The Oregon Board of Forestry refused to take action to protect fish from warming streams at its July 23 meeting in Salem, leaving water quality in Oregon below state standards, and disappointing conservationists, fishing groups, and everyone who cares about clean water and healthy rivers.
“The Oregon Board of Forestry has a duty to meet state water quality standards, and today they failed,” said Pacific Rivers Conservation Director Greg Haller said.
The so-called RipStream study from 2003 clearly demonstrates that 120-foot buffers along small- and medium-sized streams are necessary to maintain enough shade and keep water cool for salmon and other fish. On July 23, the board only considered buffers of 70 feet or 90 feet, and even then failed to act.
Climate change exacerbates the problem, raising air and stream temperatures higher than ever before and causing severe drought throughout the region. Fish kills have been reported this year in numerous rivers throughout the state including the Willamette, Klamath, Umpqua, John Day, and Deschutes.
In addition, the board’s decision would have only applied to a small percentage of streams in Oregon – small and medium streams with salmon, steelhead, or bull trout. And when it comes to cool, clean water, every stream matters – perennial or seasonal, with fish or without.
Moreover, the board has yet to take up other issues affecting water quality on private forests, including use of pesticides and logging on steep slopes. Oregon’s standards are less protective of fish, wildlife, and human health than California, Washington, or Idaho. Oregon needs comprehensive reform on private industrial forests. Comprehensive reform is most likely to occur via the legislature.
Comprehensive reforms needed on Oregon’s private industrial forests include:
1) Adequate buffers on all streams, not just some.
2) More limits for logging on steel slopes prone to landslides and erosion.
3) Better rules and enforcement of rules regarding pesticide use.
Oregon allows use of toxic chemicals on private forests and does not disclose what is being sprayed in our drinking watersheds or when. These toxins often drift to unintended targets, such as streams, or worse yet, people. In one case on the Oregon Coast, toxins drifted into a health clinic, sickening already ill people. In another case, a forestry worker was repeatedly sprayed by toxic chemicals, and the protocols for protecting himself were not communicated. Now he spends much of his time coughing up blood.
The evidence of Oregon’s harmful practices is shocking. While many see glimpses of clearcuts through the trees while traveling , few truly understand the immensity of the problem. In some areas, nearly entire watersheds have been clearcut – mountains, valleys, streams and drinking water sources left with nary a tree standing, then sprayed repeatedly with toxic chemicals via helicopter.
Now is the time to modernize logging on Oregon’s private forests.