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Oregon Stream Protection Coalition Testimony at the March 4th Board of Forestry Meeting

On March 4, Mary Scurlock testified at the Board of Forestry meeting regarding the upcoming rulemaking process to comply with the coldwater criterion.

Download Mary Scurlock’s Testimony to the Board of Forestry.

BEFORE THE OREGON BOARD OF FORESTRY
Statement of Mary Scurlock, Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
Re: Riparian Rule Analysis
4 March 2015

My name is Mary Scurlock and I speak today on behalf of the twenty-one fishing and conservation
groups comprising the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition. My intent is to bring your attention to
three issues related to the decisions you will be making in April and June:

• The relevance of valuing a wide range of ecological benefits in your decision-making.

• The importance of technically sound stream classification methods and fish habitat
distribution maps to achievement of your intended conservation outcomes.

• The need for clarity about the relationship between the Board’s duty to limit harvest-related
stream warming on stream segments to which the Protecting Coldwater Criterion applies and
the Board’s duty to limit stream warming to meet load allocations on “TMDL streams.”

1.  We urge the Board to consider the broad range of ecological and economic benefits that will
accrue to the public from more robust riparian conservation

This rule change is spurred by the legal need to protect public natural resources, a need that is based
on the societal decision not to subsidize private timber harvest with water quality degradation and
species extinctions that harm the public at large. In this respect, the public benefit of meeting water
quality and species protection is already self-evident to you and to the interested public.  However,
we still are concerned that in weighing options for policy change later this spring, the Board will
focus primarily on quantifying the costs that can be attributed to the regulated community.  While it
is necessary and proper that these costs should be quantified, in evaluating the costs and benefits of
increasing the size of protected riparian areas we urge you ensure that the wide range of ecological
and economic benefits flowing from the new policies also are recognized and valued in your
determinations.  This is particularly important to the recreational and commercial fishing industry
organizations participating in the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition.

We believe that there are practicable ways for the Department and the Board to ensure a balanced
portrayal of the economic impacts of regulatory change.  A fair accounting must begin by
acknowledging that ecosystem services1 have significant economic value, even if functioning
markets don’t exist for these services and precise valuation in dollars is not possible or practicable.  These services include, but go beyond, the ways in which stronger riparian protection measures to
prevent stream heating also will meet the need for greater inputs of mature trees both to stream
channels and the riparian forest floor.

Drawing from cases where the valuation of ecological services and benefits has been accomplished
in relation to restorative actions for water quality, aquatic habitats, and fish we have several
observations we would like to share:

• Frameworks and methodologies exist for identifying and valuing ecosystem services. 2   EPA, the World Bank, The Nature Conservancy, and European countries and others routinely assess these values.

• The list of ecosystem services associated with improved aquatic habitat conditions is long,
and it includes among many others: flood protection and stormwater regulation, drinking
water production and filtration for sediment and pathogens, nutrient retention, erosion
control/soil retention, sediment reduction, biodiversity conservation, increased fish
production, increased sport and recreational fishing, prevention of future ESA listings and
associated regulatory costs, and others.

• The estimated value of these ecosystems services is generally very large, even when
underestimated.3  Values vastly increase if the benefits to future as well as current generations are considered.

• The value of maintaining and restoring ecosystem health increases over time with human
population.

We are not demanding an exhaustive quantitative study of ecosystem services that will be enhanced
by increased riparian protection.  We are simply asking you to ensure that they are given meaningful
consideration in your deliberations.  At a minimum this means identifying the most significant of the
known ecological benefits of increased riparian protection and attributing some economic value to
these very real benefits.

2.  Ensure Implementation Methods and Tools are Technically Sound and Reasonable Presumptions are made to account for information gaps

The Department is on a course to present the Board with rule alternatives that could apply, in some or all basins, only to streams where Salmon Steelhead and Bull Trout habitat (SSBT) is deemed to exist.  As I will discuss in my next point, OSPC does not believe that this is an adequate approach.  We
recommend that PCW protections be applied to all streams, including “TMDL streams,” all Fish habitat streams and nonfish perennial streams.  Nonetheless, I wish to point out some concerns we have with the SSBT approach, as we understand it.

ODFW fish distribution maps are currently the best available statewide information, and we have
supported using these as a starting point for making reach level implementation decisions where
riparian rule prescriptions are vary based on the presence of fish habitat or habitat for particular
species.  However, given the maps’ limitations in a number of key respects, it will be critically
important to clarify how landowners and by the Department will use them, and how they will be
updated.

Our concern is simple: uncritical reliance on the ODFW maps in laying out riparian prescriptions
cannot be justified as they stand, a fact that should not be surprising given that they were not
developed to serve this kind of regulatory purpose.  If used as they stand, the maps will drastically
under-represent and therefore under-protect the actual extent of salmon, steelhead and bull trout
habitat.  This adds to the existing problem that ODF stream maps have not “classified” as fishbearing
or nonfishbearing an estimated 40-50% of streams statewide.4  

We are currently developing several recommendations about how to address this issue, a key one
being that field verification should occur as to the location of the first permanent natural barrier to
SSBT use.  Unless and until a permanent natural barrier is documented, SSBT habitat should be
presumed to exist the full length of a classified F streams and on unclassified streams.  We also
favor establishment of a clear and adequately staffed process for updating the maps, and urge
improvements to ODF’s 2007 guidance on the physical criteria and survey protocols it uses to
determine barriers to fish use.

3.  The Board needs more clarity on which water quality standards apply to which streams

In order for the Board to fully understand scope of its duties in this rulemaking process, you must
have a clear and full understanding of the applicable water quality standards that limit human-caused
stream warming.  As of now, this process lacks a common understanding by all parties of the
relationship between the limit on human warming set by the Protecting Coldwater Criterion (PCW) — which was the basis for the Board’s degradation finding — and limits set by water quality standards established under EPA-approved “Total Maximum Daily Loads.”

At this point in time, we are extremely concerned that the Board is laboring under a mistaken belief
that your finding of degradation under the PCW on the basis of RipStream requires the Board to limit
the scope of new riparian protections to streams meeting the numeric critieria (i.e. “non-impaired
streams” or “non 303(d)” streams).  This is not correct, and would have the odd result of providing
less protection on streams in worse condition.  Likewise, the Department is reticent about extending
protections to waters upstream of reaches with threatened and endangered species claiming lack of
proof that these streams require protection, yet protection of these streams is essential to meeting the PCW by the terms of the standard itself.  In order for the rules under consideration to meet water quality standards these two issues going to the scope of the rules must be addressed.

A brief explanation.  There are two general types of limits in Oregon’s temperature standards: overall
stream temperatures (numeric criteria) and caps on human-caused stream warming (the Protecting
Coldwater criterion or “PCW”).  The Department has repeatedly invoked the PCW because the RipStream study demonstrated that logging practices in excess of the PCW limit of .3° C.5  UnderOregon law, in the basins where temperature TMDLs have been approved by EPA,the TMDLs operate to change the applicable water quality standard.  First, the cap on allowable warming moves from being established by the PCW to that established by any applicable TMDLs.  Second, the geographic scope of that cap extends beyond the non-impaired reaches to the entire perennial network in a given basin or watershed.  This includes impaired streams not covered by the PCW.  And it includes streams that are not habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.  In a few instances, the cap even extends to intermittent stream reaches with fish use.  Finally, the allowable increase in warming from all human activities cumulatively is capped at .3°C, leaving nonpoint sources with less than that total, depending on the individual TMDL.  This reading of the water quality standards in Oregon law is not novel and it is not ours alone; DEQ has clearly stated this interpretation of its standards in its guidance on the PCW issued in 2011.  Oregon DEQ, Internal Management Directive: Nonpoint Source Compliance with the Protecting Coldwater Criterion of the Temperature Standard (November 2011).

Two memoranda from Northwest Environmental Advocates to ODF and the Governor’s office
explain our concerns in more detail and are attached (View NWEA memo 1; view NWEA memo 2)

We urge the Board to seek clarity on these issues from its legal advisers and its colleagues at DEQ so
that it can formulate a plan for addressing the inadequacy of current prescriptions to meet stream
warming limits set by both the PCW and TMDLs.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Scurlock

1.  Ecosystem services could be broadly defined as the ways in which ecosystems are used to produce human wellbeing.  See also http://esvaluation.org/ecosystem-services.

2. See e.g. Daily, G. C. 1997. Nature’s services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems. (Washington, DC, Island Press); Batker, D., E. Barclay, R. Boumans, and T. Hathaway. 2005. Ecosystem Services Enhanced by Salmon Habitat Conservation in the Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound Watershed (Prepared for WRIA 9 Watershed Forum of Local Governments through the King Conservation District); Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound Watershed Water Resource Inventory Area 9 (WRIA 9) Steering Committee. 2005. Salmon Habitat Plan – Making Our Watershed Fit for a King.

3.  For example, ecosystem services provided by forestlands in a single Washington subbasin in one year was estimated at between $1 and $5 billion dollars annually. Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound Salmon Habitat Plat at 6-5.

4.  Stream condition above natural fish barriers obviously has a bearing on downstream conditions but this is a subject we do not address here.

5.  RipStream average warming was .7°C, but sample site did not always manage to the minimum allowed by rule.  ODF modeling demonstrates that harvests to the minimum buffer allowed by rule would have caused warming on the order or 1.22° C on average.

6.  Basins with approved TMDLs are: North Coast, South Coast, Upper South Fork Coquille, Umpqua, Rogue Basin except Bear Creek, Bear Creek watershed, Applegate, Lobster Creek, Lower Sucker Creek (Illinois of the Rogue), Willamette, Sandy, Miles Creek watershed (Mid Columbia).

Take Action through Rogue Riverkeeper alert on ODF riparian rulemaking

Rogue Riverkeeper, an OSPC member and an organization that seeks to protect and restore water quality and fish populations in the Rogue River Basin and adjacent coastal watersheds, recently sent out an alert to encourage public input on Oregon Department of Forestry’s current riparian rulemaking process.

The alert is available on their website and posted here:

Streamside Trees Needed for Clean Water and Salmon

riparian forestProtecting trees in streamside forests is incredibly important. Healthy riparian forests keep water cool, filter polluted runoff from roads and logging areas, and provide valuable wildlife habitat. Streamside forests are critical to aquatic ecosystems, and make the clean water we all depend on possible. Your help is needed now to protect them!

Right now Oregon’s rules fail to adequately protect our streams and riparian forests from logging operations and don’t meet the minimum standards necessary to avoid harm to imperiled salmon. Most streamside forests may be clearcut as close as 20 feet from streams that harbor fish, and forests along our smallest streams may be completely removed. These practices cannot continue if Oregon wants to reach its goals for healthy streams and fisheries.

Because our riparian protection rules are so poor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently denied approval of Oregon’s program to protect important coastal watersheds from impacts to water quality, and the state has lost millions in funding as a result.   (OSPC note: Oregon may lose funding but has not yet).

Oregon now has a clear opportunity to protect our waterways and satisfy federal requirements. The Oregon Department of Forestry is currently considering new stream buffer rules for streams that could meet some key state and federal requirements, so now is the perfect time to make sure your voice is heard!

Take Action: Send a letter to the Board of Forestry and to Governor Brown urging their support for adoption of strong rules that protect streams in the Rogue Basin and throughout Oregon.

 

Input Needed by Conservation Community on Oregon Forest Practices Monitoring Strategy

The Oregon Department of Forestry is soliciting input from the conservation community on the revision of its monitoring strategy.  Please provide input by March 25 to Terry.Frueh@oregon.gov (Phone number: 503-945-7392)

The Oregon Department of Forestry  conducts different types of monitoring, including effectiveness monitoring  to determine whether implementation of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules is adequate to meet environmental protection goals.  The existing monitoring program is intended to provide information that will allow for regulatory changes when needed to improve environmental protections.

The current Forest Practices Monitoring Program Strategic Plan,  created in April 2002, is available here.

It is critical that the conservation community get involved and provide input regarding potential changes to ODF’s monitoring plan because the plan will set the agency’s agenda for monitoring and adaptive management for the foreseeable future.  Adaptive management is used to craft policy changes to existing forest practices rules.  Furthermore, the monitoring plan will determine how limited funds are spent in evaluating the effectiveness of the rules and making adaptive changes.

Terry Frueh, Monitoring Specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, made this presentation to the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition on February 4, 2015. about the monitoring strategy revisions.

Additional information is available in the ODF Monitoring Strategic Plan Charter Work Plan, January 2015, and Status of work on questions from 2002 Monitoring Strategy. 

 

Take Action: Contact the Board of Forestry to ask for Stronger Water Quality Protections

Sweet Creek, Siuslaw River Basin, Lane County
Sweet Creek, Siuslaw River Basin, Lane County

The following are contact email addresses to get in touch with members of the Board of Forestry, the Board Administrator, and the State Forester and tell them that you support stronger protections for Oregon’s streams, fish, and water quality:

Board Administrator, Tara Sell:  Tara.L.Sell@oregon.gov

State Forester Doug Decker: Doug.S.DECKER@oregon.gov
(“Secretary to the Board”)

Board of Forestry Members:

Chairman of the Board, Tom Imeson:  tom.imeson@nwnatural.com
Sybil Ackerman-Munson:  sybilbof@gmail.com
Cindy Williams:  cdwill656@gmail.com
Tom Insko, Boise Cascade:  tominsko@bc.com
Gary Springer, Starker Forest Products:  springer@starkerforests.com
Mike Rose:  mrose@iamaw.org
Nils D. Christoffersen:  nils@wallowaresources.com

Inadequate forest practice rules lead to federal disapproval of Oregon’s Coastal Nonpoint Program

On January 30, 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified the State of Oregon that its Oregon Coast Nonpoint Program is not sufficient to comply with the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA).  NOAA and EPA specifically faulted Oregon’s forest practices, which are inadequate to protect Oregon’s waterways.

Previously, in 1998, these agencies had approved Oregon’s program, subject to specific conditions. In their January 30, 2015 finding, the agencies determined that Oregon’s program was not fully approvable because the program did not meet these conditions as they relate to forestry condition. “By not adopting and implementing the additional measures applicable to forestry and forested lands that are necessary to achieve and maintain water quality standards and to protect designated uses, Oregon has not submitted a fully approvable program under CZARA.” (pg. 3)  The agencies called on the State to, among other things, adopt and implement forestry management measures to protect non fish-bearing streams and small and medium-sized fishbearing streams.

The agencies explained that a large body of science demonstrates that current management practices do not achieve and maintain water quality  and protect designated uses.  They drew particular attention the RipStream study (Oregon Department of Forestry’s Riparian and Stream Temperature Effectiveness Monitoring Project), which “found  that FPA riparian protections on private lands did not ensure achievement of the PCW [(protecting cold water)] criterion under the Oregon water quality standard for temperature.”  (pg. 5)

With regard to non fishbearing streams, and contrary to the way that Oregon manages forest harvest along these streams, they stated that “non-fish-bearing streams should be treated no differently than fish-bearing streams when determining the appropriate buffer width to protect designated uses.” (pg. 7)  This is because salmonid distribution changes over time and other fish and aquatic organisms are important to stream health.

NOAA and EPA declined to rely on Oregon’s Paired Watershed Studies as evidence that current forest practices are sufficient to maintain water quality standards and protect designated uses, explaining that “a variety of factors confound the draft conclusions from the Hinkle Creek study[.]” (pg. 7) (Read more about the limitations of Oregon’s Paired Watershed Studies, as outlined by aquatic ecologist Dr. Chris Frissell in the report following his presentation to the Board of Forestry at the June 23, 2014, Riparian Rules Workshop.)

Below are links to the finding and associated documents.

Read about the federal disapproval in the news:

Regulators: Oregon logging rules don’t protect fish, water 

 Feds reject Oregon’s coastal pollution plan, could impose financial sanctions 

 

Regulators: Oregon logging rules don’t protect fish, water

Jeff Barnard, AP
January 30, 2015

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) – Federal regulators ruled Friday that Oregon logging rules do not sufficiently protect fish and water from pollution caused by clear-cutting too close to streams, runoff from old logging roads, landslides and sites sprayed with pesticides.

NOAA Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed their decision in a long-running negotiation with Oregon over meeting the standards of the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program, a provision of the National Coastal Zone Management Program.

The ruling was triggered by a lawsuit filed by environmentalists.

Oregon is the first state cited for failing to meet the pollution standards since the program started in 1990. The state could lose access to some federal grants until the problems are fixed.

However, EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran and NOAA Fisheries regional administrator Will Stelle said they hoped penalties would not be necessary.

Stelle said tightening Oregon Forest Practices Act rules for logging on private, state and county forests would speed habitat improvements needed to get threatened Oregon coastal coho salmon off the threatened species list.

He added that Washington and California forest practices laws do a much better job of protecting fish and water quality than Oregon regulations.

Richard Whitman, the governor’s natural resources adviser, said the state Board of Forestry is working on the streamside buffer issues. Solutions should be in place by the end of 2016, he said.

Stelle said changes could include increasing the no-logging buffer zones along streams, doing detailed inventories of old logging roads and areas prone to landslides, and increasing no-spray buffer zones to keep pesticides out of the water. The solutions could be a mix of rules and voluntary programs.

The no-logging buffers leave trees standing to shade streams and prevent them from warming to the point they are too hot for fish. The vegetation also serves as a natural filter keeping silt from washing into streams, where it chokes out spawning beds and food for fish.

Even at low levels, pesticides can interfere with a salmon’s sense of smell, which it uses to avoid predators and find its home stream when returning from the ocean to spawn.

Nina Bell of Northwest Environmental Advocates, which won the lawsuit forcing the agencies to enforce the clean water standards, said the federal action was two decades overdue.

“The blame for this shameful disapproval can be squarely laid at the doorstep of Oregon’s forest practices law, the agencies and boards that do nothing to improve forest practices, and the logging industry that maintains a tight political grip on this state,” she said in a statement. “But as for who, honestly, can turn this around, well it rests almost entirely with the governor.”

Bell said the law calls for the agencies to withhold one-third of the federal grants available under the program, which this year would work out to about $1.3 million.

This AP story also ran in the Statesman Journal, Register-Guard, Daily AstorianWashington Times,  Yakima Herald, News-Register, and Columbian,  to name a few.

Environmentalists, Portland-area lawmakers take aim at timber industry in 2015 legislative session

clearcut drinking water
When timber was clearcut behind James and Pam Aldridge’s home outside Gold Beach, only a small buffer was left to protect their drinking water source. Google Maps.

 

By Molly Harbarger | The Oregonian/OregonLive

A handful of Portland-area Democrats and environmental groups have their eyes on the 2015 legislative session, where they hope to win timber reforms. Their first goal is putting new limits on aerial spraying of pesticides on forest land near public drinking water.

The conservation groups eventually want to increase state authority over cutting, among other things, but officials are throwing their weight for now behind proposals to increase buffer zones between spraying areas and drinking water and to increase the notification requirements for nearby residents.

State Sen. Michael Dembrow of Portland has recently led the charge to tighten restrictions in Oregon’s Forest Practices Act — more lax than regulations in neighboring states — and state Representative Ann Lininger of Lake Oswego is joining the effort by drafting a bill this year.

“I think there are ways to address public health impacts that would still enable really healthy forest industry uses,” Lininger said.

The forest industry isn’t buying it, arguing that the legislators and environmental groups are racing ahead to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

Conservation groups are trying to build evidence that the reforms are past due.

The Center for Sustainable Economy — a national organization with a three-month-old branch in Lake Oswego — filed a complaint Dec. 18 with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The complaint claims that Plum Creek, a Seattle-based company that logs along the Oregon coast, violated the practices required for the sustainable forestry certification.

The complaint asks for Plum Creek’s certification to be suspended, the logo removed from the company’s products and an investigation. John Talberth, head of the organization, is skeptical the certifying body’s investigation will have any effect. Instead, he’s hoping to rally enough outrage over Oregon’s accepted timber practices that residents demand reforms.

“The state and private forest lands are already in tragic conditions, and part of the problem is that Oregon has some of the weakest regulations in the region,” Talberth said.

An Oregonian investigation in October found that Oregon lacks the buffers and pesticide spraying parameters other western states require.

Oregon Wild has long advocated for stream protections, not just for the residents who drink the water, but for salmon and other wildlife that live in and near it. Steve Pedery, conservation director of the conservation group, said it struggles each year to rally enough legislators to stand up to the timber industry.

But with recent attention to herbicide spraying missing its mark, prompting complaints from Curry County residents, Pedery and others think this might be their chance.

“I’m not sure how it will play out. I tend to view the herbicide issue as the test case to see if this Legislature has the belly to stand up to the timber industry,” Pedery said.

Those in the industry are skeptical Oregon needs to change. Scott Dahlman, who heads the industry group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said buffers aren’t needed.

The group advocates for the right of farmers, foresters and chemical suppliers and sprayers to use pesticides. Dahlman said most people who use pesticides are careful with the application, and that Oregon’s loose restrictions give workers the freedom to note weather conditions and make spraying decisions on the fly.

“Putting a numerical buffer in place is just taking away the flexibility of operators to apply where they need to,” Dahlman said.

Any new oversight would also depend on money, which the Oregon Department of Forestry lacks.

The department cut back on staff and priorities in previous years to make up for declining revenue. Increasing oversight of logging would require a shifting of resources for legislators.

Lininger said she thinks that’s possible.

“There’s a lot of shared recognition we can make some progress by funding adequate oversight,” Lininger said. “I think there’s a lot of willingness to take steps to make sure we’re protecting public health and drinking water.”

Read the article on OregonLive.

Oregon-based group challenges ‘green’ certification for Plum Creek, 1 of nation’s biggest timber producers

By JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A watchdog group is challenging the environmentally friendly “green lumber” certification for Plum Creek Timberlands, one of the nation’s biggest landowners and timber producers.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, filed the complaint Thursday with a nonprofit group that verifies whether timber producers follow standards for environmentally responsible logging, including replanting after harvest, protecting water and biological diversity, and complying with environmental laws and regulations.

The complaint covers Plum Creek logging in Oregon’s Coast Range, citing 11 civil citations over the past six years for violating state logging regulations, including four citations for exceeding the clear-cutting limit of 120 acres. The complaint includes Google Earth images showing landslides in areas stripped of trees by Plum Creek.

The company also was cited for failing to protect riparian zones along fish-bearing streams, allowing logging road drainage into a stream and failing to notify state regulators of changes in logging operations.

Seattle-based Plum Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On its website, it states prominently that all its timberlands are certified by the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

“We have long conducted our business with a strong commitment to the environment,” the site says.

The complaint demands that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative immediately suspend certification for Plum Creek in Oregon and investigate the company’s logging practices throughout the country.

Besides giving companies a way to green up their image, certification can have economic benefits. Some state and federal agencies are required to buy products that are certified as sustainable, and some businesses and retailers have sustainability policies. Home Depot, for example, says on its website that it sells only lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the other major certification body.

The timber industry started the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, but it has since become an independent nonprofit certifying more than 240 million acres of private forests. Outside auditors certify that companies conform to standards for environmentally responsible logging.

Chris Lunde, harvest manager for Blakely Tree Farms LP in Seattle, oversees compliance with Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards in Oregon. He confirmed receiving the complaint, the first in his seven years in the position.

Plum Creek has 45 days to respond, and the complaint will be taken up by an outside auditor, initiative spokeswoman Elizabeth Woodworth said.

John Talberth, president of Center for Sustainable Economy, said the group feels the Oregon violations are part of a larger nationwide problem.

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg, definitely in Oregon, but probably in other states as well,” he said. “As we know, regulations protecting state and private forest lands are far weaker than those for federal lands, and have far less citizen oversight.”

Oregon rivers need modern forestry rules

By Tim Palmer

For The Register-Guard
DEC 11, 2014

Much attention has been given to Oregon’s federal forests and their multiple uses, from the spotted owl controversy of the 1980s, to the hard-earned restoration of salmon spawning habitat, to the O&C debate now raging. Yet 38 percent of Oregon forests are privately owned, and more than half of that belongs to industrial timber companies, with principally one goal in mind.
Understandably, that goal is to maximize profits by logging. But the consequences go far beyond money in the bank. The harvest of trees covering nearly one in five acres of Oregon’s forests has dramatic outcomes on the streams flowing through those lands. That water is owned by the state, which means all of us.

Even more important, industrial logging affects the waterways downstream — rivers and estuaries sustaining sport and commercial fisheries with their related jobs, food and recreation, plus drinking water to homes, towns and cities. A half-century of science has confirmed repeatedly that the steepness of logged slopes, the amount and type of road construction, the closeness of logging to waterfronts, and the intensity of both soil and canopy disturbance all govern how well our streams will be protected — or how severely they’ll be degraded. Those facts justify state government’s role in establishing and enforcing effective standards of harvest under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.

The problem here lies with “effective.” Oregon law and regulations allow cutting on slopes of any steepness — straight-up is not too much, except in specific places where public safety is known to be at risk. They permit logging within 20 feet of most waterways. They require no buffer whatsoever for small streams without fish. The rules sanction aerial spraying of herbicides within 60 feet of streams (as if the wind doesn’t blow), and the dousing of toxins directly on small streams (as if their water doesn’t flow into larger streams).

Analysis of the rules of surrounding states — even Idaho — found that all had substantially higher standards than Oregon.

To be fair, some logging companies —including giants as big as Weyerhaeuser — sometimes practice higher levels of performance. Others don’t. Modernized rules would level the playing field for all.

The effects of industrial logging cause streams to warm beyond acceptable standards of temperature — standards intended not for optimum water quality but to curb the grossest loss of habitat needed by native fish. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has long recommended that Oregon upgrade its regulatory program to protect stream temperatures, as other states have done.

With direct implications to its own forestry program, the State Department of Forestry’s RipStream study found that logging on industrial land caused a greater rise in water temperature than logging elsewhere with wider buffers. We’ve known that better buffers were necessary even before the state’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team recommended them to the governor back in 1999.

Recent analysis by Ph.D biologist Christopher Frissell, using the state’s own findings, indicated that no-cut buffers of at least 100 feet are needed to maintain stream temperatures. A hundred feet is not much, given 6 million acres of industrial forest land in Oregon. Uncut forest buffers shade the streams and keep them cool, stabilize banks with roots, and filter muddy runoff that’s headed toward the water from disturbed areas nearby.

This topic is timely because the Board of Forestry is considering upgrading its rules to require wider no-cut streamside buffers.

Other precautions are needed to prevent the spraying of herbicides on homes and people like what sickened residents of Cedar Valley near Gold Beach in 2013.

Additional measures, such as those required by Washington state to identify hazard zones, could minimize landslides that routinely damage salmon habitat. I personally saw this in 2012 when the entire “buffer strip” slid into the South Fork Coquille River and its choice chinook spawning beds after massive acreage was clearcut above the buffer. Despite outward appearances — hundreds of feet of shoreline reduced to an oozing quagmire the whole way upslope to the timber sale — the logging met compliance with regulations, according to state officials.

It’s time for Oregon to join the 21st century.

Action on the Board of Forestry’s current agenda won’t solve all the problems caused by irresponsible logging on industrial land, but it’s a step in the right direction to safeguard the streams, fish, wildlife, and water that are owned by us all.

Tim Palmer of Port Orford (www.timpalmer.org) is the author of “Field Guide to Oregon Rivers,” “Rivers of America” and other books.

Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Recovery Plan finds that timber harvest under the Oregon Forest Practices Act continues to pose a threat to coho

The September 2014 Federal Recovery Plan for the threatened Southern Oregon/ Northern California Coast (SONNC) coho determined that timber harvest continues to pose a serious threat to the coho.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) specifically discussed the failure of the Oregon Forest Practices Act to protect the coho.

NMFS also identified revision of the Oregon Forest Practices Act as one of the highest priority recovery actions for almost all SONNC Oregon populations , including Elk River (p. 7-1), Brush Creek (p. 8-1), Mussel Creek (p. 9-1), Lower Rogue River (p. 10-1), Hunter Creek (p. 11-1), Pistol River (p. 12-1), Chetco River (p. 13-1), Illinois River (p. 30-1), Middle Rogue/Applegate (p. 31-1), and Upper Rogue River (p. 32-1).

The following is an excerpt from the plan:

At the time of listing, the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA), modified in 1995 and improved over the previous OFPA, did not have implementing rules that adequately protected coho salmon habitat. In particular, the OFPA did not provide adequate protection for the production and introduction of large wood to medium, small and non-fish-bearing streams. Since the listing of SONCC coho, the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds (Oregon Executive Order 99-01; 1999) directed the creation of the Forest Practices Advisory Committee to help the Oregon Board of Forestry assess forest practices changes that may be needed to meet state water quality standards and protect and restore salmonids. As of 2003, draft water protection rules and non- regulatory recommendations based on the recommendations of Forest Practices Advisory Committee had been developed, but had not been adopted by the Board of Forestry. A review of OFPA and forest practice rules (IMST 1999) showed the regulations in place may be ineffective at protecting water quality and promoting riparian function and structure, especially in small- and medium-sized streams. In their review of the forest practice rules, the Oregon IMST found that one of the greatest shortcomings of the current rules is that they are dominated by site- and action-specific strategies which, taken together are insufficient for recovering habitat of listed stocks of salmonids (Everest and Reeves 2007). Everest and Reeves (2007) report that current forest practice rules in the Pacific Northwest represent improvements over their preceding rules, but continued change and evolution of the forest practices rules is of vital interest.

Though significant improvements have been made to the current rule package, the Oregon Forest Practice Rules represent the least conservative forest practice regulations administered by the state governments within the SONCC coho salmon ESU. Some riparian areas may be protected by narrow, no-harvest zones; however, the stands located upslope of the no-harvest zones could be subject to intense harvest, leading to diminished riparian function and cumulative effects to anadromous salmonid habitat. In a 2010 status review of Oregon Coast (OC) coho salmon, NMFS concluded that the Oregon Forest Practices Act does not adequately protect OC coho habitat in all circumstances. In particular, disagreements persist regarding: (1) whether the widths of riparian management areas (RMAs) are sufficient to fully protect riparian functions and stream habitats; (2) whether operations allowed within RMAs will degrade stream habitats; (3) operations on high-risk landslide sites; and (4) watershed-scale effects. On some streams, forestry operations conducted in compliance with this act are likely to reduce stream shade, slow the recruitment of large woody debris, and add fine sediments. Since there are no limitations on cumulative watershed effects, road density on private forest lands, which is high throughout the range of this ESU, is unlikely to decrease under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (NMFS 2009). 

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2014.
Final Recovery Plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). National Marine Fisheries Service. Arcata, CA.
(discussing Oregon Forest Practices in Chapters 1 through 6 at pages 3-56 and 3-57)