Few rivers are more vital to the health and wellbeing of communities along their banks than the McKenzie River as it flows off the high Cascades through the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area to its confluence with the Willamette. But deforestation and degradation of private forestlands in the McKenzie River watershed poses a direct threat to the ecological health of the river.
What is happening in Quartz Creek – one of the McKenzie’s major tributaries – is emblematic of the scale and scope of the problem. The situation is worsening as Rosboro Lumber Company – the prime landowner – seemingly liquidates its holdings. CSE is a partner in the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch Program (GFW), which provides users access to real time satellite imagery and data depicting forest loss and forest gain over time. The GFW’s online interactive mapping tool permits users to take a look not only where logging is taking place but also its pace over time in relation to forest cover gain so that the sustainability of timber harvests can be assessed.
CSE conducted a GFW analysis of logging and regrowth trends in the lower Quartz Creek Watershed. The results are alarming. Our analysis reveals a pattern of forest liquidation that will be reflected in a watershed largely stripped of forest cover for decades to come. Since 2001, nearly 7,200 acres (2,913 ha) of forest cover (trees at least 5 meters high with 30% canopy closure) have been lost to extensive clearcutting while only 2,576 acres (1,043 ha) have been gained through natural afforestation or reforestation. In other words, logging has exceeded forest regrowth by a factor of 3.
But these figures underestimate the problem. First, there has been extensive new clearcutting in 2014 and 2015 not reflected in the data. Secondly, what is lost is typically more biologically diverse than what is gained since tree plantations are far less capable of supporting many of Quartz Creek’s endowment of native fish and wildlife. Third, the figures do not reflect longer term damages that arise from clearcutting and roads that will manifest in the form of degraded water quality, increased susceptibility to flooding and drought, declining site productivity, and fragmentation of intact forests on nearby federal lands. The GFW analysis only measures the sustainability of timber harvests through the lens of forest gain and loss. Bad as the figures are, the on-the-ground reality is much worse.
The situation with Quartz Creek underscores the imperative of reforming Oregon’s antiquated Forest Practices Act. CSE is
The acceleration of unsustainable and destructive logging in the Quartz Creek watershed underscores the urgent need for reform of the OFPA. CSE and our partners are working to achieve four major clusters of reform. These include:
- Forest diversity standards: This would entail greater restrictions on the size and placement of clearcuts to reduce fragmentation and maintain forest cover as well as new standards for retention of “biological legacy” such as residual trees, snags, and downed logs.
- Water resource protection standards: All streams and streamcourses should be protected with no-cut buffers adequate to protect water quality, temperature, and flow and provide habitat and migration corridors for fish and wildlife species that depend on aquatic ecosystems. Clearcutting should not take place at all in watersheds that provide domestic drinking water and coldwater fish or on steep, unstable soils prone to landslides.
- Economic incentives: Timber taxes unwisely rescinded in 1999 should be reinstated to help cover the costs unsustainable logging imposes on public finance. Harmful types of logging practices should be taxed at the highest rate. Foresters who truly implement sustainable forest practices and mill their wood in the state should be exempted from these taxes and instead given subsidies like payments for ecosystem services and carbon storage and preferential treatment in public contracting and procurement. Conservation easements, parks, and protected area acquisitions should be ramped up to provide those who want to protect their forests the means to do so.
- Public participation and enforcement: The ability of the State Forester to approve or disapprove of major logging operations should be reinstated. Cynically, this authority was rolled back in 2003 to help shield timber companies and the State Forester from lawsuits over endangered salmon and other imperiled species. Forest management plans demonstrating a commitment to sustainability should be required for all major timberland owners. DEQ should be empowered to authorize or disapprove logging operations that affect water resources. All stakeholders should have the right to challenge logging operations detrimental to public health and their communities and negotiate changes before logging commences.
With these reforms in place, the OFPA can move closer to internationally accepted standards for sustainable forestry and help the forest industry become a driver for prosperity of people, communities, and other species with whom we share this landscape.
For a copy of the Quartz Creek report, please click here to visit our Oregon Forest Practices project page.