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The Oregonian: "Oregon must regulate logging roads to protect the state's water supply"

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June 20, 2012 -- Guest columnist Tom Wolf, chair of the Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited, on the importance of protecting Oregon's clean water.


By Guest Columnist Tom Wolf

More than residents of any other state, Oregonians know the value of healthy rivers. From the Clackamas to the Rogue, our rivers give us clean water to drink, economically valuable salmon runs, and the spectacular quality of life that brings tourism and investment to our state. Unfortunately, in their recent guest commentary, Oregon House Co-speakers Arnie Roblan and Bruce Hanna took a dim view of the benefits of healthy rivers and argued that industrial logging roads should be exempted from America's Clean Water Act ("Logging roads and pollution: Congress must protect water quality, forestry jobs," May 30). That is the wrong approach for Oregon's economy and the wrong approach for clean water.

Most Oregonians don't give much thought to logging roads. If you live in Portland, you are fortunate to have some of the cleanest, safest drinking water in the world -- provided by the Bull Run watershed, which flows off the western slopes of Mount Hood. Because Congress took action in 1999 to protect Bull Run from logging -- and mud flowing off logging roads -- current and future generations of Portland residents can enjoy clean, safe drinking without worrying about mudslides and silt.

Unfortunately, the protections provided to Bull Run are unique. Nearly every other river and stream in western Oregon is crisscrossed by dozens of logging roads. On federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in Oregon alone there are thousands of miles of logging roads. Thousands of miles more exist on state and private lands. Many of these roads are well designed and maintained. Unfortunately, many are not.

For groups such as Trout Unlimited, which is working to restore healthy rivers and bring back wild fish runs, these poorly managed logging roads are a big problem. Every fall and winter, these roads bleed millions of tons of mud and silt into our streams, smothering salmon eggs and burying spawning areas. Failing logging roads, and the mud and pollution they spew into our rivers, have been a major factor in the decline of wild salmon and steelhead -- particularly in Oregon's Coast Range. Under the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, taxpayers have spent millions on important projects to repair the damage done by poorly designed and maintained logging roads.

But the concerns of conservation advocates pale in comparison to those of rural Oregonians living downslope from clear-cuts and failing logging roads. When the fall rains come, many Oregon residents watch nervously upslope. They know that irresponsible logging operations and poorly maintained roads can generate mudslides that endanger both property and human life.

In their opinion column, Roblan and Hanna complained that the Clean Water Act should not apply to logging roads. They argued in favor of a proposal that would overturn a recent court ruling and grant the logging industry a special exemption from federal rules that protect healthy rivers and clean water. Because the logging industry has not had to obey such rules in the past, they argue, requiring them to develop management plans to protect clean water and minimize the pollution running off their roads in the future would constitute "unnecessary, rigorous" permit requirements.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Responsible logging operations already manage their roads up to modern standards, but unfortunately, not every logging company is responsible. The weak Oregon Forest Practices Act does little to help the situation, and all too often taxpayers are left with the bill for cleaning up the mess left behind by irresponsible logging operations.

Rather than complain about logging roads having to conform to the same clean water rules as construction sites -- and nearly every other industrial activity -- Roblan and Hanna should welcome the change. Clean water is among the most precious resources our state possesses, and every Oregonian -- including those who own logging operations -- has a moral responsibility to safeguard it.