Oregonian Opinion Piece: Coastal Oregonians want stronger protections for forest waters

October 30, 2019

by guest columnists
Nancy Webster, Jane Anderson and Pat Himes

Webster lives in Rockaway Beach. Anderson lives in Garibaldi. Himes lives in Oceanside. All three are members of the North Coast Communities for Watershed Protection, an organization that seeks to protect air and water throughout the region.

We live at the Oregon coast and have been directly affected by the influence of money in Oregon politics. For 25 years, the Oregon Legislature has failed to significantly update protections from clearcutting for rivers and streams, or to protect us and water from aerial spraying of toxic pesticides. Out of frustration, we have joined with people from across Oregon to advance protections for forest waters.

Recently, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Rob Davis wrote an article on Secretary of State Bev Clarno’s rejection of ballot initiatives seeking greater protections for forest waters. The initiatives sought to put an important question before voters: Should Oregon update its protections for rivers and streams and require larger buffers for aerial spraying of toxic chemicals? Clarno’s denial appears to be another example of corporate influence hurting rural Oregonians. And considering the donations that she and her deputy have taken in the past, it also seems to be another example of the overreach of corporate influence in Oregon as Davis revealed earlier this year in the series “Polluted by Money.

For too long, we have watched Wall Street corporations clearcut near Oswald West State Park, Cannon Beach, Yachats, Rockaway Beach, Arch Cape and other communities. Experts from Oregon State University have found that short-rotation clearcutting reduces water supplies by half. We have witnessed streams running dry in the summer months.

While we all use wood products, we cannot make more water. According to state figures, timber is around 2% of Oregon’s gross domestic product and less than 2% of jobs. Welcoming visitors to our communities and providing water for them and local residents is worth more. We also know how hard people work and that every job in our rural economy matters. We feel that things are out of balance, and that Oregonians from diverse backgrounds will agree.

The fact is that investment firms and Wall Street corporations control huge amounts of land in northwest Oregon. These companies flood our Legislature with money and resist even modest updates to protect the public’s water supplies that flow from Oregon’s forests.

Secretary of State Clarno demonstrated she is ill-informed when she confused the Oregon Board of Forestry, charged with protecting the greatest permanent value for all Oregonians, with the Oregon Forest & Industries Council, a timber lobbying group that works to protect its ability to clearcut by streams, spray toxic chemicals, and denude steep slopes. While we agree the timber industry should have a voice in decisions affecting its industry, we do not agree that they should get to set all the rules in their favor.

Those of us on the coast are being adversely affected, and we’re not going to take it anymore. In Rockaway Beach, we watched as more than 80% of the forestland from which our water flows was clearcut. Cannon Beach, Yachats, Newport, Arch Cape, Wheeler, and other communities have watched in alarm as their forested watersheds have been clearcut and sprayed with toxic chemicals. Slopes designated by the state as having a high risk of landslides have been clearcut, endangering communities and the waters which sustain them. Our group, North Coast Communities for Watershed Protection, reflects our common goal to ensure the air we breathe and the water we drink are safe. To learn more about us, visit https://healthywatershed.org.

Idaho, Washington, and California have better protections for forest waters than “green” Oregon. The companies which are deforesting Oregon are able to profitably comply with these better protections in other states. Why not in Oregon? The proposed initiative is consistent with Oregon values. It would protect our forests and the waters that flow from them. It would live up to our reputation.

We have been talking to Oregonians of all stripes who tell us they will support increased protections for forest waters because they know the value of clean and abundant water. They know we cannot afford to spend millions of dollars to treat dirty water caused by clearcutting on steep slopes and by streams. Clarno asserts that the initiative is confusing, but the voters we spoke with understood that it would protect forests and the water they provide.

We think that, given the chance, voters in Tillamook County and many other rural counties will vote for protecting forests and the water they provide. We are for “logging,” and we are for doing better –– for our drinking water, the fish and our communities.