Buffer zone rules that protect streams from the effects of logging are getting an upgrade for the first time in 25 years.
The rule change will affect a number of local forest owners, as more than 20 percent of the state's 10.5 million acres of private forestland is located in the Coast Range. The new rule will apply only to private forestland — not state or federal lands — and only applies to small and medium streams known for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
Currently, Oregon Department of Forestry rules restrict logging within 50 feet of small streams and 70 feet of medium streams. The new rules would expand that buffer zone to 60 feet for small streams and 80 feet for medium streams. Limited logging would be allowed in those areas.
Trees near streams shade water, maintaining cool temperatures necessary for fish and their eggs to thrive. Some streamside trees also end up falling into the water, providing necessary building blocks for quality fish habitat with ample pools and cover. When trees near streams are logged, the water heats up and makes a harsh environment for Oregon's fish and their eggs.
While the new rule appears to be just a 10-foot difference, the change also includes a rule that requires more trees to be left standing in a "well distributed" manner throughout the whole buffer. While the rule currently in place calls for 50- and 70-foot buffers, it's possible for landowners to comply by leaving a narrow 20-foot no-harvest area bordering streams and clearcutting the rest of the buffer outside of that.
The new rules would maintain the current ban on all logging within 20 feet of streams. Trees left outside the 20-foot strip but still inside the buffer zone must be 8 inches or more in diameter. In addition, 40-foot buffers on the north side will be allowed on some streams running in the east-west direction.
While the proposed buffers are an improvement, environmentalists still think they fall short and are asking the public to voice their concerns.
"The new rule is still inadequate, it's just less bad than the current rule," said Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition (OSPC), who thinks allowing even limited logging starting at 20 feet outside streams "is carelessly close."
Scurlock said Department of Forestry analyses — consistent with other scientific findings — show an ideal buffer would fall between 90 and 120 feet. She also said the proposed new rules don't adequately protect fish habitat because they ignore advice from the Environmental Protection Agency by not increasing water protection far enough upstream.
More than 90 percent of forest landowners won't be affected by the new rule —and those that are will see the new rules affect an increase of .5 percent of their land.
For those more heavily impacted, there is an exception in the new rules that would allow continued logging closer than 60 to 80 feet. "Logging should never be allowed to harm public waters and threatened and endangered species," an OSPC document states.
The Oregon Board of Forestry is accepting comments on this issue from the public though 5 p.m. March 1, asking for wider buffers.
By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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