Larger stream buffers will make for healthier salmon: Opinion in the Oregonian

Guest opinion published in the Oregonian 

Dog Creek feeds the fish ladders at the hatchery in Clackamas County’s McIver State Park, where spring chinook and coho salmon are raised. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/STaff)


By Liz Hamilton and Bob Van Dyk

In this dry, thirsty summer, a host of people sacrificed for salmon. Ordinary fishermen followed bans on afternoon fishing. Anglers, guides and the entire sportfishing industry suffered. Federal fisheries managers trucked salmon to cooler water. Farmers in the Klamath Basin sacrificed valuable surface water to save fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately, not everyone did their part.

After an eight-year, state-sponsored study clearly showed logging along streams raises water temperatures above the legal standard, Oregon’s Board of Forestry was finally poised to expand protective buffers along streams in July. Gov. Kate Brown’s adviser told the board, “to be truly sustainable, Oregon’s private forests need to do their part to meet water quality standards and protect our environment.”

We agree.

But after hearing concerns expressed by timber representatives in the audience and on the board, they delayed action once again. The board will now take up the topic in late September for possible action in early November.

Oregonians overwhelmingly believe that salmon are worth saving; they are our regional icon. To ensure the health of declining salmon runs, we invest hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars every year. Salmon stimulate more than a billion dollars annually in Oregon’s rural and urban economies — money flowing to small businesses, like sporting goods stores, guide services, manufacturers, restaurants and national and international commercial markets. As the Northwest climate continues to heat up, we need policies in place that ensure salmon survival alongside cities, agriculture and the timber industry.

Adequate stream buffers on private timberland are essential to sustainable salmon runs. Healthy standing forests along streams not only shade and cool water, they also supply downed trees to streams. These logs create jams and then deep pools, where juvenile and adult fish can ride out heat waves and escape predators. Heavy logging on private timberlands starves streams and salmon of cold water refuges.

Expanding current buffers from the current standard of as little as 20 feet to a minimum of 100 feet on fish-bearing streams would help bring Oregon into compliance with standards set by state and federal scientists. Oregon stream buffers would finally be on par with other Northwest states while affecting only an additional 2 percent of private forest acreages. Washington, where stream buffers are far larger than in Oregon, sustains a thriving, $8 billion timber industry. And expanded buffers would be an important step toward getting Oregon coho removed from the endangered species list.

Oregon’s broad coalition of salmon supporters have tried for two decades to make the incremental changes necessary for stream protection. Now it’s time for the timber industry to step up.

Gov. Brown can help protect cold water by asking the board to strengthen forest rules up to levels similar to Washington and California. She can provide further leadership by committing to assist the small portion of family forestland owners who might be unduly affected. By doing so, she will help protect our fishing economy, take an important step toward protecting our streams in the face of climate change, and help build better fish habitat for generations to come.

Liz Hamilton represents the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Bob Van Dyk represents the Wild Salmon Center.