Turbidity Responses from Timber Harvesting, Wildfire, and Post-Fire Logging in the Battle Creek Watershed, Northern California

  • Jack Lewis
  • Jonathan J. Rhodes
  • Curtis Bradley


The Battle Creek watershed in northern California was historically important for its Chinook salmon populations, now at remnant levels due to land and water uses. Privately owned portions of the watershed are managed primarily for timber production, which has intensified since 1998, when clearcutting became widespread. Turbidity has been monitored by citizen volunteers at 13 locations in the watershed. Approximately 2000 grab samples were collected in the 5-year analysis period as harvesting progressed, a severe wildfire burned 11,200 ha, and most of the burned area was salvage logged. The data reveal strong associations of turbidity with the proportion of area harvested in watersheds draining to the measurement sites. Turbidity increased significantly over the measurement period in 10 watersheds and decreased at one. Some of these increases may be due to the influence of wildfire, logging roads and haul roads. However, turbidity continued trending upwards in six burned watersheds that were logged after the fire, while decreasing or remaining the same in two that escaped the fire and post-fire logging. Unusually high turbidity measurements (more than seven times the average value for a given flow condition) were very rare (0.0% of measurements) before the fire but began to appear in the first year after the fire (5.0% of measurements) and were most frequent (11.6% of measurements) in the first 9 months after salvage logging. Results suggest that harvesting contributes to road erosion and that current management practices do not fully protect water quality.


Turbidity Water quality Timber harvest Cumulative watershed effects Wildfire Salvage logging 



Monitoring by the Battle Creek Alliance was made possible through grants from the California Watershed Protection Fund, Environment Now, Fund for Wild Nature, Lush Cosmetics Charity Pot, Northern California Grassroots Fund, Patagonia, and Wildlands Grassroots Fund. Co-author support was provided by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Jack Lewis received funding from the Battle Creek Alliance in 2015 for an unpublished analysis of these data. Lewis' updated analyses and composition of this article was not funded. Curtis Bradley contributed GIS analysis while employed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Jon Rhodes received a small fee from CBD for his assistance.

Supplementary material

267_2018_1036_MOESM1_ESM.doc (8.3 mb)
Supplemental material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Retired, USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research StationArcataUSA
  2. 2.Planeto Azul HydrologyPortlandUSA
  3. 3.Center for Biological DiversityTucsonUSA

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