Board postpones decision on logging buffers to cool streams

By Jeff Barnard, Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Board of Forestry on Thursday postponed a decision on updating state logging regulations to keep streams cool enough for salmon.

After four years of consideration, the board had been scheduled to vote in Salem on a new riparian rule for the Oregon Forest Practices Act, mandating just how many trees must be left along small to medium streams on private timberlands in western Oregon.

Department of Forestry spokesman Tony Anderson says the board formed a subcommittee to make recommendations that will be considered sometime this fall.

After hearing from timberland owners trying to minimize logging restrictions, and conservation and sport fishing industry groups trying to maximize protections for salmon, the board decided it needed more time.

The action comes as record hot temperatures and drought have been killing fish.

Richard Whitman, natural resources adviser to Gov. Kate Brown, told the board that it must try to meet the cold water standard to the fullest extent feasible, while taking into account economic considerations.

“Everyone pretty much agrees what is needed to meet the standard,” he said. “The question is what is feasible.”

Current rules require riparian zone buffers of 20 feet on small to medium streams but do not do enough to prevent streams from warming more than 0.54 degrees after logging.

Buffers up to 100 feet are being considered. The bigger the buffers, the more shade and the greater the chance of meeting the standard, but the greater the economic impact on timberland owners.

The Department of Forestry has estimated that imposing buffers up to 100 feet along streams could cost timberland owners up to $227 million in land and timber values.

Federal regulators ruled in January that Oregon logging rules do not sufficiently protect fish and water in western Oregon from pollution caused by clear-cutting too close to streams, runoff form old logging roads, landslides and sites sprayed with pesticides, putting millions of dollars in federal grants in jeopardy.

Conservation groups have been trying to get the board to boost the current buffers of 20 feet to 100 feet for 20 years, said Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition.

She said the various interest groups appear to still be far apart. She added that she felt the board was making progress, and hoped the subcommittee would weed out proposals that have no chance of meeting the state water temperature standard.

Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association told the board fishing gear stores and fishing guides had lost a lot of business this year because record high temperatures and low stream flows from drought have been killing fish and putting those that survive off the bite, and anglers had quit fishing.

Kristina McNitt, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, was frustrated by the board’s failure to tackle the issue.

“I’m just mystified about why they need more time,” she said. “Originally, they were going to make a decision in June.”