Deadfall is the term for trees, branches or other natural debris that falls into the river. This debris can get caught or pile up, making it difficult, or even impossible, for boaters and paddlers to travel on the river.
So what does one do with it?
Rules vary from state to state but in Georgia, the debris is considered part of the land it fell from, and is therefore private property. While the river itself is public, the land on either side belongs to the property owners. Any deadfall is theirs to remove, if they choose.
Ecologically, removing deadfall entirely is not advised. The shady spots, slowed water flow, and underwater hiding places a downed tree provides are welcome habitat for many species. Generally, Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s (ORK) recommendation is to clear a navigable path while leaving some debris for natural use.
In most cases, the debris will be knocked loose quickly or the water levels will change enough to make the obstacle no longer a problem.
If you encounter deadfall, try to determine precisely where the obstacle is. If it is part of a state park or other public facility, it can be reported. If possible, it might be removed (or modified) to allow for safe passage). Drop a GPS pin or be as specific as possible when describing so it can be located later.
If it is on private property, or the land owner is unknown, you are welcome to notify ORK but we cannot do anything to remove it. ORK can make note of the obstacle and let other paddlers know to avoid that section, although the debris is usually gone or no longer an obstacle by the time paddlers visit again. As frustrating it is for recreation, ORK cannot remove debris or require a private property owner to do so.
Caused by soil erosion, high water levels, flow rate, weather patterns, wind speed, and more, deadfall is part of the natural life of a river.