by John Kober
Like everyone in the Northwest, I am struck by the tragedy of the Oso landslide in Washington, and my condolences go out to the victims and their families.
The unfortunate reality is that this kind of catastrophic landslide could happen in Oregon, too. In fact, we’re at even greater risk of landslides because Oregon allows more aggressive logging than Washington does. But there is something we can do.
Some of you may have read in the Seattle Times about the logging that occurred on the hill above the Oso landslide. There has been logging there since the 1940s, and each harvest was followed by a landslide within a decade. The most recent slide was the largest and most deadly. Logging by itself did not cause the landslide. There were a combination of factors including heavy rains and unstable soils. But logging certainly did not help. Unfortunately, we will never know for sure what role logging played in the slide because neither federal nor state agencies have dedicated funding to analyze the causes. One widow of a victim in the slide has asked the state to do everything in its power to prevent future slides, including ensure that logging rules are adequate and enforced, according to news reports. Several families are suing the state of Washington.
News reports also show that the state of Washington knew the slope was unstable and yet still allowed logging above it. The hill would have been more stable with large old trees at the top soaking up some of the water; a mature Douglas fir can keep 30 percent of rain from even entering the ground.
The question is not whether to log, but where and how. Logging on steep slopes, unstable soils, and near streams does not make sense, from either an environmental or a public safety perspective. And yet Oregonians allow logging like it’s the 1970s. On private forestlands in Oregon, we allow logging on steep slopes, unstable soils, and close to streams with very little regard for clean water or the people, communities and businesses downstream that rely on that clean water.
I’m an Oregonian, so I hate to say this – but they do it better in Washington. Our neighbors to the north updated their forest practices in 2006, while Oregon is operating under rules created in 1971. Washington has better safeguards when it comes to logging and road building – for example, Washington requires streamside buffers, even on small seasonal streams to protect water quality and fish habitat. Conversely, Oregon allows logging much closer to streams and on unstable slopes and soils.
When it comes to logging practices, we must take health and human safety more seriously. The question is not whether a catastrophic landslide will happen in Oregon, but when. Now is the time to update the Oregon Forest Practices Act.