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U.S. FOREST SERVICE IS STUDYING EFFECTS OF LAND USE ON WATERSHEDS

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The U.S. Forest Service has begun a major effort to study the cumulative effects of multiple land use on watersheds.

At an annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Roy Sidle, a research hydrologist at U.S. Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Logan, explained why the watershed research effort is necessary."One drainage basin may be used for mining, logging, grazing, recreation and road construction," he said. "The water flowing through may pick up sediments, nutrients, toxic chemicals and woody debris."

Sidle said that although his research concentrates on forests and rangelands, it is impossible to separate forests from agriculture. He said it is difficult to assess the effects and said this is why it is necessary to work together with those involved in downstream agriculture.

"Forest and range managers need to work with downstream agricultural interests," he said.

As part of the research, Sidle said they are working on basic and applied studies, and developing methods with which to approach the broad watershed issues.

"We're now looking in detail at one drainage basin southeast of Austin, Nevada, on the Toiyabe National Forest, doing detailed measurements," he said.

He explained there is a mine upstream with two sizeable dumps and a series of exploration roads. He said the stream channel in the lower portion of the drainage has been deeply cut and the vegetation altered by overgrazing.

Sidle said the information that is gathered from the studies will be compared with information collected upstream where no mining has occurred.

Sidle said erosion and associated sediment is stored in the channel. He said sediment load can affect the number and size of pools in the stream, which in turn affects the fish.

"This cumulative watershed effects issue will be one of the more important scientific focuses in the next decade, just like global climate change," he said. "We are now in the research and experiment phase, but the aftermath will be extension activity to help managers and reclamation efforts."