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Oregon reaches deal with conservationists over coho salmon habitat

Under the agreement, Oregon’s Department of Forestry will expand buffers around habitable waterways throughout the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — After five years of litigation, conservation groups and the Oregon Department of Forestry reached an agreement late Thursday to expand stream buffers within the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests to improve habitats for Oregon’s threatened coho salmon species.

The Center for Biological Diversity announced the settlement agreement on Thursday afternoon, after filing the lawsuit against department officials alongside Cascadia Wildlands and Native Fish Society in June 2018.

“For too long the timber industry has treated our state forests like cash cows, without enough protection for fish or water quality,” said Amy Atwood, senior counsel at the center, in a statement. “The protections provided by today’s agreement aren’t everything we want, but they’ll go a long way toward recovering coho salmon on Oregon’s North Coast.”

Under the settlement, the department agreed to make changes to its timber and forestry activities to expand all no-cut stream buffers from 25 feet to 120 feet and will include several non-fish bearing and seasonal reaches that previously received little protection. The state will also buffer areas on hills where landslides start and ensure that all trees damaged or felled from yarding activities are left in the buffer.

The center’s announcement also says the department will be required to inventory the road network in the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests within five years to identify problems and estimate costs to fix them. The group says the roads were built almost entirely for the benefit of the timber industry, and many of them are “blocking fish passage, unstable or contributing sediments directly to streams." It said the public will likely pay the cost for fixing these roads.

Michael Wilson, state forests division chief for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said in an interview Friday morning that the settlement agreement was amicable and expressed relief that both parties came to agreeable terms for the benefit of salmon.

“We manage state forests for a variety of social, economic and environmental benefits. That includes providing and protecting habitats for native fish,” Wilson said. “The terms of this settlement work really well with our draft habitat conservation plan, which we anticipate will be implemented later this year.”

According to the 2018 federal lawsuit, the department’s logging activities and road maintenance within the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests have been harming threatened the coho salmon species in violation of the Endangered Species Act – particularly by hauling timber on roads in proximity to streams and logging steep slopes, causing landslides.

Located in northwestern Oregon, there are several waterways flowing through the two state forests that eventually make their way into the Pacific Ocean, where streams and portions of the watershed areas are designated critical habitats for Oregon’s coastal coho salmon due to the presence of spawning.

The Center for Biological Diversity said that when federal authorities listed Oregon’s coho salmon species as threatened based on the loss of freshwater habitat in 1998, it was due to several human activities.

The lawsuit calls it the consequence of "logging—in particular, clear-cutting trees on steep, unstable slopes and along debris flow paths—and road construction associated with log-hauling in the Oregon Coast range."

The conservationists noted that the National Marine Fisheries Service was particularly concerned about the Oregon Department of Forestry-authorized clearing of trees along streams and other riverbank areas with no or ineffective buffers crucial for coho salmon survival.

As explained by the Center for Biological Diversity, logging in Oregon reduces or eliminates large woody debris entering streams from trees above or those that fall from steep, erosion-prone slopes. This debris system creates a complex stream structure consisting of pools, refuges and side channels that are crucial for juvenile salmon to survive and grow into smolts.

Categories:Environment, Government, Regional

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