Seattle Times: "Flood victims interested in helping, being helped — not finding a scapegoat"
Special to The Seattle Times
By any measure, the December flood in Lewis County was devastating for people, businesses — and, a way of life. Numerous agencies, businesses, groups and individuals are now assisting with the recovery.
Ten Western Washington counties received enough damage in the early-December storms to merit designation as federal disaster areas. But no place was hit harder than Lewis County. Families lost homes and livestock. Five records were set for rivers in the Chehalis basin. Bridges were washed out. Interstate 5 was closed for five days.
Floods are not uncommon here when heavy rains and melting snow turn rivers into raging torrents. But in Lewis County, this was one for the books. Exceptionally heavy rainfall localized in the Willapa Hills, which received as much as 20 inches of rain in 48 hours — several months worth of rain in two days. This resulted in a 500-year storm event, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Only now is the scope of this storm being revealed. The latest information from the USGS indicates that on Dec. 3, the peak Chehalis River flow near the town of Doty reached 63,100 cubic feet per second (cfs), more than doubling the previous record peak flow of 28,900 cfs in February 1996.
A broad-based study group is now looking at the factual data to determine all the causes of this disaster. Utilizing science to provide answers based on factual information makes great sense.
Private-forest landowners and timber-industry officials know that the right way to make decisions regarding public policy for forestlands is to use the best science, not just jump to rash conclusions based on political expediency.
The state's Forests and Fish Agreement, which provides the basis for timber-harvest rules to prevent erosion and protect fish habitat, requires decisions to be made on the best available science. That pact and its foundational parent, the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement, were born of years of discussions by representatives of federal and state agencies, local government, Native American tribes, large and small landowners and other stakeholders. The end result is Washington state has a set of forest practice rules that are among the most stringent in the country.
Unfortunately, some people with a political agenda are choosing to blame first, based on wild supposition, rather than wait for science to determine the causes of this flood and whether mistakes were made that contributed to the devastation it caused. They focus their blame on one clear-cut on private property, and assert that it was inappropriately approved by our state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Yes, there was a clear-cut from logging on a slope that eroded into the Chehalis River. But there were also fully-forested slopes that eroded into the river. In fact, it has been determined that there were more than 1,000 slides in the hills above the Chehalis River and surrounding areas, many in areas that had not been logged in decades. To date, no evidence has come to light that any clear-cut was approved inappropriately or "initiated" the flood.
The federal government has received a lot of criticism for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina. The contrast with our state's response is significant.
Gov. Christine Gregoire and Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland are leading the recovery effort. Members of our association have been working side by side with them and with DNR, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and disaster-response agencies from local and state government, as well as volunteers from all walks of life.
The people of Lewis County and the victims of this natural disaster are interested in helping and being helped, not looking for a scapegoat. When disaster strikes, people need to help people, and that's exactly what's happening. Donations of hay for farm animals and mobile homes for people who lost everything are coming in, but much more is needed.
It is possible that as a result of the scientific study on the December floods, the timber-harvest rules may need to be changed. If so, the changes will be based on the best available science, not the knee-jerk reaction of aspiring politicians or other critics who are looking for someone to blame. A thorough evaluation of what happened based on the best available science is the surest way to find the answers.
Mark Doumit is executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, www.wfpa.org, based in Olympia.