Wider stream buffers sought for southwest Oregon

Advocates for wild fish and clean water want the state's top environmental managers to apply new Oregon Department of Forestry rules that expand streamside riparian protection rules on Western Oregon's private and commercial forestlands to southwest Oregon.

Forrest English, program director for Ashland-based Rogue Riverkeeper, said Gov. Kate Brown or the state Environmental Quality Commission should step in and enact wider no-cut buffers to shade fish-bearing streams and provide other benefits for wild salmon and other inhabitants.

English said the Siskiyou Mountains region was improperly left off those new buffers that will be applied to the rest of Western Oregon once the rules to put the board's November policy vote in action are written.

Most fish-bearing streams will see the no-cut boundary extended from 20 feet to as much as 80 feet on each side on private and commercial forestland regulated by ODF. English said data provided to the board show that extending buffers to 120 feet will ensure streams meet water-quality standards.

The EQC, which sets policy for the state Department of Environmental Quality, should do so because it's on the hook for ensuring Oregon streams meet Clean Water Act standards, which English believes can't be ensured without those changes.

"The question is, are the EQC and the governor going to correct them on those defects, or is someone else going to have to do it for them?" English told the Mail Tribune.

English said his group has not yet decided whether it will sue ODF should those changes not come about.

Richard Whitman, Brown's natural resources policy director, said there is a process by which the EQC could put pressure on the Board of Forestry to change the rules, and the EQC could strike out on its own if it believes it to be necessary.

However, the EQC would not take a stance until the actual rulemaking is complete, and that might not be done until the end of this year, Whitman said.

Marganne Allen, field-support manager for state forestry's Private Forest Division, said the seven-member citizens board that sets state forestry policy "is not considering revisiting its existing decision."

Allen said the board relied on specific data collected from Northwest Oregon, coastal areas and the Willamette Valley to adopt its rules. It also exempted the Siskiyou Region from rulemaking because the board believed it was incorrect to extrapolate data from other state regions with different environmental realities onto southwest Oregon.

ODF was specifically looking for data from controlled experiments that documented changes in streamside vegetation and changes in water temperatures, Allen said.

"There simply wasn't anything available in the Siskiyou Region," Allen said.

Data about stream temperatures weren't enough, nor was the DEQ's so-called "shade-a-lator" computer model used to predict changes in stream temperatures with riparian growth used on projects in the Rogue River Basin, Allen said.

"We wanted to bring to the board actual studies, not modeling information," she said. 

The new rules for most of Western Oregon call for 60-foot-wide buffers on both sides of small fish-bearing streams and 80 feet on both sides of medium fish-bearing streams.

The decision means the state Forest Practices Act will be amended to reflect those changes. It does not impact streams on public lands under different buffer restrictions

The Siskiyou Region is defined as running between the Cascade and Coast range crests, the California border to the south and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide to the north.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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