Balancing Logging and River Health in the Pacific Northwest

Fall colors on Steamboat Creek, a tributary of the North Umpqua River

 

I spent this past weekend on Oregon’s North Umpqua River. One of the most beautiful rivers in the state, it is world-renowned for its steelhead fishing and is designated as a federal Wild and Scenic River.

At a dinner hosted by The North Umpqua Foundation, I got to spend a little time with Frank Moore, a legendary steelhead fisherman and river conservation advocate. In the 1960s Frank played an instrumental role exposing the clearcut logging that was destroying places like Pass Creek, in the North Umpqua system.

Frank reminded me of a video he helped produce about Pass Creek, which exposed the destruction of clearcutting and its impacts on clean water and fish. The video helped improve logging practices on the Umpqua and across the Northwest.

Now the North Umpqua is in the news again, as a 14-member panel appointed by Governor John Kitzhaber grapples with how to manage logging on western Oregon’s 2.4 million acres of Oregon and California Railroad Revested (O&C) Lands. Because logging on these lands has decreased, the counties dependent on that revenue have been hit hard. The challenge for the panel is to craft a solution that ends the fiscal crisis, helps rural communities, and conserves important fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, and river health.

Canton Creek is a good example of what’s at stake. It flows into Steamboat Creek, which flows into the North Umpqua. Canton Creek is one of the most important spawning tributaries for steelhead in the Umpqua system. The watershed is about half O&C lands, and half private lands. This debate is a reminder of the importance of these headwater streams to bigger rivers and downstream communities. The decisions made on managing O&C lands will impact not only the Umpqua, but watersheds like the Rogue and Nestucca – and the drinking water for 1.8 million Oregonians.

As three members of the governor’s panel wrote in a recent Oregonian opinion piece:

“We cannot log our way back to fiscal health. As difficult and divisive as it was to end the worst forest management practices of the 1980s, it was also necessary. Harvesting ancient forests had become ecologically unsustainable and faced increased public opposition. Yet while a return to excessive logging is not the answer, the timber industry and the jobs it provides remain an important part of the economy in many of our rural communities. We must pair appropriate future timber production, as a source of revenue, with conservation for important watersheds and habitat for fish and wildlife — on and off public lands.”

It’s a tough balance to strike, but we have to try. Sitting on the bank of the North Umpqua, surrounded by golden fall colors, watching a fisherman cast for steelhead and listening to kingfishers chatter over the clear rushing water, I hope we get it right.

Changing Planet

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Amy Kober is the senior communications director for American Rivers, a national non-profit river conservation organization. She lives in Portland, OR.