Rogue Riverkeeper, an OSPC member and an organization that seeks to protect and restore water quality and fish populations in the Rogue River Basin and adjacent coastal watersheds, recently sent out an alert to encourage public input on Oregon Department of Forestry’s current riparian rulemaking process.
Streamside Trees Needed for Clean Water and Salmon
Protecting trees in streamside forests is incredibly important. Healthy riparian forests keep water cool, filter polluted runoff from roads and logging areas, and provide valuable wildlife habitat. Streamside forests are critical to aquatic ecosystems, and make the clean water we all depend on possible. Your help is needed now to protect them!
Right now Oregon’s rules fail to adequately protect our streams and riparian forests from logging operations and don’t meet the minimum standards necessary to avoid harm to imperiled salmon. Most streamside forests may be clearcut as close as 20 feet from streams that harbor fish, and forests along our smallest streams may be completely removed. These practices cannot continue if Oregon wants to reach its goals for healthy streams and fisheries.
Because our riparian protection rules are so poor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently denied approval of Oregon’s program to protect important coastal watersheds from impacts to water quality, and the state has lost millions in funding as a result. (OSPC note: Oregon may lose funding but has not yet).
Oregon now has a clear opportunity to protect our waterways and satisfy federal requirements. The Oregon Department of Forestry is currently considering new stream buffer rules for streams that could meet some key state and federal requirements, so now is the perfect time to make sure your voice is heard!
The Oregon Department of Forestry is soliciting input from the conservation community on the revision of its monitoring strategy. Please provide input by March 25 to Terry.Frueh@oregon.gov (Phone number: 503-945-7392)
The Oregon Department of Forestry conducts different types of monitoring, including effectiveness monitoring to determine whether implementation of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules is adequate to meet environmental protection goals. The existing monitoring program is intended to provide information that will allow for regulatory changes when needed to improve environmental protections.
The current Forest Practices Monitoring Program Strategic Plan, created in April 2002, is available here.
It is critical that the conservation community get involved and provide input regarding potential changes to ODF’s monitoring plan because the plan will set the agency’s agenda for monitoring and adaptive management for the foreseeable future. Adaptive management is used to craft policy changes to existing forest practices rules. Furthermore, the monitoring plan will determine how limited funds are spent in evaluating the effectiveness of the rules and making adaptive changes.
Terry Frueh, Monitoring Specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, made this presentation to the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition on February 4, 2015. about the monitoring strategy revisions.
The following are contact email addresses to get in touch with members of the Board of Forestry, the Board Administrator, and the State Forester and tell them that you support stronger protections for Oregon’s streams, fish, and water quality:
On January 30, 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified the State of Oregon that its Oregon Coast Nonpoint Program is not sufficient to comply with the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA). NOAA and EPA specifically faulted Oregon’s forest practices, which are inadequate to protect Oregon’s waterways.
Previously, in 1998, these agencies had approved Oregon’s program, subject to specific conditions. In their January 30, 2015 finding, the agencies determined that Oregon’s program was not fully approvable because the program did not meet these conditions as they relate to forestry condition. “By not adopting and implementing the additional measures applicable to forestry and forested lands that are necessary to achieve and maintain water quality standards and to protect designated uses, Oregon has not submitted a fully approvable program under CZARA.” (pg. 3) The agencies called on the State to, among other things, adopt and implement forestry management measures to protect non fish-bearing streams and small and medium-sized fishbearing streams.
The agencies explained that a large body of science demonstrates that current management practices do not achieve and maintain water quality and protect designated uses. They drew particular attention the RipStream study (Oregon Department of Forestry’s Riparian and Stream Temperature Effectiveness Monitoring Project), which “found that FPA riparian protections on private lands did not ensure achievement of the PCW [(protecting cold water)] criterion under the Oregon water quality standard for temperature.” (pg. 5)
With regard to non fishbearing streams, and contrary to the way that Oregon manages forest harvest along these streams, they stated that “non-fish-bearing streams should be treated no differently than fish-bearing streams when determining the appropriate buffer width to protect designated uses.” (pg. 7) This is because salmonid distribution changes over time and other fish and aquatic organisms are important to stream health.
NOAA and EPA declined to rely on Oregon’s Paired Watershed Studies as evidence that current forest practices are sufficient to maintain water quality standards and protect designated uses, explaining that “a variety of factors confound the draft conclusions from the Hinkle Creek study[.]” (pg. 7) (Read more about the limitations of Oregon’s Paired Watershed Studies, as outlined by aquatic ecologist Dr. Chris Frissell in the report following his presentation to the Board of Forestry at the June 23, 2014, Riparian Rules Workshop.)
Below are links to the finding and associated documents.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) – Federal regulators ruled Friday that Oregon logging rules do not sufficiently protect fish and water from pollution caused by clear-cutting too close to streams, runoff from old logging roads, landslides and sites sprayed with pesticides.
NOAA Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed their decision in a long-running negotiation with Oregon over meeting the standards of the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program, a provision of the National Coastal Zone Management Program.
The ruling was triggered by a lawsuit filed by environmentalists.
Oregon is the first state cited for failing to meet the pollution standards since the program started in 1990. The state could lose access to some federal grants until the problems are fixed.
However, EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran and NOAA Fisheries regional administrator Will Stelle said they hoped penalties would not be necessary.
Stelle said tightening Oregon Forest Practices Act rules for logging on private, state and county forests would speed habitat improvements needed to get threatened Oregon coastal coho salmon off the threatened species list.
He added that Washington and California forest practices laws do a much better job of protecting fish and water quality than Oregon regulations.
Richard Whitman, the governor’s natural resources adviser, said the state Board of Forestry is working on the streamside buffer issues. Solutions should be in place by the end of 2016, he said.
Stelle said changes could include increasing the no-logging buffer zones along streams, doing detailed inventories of old logging roads and areas prone to landslides, and increasing no-spray buffer zones to keep pesticides out of the water. The solutions could be a mix of rules and voluntary programs.
The no-logging buffers leave trees standing to shade streams and prevent them from warming to the point they are too hot for fish. The vegetation also serves as a natural filter keeping silt from washing into streams, where it chokes out spawning beds and food for fish.
Even at low levels, pesticides can interfere with a salmon’s sense of smell, which it uses to avoid predators and find its home stream when returning from the ocean to spawn.
Nina Bell of Northwest Environmental Advocates, which won the lawsuit forcing the agencies to enforce the clean water standards, said the federal action was two decades overdue.
“The blame for this shameful disapproval can be squarely laid at the doorstep of Oregon’s forest practices law, the agencies and boards that do nothing to improve forest practices, and the logging industry that maintains a tight political grip on this state,” she said in a statement. “But as for who, honestly, can turn this around, well it rests almost entirely with the governor.”
Bell said the law calls for the agencies to withhold one-third of the federal grants available under the program, which this year would work out to about $1.3 million.
A handful of Portland-area Democrats and environmental groups have their eyes on the 2015 legislative session, where they hope to win timber reforms. Their first goal is putting new limits on aerial spraying of pesticides on forest land near public drinking water.
The conservation groups eventually want to increase state authority over cutting, among other things, but officials are throwing their weight for now behind proposals to increase buffer zones between spraying areas and drinking water and to increase the notification requirements for nearby residents.
State Sen. Michael Dembrow of Portland has recently led the charge to tighten restrictions in Oregon’s Forest Practices Act — more lax than regulations in neighboring states — and state Representative Ann Lininger of Lake Oswego is joining the effort by drafting a bill this year.
“I think there are ways to address public health impacts that would still enable really healthy forest industry uses,” Lininger said.
The forest industry isn’t buying it, arguing that the legislators and environmental groups are racing ahead to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
Conservation groups are trying to build evidence that the reforms are past due.
The complaint asks for Plum Creek’s certification to be suspended, the logo removed from the company’s products and an investigation. John Talberth, head of the organization, is skeptical the certifying body’s investigation will have any effect. Instead, he’s hoping to rally enough outrage over Oregon’s accepted timber practices that residents demand reforms.
“The state and private forest lands are already in tragic conditions, and part of the problem is that Oregon has some of the weakest regulations in the region,” Talberth said.
An Oregonian investigation in October found that Oregon lacks the buffers and pesticide spraying parameters other western states require.
Oregon Wild has long advocated for stream protections, not just for the residents who drink the water, but for salmon and other wildlife that live in and near it. Steve Pedery, conservation director of the conservation group, said it struggles each year to rally enough legislators to stand up to the timber industry.
But with recent attention to herbicide spraying missing its mark, prompting complaints from Curry County residents, Pedery and others think this might be their chance.
“I’m not sure how it will play out. I tend to view the herbicide issue as the test case to see if this Legislature has the belly to stand up to the timber industry,” Pedery said.
Those in the industry are skeptical Oregon needs to change. Scott Dahlman, who heads the industry group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said buffers aren’t needed.
The group advocates for the right of farmers, foresters and chemical suppliers and sprayers to use pesticides. Dahlman said most people who use pesticides are careful with the application, and that Oregon’s loose restrictions give workers the freedom to note weather conditions and make spraying decisions on the fly.
“Putting a numerical buffer in place is just taking away the flexibility of operators to apply where they need to,” Dahlman said.
Any new oversight would also depend on money, which the Oregon Department of Forestry lacks.
The department cut back on staff and priorities in previous years to make up for declining revenue. Increasing oversight of logging would require a shifting of resources for legislators.
Lininger said she thinks that’s possible.
“There’s a lot of shared recognition we can make some progress by funding adequate oversight,” Lininger said. “I think there’s a lot of willingness to take steps to make sure we’re protecting public health and drinking water.”
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A watchdog group is challenging the environmentally friendly “green lumber” certification for Plum Creek Timberlands, one of the nation’s biggest landowners and timber producers.
The Center for Sustainable Economy, based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, filed the complaint Thursday with a nonprofit group that verifies whether timber producers follow standards for environmentally responsible logging, including replanting after harvest, protecting water and biological diversity, and complying with environmental laws and regulations.
The complaint covers Plum Creek logging in Oregon’s Coast Range, citing 11 civil citations over the past six years for violating state logging regulations, including four citations for exceeding the clear-cutting limit of 120 acres. The complaint includes Google Earth images showing landslides in areas stripped of trees by Plum Creek.
The company also was cited for failing to protect riparian zones along fish-bearing streams, allowing logging road drainage into a stream and failing to notify state regulators of changes in logging operations.
Seattle-based Plum Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On its website, it states prominently that all its timberlands are certified by the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
“We have long conducted our business with a strong commitment to the environment,” the site says.
The complaint demands that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative immediately suspend certification for Plum Creek in Oregon and investigate the company’s logging practices throughout the country.
Besides giving companies a way to green up their image, certification can have economic benefits. Some state and federal agencies are required to buy products that are certified as sustainable, and some businesses and retailers have sustainability policies. Home Depot, for example, says on its website that it sells only lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the other major certification body.
The timber industry started the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, but it has since become an independent nonprofit certifying more than 240 million acres of private forests. Outside auditors certify that companies conform to standards for environmentally responsible logging.
Chris Lunde, harvest manager for Blakely Tree Farms LP in Seattle, oversees compliance with Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards in Oregon. He confirmed receiving the complaint, the first in his seven years in the position.
Plum Creek has 45 days to respond, and the complaint will be taken up by an outside auditor, initiative spokeswoman Elizabeth Woodworth said.
John Talberth, president of Center for Sustainable Economy, said the group feels the Oregon violations are part of a larger nationwide problem.
“We think this is the tip of the iceberg, definitely in Oregon, but probably in other states as well,” he said. “As we know, regulations protecting state and private forest lands are far weaker than those for federal lands, and have far less citizen oversight.”
Much attention has been given to Oregon’s federal forests and their multiple uses, from the spotted owl controversy of the 1980s, to the hard-earned restoration of salmon spawning habitat, to the O&C debate now raging. Yet 38 percent of Oregon forests are privately owned, and more than half of that belongs to industrial timber companies, with principally one goal in mind.
Understandably, that goal is to maximize profits by logging. But the consequences go far beyond money in the bank. The harvest of trees covering nearly one in five acres of Oregon’s forests has dramatic outcomes on the streams flowing through those lands. That water is owned by the state, which means all of us.
Even more important, industrial logging affects the waterways downstream — rivers and estuaries sustaining sport and commercial fisheries with their related jobs, food and recreation, plus drinking water to homes, towns and cities. A half-century of science has confirmed repeatedly that the steepness of logged slopes, the amount and type of road construction, the closeness of logging to waterfronts, and the intensity of both soil and canopy disturbance all govern how well our streams will be protected — or how severely they’ll be degraded. Those facts justify state government’s role in establishing and enforcing effective standards of harvest under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.
The problem here lies with “effective.” Oregon law and regulations allow cutting on slopes of any steepness — straight-up is not too much, except in specific places where public safety is known to be at risk. They permit logging within 20 feet of most waterways. They require no buffer whatsoever for small streams without fish. The rules sanction aerial spraying of herbicides within 60 feet of streams (as if the wind doesn’t blow), and the dousing of toxins directly on small streams (as if their water doesn’t flow into larger streams).
Analysis of the rules of surrounding states — even Idaho — found that all had substantially higher standards than Oregon.
To be fair, some logging companies —including giants as big as Weyerhaeuser — sometimes practice higher levels of performance. Others don’t. Modernized rules would level the playing field for all.
The effects of industrial logging cause streams to warm beyond acceptable standards of temperature — standards intended not for optimum water quality but to curb the grossest loss of habitat needed by native fish. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has long recommended that Oregon upgrade its regulatory program to protect stream temperatures, as other states have done.
With direct implications to its own forestry program, the State Department of Forestry’s RipStream study found that logging on industrial land caused a greater rise in water temperature than logging elsewhere with wider buffers. We’ve known that better buffers were necessary even before the state’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team recommended them to the governor back in 1999.
Recent analysis by Ph.D biologist Christopher Frissell, using the state’s own findings, indicated that no-cut buffers of at least 100 feet are needed to maintain stream temperatures. A hundred feet is not much, given 6 million acres of industrial forest land in Oregon. Uncut forest buffers shade the streams and keep them cool, stabilize banks with roots, and filter muddy runoff that’s headed toward the water from disturbed areas nearby.
This topic is timely because the Board of Forestry is considering upgrading its rules to require wider no-cut streamside buffers.
Other precautions are needed to prevent the spraying of herbicides on homes and people like what sickened residents of Cedar Valley near Gold Beach in 2013.
Additional measures, such as those required by Washington state to identify hazard zones, could minimize landslides that routinely damage salmon habitat. I personally saw this in 2012 when the entire “buffer strip” slid into the South Fork Coquille River and its choice chinook spawning beds after massive acreage was clearcut above the buffer. Despite outward appearances — hundreds of feet of shoreline reduced to an oozing quagmire the whole way upslope to the timber sale — the logging met compliance with regulations, according to state officials.
It’s time for Oregon to join the 21st century.
Action on the Board of Forestry’s current agenda won’t solve all the problems caused by irresponsible logging on industrial land, but it’s a step in the right direction to safeguard the streams, fish, wildlife, and water that are owned by us all.
Tim Palmer of Port Orford (www.timpalmer.org) is the author of “Field Guide to Oregon Rivers,” “Rivers of America” and other books.
The September 2014 Federal Recovery Plan for the threatened Southern Oregon/ Northern California Coast (SONNC) coho determined that timber harvest continues to pose a serious threat to the coho. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) specifically discussed the failure of the Oregon Forest Practices Act to protect the coho.
NMFS also identified revision of the Oregon Forest Practices Act as one of the highest priority recovery actions for almost all SONNC Oregon populations , including Elk River (p. 7-1), Brush Creek (p. 8-1), Mussel Creek (p. 9-1), Lower Rogue River (p. 10-1), Hunter Creek (p. 11-1), Pistol River (p. 12-1), Chetco River (p. 13-1), Illinois River (p. 30-1), Middle Rogue/Applegate (p. 31-1), and Upper Rogue River (p. 32-1).
The following is an excerpt from the plan:
At the time of listing, the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA), modified in 1995 and improved over the previous OFPA, did not have implementing rules that adequately protected coho salmon habitat. In particular, the OFPA did not provide adequate protection for the production and introduction of large wood to medium, small and non-fish-bearing streams. Since the listing of SONCC coho, the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds (Oregon Executive Order 99-01; 1999) directed the creation of the Forest Practices Advisory Committee to help the Oregon Board of Forestry assess forest practices changes that may be needed to meet state water quality standards and protect and restore salmonids. As of 2003, draft water protection rules and non- regulatory recommendations based on the recommendations of Forest Practices Advisory Committee had been developed, but had not been adopted by the Board of Forestry. A review of OFPA and forest practice rules (IMST 1999) showed the regulations in place may be ineffective at protecting water quality and promoting riparian function and structure, especially in small- and medium-sized streams. In their review of the forest practice rules, the Oregon IMST found that one of the greatest shortcomings of the current rules is that they are dominated by site- and action-specific strategies which, taken together are insufficient for recovering habitat of listed stocks of salmonids (Everest and Reeves 2007). Everest and Reeves (2007) report that current forest practice rules in the Pacific Northwest represent improvements over their preceding rules, but continued change and evolution of the forest practices rules is of vital interest.
Though significant improvements have been made to the current rule package, the Oregon Forest Practice Rules represent the least conservative forest practice regulations administered by the state governments within the SONCC coho salmon ESU. Some riparian areas may be protected by narrow, no-harvest zones; however, the stands located upslope of the no-harvest zones could be subject to intense harvest, leading to diminished riparian function and cumulative effects to anadromous salmonid habitat. In a 2010 status review of Oregon Coast (OC) coho salmon, NMFS concluded that the Oregon Forest Practices Act does not adequately protect OC coho habitat in all circumstances. In particular, disagreements persist regarding: (1) whether the widths of riparian management areas (RMAs) are sufficient to fully protect riparian functions and stream habitats; (2) whether operations allowed within RMAs will degrade stream habitats; (3) operations on high-risk landslide sites; and (4) watershed-scale effects. On some streams, forestry operations conducted in compliance with this act are likely to reduce stream shade, slow the recruitment of large woody debris, and add fine sediments. Since there are no limitations on cumulative watershed effects, road density on private forest lands, which is high throughout the range of this ESU, is unlikely to decrease under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (NMFS 2009).
BEFORE THE OREGON BOARD OF FORESTRY Statement of Mary Scurlock, Oregon Stream Protection Coalition Agenda Item 7: Informational Update on Riparian Rule Analysis
5 November 2014
My name is Mary Scurlock and I represent 21 fishing and conservation groups comprising the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition. The intent of my remarks today is to add some further detail to the staff update about the issues under discussion with stakeholders from our perspective.
New rule timeline. The new rule timeline has pushed further Board decisions out until March and April, with July slated for final rule adoption. In our view it is imperative that this timeline be adhered to and that rule completion be a Board priority. As you are well aware, a federal disapproval of Oregon’s coastal program is pending and there is currently no policy change that the state can hold up to demonstrate that it is addressing any of the problems identified by the NOAA and EPA. There is also increased public scrutiny on Oregon’s logging rules as a result of the recent Oregonian expose describing weak regulation of forest chemicals and indicting current rules on public health, environmental protection and public process.
Ongoing public outreach. We appreciate the Department’s efforts to set aside adequate time and resources for stakeholder input. I and other members of my coalition will continue to be actively engaged as staff recommendations are developed on new rule prescriptions as well as where the new rule prescriptions should apply.
Georegions Decision Set for March 4: The conservation groups I represent continue to oppose the geographic limitation of this rulemaking. The basis for this view is that in every georegion studied by RipStream the current rules were found lacking; therefore, the only reasonable assumption the Board can make is that the current retention requirements in the other georegions are also insufficient to meet the PCW – an assumption that can be validated using available information if the Department is instructed to gather it.
In particular, there is a strong sense in the conservation community that the Siskiyou Region must be included in a policy change due to the high aquatic resource values at stake and because this region is part of Oregon’s Coastal Zone, within which policy changes have been specifically identified as needed to meet the requirements of federal coastal water pollution control statutes. Likewise, the recently finalized federal recovery plan for Southern Oregon/Northern California Coastal Coho is quite clear about the need for improvements to small and medium stream protections on private forestlands.
We reiterate earlier comments that the exclusion of any region from this rulemaking must be accompanied by a clear plan for how the rules in those regions will be evaluated and amended with respect to the PCW on a reasonable timeline.
Stream Reach Extent Decision Set for April. The Board’s decision on stream reach-scale designation for additional prescriptions is not now slated to occur until April. This decision involves drilling down on a number of technical issues that bear on stream classification rules and guidance, and how the rules will be implemented on the ground. Our overall recommendation to the Board at this time is that ODFW’s expertise should be heavily relied upon. Our specific concerns include:
1. Regulatory use of maps. ODFW fish distribution maps are the best available information and we support its use as a starting point for making reach level decisions. It will be important to clarify how these maps will be used and the process by which they will be updated.
2. All fish not some fish. The current rules are largely tiered to fish versus nonfish streams. We strongly support application of the new rule to all streams that meet the current criteria for a fishbearing stream. At present the Department is contemplating a policy change that would tier prescriptions to stream reaches that are or could be used by specific fish species, i.e. salmon, steelhead and bull trout only, because of how the PCW is written, but the same level of protection is needed on all fishbearing reaches. We will be interested in the specifics of the implementation mechanisms – presumably habitat criteria — that will be used to determine the end of SSBT use. It seems likely that a full discourse around this issue will require scrutiny of the current rule guidance pertaining to physical habitat characteristics that may be considered incompatible with salmon, steelhead or bull trout use, and consideration of whether aspects of this guidance will need to be elevated to rule. If management prescriptions are going to vary markedly between types of fish bearing reaches, the ecological basis for the criteria used to distinguish these reaches will come into play. Likewise, the conditions under which fish presence surveys can be used to override a fishbearing designation will also require vetting because this process will assume greater regulatory significance.
3. If SSBT only, include upstream reaches as default. The coalition is concerned that this rule should deal appropriately with uncertainty by giving the benefit of the doubt to the resource. For example, the increased stream protections should be presumed to apply to all fish streams upstream of Salmon, Steelhead and Bull Trout segments unless a physical barrier has been field verified and it can be demonstrated that warming of upstream reaches will not lead to downstream warming in violation of the PCW.
Prescription Elements: It also appears that there are stakeholder differences of opinion on several items pertaining to prescription elements, including:
1. Buffer delineation methods. In our view, stream buffers should be measured based on horizontal, not slope distance — which is particularly important on steeper slopes where it makes the most difference. We note that this method is currently used on Oregon’s state forestlands.
2. Whether to change which trees can contribute to basal area targets. We expect that there will be a need for further discussion about the implications of changing the “countability” of trees to meet new targets to include smaller trees (e.g. 6 inches from 11 inches) and whether to include hardwoods as well as conifers.
We expect these and other issues will be the subject of lively stakeholder discussion in the coming months.