I am a wildlife biologist. Recently I spent six months researching how our native Oregon fish and several species of birds are faring on Oregon Department of Forestry managed lands. I tramped through the forests in an effort to describe populations of critters and their habitat. I also work with my neighbors to protect Williams Creek, a salmon and native trout tributary providing cold, clean water to the Applegate and Rogue.

I observe first-hand the beauty of Oregon’s land, but one of the most tragic scenes I have actually witnessed was standing on a mountaintop, clearcut by machines, bare of the plant communities that provide wildlife habitat, and then looking out to the west to see log-ladened ships exporting our unmilled logs — and jobs — overseas.

The situation is worsened by current forest management practices allowing herbicide sprays to be applied by aircraft, saturating Western Oregon’s public and private forestlands to suppress all vegetation that might compete with the trees grown for timber production. This is harder to see and document, and pesticides attract less attention than the actual physical scarring of the land. I see the forests of Western Oregon are drowning in massive amounts of herbicide spray applied on acre after acre of clearcut land.

I know this to be a deadly, ominous yet invisible threat because much of it is being done in the headwaters of many streams in Oregon. Biological research confirms these chemicals can persist in soil and can take weeks to years to break down. Through run-off during the rain or by drifting through the air, herbicides can reach rivers, lakes and streams, where they concentrate in the fatty tissue of fish.

The familiar line that the herbicides that reach our waters are in too small amounts to really harm anything ignores the fact that pesticides are sold as compound products, not single ingredients. There’s a cocktail of pesticides in our streams. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that “… salmon died when exposed to combinations of pesticides that were not deadly when tested in individual trials.” Certain pesticides (like the endocrine disruptor atrazine, an herbicide sprayed repeatedly through Western Oregon forests from helicopters can have profound impacts at critical windows in a fish’s life — or a person’s life for that matter.

Our priorities are upside down if Oregon’s policies encourage chemically intensive forestry for the purpose of reducing growing cycles to make it possible to cut trees more frequently beyond the land’s carrying capacity — all because private timber companies want ever bigger profits by exporting laws overseas.

Communities and in fact entire nations worldwide are banning the use of such poisons, especially broadcasting them from the air. The potential for long-term damage is too great. How is it that Oregon still allows it? Each of us should ask our governor and the Oregon Board of Forestry to enact policies that promote nontoxic forestry practices, create sensible jobs and protect the people’s health.

In fact, you can join many others who want to send this message to the governor on Saturday, Feb. 11, when rural residents from Josephine, Jackson, Lane, Lincoln and Benton counties will rally to demand help from the state to protect families from chemical trespass. Josephine and Jackson Counties Rally — meet at Lake Selmac Trout Shelter at 11 a.m. (info at www.PreciousDirt.org or www.BeyondToxics.org) or call 541-465-8860.

Daryl Jackson lives in Williams.