Oregon’s Forest Laws Are The Weakest in the Pacific Northwest

Private timber-producing forestlands in Oregon are managed according to the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) first adopted in 1971. The OFPA’s conservation measures are the weakest in the Pacific Northwest. Shortcomings of the law have led to environmental damage and human health concerns.

• Abundant clear-cutting and short logging rotations have turned diverse forests into tree farms.
• Excessive use of herbicides and other chemicals has poisoned land, air, and water, and destroyed forest understories.
• Careless road construction has led to unnatural peak streamflows, landslides, erosion/sedimentation, and blocked passage for fish and wildlife.
• Failure to avoid landslide-prone areas and adequately protect riparian areas has damaged waterways.
• Irresponsible logging has left inadequate habitat for wildlife, while replanting has created dense plantations that pose high fire risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has ruled that Oregon’s state logging rules don’t do enough to protect fish habitat and drinking water in Oregon’s streams and rivers to comply with the Clean Water Act. Rules under the OFPA fail to adequately address runoff from roads, potential damage from landslides, buffers for streams, and herbicide pollution. The Federal government has denied $1.2 million in funding because the State has failed to address these issues.

Inadequate Herbicide/Pesticide Rules

Oregon’s weak state laws pertaining to private industrial logging operations encourages the aerial application of toxic herbicides to suppress vine maple, alder, and other native plants – everything other than merchantable Douglas-fir trees.

The timber industry’s practice of using helicopters to deliver toxic chemicals is generating growing concern and opposition from rural residents over chemical exposure. Aerial spraying can allow chemicals with known adverse health effects, such as glyphosate, 2,4-D (a chemical component of agent orange), and atrazine, to drift long distances. It can also result in chemical run-off that puts drinking water, salmon and wildlife at risk.

Major problems with Oregon’s herbicide spraying laws include:

• A miniscule 60 ft. required no-spray buffer around the walls of homes and schools and the edges of streams and wetlands.
• No required advance notification before spraying near homes and communities.
• The public—including Oregonians who have been exposed to potentially toxic chemicals through aerial spraying—are forbidden from accessing details on what chemicals were used.

Legislation in 2015, the Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act, was proposed to:

• Improve notice to community members receive regarding aerial sprays, allowing vulnerable residents to stay indoors, shelter their animals, or leave the area;
• Direct Oregon’s Board of Forestry and Department of Agricultre to create suitable buffers that will protect human health, clean drinking water, and fish habitat;
• Improve public access to information after an aerial application, allowing individuals to obtain appropriate medical treatment.

Read more: Oregon’s Industrial Forests and Herbicide UseA Dec. 2013 Report from Beyond Toxics

Other Efforts to Reform Forestry Practices 

Aside from legislative reform efforts, many groups are working to seek reforms in a variety of ways – from holding regulatory agencies accountable to legal requirements to protect streams, to doing public education.

Ballot Initiatives

After the legislature failed to act to limit aerial spraying in 2015, Beyond Toxics and Oregon Wild decided to work with concerned citizens to file three initiative proposals for potential inclusion on the 2016 ballot.

The citizen initiatives are aimed at protecting Oregon’s drinking water from aerial pesticide sprays and other logging practices that threaten public health and safety. All three initiatives would stop aerial pesticide sprays in any watershed that is a source of drinking water, and near any home or school. One would also limit clearcut logging on steep slopes susceptible to landslides; and the final proposal would require leaving 50 trees per acre in western Oregon, 15 in eastern Oregon – putting an end to the damaging practice of clearcut logging.

The initial required signatures have been submitted to the Secretary of State for verification, and next steps for the proposals are being evaluated. More info and text of IP 78, IP 79, and IP 80.

Community Efforts

From making and promoting films like Behind the Emerald Curtain (see Pacific Rivers), to educating local citizens on the northern Coast impacted by logging in their drinking watersheds (see Rockaway Beach Citizens for Watershed Protection), to protecting rivers from pesticide impacts in Douglas County (see Umpqua Watersheds) — communities throughout western Oregon are coming together to seek change in logging practices that pollute their drinking water, destroy their local landscapes, and decrease their quality of life.



Read published articles about the problems with Oregon’s forestry practices and herbicide spraying