The Elliott State Forest, the 82,500-acre Coast Range parcel the state nearly sold to a timber company, will stay in public ownership, bringing an end to Oregon’s years-long flirtation with divesting the land.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and state Treasurer Tobias Read voted Tuesday in Salem to halt the sale, pulling the remote forest back from the brink of a plan that was wildly unpopular with hunters, anglers and environmental groups.
The potential divestiture had put Oregon at the forefront of a nationwide debate over publicly owned land, leaving a Democrat-controlled state positioned to do something that some Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s interior secretary, have rejected.
Huge questions about the forest in Coos and Douglas counties remain unanswered. Chief among them: Which agency will manage the land, what role logging and recreation will play in its future and how many acres of the forest will be protected with a proposed $100 million investment from state taxpayers.
The sale had been driven by the archaic system by which Oregon holds the state forest. The state is constitutionally required to use revenue from logging the land to benefit schools. But logging was curtailed by environmental lawsuits after the state in 2011 tried to nearly double the amount of clear-cutting allowed each year.
The vote was a major win for Brown, who successfully fought back a February attempt to sell the land. Her plan would use $100 million in taxpayer-funded bonds to end the state’s obligation to earn money for schools from the forest’s old growth trees, riparian areas and steep slopes.
Under Brown’s proposal, decisions about the rest of the land would be entrusted to what’s called a habitat conservation plan, a blueprint that would dictate where logging could occur and where habitat for threatened species like the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl would be protected. It would need federal approval, something that federal agencies withheld the last time Oregon tried to draft such a plan for the Elliott.
Liz Dent, a state department of forestry official, said the expected timber harvest under Brown’s plan would be about 20 million board feet each year – roughly half as much as the state’s aggressive 2011 plan that led to the situation today.
The vote was a remarkable turnaround for Read, a Democrat who has been assailed by environmental groups since siding in February with Richardson in rejecting Brown’s effort to keep the land public. Oregon Wild and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters had attacked the new treasurer through a social media campaign with the hashtag #betrayedmyvote.
Read and Richardson would have sold the forest for $221 million to Lone Rock Timber Management, which bid in conjunction with Native American tribes and The Conservation Fund. The state would’ve received an assurance that half of the forest would be kept open to public access.
Three months later, Read is now touting his own plan to build on Brown’s, offering Oregon State University the option to buy the forest for $121 million after the initial $100 million state investment.
Such an idea, which would decouple all of the forest from its school-funding obligation, appears to be a long shot.
Ed Ray, Oregon State’s president, described Read’s idea as “a burst of imagination,” noting that the university would use revenue from logging it to pay for its purchase. “I haven’t got $120 million lying around,” Ray said.
Thomas Maness, dean of Oregon State’s forestry school, said the university’s 15,000 acres of timber holdings do not include any old-growth habitat home to threatened species including the coastal Coho salmon, northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. The Elliott would provide the school with a place to conduct long-term research to understand how active timber harvesting impacts them.
“If we don’t learn how to manage with these listed species we’re going to see disaster” in the state’s timber industry, Maness said. “We’ve learned nothing about managing with spotted owls.”
Rather than borrowing $100 million from taxpayers and paying additional interest on the debt, Richardson proposed swapping the high value state land for federal forests that aren’t home to endangered species. He offered scant detail, saying it would be modeled on similar transfers in Minnesota, California and Utah.
Board of Forestry accepting public comments on new streamside buffers through March 1
Buffer zone rules that protect streams from the effects of logging are getting an upgrade for the first time in 25 years.The rule change will affect a number of local forest owners, as more than 20 percent of the state’s 10.5 million acres of private forestland is located in the Coast Range. The new rule will apply only to private forestland — not state or federal lands — and only applies to small and medium streams known for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
Currently, Oregon Department of Forestry rules restrict logging within 50 feet of small streams and 70 feet of medium streams. The new rules would expand that buffer zone to 60 feet for small streams and 80 feet for medium streams. Limited logging would be allowed in those areas.
Trees near streams shade water, maintaining cool temperatures necessary for fish and their eggs to thrive. Some streamside trees also end up falling into the water, providing necessary building blocks for quality fish habitat with ample pools and cover. When trees near streams are logged, the water heats up and makes a harsh environment for Oregon’s fish and their eggs.
While the new rule appears to be just a 10-foot difference, the change also includes a rule that requires more trees to be left standing in a “well distributed” manner throughout the whole buffer. While the rule currently in place calls for 50- and 70-foot buffers, it’s possible for landowners to comply by leaving a narrow 20-foot no-harvest area bordering streams and clearcutting the rest of the buffer outside of that.
The new rules would maintain the current ban on all logging within 20 feet of streams. Trees left outside the 20-foot strip but still inside the buffer zone must be 8 inches or more in diameter. In addition, 40-foot buffers on the north side will be allowed on some streams running in the east-west direction.
While the proposed buffers are an improvement, environmentalists still think they fall short and are asking the public to voice their concerns.
“The new rule is still inadequate, it’s just less bad than the current rule,” said Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition (OSPC), who thinks allowing even limited logging starting at 20 feet outside streams “is carelessly close.”
Scurlock said Department of Forestry analyses — consistent with other scientific findings — show an ideal buffer would fall between 90 and 120 feet. She also said the proposed new rules don’t adequately protect fish habitat because they ignore advice from the Environmental Protection Agency by not increasing water protection far enough upstream.
More than 90 percent of forest landowners won’t be affected by the new rule —and those that are will see the new rules affect an increase of .5 percent of their land.
For those more heavily impacted, there is an exception in the new rules that would allow continued logging closer than 60 to 80 feet. “Logging should never be allowed to harm public waters and threatened and endangered species,” an OSPC document states.
The Oregon Board of Forestry is accepting comments on this issue from the public though 5 p.m. March 1, asking for wider buffers.
Comments should be addressed to: Private Forest SSBT Rulemaking, Oregon Department of Forestry, 2600 State Street, Oregon 97310; or send to RiparianRule@oregon.gov or via fax 503-945-7490.
Governor Brown Proposes Elliott State Forest Plan to Retain Public Ownership, Protect the Common School Fund
(Ontario, OR) — Governor Kate Brown today announced a plan for Oregon’s Elliott State Forest in advance of the Feb. 14 State Land Board meeting. Governor Brown released the following statement:
“The Elliott State Forest was created in 1930, through consolidating tracts of Common School Fund forest land scattered across Oregon. Since the mid-1950s the Elliott has produced in excess of $400 million for Oregon schools. About 90 percent (82,500 acres) of the Elliott State Forest is owned by Oregon’s Common School Fund – a trust fund for K-12 public education that is overseen by the State Land Board as trustees.
“Since 2013, because of harvest limitations prompted by a lawsuit over federally protected species, owning the Elliott has cost the Common School Fund more than $4 million. We must change the way we own and manage the forest, ways that benefit Oregon’s schools and children for the long term.
“Oregon’s public lands – our forests, parks, and beaches – are irreplaceable assets. Even in the face of complicated challenges, we must strive to protect the values Oregonians hold dear.
“Today I propose my way forward for the Elliott, a plan I believe is in the best interest of future generations of Oregonians.
The Elliott is Oregon’s first State Forest, and has been a State Forest since 1930. Under my plan, the Elliott State Forest would remain in public ownership, with either the state or tribes owning the land.
A bond proposal would be developed to include up to $100 million in state bonding capacity to protect high value habitat, including riparian areas, steep slopes, and old growth stands. The investment will go into the Common School Fund and decouple a portion of the forest from the Common School Fund trust lands.
On the remainder of the forest, we will re-enter into negotiations with the Federal Services for a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that will allow for sustainable timber harvest while protecting endangered and threatened species. We expect that harvest to average about 20 million board feet per year over the long term – the next 100 years of this state forest’s history.
We hope to work with the tribes to regain ownership of their ancestral lands while protecting the Common School Fund.
“When the state adopted the protocol to sell the Elliott, there was no established value for the forest. Because we followed the protocol, we have an appraised value of $221 million.
“We know the Elliott is worth far more to Oregon’s children than $221 million. By investing in and protecting the highest quality habitat, areas where forest management is the most vulnerable to expensive and lengthy lawsuits, we are protecting marbled murrelets, owls, and coho salmon. At the same time, sustainable forestry management on the remainder of the land can generate continued financial returns for Oregon schools.
“We also know Oregon forests are a carbon sink, holding an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon. Growing trees is something the Elliott does well, and in public ownership the forest will help the state meet our climate goals. That, too, benefits Oregon’s school children, and all Oregonians for generations to come.”
We’re tired of the bickering over logging. Tired of people talking past one another: “Logging is good!” “No, it’s bad!”
Let’s replace the rhetoric with facts. Compare the benefits of logging against the costs. If the facts show that the benefits exceed the costs, cut the trees down; if not, let them stand.
At a recent public meeting in Springfield, staff from the Oregon Board of Forestry said the board took this approach to develop a proposed rule that will restrict logging along the banks of some streams that are home to salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Current rules permit loggers to remove trees that otherwise would shade these streams, keeping the water cool. Without the shade, summertime stream temperatures become hot enough to harm fish.
The forestry staff described the process used to decide how much to restrict logging, and where. With assistance from citizens representing different points of view, the board first identified a wide range of alternatives with different levels of stream-side logging restrictions in different parts of the state. It then weighed the benefits and costs of each alternative, rejected those whose costs exceeded the benefits, and selected the alternative that offers the best net benefits.
Excellent! This sounds like a textbook approach for fact-based decision-making about complex issues.
Hoping to learn more, I asked the forestry staff if I could see the board’s benefit-cost information. They sent me a summary, contained in the report the board recently released in response to the state law that requires it to provide the public with a “comprehensive analysis” of the economic impact of the proposed rule.
What a disappointment. The board’s report (bit.ly/2l6iwXi) fully describes the costs of logging restrictions: reductions in timber production, timber jobs, and workers’ incomes. But nowhere in its 29 pages does it have a single word about the benefits. Not one.
The report has nothing about the benefits from leaving trees on stream banks to provide more shade to cool the water and boost salmon, steelhead and bull trout populations. It has nothing about the likelihood that restrictions on stream-side logging will reduce the amount of logging-related sediment in streams, which will be good for fish and improve the quality of drinking water supplies for numerous communities. There is nothing about the potential benefits for the outdoor recreation industry from healthier, cooler streams.
Rather than a “comprehensive analysis,” the board’s report contains nothing about the recent research by Oregon State University scientists that shows letting trees grow likely will increase stream flows in the summertime, when fish have critical needs. It has nothing about the positive impacts that would result when trees left unlogged grow larger by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Are these important omissions? Yes. Is there readily available information the board could have used to describe the benefits? Yes again.
The Bureau of Land Management, for example, recently produced data that compare the benefits and costs from reduced logging on the forestlands it manages in Lane County and throughout western Oregon. The result: The recreation and climate-change benefits, alone, exceed the costs by more than 4 to 1.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the benefits of reductions in stream sediment, and the Forest Service has estimated the benefits of increased stream flows. Economists at OSU have measured the positive impacts of unlogged forests on the value of nearby residential properties. And there’s lots more.
So how did the board produce a “comprehensive analysis” that isn’t? The report was prepared for the board by an economist trained to describe the proposed rule’s benefits as well as its costs. Why did he not do so? If its “comprehensive analysis” of the economic impacts ignores the benefits of logging restrictions, does this mean that the board also ignored them as it developed the proposed rule?
Was all that talk by the forestry staff about weighing benefits and costs a sham?
Getting good answers to these questions is especially important now, when The Register-Guard and other reputable news outlets carry unending stories about distortions of science and facts intended to protect big industries and allow them to continue degrading the environment.
Threats to fact-based government have never been acceptable. But in these times, when these threats are so extreme within the federal government, it is especially important to keep Oregon free of the corruption. Gov. Kate Brown should take a hard look at how this “comprehensive analysis” ignored half of the relevant facts. She should take a hard look to see if her appointees — the members of the Board of Forestry and the head of the Department of Forestry — have an unwavering commitment to fact-based government.
We all need reassurance that, in Oregon at least, facts matter.
Ernie Niemi is president of Natural Resource Economics Inc. in Eugene.
Contacts: Mary Scurlock, 503.320.0712, email@example.com Chris Smith, 505.795.2895, firstname.lastname@example.org
PRIVATE LOGGING RULES FACE HEARING JANUARY 30 Water Coalition Says Proposed Rules Fail to Protect Cold Water for Salmon
Portland, OR: New stream protection rules proposed by the Oregon Board of Forestry are the subject of a final public information session and hearing in Portland on Monday, January 30 at Ecotrust from 4-7 p.m. The State Forester will attend, and conservation and fishing representatives are expected to testify.
The Board is close to finalizing new logging rules to prevent stream warming because a major monitoring study found current rules allow logging of shade trees too close to fish-bearing streams to reliably comply with statewide limits on stream warming. These limits are part of the state’s water quality standard for stream temperature developed to meet the federal Clean Water Act.
Adequate stream buffers are also important for a host of other ecological reasons and to protect public health by keeping chemicals used to treat clearcuts during replanting away from streams.
The proposed rules will apply to “small” and “medium” salmon, steelhead & bull trout streams on Western Oregon private lands, with the exception of those in the Siskiyou Region.
Although the rule change is heralded as the first improvement to stream protection standards in almost a quarter-century, conservation and fishing interests have serious concerns, including:
None of the buffer options effectively protects cold water and salmon
The new buffers should extend much farther upstream from reaches with salmon and steelhead
The Board had no compelling reason to exclude the Siskiyou region from the rule
The rule’s allowance for reduced stream protection for landowners most heavily affected (“equity relief”) sets too low an eligibility threshold.
“It is the Board’s sworn legal duty to ensure Oregon’s logging rules meet the water quality standards that protect our public waterways and the valuable fisheries that rely on them,” said Mary Scurlock, Coordinator of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition comprising 25 conservation and fishing groups. “This rule simply does a little less harm than the status quo, which is not acceptable.”
Scurlock maintains that the Board should have crafted a rule that is consistent with its own scientific analysis and which prioritizes the public’s broad interest in clean water and salmon over the narrow economic interests of a single sector. “This rule falls far short of what the water quality and fish experts at DEQ, EPA and NMFS were recommending.”
Chris Smith, leader of the North Coast Forest Coalition emphasized that the proposed rules still don’t come close to the stream protection standards in neighboring states: “Washington and California have thriving timber industries despite much stronger stream rules. All we want is to protect water quality and fisheries for Oregonians, too.”
SUMMARY OF THE RULE PROPOSAL
The rule provides for four buffer prescriptions. The two main ones are: “no harvest” and “partial cut” (aka “variable retention”). Both options apply within 60 feet of small and 80 feet of medium “salmon, steelhead and bull trout” (SSBT) streams. A third “north-sided” option applies only to stream reaches longer than 200 feet that run east-to-west. However, some landowners who are impacted the most by the new rule will be allowed to use a fourth even less restrictive “equity exemption” option.
No cut buffers of 60 and 80 feet on small and medium SSBT streams, respectively. The new buffers will extend upstream to the end of the unit on the mainstem stream, as defined in the rule.
Partial cut buffers of 60 and 80 feet keep the small 20 foot no cut zone we have now and requires that more trees be left (measured in conifer and hardwood basal area) outside this area.
Because the Board directed that the unlogged trees be “well-distributed,” the rule requires that the basal area be calculated according to 500 foot lengths of stream instead of the 1000 feet now allowed, and the trees must be spread around within the outer 40 and 60 feet. For example, the rule establishes “floors” of 50% for the amount of total required basal area must be in the middle zone, with a 25% minimum in the outer zone.
Unlike current rules, both conifers and hardwoods are counted for basal area calculations on the theory that hardwoods also provide shade to streams.
The currently required minimum number of live conifers will also be calculated per 500 feet of stream. Trees need only be 8 inches in diameter to count, which is pretty small. (We did not succeed in getting a “largest tree” requirement).
Smaller “north-sided” buffers on stream reaches that run in an east-west direction. A 40-foot no cut buffer is considered adequate on the north side of these stream reaches. The minimum length of stream to which such a prescription may apply is 200 feet – there is no maximum reach length.
Equity Exemption Option. Landowners who will have 8% or more of their land affected by the new rule can use smaller buffers that will not protect coldwater.
Cilde Grover braces herself with her cane as she ducks through a small arch in the pasture fence.
“Molly, come!” she calls out, as her dog bounds ahead and blurs into the forest in the misty distance.
Grover remembers wide open pastures on her family’s homestead near Brookings in Oregon’s southwestern-most corner. That was back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when she and her three sisters were growing up. But now the trees have the upper hand.
“I look around and I go ‘it’s closing in on me!’” she laughs, glancing around at the forest all around her.
Trees love it here and they grow fast. There are redwoods, myrtle and tan oak, but it’s mostly Douglas fir on the hills and in the pasture. As a tree farmer and member of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association Grover is always thinking about her trees.
“We sort of go back and forth trying to decide, do I take out big ones now and leave little ones and let them go? Or just take out little ones and let the big ones turn into bigger trees,” she explains, pointing to a stand in the old pasture that’s a mix of trees with different ages and heights.
While faced with these kinds of decisions, Grover’s also facing changes to Oregon forestry law.
The Oregon Board of Forestry is proposing a new streamside logging or “riparian zone” rule that would increase the protected areas around waters that are home to salmon, steelhead and bull trout. It also would require that more trees be left behind in these buffer zones to provide shade and keep the water cold. Salmon need cold water to thrive.
A short walk through the woods leads to Elk Creek. It’s not much wider than Molly is long. The dog splashes enthusiastically, paws deep.
This is one of two streams on Grover’s 230-acre property that would be affected by the rule. She says the rule will disproportionately affect small woodland owners over industrial timber owners.
“There’s more streams down here on my part of the property than there is way off up the hill,” she says, looking past her property to a steep hillside owned by Green Diamond Resource Company.
Grover says small woodland owners are more likely to have salmon, steelhead and bull trout streams because their property generally lower and flatter.
The result of the rule change would be fewer trees available to harvest and sell.
Grover says she’s much more politically liberal than most small woodland owners she knows. And she also considers herself an environmentalist, naming off all the birds, plants and trees as she passes them on her property.
“But I also really have problems with idea that based on a small bit of science, you can take private people’s land out of production without any compensation for it,” she says.
‘Small bit of science’
The science Grover refers to is 12 years of research and analysis on Western Oregon streams. It’s know as the RipStream study, and has been both domestically and internationally peer reviewed.
RipStream showed current stream protections on private timberland weren’t meeting the state’s own water quality standards. Brad Knotts of the Oregon Department of Forestry says humans aren’t allowed to increase a stream’s temperature by more than about a half degree Fahrenheit.
“The monitoring was showing [that] 40 percent of time, that was happening if someone harvested exactly to the current practices,” Knotts says.
But here’s the rub for fish: the new rules being considered by the Board of Forestry won’t meet the standards either. They’re not nearly restrictive enough. And they’re not nearly as robust as the current stream buffer requirements in Washington or California.
Modeling done by ODF shows that to be reasonably certain logging won’t cause stream temperatures to exceed that half degree increase, there needs to be close to 100 foot no-cut buffers on either side of a waterway.
Currently Oregon only requires a 20-foot no-harvest buffer on either side of fish-bearing streams. And then depending on the size of the waterway, there is an additional 30- or 50-foot area that can be thinned.
The new rule would apply to fewer streams overall — a subset of the fish-bearing waterways in Oregon. It doesn’t change the no-cut buffer. It does add 10 feet to the area that can be thinned.
“[The Board of Forestry] did not choose 100 ft. no-harvest buffers, they choose something short of that,” Knotts says.
That’s because the law say the cold water standard must be met “to the maximum extent practicable.” This clause allows the Board to step away from the science and to consider factors like economics in these decisions as well.
The proposed rules is expected to eliminate about 75 jobs per year statewide and about a half percent of the total private land timber harvest.
Subset of a subset
The other concern for salmon advocates is the new rules wouldn’t even apply to most of the state. Eastern Oregon isn’t included, and neither is the Siskiyou region in Southern Oregon between Ashland and Klamath Falls.
In November, the Oregon Board of Forestry met in Ashland and got an earful from environmental groups in Southern Oregon.
Stacey Detwiler, with the conservation group Rogue Riverkeeper, told the board the mountains should not be excluded from the proposed rule.
“We remain significantly concerned that our region will be left with a less-protective standard,” she said.
Earlier this year, the board decided to exclude the Siskiyou region because the original RipStream study was conducted along the Oregon coast. Board members reasoned the results of that study could not be fairly applied to other regions.
Timber owners support that approach. Conservation groups disagree.
“I think that sometimes, this idea that we have a lack of science or that there’s some uncertainty is used by those who are against increased regulation as a stalling tactic,” said Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition, a group of environmental and fishing industry organizations.
Scurlock says the existing science is robust. And, she says, further delay in a process that’s already gone on for over a decade just keeps threatened fish at risk.
“It’s simply there’s nowhere to go. I mean, you can’t hide from the amount of information, it’s so overwhelming,” she said.
At the November meeting, the Board of Forestry did direct staff to come up with ideas for how to develop appropriate rules for eastern Oregon and the Siskiyous. That’s expected in mid-2017.
Depending on the approach the board decides to take, it could be several more years before new protections are put in place there.
Feds: not enough
Environmentalists aren’t the only ones who think Oregon’s proposed streamside rule comes up short.
A new Oregon coastal coho salmon recovery plan, finalized earlier this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), lays out a path to removing the salmon from the federal Endangered Species List within 10 years. This would remove significant red tape for the state and private timber interests alike.
But the coho plan points directly to the lack of teeth in the Board of Forestry’s proposed expansion of stream protections as a potential roadblock to meeting this goal:
“If the proposal is not significantly strengthened, NMFS will still be concerned that it doesn’t provide adequate protections, especially for shade … Because the November 2015 proposed buffers are less than 90 feet and allow harvest within the RMA, the proposal is not likely to meet the water quality standard.”
While coho recovery plan doesn’t carry the weight of a mandate that the Board of Forestry have to follow, Oregon is already getting pinged financially by the federal government for not protecting its streams.
In 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees NMFS, pulled $2 million in annual federal funding from Oregon, saying its coastal water pollution rules didn’t adequately protect fish from logging impacts. NOAA oversees salmon recovery under the Endangered Species Act.
NOAA West Coast Regional Administrator Barry Thom says the state’s proposed new standard wouldn’t be enough of an improvement to change minds at his agency.
“Given the scope of the rule, in term of the streams it covers, it’s hard to believe the rule moving forward is adequately protective of cold water,” he said.
Thom’s office has been nudging Oregon for years to strengthen rules on logging and other activities that can damage salmon habitat. He says Oregon’s efforts are a step in the right direction. But only a step.
“I think it’s gonna be a tough hill to climb to get over that bar, just given what’s been put forward so far.”
In the summer of 2015, water quality specialists with DEQ finished a draft of a resource guide for 50 public water systems along the coast. It assessed threats to surface water and offered guidance on how to protect it before it reaches treatment systems.
It also focused on the potential impacts from industrial logging operations, which own the majority of land surrounding many drinking water sources. That report prompted fears within the timber industry of a coordinated effort between coastal citizens and environmental regulators to limit or prohibit logging along the Oregon coast.
They heaped piles of criticism on DEQ, and prompted input from coastal legislators and others. Industry groups held a symposium on forest water quality, taking aim at the same issues raised in DEQ’s work.
Ultimately, DEQ shelved the report. Eighteen months later, it still hasn’t finished it and doesn’t plan to publish it.
The fate of that report offers a glimpse at what can happen when a state environmental agency’s work runs afoul of a politically influential industry. It also shows how, on certain forestry issues, the agenda of state regulators aligns more closely with the timber industry than with concerned citizens.
“It’s unfortunately part of a pattern in which the Department of Forestry has bullied DEQ,” said Nina Bell, of Northwest Environmental Advocates.
Bell has been filing lawsuits over coastal water quality for years.
“That’s not a surprise,” Bell said. “That doesn’t make it right. In fact it’s just flat-out wrong for the Department of Forestry to be only advocating for landowners who stand to gain money by cutting down trees and not being there to help protect the public resources, like drinking water.”
DEQ considers coastal water systems especially vulnerable. Many are small, and with watersheds facing the ocean, they feel the brunt of coastal wind and rain, which can dump debris into drinking water sources.
“They are all facing very similar issues,” Sheree Stewart, DEQ’s drinking water protection coordinator, said. “A lot of those watersheds have forest industrial private land, and so the report needed to focus on what those land uses were.”
Consider last year, when a rainstorm dumped 18 inches in Tillamook County. That storm caused flooding and landslides. It destroyed culverts and left small streams looking like chocolate milk.
In Rockaway Beach, a town on the north Oregon Coast, the water plant operator needed an excavator to clear the rock and sediment that had poured into Jetty Creek, the town’s main water source.
Water quality experts predict coastal storms to intensify because of climate change. They also say forest loss can exacerbate the effects of coastal storms.
“So what we’ve seen is an increase in a lot of turbidity and sediments,” Stewart said.
Turbidity is the technical term for the sediment and debris in water. Too much of it interferes with the chlorine used for disinfection. The result can mean chemicals in drinking water that are bad for people’s health.
Rockaway Beach has struggled with turbidity for years. Residents there have gotten several alerts about harmful chemicals in their drinking water, byproducts from the disinfection process.
There’s another factor in Rockaway Beach: clearcut logging. Jetty Creek flows through private industrial forest, and 80 percent of this watershed has been logged in recent years.
Swaths of forests have been replaced by bald slopes.
Studies have shown forest loss can lead to greater water quality problems, including higher treatment costs. DEQ’s draft report stated that “clearcut timber harvesting is known to increase landslide rates on steep slopes and increase streamflows and erosion.” It also said narrow strips of trees left near streams are often thrown by the wind, and that timber harvesting can contribute sediment into streams through roads and slash techniques.
Industrial forest companies are by far the single largest owner of land in coastal drinking watersheds, owning 100 percent of some source water areas.
In fact, water for 40 percent of the drinking water systems on the coast flows through forest owned by private companies that log extensively. And 64 percent of all coastal water systems have had two or more alerts, warning customers of problems with disinfecting water so it is safe enough to drink.
A draft of DEQ’s unpublished report included these statistics. The timber industry didn’t like that. Neither did the Department of Forestry, which regulates the timber industry. They deny any link between forest loss and increased turbidity, let alone problems with harmful disinfection byproducts.
Timber industry groups caught wind of the agency’s work at a Board of Forestry meeting, where resident Meg Thompson laid out her concerns, and said she and others were seeking full Bull Run-like protections.
The Bull Run watershed, which supplies drinking water for the City of Portland, has been off limits to loggers since the 1990s.
“We’re hoping that eventually using the technical support of DEQ and our source water risk assessments that we can develop full protective plans,” Thompson said.
This testimony proved to be a significant concern of the industry.
Ms. Eastman Thompson’s comments were alarming because, by calling for “full Bull Run type protections,” she is, in effect, calling for a moratorium on all human activities in these watersheds. Moreover, Ms. Eastman Thompson is sharing publicly the “exciting news” that DEQ’s work, in collaboration with Regional Solutions, will produce these “full protective plans.” She then asked for Oregon Department of Forestry (“ODF”) to put these drinking watersheds in “conservancy,” and to impose a moratorium on all herbicide use. While fringe elements have, over the years, occasionally called publicly for broad prohibitions on logging in coastal drinking watersheds, the thought that DEQ and Regional Solutions may be facilitating that outcome is alarming.
Public records obtained by EarthFix show the groups told DEQ’s director the report “encourages the reader to identify ‘threats’ with little data. They also said DEQ should not help local activists in their push for tougher clean-water standards.“While fringe elements have, over the years, occasionally called publicly for broad prohibitions on logging in coastal drinking watersheds, the thought that DEQ and Regional Solutions may be facilitating that outcome is alarming,” the comments stated.
Officials with two industry groups, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, and the Oregon Forest Industries Council, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Public records also show Peter Daugherty, now the state forester, sent four pages of comments to DEQ after the agency solicited his feedback. In them, he questioned both the science and the purpose of the report.
Daugherty, who was the department’s head of private forests at the time, said “the document seems to be responding to citizen group concerns about forest management, rather than doing an unbiased analysis of threats to drinking water.
Forestry officials suggested DEQ remove language about the connection between timber harvests and landslides or sediment in streams. They said the report needed to be reworded so that it didn’t suggest the state’s forestry laws were too weak to protect clean water.
In an interview, Daugherty said the two agency’s often work closely.
“Partners do do critical and I mean critical review of each other’s work,” Daugherty said. “We see that as a way to improve our partnership and come to a common understanding about the science on forest land and forest management.”
He praised the quality of water that flows through Oregon’s forests and questioned the premise coastal communities’ water quality woes could be blamed on forest management — logging, construction and maintenance of roads and culverts, and pesticide spraying to kill plants that compete with newly planted trees after a clearcut.
“I don’t believe that there’s any scientific evidence that forest practices are directly related to some indications of potential increased turbidity in those systems,” Daugherty said.
DEQ staff said they stood by the science in their report, but did acknowledge the report had the appearance of bias because it focused so much on private forests. The reason, they said, is the substantial amount of land owned by private forests.
DEQ has since shifted focus. It produced individual documents for each water system, instead of going ahead with its bigger-picture report that connects the dots on what water quality experts and environmentalists fear is a systemic risk for communities all along the coast.
The agency now plans to conduct a statewide water assessment in the future, which won’t single out logging or any other industry for degrading drinking water.
The Department of Forestry and timber industry groups both supported that shift.
NOAA Fisheries has released a recovery plan for Oregon Coast coho, and the plan addresses the Oregon Board of Forestry’s proposed riparian rules, and finds them inadequate. This plan is available on NOAA’s website.
“If the [riparian rule] proposal is not significantly strengthened, NMFS will still be concerned that it doesn’t provide adequate protectionsespecially for shade and wood recruitment parameters. Oregon Department of Forestry’s RipStream data . . . found that no-cut buffers of 90 feet meet ODEQ’s protecting cold-water standard approximately 50 percent of the time . . . Because the November 2015 proposed buffers are less than 90 feet and allow harvest within the RMA, the proposal is not likely to meet the water quality standard.” (p. 3-24, emphasis added)
The following is an Oregonian article discussing the plan:
Feds unveil 10-year recovery plan for threatened coastal coho
NOAA Fisheries released a recovery plan Wednesday that officials hope may spur significant habitat gains for threatened coastal coho salmon and, if followed by private landowners, lead to the fish’s removal from the threatened species list within a decade.
The federal agency’s recovery plan, a requirement for animals protected under the Endangered Species Act, sets a roadmap for private landowners and other property owners along a stretch of Oregon coastline stretching from Seaside to Port Orford. The coastal coho has been a threatened species since 1998.
Federal officials are optimistic that there are fewer challenges for coastal coho than other salmonids along the West Coast, where hydropower dams and other on-the-ground conditions pose larger obstacles to recovery. The plan for salmon and steelhead along the Snake River projects a 50- to 100-year recovery.
But officials are hopeful that coastal coho, one of 28 threatened and endangered species of salmon or steelhead along the West Coast, may recover significantly within a decade – at a projected cost of up to $110 million.
Rob Walton recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, said the plan is centered largely around improving habitat for the salmonid.
“The best available science tells us that habitat is the bottom line in stabilizing and rebuilding coho to the point they can sustain themselves,” Walton said in a statement.
Climate change, which warms the waters where they spawn and grow up, still presents a threat but Walton said better habitat can help mitigate those risks.
But the federal government can’t achieve major improvements without help from private landowners, and the plan is not regulatory. “We know that we cannot achieve recovery and desalting on our own,” he said.
The coastal coho’s habitat covers a vast network of streams, creeks and river systems along Oregon’s beaches and inland to the Coast Range. The fish are found in the Nehalem, Nestucca, Salmon, Siletz, Tillamook Bay, Yaquina, Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Coquille, and Umpqua River systems, according to the NOAA report.
The fish’s population dropped dramatically from its early 1900s peak, when an estimated 2 million adult fish returned to coastal rivers each year. By 1983, that estimate fell to about 14,600.
In 2015, officials estimated the number of spawning coastal coho hit 57,000.
The 230-page document is the product of years of research and builds upon a similar conservation plan adopted by the state of Oregon in 2007.
“We are making recommendations on what we think will be a roadmap to recovery,” Walton said on a conference call.
The plan offers several strategies for improving habitat. But the primary focus is “protect and restore” both freshwater habitat inland and lands where seawater and freshwater may mix. Those habitats are key to a fish’s survival from egg to young salmon and are most affected by climate change.
NOAA officials acknowledged large timber companies own huge tracts of land along coastal coho habitat. Those companies will be notified of the recovery plan, and informed of ways to improve salmon habitat – such as leaving large felled timber in streams to create pools, reduce temperature of the water and add shade.
“The plan recognizes the critical role of local landowners and communities in bringing about recovery,” Guido Rahr, president and CEO of the Wild Salmon Center said in a statement. The Wild Salmon center is developing a business plan to help boost local recovery. “We all must be part of a solution that will deliver multiple benefits for Oregon in the form of resilient communities, improved habitat and healthy fish populations.”
Reschedule Notice: Dec. 15 Portland public hearing on proposed rule changes to stream buffers rescheduled
Due to inclement weather, tomorrow’s4 p.m. public hearing and open house on proposed rule changes to stream buffers at Ecotrust, 721 NW NinthAve. in Portland, has been rescheduled. The rescheduled hearing is Jan. 30 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ecotrust in Portland.
The public participated in hearings and open houses on the proposed rules throughout the state since Nov. 1. The proposed rules would increase stream buffers and standards for trees left after harvest by 10 feet and approximately double standards for trees left after harvest to protect salmon, steelhead and bull trout in western Oregon. The proposed rulemaking would affect streams that are west of the crest of the Cascades but not in the Siskiyou region, are classified as small or medium fish-bearing streams, and are determined to have salmon, steelhead or bull trout present. For all other streams, the current rules will continue to apply.
Submit written or online comments through March 1, 2017 at RiparianRule@oregon.gov or by mail to Oregon Department of Forestry, 2600 State St., Salem, Oregon 97310, Attn: Stream Rules. After the Board of Forestry receives all public comments, it will consider final proposed rules in April 2017.