By Samanatha Lutz
Pennsylvania BHA Board Member
The land that we know as Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in western Pennsylvania today is vastly different than the old growth forest that once covered the Allegheny Plateau. The forest was once characterized by large trees, of various ages, creating a multi-layered forest canopy that provided a rich biodiverse forest floor and essential contributions to our streams. As trees aged and or during natural disaster events, trees would fall near and within streams, naturally stabilize streambanks, improve floodplain connectivity, and provide diverse aquatic habitat.
As America grew in the 1800s, so did its need for lumber. After a century of timber harvest, the old growth forest was decimated. When the Allegheny National Forest was established in 1923, the Service was faced with an immediate challenge to reestablish the forest. Over the last 100 years the forest has been reestablished into the young, second growth forest we know today. The mature trees that now cover the landscape are all roughly the same age and are not providing the woody biomass that the streams need to provide crucial habitat and ecological services.
In an effort to restore physical and biological functions to these streams, the Allegheny National Forest has partnered with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) to implement several large wood projects within the forest. These large wood projects will restore the natural density of woody materials to the stream, increase in-stream cover, develop deeper and more prevalent pools, and encourage more frequent floodplain-channel interactions.
"The introduction of large wood into a stream alters flow patterns which can create pools and other areas of slow, which are critical resting space for fish and other aquatic life. The wood creates cover and shade in the water for many aquatic species, while also providing surfaces for birds and reptiles to perch above the water."
In late June of 2023 Pennsylvania BHA staff and volunteers worked with WPC to restore large woody debris in four locations along Meade Run in the Allegheny National Forest.
On Thursday morning BHA volunteers met with WPC staff along Forest Road 150. WPC quickly began to educate and engage BHA volunteers on the work that would be completed and the equipment that we would be utilizing. After a quick safety meeting, everyone grabbed a piece of equipment and started trekking through the forest until we were standing along the banks of Meade Run.
The sound of chainsaws firing up quickly filled the air and BHA watched intently as WPC staff proceeded to directionally fall carefully selected trees into the channel and along the banks of Meade Run. Once the large trees were felled, the team tested their strength and endurance by pulling structure logs into place by rigging the logs into position with use of a capstan winch and grip-hoist. Once all the large structures were in place, the team worked on filling the gaps by cutting and dragging in brush.
These activities were replicated on Friday as we worked our way up the stream. At the final site, axes and Pulaskis were used to expose a trees root wad. The root wad was then drug into the stream channel to help divert water into the desired flow path. At the end of the day we all recapped on our efforts and discussed future opportunities.
We learned that the large wood that was placed will help to slow flows and divert excess water up onto the floodplain, during flooding events. This process helps to reduce erosion and filter sediment out of the stream, improving water quality and allowing for adequate groundwater recharge. The introduction of large wood into a stream alters flow patterns which can create pools and other areas of slow water, which are critical resting space for fish and other aquatic life. The wood creates cover and shade in the water for many aquatic species, while also providing surfaces for birds and reptiles to perch above the water.
The amount of labor that goes into these projects is impressive, but honestly the joy and the knowledge we volunteers received throughout the process made every drop of sweat worth it.
The PA Chapter of BHA hopes to continue collaborating with WPC on these types of projects to help give back to our public lands and waters.
If you are interested in getting involved, please keep an eye out on our chapter social media pages and events webpage for opportunities to RSVP for future habitat projects.