This week, the Oregon Board of Forestry decided to strengthen the state’s logging regulations to better protect water quality in streams. The board voted Wednesday to revise the state Forest Practices Act to make sure streams on private timberland have enough tree cover to stay cold for fish.
OPB’s Ecotrope blogger Cassandra Profita spoke with Geoff Norcross Friday on the issue.
How does logging affect stream temperature?
Logging can remove some of the trees that shade the water and keep it cool. Cold water is really important for salmon and trout. So important, that the state has a cold-water standard. And the State Forest Practices Act is the law that tells logging companies how to protect water and fish on private land. It requires logging companies to leave a buffer of uncut trees along the streams to provide shade and keep the river’s ecosystem intact. But there’s evidence now that the buffer isn’t big enough.
What does the evidence show?
The first results of a nine-year study came out earlier this year. What they show is that a couple years after logging, the water was more than a degree warmer in streams on private timberland. That’s exceeding the state’s cold-water standards. But it wasn’t the logging companies’ fault. They were following the Forest Practices Act. Meanwhile, in similar streams on state forestland, where loggers have to leave more uncut trees along the water, the temperatures were lower.
So reducing logging near streams should solve the problem?
That’s the idea. But Dave Powers, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional manager for forests, said that solution is actually overdue in Oregon. He says Washington and California have two to three times the stream protection Oregon has on its private timberlands. For example, Washington has 50 foot no-cut zones around streams while Oregon’s Forest Practices Act only requires 20 feet.
“Stream protection particularly for small and medium streams is something the EPA has identified for 10 years as something that needed attention in Oregon. States to the north and south have adjusted their rules, and now Oregon is following suit,” Powers said.
Will the new rules put Oregon in the clear as far as the EPA is concerned?
Actually, no. Powers said there are two other problems his agency has found with Oregon’s Forest Practices Act that these new rules won’t solve. They have to do with logging in areas that are prone to landslides – because that can dump a lot of sediment into streams. And the other issues is legacy logging roads, which funnel dirty stormwater into streams.
What do Oregon’s forest regulators say to the EPA’s criticism?
Forestry Board Chairman John Blackwell said state forestry is getting along just fine with state water quality regulators. And he had this response to the EPA’s criticism:
“Heavy regulation is one of the main contributors to forest land being converted to other uses. We’re really committed to keeping forestlands in Oregon productive. Keeping them in forest use. And to do that it requires working with landowners and assisting them and not regulating them out of business. I’d say that’s the difference in philosophy between what we’re doing and what the Feds would choose to do,” Blackwell said.
When will we see the effects of the new rules the forestry board voted on this week?
The new rules haven’t even been drawn up yet, but we should know more in April. That’s when the department of forestry staff will be presenting some options to the board. Between now and then, there’s going to be a lot of discussion about how to design regulations that ensure cold water in streams without doing too much harm to forestry businesses.