The Oregonian: "Salmon habitat and water quality"
By Guest Columnists Christopher Winter, Bill Bakke and Jim Lichatowich Christopher Winter, Bill Bakke and Jim Lichatowich
The Oregonian's editorial "Timber country and you" (July 24) places the interest of the timber industry above the public's interest in clean water, wild salmon and healthy watersheds. The editorial ignored what science tells us about the impact of logging roads on the survival of wild salmon.
Those roads and stream crossings discharge large amounts of sediment pollution into salmon streams, degrading habitat and creating an impediment to the recovery of salmon across the West. A 2008 study prepared for the EPA confirmed that poorly maintained logging roads increase mortality of adult and juvenile salmon by increasing the amount of fine sediment in streams.
The recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, NEDC v. Brown, is a major step forward in addressing this long-standing problem. That decision will require the timber industry to get permits where they are discharging polluted stormwater from active logging roads directly to a river through a ditch or culvert. The permit program will apply to a small subset of logging roads that have the worst impacts on salmon habitat.
The court's decision in no way threatens the 25,100 jobs directly related to the timber industry (numbers from the Oregon Employment Department that conflict with the number of 125,000 claimed in the editorial). In response to the court's decision, a state-led permitting program would let local agencies such as Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality design permits for logging roads that take into account local conditions and proximity to salmon streams. The permitting process could recognize that the public has an interest in this issue and build in adequate accountability and transparency. Similar permit programs have been implemented all over the country for numerous industries, none of which have suffered dramatic job losses as a result.
Every Oregonian has a personal stake in clean water and salmon. We are investing billions of dollars in salmon recovery while at the same time we are being told to ignore one of the impediments to that goal. But it is more than just salmon recovery that is at stake; salmon-dependent communities and economies are also at risk.
The decision by the 9th Circuit Court will bring a long overdue measure of balance between two resource-extracting industries: timber harvesting and salmon fisheries. But there are those who oppose a balance and want to tilt the advantage back to the timber industry and let the salmon fisheries continue to bear the cost. Sen. Ron Wyden's proposed Clean Water Act exemption for the timber industry is clearly an attempt to circumvent the 9th Circuit's ruling and prevent any semblance of balance. It is an attempt to maintain the status quo, which has a century-long history of salmon impoverishment. It's the wrong policy and unfair to salmon-dependent communities and unfair to Oregon citizens who are spending so much of their time and money to recover local runs of native salmon.
Through its long history, The Oregonian's editorials have generally supported salmon, their wise management and their recovery. But in this case, it appears politics trumped science to the detriment of healthy rivers and salmon, both of which are important to the citizens of Oregon.
Chris Winter is an environmental attorney with the Crag Law Center who worked on the NEDC v. Brown case before the 9th Circuit. Bill Bakke is the executive director of the Native Fish Society. Jim Lichatowich is a fisheries biologist and author of the book "Salmon Without Rivers -- A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis."