If you’ve ever been to Oregon, you probably think of us as a green state – a utopia filled with people who recycle, ride bicycles, and hike and fish in healthy forests filled with clear streams. But when it comes to our forests and rivers, how real is that reputation?
Pacific Rivers’ new award-winning film Behind the Emerald Curtain takes viewers beyond the scenery that most people see – beyond the “beauty strips” of trees that hide clearcuts from drivers, and behind the locked gates on the private lands that make up one-sixth of the state. There you’ll find people living with the effects of toxic pesticides sprayed from helicopters, of logging that happens right through the majority of streams, of rampant clearcutting on steep slopes causing landslides that smother streams below.
All of this is legal under Oregon’s outdated forestry laws. And most of this is illegal in neighboring states.
Federal regulators have told Oregon’s leaders for years that we are failing to protect streams from logging on private forestlands. Oregon has not fixed the problem, and our communities are paying the price while industry benefits. In 2016, these federal agencies withdrew grant money to Oregon for failing to keep forestry practices from polluting coastal streams.
It’s time for a change. It’s time for Oregon’s laws to catch up with Oregon’s values.
Ban the most toxic pesticides
Oregon allows a toxic slew of pesticides to be sprayed by helicopter over its timberlands, entering water supplies and often drifting on to nearby residents. Some of the chemicals sprayed include atrazine and glyphosate, which have been banned in other countries.
We need to ban application of the most toxic pesticides; set wide, pesticide-free buffer zones around homes, schools, and health facilities; and provide free, widely accessible information to the public when and if pesticides are applied.
Prevent clearcutting on steep slopes
Clearcutting on steep, unstable slopes causes landslides that send mud and sediment into rivers, streams, and drinking water sources. These landslides happen regularly, suffocating life in streams and requiring communities to treat drinking water with dangerous levels of chlorine. When chlorine is added to drinking water, one byproduct is trihalomethanes — a carcinogen. To avoid this, several towns on the coast paid for expensive water treatment upgrades, or must pump water in from cleaner watersheds. Timber companies have not paid for this.
Oregon needs to prevent clearcuts on steep slopes logging to protect drinking water and habitat for fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Require buffers of trees along all streams
Streamside buffers are the land along streams that cannot be logged. Buffers do three things: keep water cool by shading it, keep water clean by filtering out sediment, and keep fish habitat abundant as trees and leaves naturally fall into the streams and build up habitat.
Oregon only requires tree buffers along streams with fish. Yet most of our watersheds are made up of small streams with no fish, meaning most streams flowing through privately owned forests in Oregon get no tree buffers at all. Moreover, science shows that the buffers Oregon requires along streams with fish are too narrow. Requiring adequate buffers along all streams will keep water cool and clean for people, fish and wildlife, and will replenish fish habitat.
What should we do?
Oregonians need clean, safe drinking water for themselves, and healthy streams and rivers for our fish and wildlife. It’s time for Oregon to update its forest practices, act to comply with federal laws and be at least as protective as neighboring states.
It’s time for Oregon’s laws to catch up to Oregon’s values. Take action here.
Natalie Bennon is the Communications & Marketing Director for Pacific Rivers, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit working to protect and restore the watershed ecosystems of the West to assure river health, biodiversity, and clean water for present and future generations.
Previously, Natalie was a grant writer for The Nature Conservancy of Oregon and a journalist for Greenwire and Environment and Energy Daily. Her love for rivers began when she was young, while swimming and waterskiing the Chesapeake Bay every summer, and finding quiet and solace along its banks. In the Northwest, one of her favorite things to do with her husband and two sons is escape the summer heat by floating down the Sandy River in a cheap raft.