Impacts of timber harvesting on historic sediment accumulation rates in the Coos Bay estuary, Oregon

Friday, 19 December 2014
Nathan Mathabane, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, United States and Joshua J Roering, Univ Oregon, Eugene, OR, United States
The expansion and development of human infrastructure along the coastline of the Pacific Northwest has profound consequences for the habitability and general ecological health of coastal ecosystems. Coos County, one of the most economically critical regions of the Oregon Coast, experienced vigorous timber harvest activity in the aftermath of WWII that declined in the last several decades. This period of extractive land use may have drastically altered the sediment supply in the major catchments of the Coos and Millicoma Rivers and lead to variations in sediment flux into the Coos Bay estuary. Accurate sediment flux histories are critical data for deciphering the relative importance of climate and land use factors such as logging and road construction on sediment production. Reduction of root reinforcement following timber harvest increases the likelihood of shallow landsliding and debris flows. In addition, forest roads increase sediment production due to overland flow and entrainment of fine sediments on hydrologically connected roads. Although these processes have been documented in small watersheds, their compounded effect on estuaries and coastal settings has not been well documented. We use Pb-210 activities derived from sediment cores taken at various locations in the Coos Bay estuary to establish temporal variations in sediment accumulation rates (SARs). Our cores will also be analyzed to assess dissolved oxygen and other proxies for ecosystem functioning. By correlating these SARs with quantitative metrics for timber extraction rate such as board feet per year and qualitative evaluations from historical photos, we propose to document the cumulative effect of historic forest practices. The temporal resolution provided by this technique should allow us to link changes in estuarine sedimentation to changes in land use as well as climatic triggers such as storms. The conclusions of this study will add valuable information regarding the ultimate impact of industry on coastal habitats.