I am sure that our recent spate of summer-like weather has prompted many of you to pull out your canoe or kayak and get in some early-season paddling. Early spring is usually a great time to be venturing out on the Commonwealth’s rivers and larger streams, as the higher water levels and vigorous flows enable paddling on many streams that tend to be too rocky in the summer.
If you have already been out paddling, you may have noticed an increase in the amount of downed trees and branches in and along the river, perhaps resulting from last year’s weather events like Tropical Storm Irene or the pre-Halloween snowstorm. Working your way through all the wood in the river might have made your paddle feel more like an obstacle course, as you clambered in and out of your boat to avoid numerous fallen logs and overhanging branches.
Living and dead trees, branches and logs in and along a river confer a myriad of ecological benefits, serving as perching areas for birds, cover for fish to hide from predators and prey, and basking spots for turtles, as well as non-ecological benefits such as attenuating downstream flooding. The way the river interacts with the downed wood creates undercut banks, side channels and other “nooks and crannies,” contributing to habitat complexity, a key characteristic of a healthy river ecosystem.
That being said, downed wood in rivers can be a possible safety hazard, such as when a fallen tree piles up against a bridge abutment, or lies across a fast-moving section of water where it could act as a “sweeper” or “strainer” that could flip a boat and pin it underwater. When to remove trees and when to leave them be requires performing a balancing act and to provide clarity the Division of Ecological Restoration’s (DER) Russ Cohen collaborated with Mike Gildesgame of the Appalachian Mountain Club on Trees, Paddlers and Wildlife: Safeguarding Ecological and Recreation Values on the River.
There has been a brochure, video and newly-posted PowerPoint presentation Russ delivered at the Mass. Association of Conservation Commission’s 2012 Conference, are all intended to educate paddlers and others about why trees are good for rivers and to encourage their retention except where significant safety hazards exist, and even then to look for the minimum action possible such as judicious pruning or relocation of the vegetation to abate the hazard.
Also, DER compiles an annual Rivers and Wetlands Months Calendar, listing all the public paddling trips and other river- and wetland-related activities taking place in the Commonwealth during May (Wetlands Month) and June (Rivers Month). The 2012 Calendar will cover the period from Saturday, April 28 to Wednesday, July 4. So, if you know of an event taking place during that time, please feel free to send an e-mail about it to Russ firstname.lastname@example.org.