Seattle Times: "Weyerhaeuser agrees to review logging practices on landslide-prone lands"
Under a voluntary agreement with the state, Weyerhaeuser will review logging practices on southwest Washington lands where hundreds of landslides were unleashed during a December 2007 storm.
The review is expected to result in new restrictions that will put more land off-limits to clear-cutting.
It is part of a broader effort by the state Department of Natural Resources to reduce logging on unstable slopes, where slides could put public resources or public safety at risk.
"Weyerhaeuser is the first forest-products company willing to partner with the state of Washington and take steps to reduce the risk of landslides associated with major storm events," said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who hopes other timber companies will also review their harvest practices.
Goldmark criticized clear-cut logging practices on unstable slopes in his 2008 election campaign and is hoping for regulatory changes to improve protection of these areas.
But the timber industry is uneasy about rules that could put more land off-limits to logging, and it is uncertain what changes might eventually pass.
At a Friday meeting, the state Forest Practices Board balked at beginning one modest rule-making process, and postponed a decision until next month. Conservationists who attended the meeting are frustrated by the pace of change.
"Washingtonians want to know that the state is not letting timber companies clear-cut steep and unstable mountainsides that produce massive landslide," said Peter Goldman, of the Washington Forest Law Center. "We're disappointed that the state today postponed taking action ... "
The 2007 landslides were the major spur to the efforts.
A December storm triggered more than 730 landslides in the Upper Chehalis watershed that includes the Stillman Creek basin, according to a state aerial survey.
Those slides, documented in a Seattle Times special report, dumped mud and debris into swollen rivers that struck houses, barns and farm fields downstream. These floodwaters caused some $40 million in damages.
Weyerhaeuser has been logging in the Upper Chehalis under a watershed plan approved by the state in 1994.
In 2001, the state had approved a new rule that more strictly defined the kinds of unstable slopes where logging could be limited. But in areas that already had watershed plans, such as the Chehalis basin, a loophole appeared to exempt logging companies from that rule.
Further state analysis documented the extent of the loophole in 52 watershed plans scattered across the state forests. The analysis found that 39 percent of the logging prescriptions for unstable slopes in these watersheds lacked sufficient details.
State officials say that—even without regulatory changes—they no longer allow the flawed prescriptions to gain an exemption from the 2001 rule.
Under the new voluntary agreement, Weyerhaeuser will use the 2001 rule to identify unstable slopes in the Upper Chehalis watersheds in areas where slides could put public safety or public resources at risk.
The company could opt to put some of those areas off-limits to logging, or put them through an extensive review process that includes consultation with the state Department of Natural Resources and other agencies. The review process will include the use of new technology such as an optical remote sensing technology.
"It should lead to better detection of unstable slopes, and that may lead to some areas we may not harvest," said Anthony Chavez, a Weyerhaeuser spokesman.