Testimony to the BOF on State Forest Management

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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
water flows.

References

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.
DOI10.1002/eco.1790.  (Enclosed)

Luce, C. H., & Holden, Z. A. 2009. Declining annual streamflow distributions in thePacific
Northwest United States, 1948–2006. Geophysical Research Letters 36(16): L16401.
Online at: https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2009_luce_c001.pdf

Testimony Before the Environmental Quality Commission re Meeting Water Quality Standards in the Siskiyou and Eastern Oregon

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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.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Scurlock 

Enclosures:
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)

Testimony to the Board of Forestry regarding the need to protect and monitor aquatic resources in Eastern Oregon

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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.

Enclosures:
(1) Memo  from Mary Scurlock to the Oregon Board of Forestry Re: Information relevant to the need for adaptive change to riparian protection on private forestlands in Eastern Oregon. 13 pp.

(2) EPA Region 10. 2017. Memorandum from Peter Leinenbach, R10 EPA to Alan 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. 

See also  Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Comments to the Oregon Board of Forestry regarding riparian protections in Eastern Oregon  

Protect Southern Oregon streams: Guest Opinion in the Mail Tribune

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.

OSPC Testimony Re: Update on scoping riparian protection monitoring questions, methods and timelines in eastern Oregon and Siskiyou geographic regions

BEFORE THE OREGON BOARD OF FORESTRY
Mary Scurlock, Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
Re: Update on scoping riparian protection monitoring questions, methods and timelines in
eastern Oregon and Siskiyou geographic regions
(Agenda Item 9)
January 3, 2018 (transmitted to the Board on January 5, 2018)

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Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of Oregon Stream Protection Coalition’s 25 national, regional and local organizations.

We continue to urge the Board to focus on its clearest, most unequivocal, mandatory duty: to meet water quality standards through the stream protection rules. Your duty here is to serve the interests of the public at large, not only those of the regulated community.  And while the Forest Practices Act urges you to seek the least burdensome regulatory solutions, these solutions must nonetheless actually meet water quality criteria, including the Protecting Coldwater Criterion.

This Board has long had before it, via the RipStream study, strong evidence that current stream protection rules are inadequate to meet the Protecting Coldwater Criterion applicable to Salmon, Steelhead and Bull trout streams and upstream reaches that feed them.  You have decided on at least two separate occasions since these study findings first came to you in 2009 that not to act on this evidence to make a rule change in either Eastern Oregon or in the Siskiyou. Yet neither of these decisions was supported by evidence that valid inferences could not be made to either region, nor has this Board acted to date to collect additional evidence. (This Board specifically chose in 2012 not to include studies from interior forests in its scientific evidence review for the SSBT rule, guaranteeing that Eastern Oregon would remain “out of scope” on the question of rule adequacy for stream temperature).

There is no question that the Board has a duty to monitor its rules to determine whether they actually meet water quality standards. It is important to remember that the OFPA explicitly provides assurances to landowners that they will not be prosecuted for water quality violations if they follow these rules. The Board’s priority should be to validate that the rules merit what amounts to a blanket statutory finding of legal sufficiency. Otherwise this whole arrangement is just a shell game.

From where I sit the current situation in the Siskiyou and Eastern Oregon rises to a dereliction of duty.

I repeat my admonishment to you made at prior meetings: the best available evidence supports a working presumption that the current rules are inadequate in eastern Oregon and in the Siskiyou and that sensitive resources are being degraded. There are strong inferences that can be made from existing research that likely can be validated or calibrated short of launching an entirely new long-term research study.

Eastern and Southern Oregon streams are not more complex than other streams in terms of temperature and shade relations, and there is no credible reason to believe that current rules are working any better there than they are in western Oregon.

The need to act in the Siskiyou is illustrated by widespread elevated water temperatures, the findings of EPA and NOAA Fisheries with regard to their CZARA disapproval of Oregon’s nonpoint plan and with NOAA Fisheries findings in its recovery plan for southern Oregon Coastal Coho and other sources.

The need to act in Eastern Oregon is illustrated by widespread elevated water temperatures and the recognition that forest practices on private lands are a problem for imperiled coldwater fishes in science-based federal recovery planning documents (see e.g. USFWS Columbia River/Klamath Bull Trout ESU Recovery Plan, 2002 and others), and other sources. There is a significant amount of private forest land in the Eastern Cascades and Blue Mountains regions, as illustrated by the attached maps from Trout Unlimited. Many acres overlap with salmon, steelhead and bull trout streams and connected upstream reaches.

We note that Washington state’s rules protect all available shade within 75 feet of Bull Trout streams east of the Cascade crest in Washington and requires significant retention of overstory trees outside that area on most streams — a region comparable to eastern Oregon. Oregon’s buffers provide only a 20 foot no cut buffer and relatively low basal area requirements that often result in 20 feet being the total size of the buffer on small and medium streams.

I commend to you the testimony of Rogue Riverkeeper dated January 3, 2018 encouraging you to approve a monitoring project focused on the Protecting Coldwater Criterion in Eastern Oregon and the Siskiyou at your next meeting in March.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Scurlock, Coordinator
Oregon Stream Protection Coalition

 

Eugene Weekly Article: Throwing Shade, or Not: Oregon missing out on EPA funds for clean water programs

Summary:   The State of Oregon has been losing EPA funding because of its failure to adequately protect Oregon’s coastal watersheds.  Although Oregon’s own scientific study found that Oregon’s laws for stream buffers on private timberland did not insure adequate protection for cold water, Oregon has been unwilling to step up and address the issue through adequate regulation.  New rules to increase buffers on some fish-bearing streams are a step in the right direction, but the rules are still not strong enough to protect cold water in streams.  Oregon’s inaction in turn harms watersheds because it leads to reduced money from the EPA for the DEQ and projects to improve watershed health.

Throwing Shade, or Not: Oregon missing out on EPA funds for clean water programs

by Carl Segerstrom
Eugene Weekly
October 26, 2017

Photo: Ed Cooley
Photo: Ed Cooley

On Oct. 4 the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was granting $1.7 million to Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to help with projects and programs that reduce water pollution. In the press release, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt says the “EPA is making investments like this grant to help empower states who know best how to protect resources, and grow their economy while solving real environmental problems in local communities.”

But there’s a problem with Pruitt’s statement: The EPA doesn’t think Oregon “knows best how to protect its resources.”

Since 2015, the state has lost more than $1 million in funding from the EPA’s nonpoint source water pollution program because federal agencies say Oregon isn’t doing enough to protect coastal watersheds from forestry practices.

Losing this money reduces federal funding for DEQ staff and takes funding away from projects that promote healthy watersheds. But federal agencies say significant measures haven’t been taken to address the concerns of federal regulators.

Forestry Pollution

According to EPA spokesman Mark McIntyre: “Reevaluation of Oregon’s program will begin when Oregon informs the agencies that it has addressed all of the coastal nonpoint program conditions and provides supporting documentation. The agencies continue to encourage Oregon to continue to improve and refine its program to satisfy all coastal nonpoint program requirements.”

Nonpoint sources of pollution are any pollution source that doesn’t come directly from a single area, such as a factory or sewage treatment plant. Pesticides, oil on roadways and sediment from landslides are a few examples of nonpoint sources.

One of the most common causes of nonpoint source pollution is the warming of waters that lose shade cover due to human activities like logging, road building and floodplain development.

According to a DEQ report published in June, pollution from nonpoint sources accounts for nearly 75 percent of state waterways that exceed legal pollution limits.

Each year since 2015, the EPA has reduced funding by 30 percent of the previous year’s grant level. The penalty stems from disapproval of Oregon’s coastal nonpoint pollution control program (CZARA) by EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The federal agencies found that Oregon “has not implemented or revised management measures, backed by enforceable authorities” to protect riparian areas for small and medium-sized fish bearing and non-fish bearing streams; to address the impacts of forest roads; to protect high-risk landslide areas; or to ensure adequate stream buffer herbicide application, particularly on non-fish bearing streams.

Industry groups and state agencies have pushed back against the decision. In a March 2016 statement titled “Refuting the CZARA disapproval,” the Oregon Forest and Industries Council states, “The federal agencies are in error, and their continued focus on forestry is puzzling.”

OFIC states that “Oregon has a sound and thorough defense of its regulation and outcomes around all issues raised by the EPA and NOAA — a defense that is backed by extensive research and monitoring.”

The organization argues that the goal of federal regulators “seems to be the implementation of prescriptive regulations rather than achieving positive environmental outcomes based on rigorous science.”

Shading the Water

One of the best ways to reduce these pollutants is by planting shade cover along waterways and reducing runoff by slowing down polluted water with berms and native vegetation that naturally filter water before it gets to streams and rivers.

In the Eugene area, the Long Tom Watershed Council receives grants from the EPA nonpoint source program that aids them in partnering with local businesses and manufacturers to reduce water pollution.

But Oregon will keep losing money for these types of projects if it doesn’t meet federal standards for water protection on the coast.

Though the state DEQ receives federal funding and is responsible for administering water quality programs under the Clean Water Act, Oregon state law gives the Board of Forestry and Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) the authority to set rules for logging near water bodies.

Coastal rivers are habitat for cutthroat trout and chinook, steelhead and coho salmon — all of which are considered “species of greatest conservation need” by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Elevated water temperatures, sediments and herbicide levels in streams and rivers can have harmful effects on these iconic and economically valuable species.

One of the principal means of protecting these fish and the watersheds they depend upon is requiring a buffer of forested area around streams and rivers during logging operations. Federal regulators listed buffers for fish bearing and non-fish bearing streams as a primary concern when they decided not to approve Oregon’s coastal water protection plan.

Both California and Washington have larger forest buffer requirements and coastal pollution programs than are approved by federal regulators.

On July 1, the Board of Forestry put in place new streamside buffer rules that provide additional protection for rivers and streams.

The board’s decision was informed by data from ODF’s multiyear and multi-million dollar RipStream study that tracked the impacts of Oregon Forest Practices rules for private timberlands and compared them with ODF’s own management practices. The study found that Oregon’s laws for stream buffers on private timberland did not insure adequate protection for cold water.

In correspondence with EW, ODF public affairs director Ken Armstrong writes that the Board of Forestry used the study, “including its limitations and uncertainties, to establish new rules and best management practices to ensure that forest practices meet the ‘Protecting Cold Water’ criterion of the water quality standard to the maximum extent practicable.”

Implementing the new buffers, which will reduce the timber that operators can harvest, is expected to cost timber owners upwards of $100 million. Small timberland owners will receive some exemptions under the new rules.

The new buffer rules put in place by the Board of Forestry don’t match the buffer distance that ODF’s study models found necessary to keep stream warming below 0.3 degrees Celsius.

Data from ODF’s RipStream study found that, on average, a treed area of at least 90 feet was necessary to prevent warming the water above 0.3 degrees Celsius. Under the rules adopted by the Board of Forestry in July, medium-sized fish bearing streams would get 80-foot buffers and small fish bearing streams would get 60-foot buffers.

In testimony to the Environmental Quality Commission, OFIC representative Heath Curtiss argues that the new rules are based on different management practices than those modeled by the RipStream project. He says the approach adopted in the new rules “has not been modeled, and we believe it is likely that, given an opportunity to implement the rule and observe the results, the new prescriptions will prove efficacious.”

Bob Van Dyk, the Oregon and California policy director for the Wild Salmon Center, says the rulemaking was a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough to protect salmon habitat and prevent warming rivers.

“The buffers that the Board of Forestry picked are less than what ODF and EPA science has shown is necessary to prevent stream warming,” Van Dyk says, adding that salmon advocates are worried about the effects climate change might have in further warming these coastal watersheds and have raised concerns that the new rules left out many Southern Oregon watersheds, which have significant salmon populations.

Van Dyk says the new rules are “a political decision about what we value, not just a science decision.”

ODF’s Armstrong writes, “While most everyone agreed the decision was not easy, the Board reviewed and weighed the merits of the various proposals and adopted a policy believed to provide the least-burdensome impact to landowners while also meeting the Protecting Cold Water standard.”

Whether Oregon can prove to federal regulators that the new rules go far enough to protect coastal watersheds, and that EPA should stop withholding funding, is the million-dollar question.

Correction

The article previously stated that there were new rules for non-fish bearing streams, it has been corrected. There are no new rules protecting non-fish bearing streams.

Guest column: Streams pay a price for forest roads

by Mary Scurlock
The Bulletin, Sept. 24, 2017

On Aug. 26 The Bulletin editorialized about a recent research publication under the header “Forest roads don’t always damage streams.” The piece makes fair points that there are sound social and economic reasons why we build roads in forests, and that modern road designs can reduce harmful sediment delivery to streams.

What is missing from this editorial is the bigger picture. At the most basic level, the scientific literature is overwhelmingly clear that forest roads provide no benefit to the health of our rivers and streams. Forest roads are a necessity, but one that comes at a cost to clean water.

As The Bulletin correctly notes, there is much about harm from roads that this study doesn’t tell us. For example, harm from roads doesn’t come from just a few logging road segments. Anyone who has flown over the Coast Range or the Cascades knows that most of our watersheds have dense road systems that look like thousands of miles of silly string. A range of effects from road systems across the landscape creates a combined impact. For example, sediment pollution that enters headwater streams from multiple roads ends up in downstream salmon habitat. Among other impacts, fine sediment can smother spawning gravel for salmon.

Critically, the cited Oregon State University study only measures sediment delivery to small headwater streams from a narrow set of activities associated with single logging events. But we know these activities are drops in the bucket, occurring on top of other impacts from harvest and haul on other roads across the entire landscape. Additionally, the study does not address failure of high-risk road segments during large storms. Upgrading and removing old roads at risk of failure is something that conservation groups strongly support on federal lands, and that forward-thinking private timberland owners also invest in.

Local evidence of low sediment impacts is something to celebrate. However, it would be a mistake to assume that these results mean that there are no cumulative sediment pollution or other impacts from forest roads. In fact, the authors themselves admit that “it is difficult to make broad generalizations from our findings.” Without a better understanding of these cumulative effects, it is an oversimplification to claim that the impact of forest roads is overblown or imaginary. Ignoring the bigger picture misdirects public attention away from a pressing stream protection and restoration problem in Oregon, while critical advances are made in Washington and California.

— Mary Scurlock is the coordinator of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition.

Testimony Re: Eastern Oregon, Blue Mountain and Siskiyou Geographic Region Streamside Protections Review

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BEFORE THE OREGON BOARD OF FORESTRY
Mary Scurlock, Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
Re: Eastern Oregon, Blue Mountain and Siskiyou Geographic Region Streamside
Protections Review (Agenda Item 7)
July 25, 2017


This agenda item reports on work in progress, and staff is not requesting a specific Board
decision. The focus today is on whether the information staff currently intends to generate
for the Board will be adequate for the Board to make a decision about how it will focus
monitoring resources to address the adequacy of stream protections.

On behalf of Oregon Stream Protection Coalition’s 25 national, regional and local
organizations, I would like to take this opportunity to comment on project focus, the
decision timeline, and landowner advisory committee input.

A word on process. Because the staff work is extremely preliminary, it seems to us that the
Board should request at least one more report from staff before the Board actually selects
its path forward, at which interim point the Board could consider the adequacy of a more
developed conceptual decision framework.

Project Focus and Timeline

We fully appreciate that there are other riparian functions than those related to shade and
stream temperature that are relevant to Forest Practices Act objectives and Board duties.
But given that the Charter Work Plan states a broad objective for this project: to develop “a
list of monitoring questions related to the effectiveness of FPA riparian protection
standards in Eastern Oregon and the Siskiyou geographic region,” we’d urge the Board do
what it can to focus monitoring resources on specific questions as quickly as resources
allow.

It is clear that this Board’s decisions to exclude these regions from the westside Protecting
Coldwater Criterion/SSBT rulemaking precipitated initiation of this geographically–
focused monitoring project. Therefore, it would be logical for the Board to prioritize
adequacy of the stream protection rules to protect stream temperature in these regions. As
we did when the PCW/SSBT rulemaking was initiated, we urge attention to the specific
parameters of state water quality standards for temperature as expressed by the PCW,
ambient standards and TMDL load allocations for nonpoint sources.

Whether or not other questions also are addressed, initial priority should be placed on
addressing: 1) whether best available information supports a finding/presumption that
the current stream protection rules are adequate to maintain and restore stream
temperatures as required by water quality standards in eastern Oregon and the Siskiyou.
This would address whether there is a strong basis NOT to extend the scope of inference
from Ripstream to these regions; 2) whether there is additional information the
Department gather or generate with existing resources and within some reasonable
timeframe to inform the question of what rules would be adequate? We concur with staff’s
idea of presenting options for the Board that address study rigor; we would add that this
consideration should be explicitly linked to an assessment of the level of scientific
uncertainty around an issue.

Regarding timeline, we urge the Board to set clear expectations on a timeline for staff to
generate the information it will need to make a decision about the critical questions it
wants answered and how. We have concerns about any timeline any longer than four to six
months for selecting questions for the monitoring unit to focus on.

Advisory Committee Input

We won’t respond in detail here to the input from the three landowner advisory
committees. In general, we have concerns about why the opinions of these landowner
representatives are being shared on behalf of the committees when no other stakeholder
input is being shared with the Board or the public. The appearance is that input from
landowner stakeholders is given more weight and Board airtime than that from other
stakeholders, despite the fact that staff has characterized the purpose of stakeholder input
in this context to elicit the full range of stakeholder views. Further, the development of
committee opinions and positions about how and whether to conduct scientific research
seems outside the scope of these committees, i.e. the operational implications of actual
policy change proposals.

We will also make a couple of initial responses to the committees’ input.

• The landowner perspective seems to be that each region should be assumed to have
“unique riparian functions” that can only be understood by launching new region-­
by-­region research projects to determine whether a problem with current rules
exists. In our view, recommending this approach makes unsupported assumptions
that valid inferences adequate to the purposes of this monitoring program cannot be
made from existing research. We look forward to seeing the monitoring team’s own
analysis in this regard.

• The landowners also call for biological monitoring, such as “fish abundance and
size.” Respectfully, we disagree that these are likely to be informative metrics for a
host of reasons. While this kind of research is important and has a place, at the
present time it is not in the ODF’s underfunded monitoring program. We urge the Board
to focus on monitoring for parameters that relate directly to attainment of the objectives
of the Forest Practices Act – the water quality standards designed by DEQ to
protect fish and other beneficial uses. It is DEQ’s job to determine what parameters
are necessary to protect beneficial uses, and it is ODF’s job to meet those parameters.1

• The Committee for Family Forestlands provided opinions about the “general
approach to collecting appropriate data to inform” the streamside protections
review. We believe that that adding a fish population study would be costly, time
consuming, highly unlikely to be scientifically informative as proposed, and
irrelevant to the already extant policy and legal context, which has already been
considered at length and integrates known effects on fish.

• Regarding the EOAC’s endorsement of the 2003 “ERFAC” report, the Board should
recognize that this report reflected only landowner views: the sole conservation-­
oriented member of that committee actually wrote a letter attached to the report
that expressed the view that conservation interests were not adequately
represented. With respect to the EOAC’s opinion on the extreme complexity of
Eastern Oregon ecosystems, we must respectfully disagree. Eastern Oregon streams
are no more complex than any other streams. In terms of temperature and shade
relations specifically, they are the same.

• The EOAC does make some astute observations on Idaho rules and how they lay
down on the ground, and we urge ODF to explore this further, in addition to both CA
and WA rules. In Idaho, it is our understanding that the common outcome of no-­cut
50-­foot buffers being required to achieve shade and stocking objectives simply
reflects the biophysical reality of the riparian forest situation in the interior west.

• We are further concerned about the EOAC’s implication that that fish use streams
that are dry or have intermittent dry reaches in the summer should not be equally
considered as other fish streams purposes of riparian protection. This implication
bears further scrutiny for its ecological basis. In Oregon, a stream or lake has fish use
if it is occupied—at any time of year—by fish that are anadromous, game species, or
listed as threatened or endangered under the state or federal endangered species acts,
unless fish are present due only to introduction. There is currently no regulatory or
other reason of which we are aware to treat periodically dry reaches of perennial
fish use streams differently than other fish use reaches.

The protection goal for water quality, per ORS 527.765 is to ensure through the described forest practices that, to the maximum extent practicable, non-­point source discharges of pollutants resulting from forest operations do not impair the achievement and maintenance of the water quality standards.

New logging rule allows continued harm to streams (Oregonian guest opinion)

The authors argue that salmon in the Rogue River can't afford another 15-year process to make changes that the state of Washington and California made over a decade ago.
The authors argue that salmon in the Rogue River can’t afford another 15-year process to make changes that the state of Washington and California made over a decade ago. (Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)

BY STACEY DETWILER and MARY SCURLOCK 

Too little, too late is the name of the game when it comes to protecting streams from harmful forestry practices in Oregon.

On July 1, a new rule that pushes clearcut logging on private forestlands farther from the edge of streams that support salmon, steelhead and bull trout took effect. Essentially, the rule requires a small increase in the amount of trees near streams, known as a “stream buffer.” More trees and vegetation along stream banks helps to keep our rivers cool. The science is clear that removing trees contributes to warming stream temperatures, which can stress or kill native fish.

The problem is that the rule change is both too little and too late for Oregon streams. Not only will the new rule still allow logging too close to salmon streams to reliably prevent warming, it will only apply to part of Western Oregon, and, at most, a small distance upstream of salmon, steelhead and bull trout reaches.

After 15 years of taxpayer-supported research and public process, the vast majority of the forest streams on Oregon’s more than 10 million acres of private timberlands will still be subject to clearcutting within 20 feet or less of streams, with most streams receiving no buffer at all.

Streams that are left behind include the iconic waters of the Siskiyou region that flow into the Rogue River. The waters of the Rogue support habitat for threatened salmon, and many are consistently too warm. Despite sound science and policy logic for extending even the modest improvements of the rule to the rest of the state, the Siskiyou and eastern Oregon remain excluded.

The Board of Forestry, which makes stream rules, has directed its staff to start looking into new rules for the Siskiyou and Eastern Oregon. But there seems to be little urgency for action.

Salmon in the Rogue River can’t afford another 15-year process to make changes that the state of Washington and California made over a decade ago. The governor, the Environmental Quality Commission and the Board of Forestry should move quickly and decisively to keep all Oregon streams cool, starting with updated standards for the Siskiyou region.

Stacey Detwiler is the conservation director of Rogue Riverkeeper; Moary Scurlock, coordinator of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition.

View opinion in the Oregonian

Oregon’s Forest Practices Act Requires: Wider Stream Buffers & A New Stream Classification

View original email notice from the Oregon State Forester

Oregon’s Forest Practices Act Requires:

Wider Stream Buffers & A New Stream Classification
Dear Friend,

I write to update you about changes to the Forest Practices Act Water Protection Rules. New rules to protect cold water streams that support salmon, steelhead or bull trout are effective July 1, 2017.

The Oregon Board of Forestry added the salmon, steelhead and bull trout stream
classification, known as SSBT. It made this change based on science and public input.

These rules changed:

  • Division 600: Definitions
  • Division 635: Water Protection Rules: Purpose, Goals, Classification and Riparian Management Areas
  • Division 640: was deleted and replaced by Division 642
  • Division 642: Water Protection Rules: Vegetation along Streams

The changes may impact your forest management plans. If you have questions, please contact your local office for help using the Find a Forester tool.

To check on stream classifications go to LocatOR.

To learn more about submitting a notification of operation or subscribing to receive information about potential forestry work go to E-Notification.

Thank you for your time and help managing forests in Oregon for their many benefits!

Sincerely,
Peter Daugherty
Oregon State Forester

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