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Oregonians demanding stronger protections for state’s water turn to the ballot

Oregonians demanding stronger protections for state’s water turn to the ballot

Citizen initiative rebukes Oregon politicians’ repeated failures to modernize forest laws

Oregon Wild

Micha Elizabeth, Myrtle Glen Farm – 541.572.3295
Sean Stevens – 503.283.6343 ext 211

Salem, OR — July 10, 2019

The Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act was filed today with the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State for the November 2020 election ballot. The initiative will help bring protections for rivers and streams in Oregon’s forests up to the level of neighboring states to better safeguard clean water and forest communities.

The effort is supported by conservation and wildlife groups across the state and three chief petitioners who have suffered from lax forest waters protections on Oregon’s private and state forestlands.

“The water that I drink comes from a stream above our farm that is completely unprotected from logging and was clearcut right up to the edge a few years ago,” explains Chief Petitioner Micha Elizabeth who lives in Coos County. “Dirt and pesticides from that clearcut runoff directly into the water my family and business rely on. We need modern laws that protect our streams and rivers so that more communities don’t lose their precious water supplies.”

Seventy percent of Oregon’s residents and communities draw their drinking water from rivers and streams that begin in a forest. But current logging practices threaten both the quantity and quality of water available because Oregon’s no-cut buffers around waterways are too small and in some cases non-existent. Companies spray toxic chemicals from the air two to four times after logging. These sprays can drift into rivers and streams, or be washed into waterways as runoff, putting people and wildlife at risk.

Chief Petitioner Kate Crump knows the consequences of Oregon’s industrial logging model all too well. Her Rockaway Beach community relies on the forest waters from Jetty Creek for their municipal water supply. After nearly 90% of the drinking watershed was clearcut and sprayed with pesticides in recent years, the community had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new water treatment to filter out the sediment and chemicals that were the direct result of the logging operations. She wants to see modern logging rules that prevent the things that happened in Rockaway Beach from hurting other small communities. As a professional fishing guide, Kate has also witnessed how logging has contributed to the continued decline of coastal salmon.

“People need water and fish need water – it’s as simple as that,” said Crump. “Our weak laws are pushing people and wildlife to a tipping point and we desperately need to update our laws to keep up with the best science before it’s too late.”

The Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act will increase buffers next to forest rivers and streams to the level of Washington state. It will also increase buffers for logging in areas identified as high risk for landslides, and prohibit aerial spray of pesticides within a 500 foot distance of forest rivers, streams, dwellings, and schools.

Along with the Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act, chief petitioners filed two additional initiatives that specifically target the aerial spray of toxic chemicals and expanding stream buffer protections. Communities from across the state have pleaded with regulators and lawmakers for years to modernize Oregon’s weak forest laws and better protect water. Unfortunately, time after time, the logging industry – which donates more to politicians in Oregon than any other state – has made sure those demands go unanswered. These reforms are long overdue.

Along with the three chief petitioners the following organizations support the Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act: Audubon Society of Portland, Beyond Toxics, CRAG Law Center, North Coast Communities for Watershed Protection, Oregon Wild, and Wild Salmon Center.

OREGON FOREST WATERS PROTECTION ACT SUMMARY

We need to secure Oregon’s water future by better protecting our forest waters.

Oregon’s climate is changing and our population is growing. Our water supplies face severe challenges. But outdated laws and lax regulation hamper our ability to respond to these challenges.

The overwhelming majority of Oregonians draw their drinking water from rivers and streams that begin in a forest. Our forest waters are essential to meet our needs and to sustain fish and wildlife. But current logging practices on state and private forestlands in Oregon threaten both the quality and quantity of our forest waters.

Oregon’s forest practices laws and rules are the weakest on the West Coast. We have smaller buffers to protect our streams from clearcut logging and weaker safeguards for logging in areas prone to landslides than neighboring states. We allow intensive spraying after clearcutting, which often results in the drift of toxic pesticides over forest waters. These practices expose our fresh water supplies to warming temperatures, logging debris and toxic chemicals.

Oregon’s forest management rules are controlled by a state Board of Forestry on which three of seven members are exempt from conflict of interest laws related to their ownership of forestlands or their financial connections to timber companies. There is too much conflict of interest allowed in the oversight and enforcement of even the relatively lenient forest practice laws now in effect.

It’s time to update our forest water protections and ensure that decisions affecting the management of forest watersheds are no longer compromised by conflicts of interest.
The Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act will update and strengthen protections for our forest waters
The Oregon Forest Waters Protection Act is a citizen initiative proposed for the November 2020 ballot that will update and strengthen protection of Oregon’s forest waters by:

  • Establishing the protection of rivers, streams and other forest waters as a primary feature of the state’s forest management laws.

The Act will improve existing forest management laws and regulations in three ways:

  • It will expand the areas in which clearcut logging is prohibited adjacent to forest waters to 100 feet for larger streams and streams that provide drinking water, and to 50 feet for smaller streams which currently have only weak and inadequate protections.
  • It will prohibit the aerial spraying of pesticides within 500 feet of all forest waters as well as dwellings and schools.
  • It will limit logging in high landslide hazard locations to ensure that forest waters are not exposed to preventable landslides from logging activities.

The Act will also require timber companies to notify nearby landowners prior to aerial spraying on forestlands and will require worker safety standards for the hand application of pesticides on forestlands.

To ensure effective and balanced implementation, the Act will:

  • Minimize the impact on small tract forestland owners if more than 20% of their total acreage would be subject to the Act’s streamside logging buffers.
  • Redirect a portion of harvest taxes to fund enforcement of the Act and protection of forest waters and dwellings in wildfire hazard zones.
  • Direct the Board of Forestry to enact rules to enforce and maintain consistency with the purposes of the Act and to take into account the probable negative effects of climate change on the quality and quantity of forest waters.
  • Authorize the State Forester to approve alternative forest management and harvest plans to mitigate the risk of fire in areas adjacent to forest waters and to allow streamside restoration work;
  • Allow the State Forester to suspend rules related to the Act in the event of emergencies that pose hazards to public health, safety or property;
  • Eliminate conflicts of interest by members of the Board of Forestry and by any other public officials in rule making affecting the implementation of this Act and the protection of forest waters.
  • Require the Secretary of State’s Division of Audits to conduct biennial financial and performance audits regarding the effectiveness of the Act, including a survey of forest water protections in effect in neighboring states and consideration of the expected impacts of climate change on forest waters.

FAQs

Why do we need this initiative?

Oregon’s laws and rules for the protection of forest waters are outdated and ineffective, allowing streamside clearcut logging and aerial spray practices that are prohibited in Washington, Idaho and California.

As a result, water sources in communities such as Rockaway Beach and Corbett have been contaminated with logging debris and dangerously diminished. Poorly-controlled aerial spraying of toxic pesticides has sickened people and their pets in communities adjacent to forest lands.
These effects are becoming more common, as our climate warms and as industrial logging continues in Oregon without the safeguards in effect in neighboring states.

How does this initiative change Oregon laws and rules governing forest practices that are now in effect?

This initiative builds on and strengthens key provisions of the Oregon Forest Practices Act and related rules that have failed to keep up with best practices established in other states.

For example, current law limits no-logging buffers to as little as 20 feet from the edge of most rivers and streams with fish, while most smaller headwaters streams can be logged to the water’s edge. This initiative expands the no-logging protection to 100 feet for larger rivers and streams and drinking water sources, and requires minimum buffers of 50 feet for smaller forest waters.

Current law prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides on forestlands when within 60 feet of larger forest waters, dwellings or schools but has no distance restriction on such spraying adjacent to most forest waters. This initiative would extend the prohibition of aerial spraying of pesticides to areas within 500 feet of all forest waters, dwellings and schools and would provide more effective advance notice of spraying to nearby residents.

Finally, although Oregon’s rules define and identify “high landslide hazard locations,” there is no requirement to limit logging that could threaten forest waters in such areas. This initiative requires the State Forester to determine that a proposed forest operation will not increase the risk of a landslide delivering sediment or debris to forest waters before it may go forward.

Were forestland owners and foresters consulted in drafting this initiative?

Yes. Over a period of more than a year, sponsors of this initiative met with and consulted with forestland owners and with forest scientists, shared early drafts of the initiative and incorporated their suggestions in our final language.

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