Guest Opinion by Lisa Arkin
In their recent opinion column advocating more logging on public lands, James E. Brown, Hal Salwasser and Ted Lorensen argued that weakening environmental standards on federal public lands in Western Oregon to match Oregon’s weak state Forest Practices Act would produce better “…environmental and economic outcomes…” Missing from their argument was any mention of the clearcutting that takes place under the Act or the common use of toxic herbicides and pesticides.
The authors were promoting federal legislation designed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden that would essentially privatize over 1.5 million acres of publicly owned land in western Oregon and aggressively log it to generate revenue for a handful of Oregon county budgets. Instead of the strong federal protections these forest lands currently have, the bill would subject them to the kind of industrial clearcutting that is commonplace under Oregon’s antiquated State Forest Practices Act.
When that act was adopted in 1971, it was touted as a model for environmental stewardship. Today it is woefully outdated, with standards far weaker than neighboring states like Washington, Idaho and California. This is particularly true in regards to the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides.
After clearcutting a forest, state rules allow for the aggressive use of chemicals to kill species like alder, ceanothus, and madrone — plants that are beneficial to wildlife, but of little value for logging. Pesticides are sprayed to kill weeds and native plants and maximize the regrowth of profitable trees. When these chemicals are sprayed they don’t stay on the clearcut. They can often wash into nearby rivers or, worse, drift onto neighboring landowners’ property.
The residents of Triangle Lake, west of Eugene, provide a disturbing example. For years, people in this small community complained about logging operations and the aerial spraying of pesticides, which resulted in a chemical mist drifting onto their property. Finally, in 2012 an investigation by the Oregon Health Authority and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control discovered that the residents of this community had high levels of two toxic pesticides, atrazine and 2,4-D, in their bloodstream. The agency’s draft report suggests that the chemicals, sprayed from air by private logging operations, are drifting as much as four miles to contaminate the bodies and property of Triangle Lake residents. Yet because the Oregon Forest Practices Act provides no protective pesticide buffer zone for rural homes, there is little the families can do to stop the spraying.
This summer, residents of Florence, on the Oregon Coast, had a similar experience when they learned that the owners of nearby private lands have plans to spray a cocktail of herbicides on an area across the street from their homes and adjacent to their town’s public drinking water source. Ironically, the owners of the logging operation live in California, where such spraying would be illegal.
The risks to Oregon’s environment were highlighted in a recent study of the Siuslaw Watershed conducted by Beyond Toxics. Three years of data provided by the Oregon Department of Forestry (2009 –2011) revealed that the total acres of clearcuts in this area increased by an astounding 56 percent. Every clear-cut was sprayed from the air with a toxic tank mix of pesticides multiple times, resulting in a 99 percent increase in chemicals used. Helicopters doing the aerial herbicide applications sprayed within 60 feet of drinking water sources, lakes and salmon spawning streams.
Brown, Salwasser and Lorensen may be correct in arguing that applying our weak forest practices act to public federal lands would be a boon for logging interests. But it would be a tragedy for Oregon.
Our state should be doing the opposite — modernizing our outdated forest practices act to more closely mirror strong federal standards. Banning clearcutting and eliminating the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides near homes and drinking water would be a good start. If Brown, Salwasser and Lorensen truly want better “…environmental and economic outcomes…” for Oregon, they should get behind such an effort.
Lisa Arkin is executive director of Eugene-based Beyond Toxics.