had been in place just a few years earlier, there wouldn’t have been cuts so close to the stream, and perhaps there would be more amphibians and fish fry in them today.
Further details of the Private Forest Accord can be found in this pdf, or in this much longer report here. It’s a positive step forward for Oregon’s fish and wildlife. Fewer streams will see their forests ripped down and ecologies impacted like West Fork Carcus Creek was.