GRANTS PASS — Oregon’s state Board of Forestry is working on balancing a healthy timber industry with healthy salmon runs.
The board will vote today on taking the next step in developing rules governing how many trees must be left standing along streams to keep the water shaded and cool enough for salmon to survive.
It would be the first change to the riparian protections of the Oregon Forest Practices Act since 1994.
The question was raised by a 2011 study that found temperatures were getting warmer in salmon streams on state-regulated timberlands in the Coast Range.
The Department of Forestry is recommending the board go forward with analyzing the different logging prescriptions that would be needed to meet the cool water protection standards for small- and medium-sized streams with salmon, steelhead and bull trout, and their economic impact.
A final decision is months away and will take into account whether the changes create too much of a hardship on the timber industry.
Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition says the study makes it clear that Oregon will have to start leaving more trees standing along streams to meet the cool water standard set by the state Environmental Quality Commissions, and some form of financial assistance for small landowners may be needed to soften the blow.
She added that Washington state logging rules use the same cold water protection standards set in Oregon, and the timber industry is viable there.
In testimony to the board over the past year, representatives of the timber industry have urged approaching the Environmental Quality Commission to change the cool water standards — a position opposed by the Department of Forestry — and raised questions about how long-lasting the effects are of logging on stream temperatures.
Katrina McNitt, president of the Oregon Forest Industry Council, said while the study showed water temperatures rose after logging, they never exceeded the standard for protecting salmon.
The RipStream study by the department and Oregon State University looked at 33 stream sites on state and private lands in the Coast Range dating to 2002. The study found an average increase of 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit after logging on private lands.
There was no increase on state timberlands, where more trees are left standing along streams. The temperature increases were prompted by less shade thrown on the water by trees.