Mica Creek Experimental Watershed
As possibly the longest running research project in the college, the relevant data and potential for continued research remain as vast as the vistas above Mica Creek.
It is also an active demonstration of college/industry collaboration.
It was nearly 25 years ago that Potlatch Corp. began questioning the impacts of contemporary logging practices on streams. As regulations tightened due to external concern and internal desire to do better, the company established a technical team to lead a study of modern forest practices on stream resources.
Potlatch reached out to the University of Idaho to lead unbiased research to help them better understand, and potentially change, their logging practices. The research was funded entirely by Potlatch Corp., and has become a $1.5 million investment for the company.
“We realized we had not planned for data analysis,” said Terry Cundy, manager of silviculture, wildlife and environment for Potlatch Corp. “Reaching out to a credible third-party was a natural course of action and has proven to have a legacy last- ing much longer than that original research project.”
Benefit to the College
The University of Idaho has leveraged that money and the opportunity to study on Mica Creek to garner nearly $3.7 million in grant dollars, produce nearly 100 publications, presentations and theses, and train more than 30 students.
“They were incredibly accommodating,” said Timothy Link, professor of hydrology who oversees activity at Mica Creek. “There were no requirements on us except to provide independent, unbiased analyses.”
The original study looked at the effects on water and fish as a result of timber harvesting. The research involved a clear-cut, a partial cut and a control. That data continues to be gathered, giving analysts complete records for more than 20 years. Studies since have included optimizing harvest systems, tree growth, even impact on bug quantity in the three areas. The control remains uncut and allows researchers to fully utilize the 80-year-old canopy.
The site is commonly a part of tours for elected officials, U.S. Forest Service, extension, Idaho Department of Lands and more. When the annual Society of American Foresters convention came to Spokane in 2012, Mica Creek was on the tour schedule.
“It is still an active research site and it is a site of long-term collaboration. It is an excellent example of good science being done by students to aid industry,” Link said.
Mica Creek was one of a handful of statewide stops on a tour of Idaho’s forest industry, put together by industry in cooperation with the college, to show the university’s new president, Chuck Staben, what Idaho’s forest industry is all about.
“Showing our president what the forest industry, good research and strong collaboration look like, on the ground, is vital to a full understanding of the University of Idaho and our dedication to the land grant mission,” said Kurt Pregitzer, dean of the College of Natural Resources.
Work on the site brought national attention to Link, who in 2003 won the national Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
What is Next for Mica Creek?
In addition to ongoing monitoring of stream flows, water quality, and fish populations, new research is focused on stream shade in harvested areas. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is funding a study evaluating new state rules regarding the retention of trees in stream corridors, and Mica Creek will be available as one of the core study sites.
Because the data collected from Mica Creek is so rich, it is also a prime location to focus climate change research.
“Few sites have such long-term data collection covering such a wide range of topics. With that history, Mica Creek is poised to be a relevant research site for years to come,” Link said. “We also have a lot of trust and a good relationship with Potlatch that has proven to be mutually beneficial.”