Land Management Practices Impacting Rivers: Roads, Logging, and Mining

Road Building on Public Lands

Most people who enjoy National Forests, including whitewater paddlers, arrive by car and need a road to access public land. The current Forest Service road maintenance backlog threatens both our ability to enjoy our National Forests and the health of these forests and the rivers that flow through them. Unmanaged roads are not only bumpy rides. They wash out and erode, polluting water, damaging wildlife habitat and speeding the spread of weeds. The current 380,000-mile Forest Service road network, an artifact of past land management strategies, needs a better, more modern balance. American Whitewater and the greater paddling community have been involved in this discussion because it directly affects our interests in a number of ways. We offer the following ecological premises that we base our advocacy efforts on:

  • Roads can have direct negative ecological impacts on rivers and streams through increasing erosion and sediment delivery, encouraging the spread of invasive species, altering flow patterns in the river and tributaries, and through impacting and fragmenting habitat of aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal species.
  • Roads can have indirect negative ecological impacts by facilitating resource extraction activities such as logging and mining that have their own set of ecological impacts.
  • Roads can have cumulative impacts associated with road densities and distribution in a given area that far exceed the sum of the impacts of individual road segments.
  • Roads are manmade structures that require careful planning and responsible maintenance and management. Roads that are not well planned or maintained have an increased risk of failure–which may cause dramatic ecological harm. Building a road is therefore a long-term commitment to its maintenance.

American Whitewater was founded specifically to protect wild rivers, the wildest of which flow through unroaded backcountry known as Roadless Areas. Roadless Areas are literally few and far between. We consider them precious and limited resources with unique values that are deeply important. There are essentially two types of roadless lands–those that have been designated as Wilderness under the Wilderness Act, and Inventoried Roadless Areas that have not. The areas that have not been formally designated as Wilderness are at risk of being logged, mined, roaded, and otherwise developed although they currently have administrative protection under the 2001 Roadless Rule. American Whitewater was actively engaged in the development of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.


Many paddlers have witnessed the environmental impacts of large scale logging firsthand. Logging can have devastating impacts on rivers if too much of the watershed is logged, if roads fail, or if logging encroaches too near to the riparian areas of the river or its tributaries. The primary river impacts caused by logging relate to sedimentation. Additionally there are significant terrestrial habitat impacts associated with logging as well as aesthetic and recreational impacts.

In many cases, fire–either past or potential–is used as a justification for logging. The science of fire ecology rarely if ever supports these arguments.

Many national, regional and local environmental organizations share whitewater paddlers' interests in preventing irresponsible logging practices. Partnering with such organizations is strongly recommended in efforts to prevent logging or improve logging practices. Paddlers have tackled logging issues on rivers across the country including for example the Upper Yough, Cheat, and Blackwater, and rivers in California Tennessee, Virginia, the Southeast, and across the Nation.

Logging is often a legal activity on private or public lands, however logging companies must abide by environmental regulations that are overseen by the land managing agency if the tract is on public land, and in some cases by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, state water quality agency, or the Army Corps of Engineers. If you witness logging activity that you feel is infringing on the riparian area or that is impacting water quality, consider contacting one or all of the above agencies to inquire about the legality of the logging.


Mining has unique physical and chemical impacts that can radically transform the ecology or rivers, streams, and their watersheds. Mines can radically alter the habitat in streams by changing the ph and other water chemistry characteristics to the point that some streams are uninhabitable by most aquatic organisms. The same water quality changes can kill riparian vegetation which leads to the unraveling of what ecological integrity remains in such streams.

Mining pollution is generally managed by the state water quality agencies, and by the Environmental Protection Agency, and many regional NGO's are focused on mining issues. There are many restoration efforts underway to clean up abandoned mines across the country and many rivers are rebounding from past mining abuses. That being said there are still new mines being built all the time, some of which will spell disaster for water quality if not stopped or strictly regulated. We recommend that river enthusiasts partner with local and regional NGO's, and work closely with state and federal agencies when addressing mining issues.

Coal Mining

Coal mining is the primary mining risk to Appalachian rivers. Some of the most striking impacts of coal mining are evident in the Stony Creek watershed in Pennsylvania, and Cheat watershed in West Virginia. A relatively new form of coal mining known as Mountaintop Removal Mining is particularly devastating to rivers and streams. Many streams that are impacted by coal mining have dramatic water quality problems, most notably a condition known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), which leaves streams orange and largely devoid of life.

Hardrock Mining

We all use products of mining every day and responsible mining can help provide much-needed resources to our nation. However, the current law governing hardrock mining on public lands–The General Mining Law of 1872–is badly out of date. American Whitewater actively supports efforts to modernize this law.

Frontier days are over. Today, we understand that public lands provide many things, such as clean water and outdoor recreation opportunities, that are often more valuable than minerals underground. Because it was written in another era, the 1872 Mining Law fails to recognize or accommodate this reality. For example, it allows mining companies to take public minerals without royalty and purchase public land for the 1872 price of $5 per acre or less. The law has permitted the sale of public lands to mining firms for a mere fraction of their real value, depriving American citizens of their outdoor birthright.

The 1872 Mining Law should be modernized. Mining on public land must be balanced with all other uses of public land, including clean water and outdoor recreation. American Whitewater believes Congress should explore the following reforms:

  • Recognition of public land values other than mining.
  • Protection of the nation`s special places (historic sites, national parks, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness study areas, and Native American cultural sites) and their surroundings.
  • An end to the outdated regulations that have allowed land patenting (selling public lands for a few dollars an acre)
  • Requiring that mined land be restored to pre-mining conditions and that rivers are protected.
  • Creation of a modern and fair royalty system.

Check out the: Outdoor Alliance Mining Law Reform Video

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