Oregon’s forest practices harm fish, sully water — Eugene Register-Guard

by Greg Haller — August 5, 2015 — Eugene Register-Guard guest editorial —

Recently, I drove through rush-hour traffic to Salem and sat through a six-hour hearing at the Board of Forestry in hopes that, at the end of the day, the board would follow the science and protect fish from warming waters.

Instead, the Board punted. Apparently they need more time to consider the overwhelming scientific evidence that salmon and other fish need significantly wider buffers of standing trees along streams to provide shade and keep water cool. .

The Oregon Board of Forestry has a duty to ensure state forest practices meet state water quality standards, and last week, they failed. The board has seen the science. Buffers of standing trees along streams on private forests need to be at least 100 feet wide to keep water cool for fish and meet the temperature standard. However, the most protective option that the Board considered was a 90-foot no-cut buffer, which the Department of Forestry’s own analysis showed would allow violations of the water quality standard 50 percent of the time. Why was the Board even considering options that will fail to keep streams cool?

At the hearing, the claims by industry were remarkable. They deny that fish populations are in trouble. They deny the need to comply with water quality standards. They deny that existing buffers are inadequate. They claim an enormous financial hardship if buffers are increased. But all the big companies that operate in Oregon also operate in Washington and California, states with greater protections, and are still able to make money with larger buffers. Why not here in Oregon too? Don’t fish, not to mention people, in Oregon deserve clean, cool water?

Whatever the Board decides, it will only affect a small percentage of streams in Oregon, on approximately 0.5 percent of Oregon’s private timberlands. Yet the Board is clearly uncomfortable with having to make a decision at all, and closed the session saying they will try to forge a consensus on new rules again this fall. Will they get bold and protect fish with at least 100-foot buffers? Or will they negotiate a package that all can agree on but that won’t ensure compliance with the applicable water quality standard? The Board has the science in hand, and it has heard from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Quality, Big Timber, little timber, conservationists, fisherman and those who want Oregon to reclaim its heritage as a progressive state with strong protections for fish and clean water. What other information do they need?

The spotlight of public scrutiny is growing brighter on the Oregon Forest Practices Act and Big Timber is going all-out to maintain the status quo. After the spectacular implosion of a very modest bill in the state legislature aimed at reforming the application of herbicides on private forests, the Board of Forestry will be judged as to whether it can implement real reform based on sound science to protect water quality in Oregon. If elected officials and politically appointed boards and commissions are unable to reform or enforce the outdated Oregon Forest Practices Act to protect fish, clean drinking water and human health, Oregonians will be forced to seek change in the courts or through the initiative process.

Greg Haller is the conservation director for Pacific Rivers.

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