The Oregon Stream Protection Coalition recently sent the following two letters:
A Letter to Governor Kate Brown highlighting certain DEQ Water Quality and ODF Private Forests budget requests the Oregon Stream Protection would like to see in her budget because they support water quality standards attainment on private forestlands.
The people who wrote an ordinance banning the aerial spraying of pesticides in western Oregon last year aren’t professional environmental advocates. Their group, Lincoln County Community Rights, has no letterhead, business cards, or paid staff. Its handful of core members includes the owner of a small business that installs solar panels, a semi-retired Spanish translator, an organic farmer who raises llamas, and a self-described caretaker and Navajo-trained weaver.
And yet this decidedly homespun group of part-time, volunteer, novice activists managed a rare feat: They didn’t just stop the spraying of pesticides that had been released from airplanes and helicopters in this rural county for decades. They also scared the hell out of the companies that make them, according to internal documents from CropLife America, the national pesticide trade group. Although some of the world’s biggest companies poured money into a stealth campaign to stop the ordinance, and even though the Lincoln activists had no experience running political campaigns, the locals still won.
The Lincoln County aerial spray ban, which passed in May 2017, is just one of 155 local measures that restrict pesticides. Communities around the country — including Dubuque, Iowa; Reno, Nevada; Spokane, Washington; and Santa Fe, New Mexico — have instituted protections that go beyond the basic limits set by federal law. Some are aimed at specific pesticides, such as glyphosate, others list a few; while still others ban the chemicals altogether. In the three decades after the first local pesticide restriction was passed in 1970 in Maine, the bans came in a slow trickle. These days, they are coming in a flood, with towns and counties passing more of these measures in the past six years than they did in the 40 before that, according to data from the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides.
But federal regulation has lagged behind both the research and public outrage. Notably, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, to remain in use despite considerable evidence linking it to cancer. Under Donald Trump, the EPA also reversed a planned ban of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children. Frustrated by the lack of federal action, many people have turned to their towns and counties, only to find that they have been hamstrung by state laws forbidding local limits on pesticides.
In 43 states, laws prevent cities, towns, and counties from passing restrictions on pesticide use on private land that go beyond federal law. A provision in the Farm Bill now before Congress would extend that restriction to the entire country and could potentially roll back existing local laws. The House version of the bill that passed in June and is now being reconciled with the Senate version included a section that prevents “a political subdivision of a State” from regulating pesticides.
The measure is one of several “anti-environmental provisions” in the bill “that threaten public health,” according to a letter from 107 House members. The Republican-backed attempt to clamp down on local governments also flies in the face of the party’s rhetoric, according to Scott Faber, vice president of governmental affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
“Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word for Republicans working to block local public health ordinances designed to protect children,” said Faber. “It’s a party that more or less exists to empower local government to make decisions.”
While the industry is hoping to tighten its already fierce grip on localities through federal law, it’s also waging a stealth campaign against local “brushfires,” as CropLife America refers to the local attempts to restrict and ban pesticides. In Lincoln County and elsewhere, the national trade group is quietly putting its vast resources into fighting local activists through opposition research, monitoring their social media, and trying to stop opposition to pesticides from spreading to other communities.
“Tier 1 Concerns”
While the campaign for the aerial pesticide ban in Lincoln County was being run on the cheap, opposition to the measure, which was ultimately voted on by fewer than 14,000 Lincoln County residents, came from some of the world’s biggest companies. CropLife America, the industry group, which reported more than $16 million in revenue in 2015 and represents and collects dues from the major pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection, ranked state and local issues as the top of its list of “tier 1 concerns” for both 2017 and 2018, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept that pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight.
Teaming up with Paradigm Communications, a division of the U.K.-based public relations firm Porter Novelli, CropLife America launched a national campaign to provide “intense levels of support where the most dire battles are,” according to a state activities memo prepared for the CropLife America 2017 annual meeting, showing that Paradigm had spent 44 percent of its budget for this effort in just two Oregon counties: Lincoln and Lane, its neighbor to the south.
The industry group’s work to fight the local campaigns in Oregon included holding two “meetings to organize Protect Family [sic] Frames and Forests” — a group that was central to opposition to the ban in Lincoln County; creating and testing messages; conducting a “brainstorm session for potential activates”; setting up meetings with key players in the county; conducting “Sentiment Research,” holding trainings in media, social media, and public speaking; creating direct mailers, a logo, and a website; doing “social media research” on voters; creating a “Facebook strategy,” which included a Facebook page and a “secret Facebook Page”; writing a script for door knocking; creating talking points; writing and editing 15 letters to the editor; and “auditing strategies” of three groups involved with the local laws — including the Oregon-based environmental group Beyond Toxics and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which the CropLife America documents referred to as “CEDF.”
While the national industry group paid for all this, its name never appeared on the materials or was referenced in the local fight, which was instead framed as being led by local farmers.
The industry has also been waging surreptitious campaigns outside of Oregon. In Boulder, Colorado, which voted last year to phase outneonicotinoid pesticides and GMOs on public land, the CropLife America and Paradigm Communications team worked behind the scenes to push back the date that the phaseout would take effect and conducted “adversary research,” according to the CropLife document.
CropLife America and Paradigm Communications also conducted adversary research in Washington state, where they spent another 29 percent of their budget. In Washington, their tactics also included building “out geo-focused Facebook Groups to establish internal communications” and holding a four-day training for nearly 50 people that included sessions on “how to interact” and “how to read body language.”
Volunteering to Fight Pesticides
Lincoln County Community Rights doesn’t have an office, so the group often holds its meetings in members’ homes, which are scattered throughout the county’s more than 1,000 square miles of forest and coastline. On a recent Friday, it was Debra Fant’s turn to host. A retired nurse whose house near the coast is surrounded by tall spruce, hemlock, and fir trees, Fant made quiche for the occasion.
As her fellow advocates sat eating around her dining room table in flip-flops and T-shirts and their dogs nosed around for crumbs on the floor, Fant thumbed through records of the group’s expenses. There weren’t many. Almost all of their work is done for free. Fant herself volunteers about 20 hours a week, emailing and making calls as well as managing the group’s social media. John Colman-Pinning, a farmer who grows organic vegetables and raises a small herd of llamas, does research for the group in his spare time. And Rio Davidson, who owns a solar panel company, designed and maintains the group’s website and Facebook page.
Barbara Davis, an intensive care nurse, considered herself apolitical before she began volunteering for the group a few years back. Davis moved to the area from Reno, which had felt overdeveloped and far from nature. Lincoln County, which is 90 percent forest and has no big cities, seemed the perfect antidote. “We came here in 2004 thinking it was clean and green,” said Davis. Learning about the spraying changed her feelings about her home.
The Forest Service banned aerial spraying in national forests in 1984, in part due to a fierce battle over the issue in Lincoln County. But timber companies still regularly apply herbicides and fungicides from airplanes onto private land here, Davis discovered. The chemicals are used to eliminate plants that compete with trees after clearcutting, a practice used in the timber industry to uniformly remove all the trees in an area. Among the chemicals they spray are 2,4-D and glyphosate, respectively labeled possible and probable carcinogens by the World Health Organization, and atrazine, an endocrine disruptor. Aerial application of the chemicals is cheaper than employing people to apply it from the ground or pull weeds by hand. But it allows the chemicals to drift over large areas, affecting water supplies, and the health of people and animals.
Davis began reading — and worrying — about the health effects of pesticides. Although she had previously shied away from difficult political conversations, she began driving her old Honda around the county with a hand-scrawled “public health or corporate wealth” sign in its back window to promote the ordinance. Davis met with little resistance when she explained that it would reduce pesticide exposure, as well as the health problems she feared it was causing around the county. Judging from the conversations she struck up as she distributed leaflets, many of her fellow Lincoln County residents shared her concern. “I would start knocking on doors in my neighborhood and they’d start telling me about their cancer stories,” Davis said. “I had two neighbors down the road who died of brain cancer. Nobody can prove cause and effect, but I connected it to the spraying — and a lot of other people did, too.”
The group decided to highlight stories of some of the people who had suffered from pesticide exposure. One of its mailings featured Loren Wand, a local farmer and landscaper whose wife, Debra, had been sprayed by pesticides from a helicopter in her 20s. “Prior to getting sprayed, she looked like Ali MacGraw,” Wand told me recently. Directly afterward, Debra developed respiratory problems that gradually worsened. Her health steadily deteriorated and she died of cancer at age 44. “I have no question the spraying was related,” said Wand, who doesn’t use pesticides in his farming or landscaping businesses.
But while the members of Lincoln County Community Rights were talking about the human consequences of pesticide use, their opponents were pushing out their own message. Three local business owners who rely on pesticides argued that the ordinance threatened their families’ legacy by taking “away essential tools to prevent the spread of invasive species.” Others argued that the ban would increase farmers’ expenses. And Oregonians for Food & Shelter, a statewide organization, felt that “counties really lack the expertise” to regulate pesticides, as Scott Dahlman, the group’s policy director, told me. “It’s why we have state agencies that handle that.”
The ban’s opponents didn’t tackle the health questions, focusing instead on one of the law’s provisions that spelled out citizens’ rights to use “direct action” to enforce the ordinance if necessary.
Who’s Afraid of Direct Democracy?
The group remains split on the wisdom of including the direct action provision, which a county judge ultimately decided was the one part of the ordinance that should not be enforced. Maria Sause, the part-time translator who helped write the aerial spray ban, felt the language clarifying people’s rights to enforce the law corrected an existing power imbalance. “We’re being accused of being eco-terrorists,” Sause said. “But the way the laws are right now, the corporations have priority over the citizens’ right to defend their own health and safety. That’s terrorism.”
For his part, Davidson thinks the group shouldn’t have included the phrasing that gave citizens the right to enforce the ordinance because it resulted in their being tarred as dangerous extremists. “At least we could have put in nonviolent direct action,” he said of the language, which he noted was added in the last week before the measure was submitted.
In any case, much of the opposition to the ban focused on its direct action provision, arguing that it showed that people who wanted to limit pesticides were dangerous radicals. The opposition group created by CropLife America — and given the environmentally friendly-sounding name Protect Family Farms and Forests — produced videos warning that the ordinance would allow “anyone to take the law into their own hands with no legal consequences.” On Facebook, the group warned about the possibility of “trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property, and even bodily harm,” should the law take effect.
While the activists had no experience crafting campaigns and very little money to pay for outside help, Protect Family Farms and Forests seemed to have ample resources to effectively push out their message.
“They were trolling us pretty hard. Any time we had a radio interview, they would come out with a press release two hours later bashing us,” said Davidson. “Every single website you go to would have their ads running. They paid for advertising everywhere. Radio, TV, internet.” And while both sides had dueling Facebook pages, opponents of the ban also bought ads on the site. “Even when you were on our page, you’d see ads for theirs,” said Davidson.
Protect Family Farms and Forests also mailed fliers about the dangers of the ordinance to everyone in the county, including Colman-Pinning, the llama farmer. Although they were designed to raise opposition to the ban, Colman-Pinning saw the glossy mailers describing the ban as an assault on family farms as a call to action. “It was really smarmy stuff,” said Colman-Pinning. “Karl Rovian.” And it was voluminous. “They sent out eight direct mails to every one of ours.”
Unreported Campaign Contributions
In a meeting of CropLife America’s board of directors held last September in Laguna Nigel, California, Paradigm Communications presented its activities in Oregon as a success. A briefing document for the meeting listed their campaign in Lincoln County as one of five major accomplishments of 2017.
Poll numbers listed in the state activities memo (which at first incorrectly places the effort in Lane County) showed that opponents of the spray ban were initially lagging by 26 points. “Through a combination of messaging and on the ground activates we were able to close that gap to zero,” the memo notes. “The methods used to fight the battle in Lincoln County showed that with intense training and local involvement; we can move large portions of the voting population.”
Yet in Lincoln County, where the spray ban is now in effect, the fight over the ordinance can also be seen as an illustration of the exact opposite point: that a small, committed band of people can restrict the use of pesticides even when their resources are dwarfed by those of their opponents. The ordinance passed by 61 votes in May of last year despite the contributions of powerful groups, including the Fertilizer Institute, the Koch-supported Oregon Forest Industries Council, more than a dozen local farm bureaus, DuPont, and Oregonians for Food and Shelter — a group created in 1980 to “do battle with activists seeking an initiative to ban the aerial application of forest herbicides,” according to an archived page of its website.
Exactly how much was spent fighting the local ban is unclear. According to state records, supporters of the ordinance, who created a separate group called Citizens for a Healthy County in order to be able to lobby, received $21,600 in cash and in-kind contributions, most of them small gifts from individuals, including several members of Lincoln County Community Rights. Meanwhile, the group formed to lobby against the ban, the Coalition to Defeat 21-177, received more than $475,000 in contributions, much of that from farm bureaus and industry groups.
But the total amount of contributions to the Coalition to Defeat 21-177, which represents 22 times the contributions to the ban’s proponents and about $34 spent for every voter, doesn’t reflect any expenditures or services provided by CropLife America. The group’s internal documents show that it spent heavily to fight the ban in Lincoln County. The documents didn’t specify the total spent on its joint effort with Paradigm Communications, but they do show that CropLife America expected to spend more than $10 million on staff, consultants, and vendors in 2017 and clearly considered its work in Oregon a top priority. Yet none of the group’s spending on the ban was recorded in the Oregon Secretary of State’s database. State law requires public reporting of all contributions to campaigns over $750, including those from out-of-state organizations.
“I believe it’s a violation of both the spirit and letter of the law,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon, when alerted to CropLife America’s unreported expenditures on the Lincoln County ordinance. The state’s campaign finance law requires the reporting of anything of value given to influence the outcome of an election on a measure — whether it’s cash or services — to an online system run by the Oregon Secretary of State. “The intent of that is to make sure voters know who’s behind all the money in elections. Contributions to campaigns are supposed to be reported,” said Titus.
Dan Meek, a public interest attorney based in Portland, Oregon, agreed that CropLife America’s failure to report its spending to fight the ordinance was a violation of state law. “Every contribution has to be reported,” he said after being told of the spending. Meek, who began representing Community Rights Lane County last month, said that “everything the national group did is an illegal contribution” — whether the group was acting in conjunction with the organized attempt to defeat the ban or independently. Meek added that if CropLife America was found to have deliberately misreported its campaign contributions the group could face charges of perjury, a felony under Oregon law.
CropLife America did not return repeated phone calls or respond to emailed questions about its campaign. Porter Novelli also declined to comment for this story or answer specific question about its involvement with CropLife America.
Communities Fight Back
Much of the opposition to pesticides in recent years has focused on enforcing existing laws, some of which establish buffer zones around schools, parks, and other areas in which pesticides cannot be used. But the groups in Oregon — along with others that have sprung up around the country — have taken another tack: changing the laws.
Like the ordinance in Lincoln County, a similar proposal in neighboring Lane County didn’t just specify that aerial spraying would be outlawed, it asserted people’s “inherent and inalienable right of local community self-government.” Both measures were inspired by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which views the aerial spraying of pesticides as violations of citizens’ basic rights to clean air, water, and soil.
CropLife America has taken a particular interest in the group, which was co-founded by Thomas Linzey and has distinguished itself by arguing not just for the rights of people, but the rights of nature itself. “That sounds hippie-dippy, but the fact is that pesticide applications affect ecosystems, rivers, and forests,” Linzey said when contacted by phone. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1995 and started off doing traditional legal work, such as enforcing statutes like the Clean Water Act and Clear Air Act. But the group switched to the community rights approach in 2001, out of frustration with their lack of progress. Since then, Linzey said, it helped pass more than 200 local ordinances in 10 states focusing on longwall coal mining, fracking, and large-scale water withdrawals, among other issues.
In Lane County, which reaches from the Pacific to the Cascade Mountains, the environmental group’s help has yet to yield any victories. An amendment to the Lane County charter that would ban aerial spraying of pesticides has been in the works for at least three years, but has yet to make it to a vote. Supporters of the ban gathered some 30,000 signatures, but a local judge ruled that the proposal couldn’t be added to the ballot after a timber industry supporter sued the county.
Michelle Holman, who has been fighting against pesticide use in Lane County for years, moved to rural Oregon to be closer to nature. But soon after she arrived in the late 1970s, Holman discovered that many local women were having health problems. Just among her own friends, she knew of four who had had miscarriages, two who had stillbirths, and one whose baby died shortly after being born. Holman herself wound up having 10 miscarriages.
“Nobody knows unequivocally why these things happen,” she said. But she came to focus on the pesticides that were sprayed from planes and helicopters in the area. And her gut sense that pesticides played a role in her repeated losses was bolstered by ampleevidence linking pesticides with miscarriage.
Holman joined the board of Beyond Toxics, an Oregon group that was working on pesticides among other issues. “We did all the traditional activism — protests, calling agency people, writing letters, having agency people come here, going to corporate headquarters. But we were always told the same thing: This stuff has been tested and it’s legal.”
After Holman went to a presentation on community rights, she became convinced that only way to win the fight against pesticides was to change the laws — and helped found Community Rights Lane County. “I don’t think the planet has time for this incremental shit,” she said. “We need to ban the stuff.”
Unfortunately for Holman and the growing number of people now focusing on changing the laws that determine local control of pesticides, the companies that make these chemicals have already had the same thought. In 1991, after the Supreme Court ruled a town in Wisconsin could pass a ban on pesticide spraying that was more restrictive than the federal pesticide law, it became clear that communities around the country had the legal right to pass their own limits on pesticide use.
“We were really happy about the Supreme Court decision,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, an organization that formed that year to promote non-chemical pest management alternatives and help rid the world of toxic pesticides. But soon after the ruling, the industry launched a state-by-state campaign to pass laws that prevented other local pesticide limits.
Today, 43 states have some form of pesticide pre-emption law. Twenty-nine, including Oregon, have state laws that specifically prevent localities from adopting restrictions on pesticides that are stricter than the federal law. And 14 have a more limited form of pre-emption, in which a state commissioner or board manages pesticides — an option that Feldman says is “like giving the fox the henhouse.”
But even in states that don’t have laws specifically outlawing local restrictions, pesticide makers have sometimes succeeded in fighting them. In Hawaii, one of seven states without pre-emption laws, pesticides have become a huge health and environmental issue. Kauai, the fourth-largest Hawaiian island, which is a testing ground for several major pesticide manufacturers, has been particularly hard-hit. Dow, BASF, DuPont, and Syngenta sprayed 17 times more restricted-use insecticides per acre on cornfields there than on those in the U.S. mainland, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Food Safety. A recent study by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture found pesticides in 31 of 32 water samples on Kauai and Oahu, the island to its south. And a substantial number of honey samples on the island were also recently found to contain glyphosate.
In 2013, when he was a member of the Kauai County Council, Gary Hooser proposed a bill to limit the spraying of highly toxic pesticides near schools, homes, day care centers, hospitals, and waterways. The fight over the bill was bruising. “They painted people like me as being crazy activists, anti-science,” said Hooser.
“I’ve been doing politics and government for 20 years, and I’ve never worked with any industry as intense and thuggish as the chemical companies,” said Hooser. “They filled the room full of their workers and told the world that Gary Hooser, and this bill was going to cost them their jobs.”
Despite the efforts, the Kauai measure passed. But Syngenta, BASF, and Agrigenics, a company affiliated with Dow AgroSciences, sued on the grounds that Kauai’s law was pre-empted by state law. And even though Hawaii has no pre-emption law, a federal appeals court judge agreed with the companies in 2016 and struck down the measure.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, another local pesticide ban was overturned last year despite the fact that the state has no pre-emption law. The Healthy Lawns Act would have prohibited the use of certain pesticides on lawns starting in January of this year. But six local lawn care companies, along with the lobbying arm of CropLife America called Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, or RISE, successfully sued the county. The county has since appealed the ruling to a Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which heard the case this week and is expected to rule on it soon.
“RISE was basically the lead,” said Ling Tan, a mother who began working on a local law to restrict pesticides after she realized that toxic lawn products were being sprayed while her two daughters, who both have asthma, were outside playing. Tan, who first asked her homeowner’s association and the Maryland State Department of Agriculture for help with the issue, has been working on the ban with other parents since 2013.
“What’s so disheartening is that it took just one judge to undo years of activism by so many groups,” said Tan.
A court may soon reverse the hard-fought win in Lincoln County, too. On June 6, 2017, one day after the ban on spraying from planes and helicopters took effect, a lawsuit was filed to declare it invalid on the grounds that Oregon state law pre-empted the ordinance. The named plaintiff, Rex Capri, who owns timberland in the county, was later joined in the suit by Wakefield Farms LLC, another local landowner. Both have aerially sprayed their timber trees with pesticides in the past and want to continue doing so.The complaint filed in their suit doesn’t mention CropLife America. But a report from the trade group’s legal department notes that “CLA is closely working with Oregonians for Food and Shelter (OFS) and Oregon Forest Industries Council (OFIC) in a legal challenge to” the Lincoln County ban.
Legal wrangling also continues in Lane County, where the authors of their spray ban are still fighting to bring it before the people of the country for a vote. Rob Dickinson and Michelle Holman, members of the all-volunteer group that has been working on the charter amendment for years, acknowledge that the county may not succeed in banning aerial spraying of pesticides — and that, if they do, the ban may then be overturned by the court.
Either way, they feel the fight is worth having. “When the black students sat down at that lunch counter, it wasn’t a failure that they didn’t get served lunch,” said Dickinson. “The only way we fail is if we stop fighting.”
As much as it is fueled by a deep desire to get the chemicals out of their air and water, the activists say their fight is about democracy. “We’re the freaking people. We have inalienable rights,” said Holman. As long as they keep fighting, there’s at least a chance they’ll be able to exercise those rights to rid their communities of pesticides.
“It’s definitely a David and Goliath situation,” said Holman. “But sometimes David wins.”
Update: September 16, 2018
This article has been updated to clarify Dan Meek’s comments on CropLife America’s apparent unreported campaign contributions. Meek said that deliberately misreporting campaign spending could be considered perjury, a felony under Oregon law.
A group of environmental organizations is seeking to hold Oregon’s Department of Forestry accountable for its logging practices on Oregon State Forests. This logging is damaging water quality and harming habitat for threatened Oregon Coast coho. The coho are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Below is an Oregonian article about the suit:
Environmentalists, fishing groups sue state over fate of coastal coho salmon
By Kale Williams
A coalition of groups, including both environmental advocates and fishing industry representatives, sued the Oregon Department of Forestry alleging the agency has failed to protect the habitat of the iconic fish.
The groups said logging practices permitted by the agency have degraded stream quality in the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, the two largest in Oregon.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Cascadia Wildlands and the Native Fish Society filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene on Tuesday.
“Logging by the Oregon Department of Forestry is one of the main reasons our coastal coho are in trouble,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The department needs to do more to ensure it doesn’t harm these beautiful and important fish.”
Ken Armstrong, a spokesman for the forestry department, said the agency couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The groups who brought the suit hope the court will find Oregon in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The suit aims to stop logging in the two state forests until the agency submits a plan to better protect the threatened fish.
Last summer, the skies of Oregon turned a foreboding shade of gray. Forest fires up and down the state blackened forests and left people gasping for air. Politicians stumped about the need to ramp up logging to improve Oregon’s air, environment and economy. The fires and heated rhetoric got Oregon State University researcher Beverly Law thinking about carbon storage and emissions from Oregon forests.
Because of the human health impacts of smoke, the conversation about pollution and forests is typically centered on fires. But the study Law and her colleagues put together earlier this year found that wildfire is not the biggest source of climate-warming carbon dioxide in Oregon forests — logging and wood products are. Figuring out the role of forests and wood in carbon pollution could have major policy implications in Oregon, as Gov. Kate Brown has pledged to meet the emissions goals of the Paris Climate accords.
The conversation about carbon pollution often centers on emissions from automobile tailpipes and burning coal, but plants that absorb carbon from the atmosphere are also an important part of the equation. According to the study, Oregon’s ecosystems were able to soak in more than 70 percent of the carbon emissions in the state between 2011 and 2015. The ecosystems of Oregon’s Coast Range, which are part of an ecosystem that runs from Northern California to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, are some of the best in the world at sucking in and storing carbon.
While Oregon forests absorb a lot of carbon, the team of Oregon State University and University of Idaho researchers found that the wood products industry is the largest sector contributing to carbon pollution in the state and “that in a relative sense, fires are small for carbon loss,” Law says. The wood products sector generated about one and a half times more emissions than the transportation or energy sector emissions reported by the Oregon Global Warming Commission. Wood product emissions are the result of fuel burned by logging equipment, the hauling of timber, milling, wood burned during forestry activities, and the ongoing decomposition of trees after they are cut. Forest fire emissions were less than a quarter of all forest sector emissions in each of the five-year increments studied between 2001 and 2015.
Wood produced under Oregon forestry laws is marketed as being environmentally friendly; it’s eligible for LEED certification, a standard for green building, according to the state-run Oregon Forest Resources Institute. But the analysis done by these researchers, which calculated the carbon generated by harvest and product emissions found that, despite offset credits that account for substitution of fossil-fuel intensive products like steel and concrete, wood is still a major producer of carbon dioxide. “I love wood and it would be nice to have wood buildings in the Northwest because they take earthquakes better,” says Law. But “we think we’ve been giving wood too much credit” as a green building material, she says.
While the study paints a bleak picture of the current role forestry and wood products play in carbon pollution, it also puts forward solutions to reduce pollution and improve Oregon’s carbon budget. The study found that if forests were clearcut less frequently and public lands logging was reduced there would be significant improvements in carbon capture in Oregon’s forests. Habitat conditions and water retention in forests would also improve.
Large privately owned forests, which are typically clearcut and then replanted with Douglas firs, are the primary source of timber in Oregon. Large private companies own about 20 percent of the forestland in Oregon and produce about 63 percent of timber in the state, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Currently these tree plantations are cut roughly every 45 years.
The study shows that extending the time between harvests to 80 years and cutting harvests in publicly owned forests in half would increase carbon storage in Oregon forests by 17 percent by 2100.
These shifts would come with a cost: Managing forests solely for their pollution absorbing potential will mean less jobs in an industry that has severely contracted over the last few decades. Reductions in federal harvests, the growing automation of timber falling and milling and competition with international markets have taken chunks out of Oregon’s timber economy. The wood products industry accounted for less than 30,000 jobs statewide in 2016 and was responsible for about 2 percent of the state’s GDP, according to a presentation by Josh Lerner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Still, in five rural counties timber still accounts for more than 10 percent of private sector jobs, according to Lerner’s report.
And Law’s research could have regional implications. She is working on a larger scale study looking at how land use affects carbon emissions across the West. Stanford forest carbon researcher Christa Anderson says studies like these are important to understand the impact of land use and forests in the carbon balance of the atmosphere.
Anderson, whose research has informed climate policies in California, says that forests can play a part in slowing climate change but that growing forests won’t be enough to solve climate change. “There’s definitely a role for forests to play in climate change mitigation,” Anderson says. “But we also can’t think of them as the heavy lifters.”
Carl Segerstrom is an editorial intern at High Country News.
BEFORE THE OREGON ENVIROMENTAL QUALITY COMMISSION Statement of Mary Scurlock Provided by call- in testimony to Dalles Meeting
11 May 2018
I am Mary Scurlock, representing the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition’s 25 conservation and fishing industry member groups united in support of stronger, science-based forest practices standards that reliably meet water quality standards and protect aquatic life on Oregon’s 10.6 million acres of private forestland.
You will recall that I have been encouraging this Commission to recognize that it has not actually delegated all of its Clean Water Act authority for nonpoint sources to designated management agencies such the Departments of Forestry or Agriculture. To the contrary, when it comes to the determining the sufficiency of the best management practices established under the Forest Practices Act, DEQ is quite clearly still the primary enforcer of water quality standards, including nonpoint source Load Allocations and TMDLs. (See e.g. Memorandum from Larry Knudsen, Senior Assistant Attorney General, to Neil Mullane, Water Quality Division Administrator, July 2, 2010, 5 pages).
Yet while it is clear that water quality standards and Load Allocations are not being attained due to land use impacts in many Oregon watersheds, DEQ has not effectively held the responsible parties accountable.
You may recall that I shared some EPA maps with you recently? One of them showed that 80% of streams within the Rogue-Siskiyou assessment area that travel over privately managed forested lands are listed for temperature, or sedimentation-turbidity. Yet, this region was inexplicably completely exempted from a recent rulemaking by the Board of Forestry to limit stream warming, only a small fraction of streams received increased protection even in western Oregon, and the status quo prevails on the Eastside.
These are a few of the reasons why we are so strongly supportive of the work DEQ is doing to specifically describe the responsibilities of the various Designated Management entities for water quality standards attainment, including through “Implementation Ready” TMDLs such as those being developed on the Mid Coast. But this critically important work is proceeding far too slowly with far too few resources: DEQ couldn’t even come close to meeting the timelines of the settlement agreement for the Coastal Zone on the Mid Coast work.
DEQ needs to step up its game meet its water quality obligations to the public. That will require EQC leadership to achieve nonpoint source compliance – but it will also require additional resources.
I regret that I am not be able to hear the presentation this afternoon on potential Policy Option Packages, but it is apparent the work that I am talking about would be supported by one or more the Water Quality items, including the one related to TMDL implementation.
Please do what you can to prioritize resources to the kind of monitoring evaluation and analysis that will help DEQ hold ODF and other Designated Management Agencies accountable for actually reducing nonpoint sources of water quality impairment.
BEFORE THE OREGON BOARD OF FORESTRY Statement of Mary Scurlock Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
25 April 2018 Agenda Item 7: State Forest Management Plan
I am Mary Scurlock for the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition, a federation of twenty-five
conservation and fishing organizations supporting my advocacy to protect freshwater
ecosystems on Oregon’s nonfederal forest landscape.
I appreciate the Board’s thoughtful conversation around state forests today, and especially
your commitment to consideration of best available science to develop a durable management
plan that integrates the state’s goals for management of state forests’ valuable natural
resources and merits federal assurances under the Endangered Species Act.
Today I’d like to highlight significant recent findings about the relationship between forest
management and water flows that were the subject of an April 4 conference at the Pacific
Northwest Research Station in Corvallis entitled “Summer Low Flows in Western Oregon:
Processes, Trends, Uncertainties, and Forest Management.” The meeting was organized by
the Research Station, BLM, Weyerhaeuser Company and NCASI.
Tim Perry and Julia Jones of OSU published a study in 2016 that analyzed long-term paired
watershed data from experimental forests in Oregon. (Enclosed). The results extend and
sharpen previous analyses of post-logging effects on instream flow, concluding that after an
initial 10-15 year period of increased baseflows (late spring, summer and early fall), stream
flows are reduced by about 50% for a period lasting from 15 to at least 50 years. These
persistent low flows resulted where more than half the catchment area was logged – that is,
where less than half the watershed area remained in mature and old growth forest. The
ultimate timeframe for return to the higher base flow conditions observed before logging
remains unknown. It could be 60 years, or it could be 120, or more.
The hydrologic explanation for low flow depletion appears to be increased evapotranspiration
in second-growth forests due to greatly reduced water use efficiency and also, possibly,
increased physical evaporation (from soil, or from condensation on the outside of foliage,
etc.) in second-growth compared to mature and old growth conifer forests. The relatively
consistent and sustained low flow deficits among the study basins supports the applicability of
the results to logged watersheds across the Pacific Northwest, particularly where Douglas fir
is the dominant tree species.
A key take home message from the conference is that not only are the findings of the Perry
and Jones (2017) study broadly relevant to forest managers, but not one of the paper’s
findings or speculative discussion points were scientifically challenged at the meeting. Given
the credibility of this new science, this Board will have to grapple with its implications in a
variety of policy forums, including in state forest planning in basins where ODF is majority
owner such as the Trask, Kilchis, and Wilson rivers.
Other important take-aways from the conference are:
• It’s not just small headwater streams that are affected by persistent low flows; in
most cases streamflow decreases will aggregate to reduce flows downstream;
• We can’t prevent or even mitigate for flow depletion with riparian buffers
• Modified harvest practices like thinning or staggered short-rotation clearcuts are
also likely to be ineffective at reducing or mitigating depletion of streamflows;
• Past widely-cited textbook claims and assumptions in agency plans and
assessments of a 10-15 year “hydrologic recovery” after clearcut logging are
fundamentally wrong and do not represent current science.
We strongly support more research to better predict, understand and prevent the low flow
effect, but available science is indisputable that the effect real. The management implications
seem clear: if we truly want to conserve water and the species and human communities that
depend on it for life in an era of climate change, more short-rotation logging is not in the
cards. More older forests and longer-rotation forestry will be needed to protect and stabilize
Jones , J.A., and D.A. Post. 2004. Seasonal and successional streamflow response to forest
cutting and regrowth in the northwest and eastern United States. Water Resources
Research 40:W05203. doi:10.1029/2003WR002952. Online at: http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/pubs/pdf/pub2787.pdf
Perry, T.D., and J.A. Jones. 2016. Summer streamflow deficits from regenerating Douglas-fir
forest in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Ecohydrology 2016:1-13.
BEFORE THE ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY COMMISSION Statement of Mary Scurlock during General Public Forum 22 March 2018
I am Mary Scurlock, representing the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition’s 25 conservation and fishing industry member groups united in support of stronger, science-based forest practices rules that reliably meet water quality standards on Oregon’s 10.6 million acres of private forestland.
Today I continue my effort to keep the Commission engaged on developments at the Board of Forestry on matters related to attainment of water quality standards.
As you know, the water protection rules in the hottest, driest regions of Oregon were excluded from the modest improvements for Salmon, Steelhead and Bull Trout streams that became effective in 2017, i.e the Siskiyou and the two regions in Eastern Oregon. At the Board’s March 7 meeting, it directed a monitoring project to gather information relevant to stream protection in the Siskiyou Region — but not in the two eastern Oregon regions as follows:
Option 2 – Modified Siskiyou Alternative: Conduct a study to assess the effectiveness of FPA streamside protection rules in the Siskiyou geographic region on Type F stream types and size medium and small streams to meet the purpose and goal for healthy streamside forests (desired future condition, “DFC”), and water protection relating to stream temperature and shade. Utilize research and monitoring data from peer-reviewed scientific articles, unpublished “gray” or “white” literature, TMDL analyses by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, watershed council data or analyses, status and trend data on fish populations, streamside and fish habitat data, and voluntary measures on non-federal lands to inform the monitoring study. Begin with a literature review of this information.
This is a positive, though extremely limited step.
We urge the Board to direct DEQ’s active engagement in this important project to ensure consideration of information relevant to the practices needed to meet both the Protecting Coldwater Criterion and TMDL load allocations for temperature and sediment-related parameters.
We further urge the Commission’s attention to the continued exclusion of Eastern Oregon from meaningful adaptive management work. There are significant amounts of private timberland in these regions – approximately 3.4 million acres – and despite widespread federal and state listings of fish since the current rules were developed the 1994 rules remain in place.
As the EPA-generated maps I have provided illustrate, even with incomplete monitoring data, an extremely high proportion of the streams running through private forestlands in Eastern Oregon are impaired for temperature and sediment-related parameters: 68% in the Eastern Cascades and 64% in the Blue Mountains. (This number is 80% for the Rogue/Siskiyou). These numbers are alarming.
I am further providing a letter from the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission that expresses extreme concern:
The Commission’s information and belief is that the current riparian protections on private forestlands in Eastern Oregon are not adequate to protect salmon, steelhead and lamprey and that stream temperature, in particular, is an issue of immediate concern. There is enough evidence to – at a minimum – spark an investigation into whether this is indeed true. The Board has a duty to monitor its rules to determine whether they actually meet the standards they implore that they meet and insure landowners against violating.
We are in accord. The high resource risk associated with current stream protection rules in Eastern Oregon, particularly in a changing climate, justifies inclusion of these ODF regions in monitoring efforts as soon as resources allow. I note that both ODF and DEQ have un-kept commitments to determine the sufficiency of the default forest practices rules to meet TMDLs now in effect in eastern Oregon. It is well within this Commission’s bailiwick to direct that action be taken to determine the adequacy of current forest practices BMPs in Eastern Oregon.
We already know from existing research that stream temperatures in the Grande Ronde Basin of northeast Oregon are limiting overall summer density and abundance of juvenile steelhead and chinook salmon, that increased stream shade can produce significant reach-scale stream cooling that directly benefits salmonids, and that themal refugia associated with cold tributaries and groundwater upwelling sites help sustain juvenile salmonids during the warmest hours of the day in mid summer. (Ebersole et.al. 2003). This means that under prevailing conditions: 1) any loss of shade translates into lost fish population abundance and productivity, 2) tributary warming from near-stream forest harvest, including thinning, likely harms salmonids, and 3) improved riparian shade cover will benefit salmonid populations.
1) EPA Region 10. 2017. Memorandum from P. Leinenbach, R10 EPA to A. Henning, R10 EPA Re: River distance associated with 303d segments with temperature/sedimentation/ turbidity listings within the Rogue/Siskiyou,and Blue Mountain assessment areas in Oregon. 3 pp. 2) Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, Letter from Executive Director Jaime A. Pinkahm to Oregon Board of Forestry Chair Tom Imeson dated March 7, 2018. (3pp, with one attachment, 2pp)
The Oregon Stream Protection Coalition supports the staff recommendation to move forward with the “Modified Siskiyou Alternative,” but we further urge the Board to recognize that there is reason to be concerned about whether the Board is meeting its obligations to protect and monitor aquatic resources in Eastern Oregon.
Available information supports an equally pressing need for adaptive management attention to Eastern Oregon as to the Siskiyou. There is not sufficient evidence that reliance on voluntary measures alone is an adequate approach.
Many Eastern Oregon streams are impaired for parameters associated with forest practices: at least 68% of streams that pass through private forestlands in the Eastern Cascades region are listed for temperature/sedimentation/turbidity, and at least 64% for the Blue Mountains region. (EPA 2017).
We also know from research that stream temperatures in the Grande Ronde Basin of northeast Oregon are limiting overall summer density and abundance of juvenile steelhead and chinook salmon, that increased stream shade can produce significant reach-scale stream cooling that directly benefits salmonids, and that thermal refugia associated with cold tributaries and groundwater upwelling sites help sustain juvenile salmonids during the warmest hours of the day in midsummer. (Ebersole et.al. 2003). Overall, existing information indicates that: 1) under prevailing conditions, any loss of shade is likely to translate into lost fish population abundance and productivity, 2) warming of tributary streams resulting from forest thinning in near-stream areas likely harms salmonids in receiving waters, and 3) improvements in riparian shade cover can be expected to benefit salmonid populations.
The high resource risk associated with current stream protection rules in Eastern Oregon, particularly in a changing climate, justifies inclusion of these ODF regions in monitoring efforts as soon as resources allow. Regardless of when a monitoring program effort is initiated for eastern Oregon, we hope dialogue about these issues will continue at the Board level.
As a business owner, landowner and frequent explorer of the pristine lands of Southern Oregon, I am concerned with the clearcut methods used on private logging lands in the Siskiyou region. I grow organically certified Chinese medicinal plants for practitioners, tea wholesalers and medicine manufacturers in the Little Applegate Valley. The health of my business depends upon healthy rivers and streams.
Clearcutting on private forest lands contaminates our rivers with silt and herbicides, decreases the resiliency of our forests from fire, warms our streams so they can’t support healthy salmon populations and scars the landscape. Many of my community members share a similar sense of loss and frustration from current private logging practices. We understand that logging is a necessity in Oregon and we also know that best practices are an evolution. This is why it is critically important that increased protections for streams that support salmon, steelhead and bull trout are applied to private forest lands in the Siskiyou region.
Right now, streams in southwestern Oregon are left with weaker protections on private forest lands than in the rest of Western Oregon. This exclusion means that logging practices that cause stream warming, in likely violation of the federal Clean Water Act, will continue to be permitted in our region. The science is clear that removing trees near streams contributes to warming stream temperatures that harm native fish, including threatened salmon.
The need to increase stream protections from logging has been clearly identified by the state scientists and several federal agencies. Streamside trees provide needed shade to keep water temperatures cool and filtration for sediment and contaminants that may otherwise enter into the waterways. Many streams in the Rogue watershed are already impaired by warm temperatures, which support habitat for threatened populations of coho salmon. Small and medium streams that support salmon, steelhead and bull trout that would qualify for the increased protections under the proposed rule currently have a less protective standard. The Oregon Board of Forestry has a responsibility to manage and protect these forests and their waterways and should include the Siskiyou Region in their new, more protective stream buffer ruling.
In our forests we must strive for balance. Responsible thinning, resilient forests, non-toxic management methods, healthy waterways, appropriate stream buffers and a respectful awareness of people who live in these areas are all ways in which we should think about our forests, whether public and private. As a local landowner and business owner, I’ve seen first-hand the impacts of current logging practices on private lands. The Board of Forestry has an opportunity to push for change toward resilient Southern Oregon forests and waterways by improving protections for Southern Oregon streams. The board will meet on Wednesday, March 7 to discuss this issue. Please don’t leave our Siskiyou region behind.
— Jonathan Major of Jacksonville is the owner of Still Moon Farm.