Draft rules aim to curb landslide, logging risk
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Feb 8 13:13:37 EST 2002
>From The Oregonian, Jan. 31, 2002, p A1
Draft rules aim to curb landslide, logging risk
The limits inspired by deadly '96 debris flows become progressively
more severe in steeper areas and where public safety is an issue
By MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian
Almost six years ago, during a wet winter much like this one, mud and
debris tore loose from newly logged slopes in Douglas County and swept
downhill into homes and cars, killing five people and injuring many
The disastrous Oregon landslides of 1996 have led to proposed new
forestry rules that would impose some of the nation's toughest limits
of logging steep slopes, especially those towering above homes,
schools and roads.
The rules, now open to public comment, tie regulations to estimated
public safety risks by prohibiting logging on the sharpest slopes near
houses but allowing limited cutting above roads and buildings occupied
only part time.
Experts working on the rules went so far as to calculate that someone
living, driving or working in Oregon has a two in 10 million chance of
dying in a sudden landslide or debris flow. That compares with a
roughly three in 10 million chance of getting killed by lightning
The risk escalates for loggers or others in Lane, Douglas or Coos
counties, which record many of Oregon's landslides. At least six
loggers have died in slides in those counties. Overall, landslides
have killed at least 25 people in Oregon since 1880, according to
state library records.
Research after the fatal 1996 torrents came closer than ever before
to proving that logging - especially clear-cutting - makes a slope
more likely to break away and turn into a raging and deadly torrent
during heavy rains. Although scientists still do not understand
exactly why slopes fail, most now acknowledge the long-debated
connection between logging and landslides.
"There's still room for academic arguments over the details, but at a
policy level, I think everybody accepts that this is something you've
got to address," said Arne Skaugset, an Oregon State University
professor who helped draw up recommendations after the 1996
The new rules respond to state legislation that set temporary limits
on logging after the 1996 slides and required the Oregon Department of
Forestry to develop permanent policies to reduce the public safety
risk of landslides, also called debris flows.
Many of those who helped develop the rules said they go a long way
toward aiding public safety without imposing undue limits on forest
owners. But it's impossible to eliminate all risk of deaths or
injuries as long as people live near steep slopes that, logged or not,
sometime slide in wet weather, they said.
"It's a step in the right direction, but it's not all encompassing,"
said Scott Burns, a professor at Portland State University who
specializes in landslides. "It's not going to solve all our problems."
A panel that examined the 1996 landslides strongly urged local
governments to go beyond logging rules and restrict building beneath
landslide-prone slopes, but that has happened in only a scattered a
fashion around the state, Burns said. Such limits have taken hold in
the Columbia River Gorge, for instance. But some Douglas County homes
crushed in 1996 have been rebuilt in about the same place, he said.
Above busy roads
And one member of the state panel noted that recommended revisions in
state logging rules said the newly proposed rules still could permit
logging above busy roads such as Oregon 38 east of Reedsport. A logged
slope slid onto that highway in 1996 and swept away a car, killing the
"The people injured or killed there would receive no more protection
than they would before," said Marily Heiken, a Eugene attorney who
represented some victims of the 1996 slides and joined the panel as an
The rules were designed specifically to reduce the public safety risk
of landslides, not to prevent landslides or environmental damage, she
said. So they limit logging primarily where slides might threaten
homes, schools or other buildings occupied more than 25 percent of the
time during the rainy season.
In areas with a high likelihood of slides, usually slopes steeper
than 80 percent, cutting would be prohibited. Loggers would have to
leave enough surrounding trees to keep stands from blowing over onto
the unstable slopes.
Where slides are less likely, or above busy roads, loggers would have
to limit cutting or commit to rapid replanting so the forest canopy
could recover quickly. Scientists think the canopy - treetops and high
branches - helps intercept and slow heavy downpours so the water does
not soak into the ground fast enough to trigger landslides.
Roads in forests
The rules also attach conditions to forest road construction in
Above lesser-used roads or buildings occupied less than 25 percent of
the time, the new rules classify the public safety risk as "low" and
do not require special precautions. They also allow homeowners to
petition to move their land into a lower risk category if they want
some logging to proceed.
State officials estimate that the proposed rules would affect less
than one half of 1 percent of land in Oregon and probably would put
about 9.35 million board feet of timber off-limits per year, costing
small landowners as much as $500,000 each in the worst case.
Enforcement would fall to the Oregon Department of Forestry, which
never before had public safety responsibilities.
Public hearings to take comments on the new rules are scheduled for 1
a.m Feb. 27 at the Oregon Department of Forestry office in Salem and
10 a.m. Feb. 28 at the Douglas Forest Protection Association in
Roseburg. Comments may be submitted in writing by March 31 to the
Oregon Department of Forestry.
The rules and other information are available on the Web at
Comment by poster: In talking with a friend who had recent dealings
with the Oregon Department of Forestry in regard to the illegal
harvest of trees on his property, the ODF seems to be falling down on
the job. I'm not sure I'd want them to be responsible for much of
anything regarding public safety.
BTW, the friend had several truck loads of logs removed illegally
(without permit, purchase order, social security #, etc) from his
property when his brother, who had land nearby, had his property cut.
There is some evidence the brother was fleeced on the deal as well.
And there is some evidence of collusion with timber buyers, sellers,
haulers, and fallers. An interesting case which points out the needs
of keeping up on your property. When contacted by phone by the log
buyer and ODF for his social security # to make tax assessments on the
alledged "sale", he refused to give it, saying "I didn't agree to any
harvest on my property." In fact, since he recently retired, the
"sale" forced his taxes _much, much_ higher. Of course, he is suing
for three times his costs lost over this erroneous "sale".
Daniel B. Wheeler
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