The early 1970’s marked the beginning of the way Oregonians (and the rest of America) saw their environment. Change was brewing, not just regarding the environment, but also on numerous political and social issues around that time. Vietnam War protests were heating up and becoming more violent. Cigarette advertising was banned from Television. Woodsy the Owl joined Smokey the Bear at the US Forest Service. Not only were we reminded that only we could prevent forest fires, but we should also give a hoot and not pollute.
Tom McCall was the Governor of Oregon at the time and was pushing his message about the environment. The “bottle bill” was enacted, SOLV was in it’s infancy, and the Willamette River was being cleaned up after decades of being treated as a sewage dump.
In 1971, the Oregon Forest Practices Act (FPA) was adopted and went into effect in 1972. The Act covered most forest operations and provided protection for soil, air, water, fish, wildlife as well as forest resources. The Oregon Board of Forestry, comprised of mostly timber industry professionals, was given authority to oversee that the new rules and regulations were followed.
It was a pretty big deal, for it’s time, and it was a good start. In fact, it’s still highly touted today. Here’s what the state trade association – Associated Oregon Loggers, Inc. – has to say about the FPA on it’s website currently:
“Oregon’s forest law – the nation’s first in 1971 – is an international model for environmental protection. More than 50 State of Oregon foresters oversee logging contractor compliance with the Oregon Forest Practices Act and Rules (FPA) on non-federal forests. Not only does Oregon’s FPA forest law ensure resources are protected during logging operations, the FPA ensures continuous tree growing, harvesting, and planting – keeping our forests and industry sustainable.”
However, it’s my opinion, that an industry that is granted the authority to oversee itself is not a best practice. Former Weyerhaeuser Company field forest engineer and Professor, Timber Harvesting Extension Specialist at Oregon State University, John Garland wrote in his paper on the History of the FPA 1972-1994 that:
“The forest industry was a major supporter of the FPA and saw it as a way to control the “few bad actors” in the forestry sector. The fundamental thrust of the FPA was on prevention of damages before they occurred through acceptable practices rather than punishing violators after the fact. While the punitive elements of the FPA were present, the major emphasis of the FPA was on pre-operation planning, education of operators, and cooperative efforts. The overall administration of the FPA was given to the Oregon Department of Forestry under the guidance of rules promulgated by the Board of Forestry.”
It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that the structure of the Board of Forestry began to change. The board membership began to shift from primarily Timber Industry Executives to a broader sampling of interested parties. Soon after, major revisions to the FPA were enacted. Actual enforcement of the rules and regulations, along with civil penalties for violation were brought to bear. It took 16 years to make violation of the rules a crime, rather than simply receiving a scathing letter!
The 1980’s saw a flurry of activity – numerous amendments and adjustments were made to the act to include protections of wetlands, riparian areas, slide areas, scenic corridors, stream buffers, road construction, etc.
In the early 1990’s, several more revisions were made for protection of wildlife – birds primarily. These include the Spotted Owl, Bald Eagle, Osprey and Blue Heron nesting areas. Stricter enforcement and civil penalty rules also went into effect.
There is a 186 page document called the Oregon Forest Protection Laws that illustrates how to follow the FPA rules and regulations. Personally, I think it’s a great document. It is simple to understand, even for someone who is not remotely connected to the timber industry. After looking it over, I took a little drive to the more recently logged area near home.
The area logged was approximately 24 acres near Alder Creek, 800 feet along the creek was logged on one side, 500 feet on the other. This area is less than a half mile from the North Santiam River. It’s easy to pick out the creek from the aerial view below.
From what I could tell, they followed the rules on this operation very well. The skid roads were built appropriately. The old snag was left in place, a big tree was left in-tact, the creek buffer was followed, there was a stand of trees left between the next cut for slide prevention and the area had been re-planted. Here’s a close-up of the creek, a tributary that dumps into the North Santiam near Dewitt Falls. The blue line is the center of the creek, the red lines are the outer edges of the buffer.
Leaning or fallen trees were left (or placed) over the creek and streamside vegetation was undisturbed. I didn’t go so far as to measure anything, but it appeared to have been done all within the general rules for a watershed of this size and classification (Small, Type N = non-fish bearing / no domestic water use). Where this creek enters the North Santiam, it drops over a 40-50 foot high rock face. Therefore, no anadromous fish use it for spawning as there is a natural barrier to migration. If I read the regulations correctly, this being a small, Type N waterway within the Cascade region, they weren’t required to leave anything at all, but chose to follow the general guidelines anyway.
Back to the timeline. In 1997, some serious attention was given to anadromous fish species when the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds (OPSW) was established. As with the early days of the FPA, the OPSW doesn’t really have any teeth. There is no penalty for non-compliance. But it’s a start. It is a voluntary program that rewards landowners for doing the right thing – leaving buffers and not polluting the watersheds. There is a great website out there that plots all of the various watershed protection/rehabilitation projects here in Oregon. It’s an interactive map based tool with loads of information. It shows just how much progress has been made, details the projects and the participants. Very cool if you’re into that sort of thing!
In 1998, the State of Oregon was notified by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the US Environmental Protection Agency that they had not provided a fully acceptable plan as required to comply with the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990. A big part of those regulations had to do with protection of waterways, specifically by the agriculture and forestry industries.
In December of 2013, those same federal agencies provided a “notice” of intent to find that the State of Oregon had not fully satisfied the conditions. And then earlier this year (January 2015) a formal letter stating that Oregon was not in compliance was issued.
As a side-note, all 29 US States and the 4 US Territories that border a coast were to submit a plan for compliance with the NOAA and EPA guidelines in 1998. Oregon wasn’t singled out by any means. To date, 20 of those states and all 4 territories have received approval, 9 states have “pending” full approval, but no letter stating such as yet. Oregon is the only one of the 33 that has received notice of non-compliance.
For me, the following statement from the non-compliance letter is what really hit home:
“While Oregon has made some progress towards meeting this condition, the State has not identified or applied additional management measures that fully address the program weaknesses the federal agencies noted in the January 13, 1998, Findings for Oregon’s Coastal Nonpoint Program. Specifically, the State has not implemented or revised management measures, backed by enforceable authorities, to (1) protect riparian areas for medium-sized and small fish-bearing (type “F”) streams and non-fish-bearing (type “N”) streams; (2) address the impacts of forest roads, particularly on so-called “legacy” roads; (3) protect high-risk landslide areas; and (4) ensure adequate stream buffers for the application of herbicides, particularly on non-fish-bearing streams.”
To summarize: We (Oregon) are told in 1998 that our voluntary “Plan” is not enough and we have 2 years to fix it. Then 15 years later, we are reminded that it’s still not enough and we have two more years to comply. And finally, 2 years go by and we get the official notice of non-compliance.
One bright spot in the notice is that over the past 17 years, the agriculture industry has met their part of the compliance requirements. Good job Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Farmers! The Department of Forestry and the Timber Industry have fallen short and needs to do more, at least as far as NOAA and the EPA are concerned. Professional Tree Huggers agree with that assessment as well (duh).
Being a newly labeled Tree Hugger, I’m still developing an opinion and haven’t rushed to take sides. But I am inclined to believe that Oregon can do more. We’ve given the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds 17 years to do it’s thing. And although major steps have been taken, there is no indication that we’re making much progress when it comes to getting Wild Salmon and Steelhead off the endangered or threatened species list. Not that the timber industry is solely to blame for declining fish runs, but it does have an impact.
I look at the photo above and wonder what was gained by logging right up to the creek? Did that equate to 1, 2 or 3 more truck loads of logs? Obviously there was an economic gain to be had. It may have added another day to the project, meaning another days wages to the loggers/equipment operators doing their job. It meant a quantity of dimensional lumber and wood product for the mills to process and put on the market for licensed contractors to buy and use in building someone’s home. Extrapolate that out over 100’s of timber harvests, near 1,000’s of creeks, in the millions of acres of Oregon Forests and it becomes a pretty big deal.
But I also look at the photo above and wonder what was lost by logging right up to the creek. Did that equate to a 1/2, 1, or 2 degree increase in water temperature in the creek? Has more sediment washed into the creek. Did more herbicides, pesticides and petroleum products make their way into the creek because there was not enough of a buffer? What is/was the impact to endangered fish species in the North Santiam just 1/2 mile away? Extrapolate that out over 100’s of timber harvests, near 1,000’s of creeks, in the millions of acres of Oregon Forests and it becomes a pretty big deal too.
Our neighbors to the north at the Washington Forest Protection Association have a decent proposal out there for consideration. I think it just needs to apply to all streams, not just fish bearing ones. This looks fairly reasonable. I’m sure it’s not what the “granola” folks want, but it’s a step forward and Washington is going to be in compliance with NOAA and EPA requirements.
I assume the NOAA and EPA Findings will create some activity by the State of Oregon. Committees will be formed, hearings will be held. Folks from all sides of the issue will speak, debate, holler and scream. There may be protests and sit-ins. I might buy myself a tie-dye t-shirt and hold up a sign that says something about protecting wild fish. I might even go so far as to wear flip-flops.
Tight lines and Keep em Wet!